Page 1









Hitting The Slopes in Niseko The Maldives | New Cruise Ships Abound | Taiwan’s East Coast

Publisher’s Letter


Welcome to another exciting issue of Explorer, the eco-friendly travel magazine for true world wanderers. This might be the last issue for 2014, but it’s jam-packed with all the great travel tips and in-depth features you need to get travelling this season. In this issue we jet across to the Maldives, quite possibly one of the most romantic destinations in the world. But this time we’re leaving our sun loungers and infinity pools in search of the locals who call this Indian Ocean paradise home. Then it’s off to Oslo, home of Scandinavian cool and a city that’s transforming itself as old factories and warehouses make room for dynamic restaurants and boutique hotels. We take some time out at Capella, Singapore’s best kept secret and a haven from the rat race within easy reach of the city centre, and then travel on New Zealand’s most famous train journey, the Tranz-Alpine, as it winds its way through the snow-dusted Southern Alps. Finally, we venture to Taiwan’s ruggedly beautiful east coast, and stop in to hit the slopes in Japan’s favourite mountain town, Niseko. As usual, there is something for every kind of traveller and every budget in this issue, and we hope Explorer continues to inspire you on your travels ahead. We will be back in 2015 with even more adventures to share. Safe travels.

David Leung Publisher

Villa Sungai THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN A secret to be discovered, hidden deep in the heart of the authentic Bali. Floating above a river, beneath a towering canopy of rainforest, Sungai has everything you expect from the finest hotels..but with exclusivity. Here time stands still..... pavilions perfumed with tuberoses, a magical eighteen metre horizon pool spilling into the valley, palms and frangipanis, khaki and whitewash, and sleek and sexy white on white. It’s hard to believe that this piece of paradise is only a short drive from the bustle of Legian and Seminyak. Welcome to Villa Sungai.

T: +61(0)410324535





Make the most of the spring months ahead with a horseback safari. Credit: Tourism Kamloops.


A young man glides through the waters of Cambodia’s Tole Sap Lake, where Aqua Expeditions recently launched the first luxury expeditionary cruise ship, the Aqua Mekong. Credit: Nick Walton


Struck Iceland:

When they are behaving themselves, the epic volcanoes of Iceland, including Snæfellsjökull, are a massive drawcard for adventure tourists jumping over from nearby Europe. Credit: Discover the World

New Zealand:

A summer Christmas is the perfect excuse for cultural immersion Down Under. Credit: Exceptional Travel. 4


Newborn giant pandas enjoy the attention of the camera crews at Chengdu’s Giant Panda Breeding Center. The newly opened St Regis Chengdu offers behind the scene tours of the centre as part of its new cultural immersions experiences. Credit: Nick Walton.


Surf’s up with the latest Extraordinary Experiences from theFour Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa.

From the volcanic peaks of Iceland to the pristine coastlines of Mozambique, these are the images inspiring us this season.


A hot destination for 2015 is Mozambique’s untouched Bazaruto Archipelago, dubbed the Galapogas of Africa. Credit: Acacia Africa


The frozen landscape of Antartica continues to seduce intrepid travellers. Credit: Quark Expeditions. 5


Photo courtesy of David Zwirner

On Kawara – Silence

ICC Cricket World Cup 2015

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, USA

February 14 – March 29, 2015 Australia and New Zealand

New York City’s Guggenheim Museum will pay tribute to On Kawara, the late Japanese Conceptual artist, with an exclusive three-month showcase titled On Kawara – Silence. Kawara’s unique style and artistry will be showcased through works from his I Got Up series and paintings from the Today collection, which draws inspiration from personal milestones and historic events from 1966 onwards. Curators Jeffrey Weiss and Anne Wheeler will also organise live reading sessions from Kawara’s One Million Years epic, which is a collection of musings on the passage of time.

The long-awaited ICC Cricket World Cup is the world’s largest One Day International (ODI) championship, pitting 14 cricket teams against each other in battles of skill and talent. Up to two matches are scheduled each day over the more than one-month event, which will be held in various cricket grounds across Australia and New Zealand, including the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Sydney Cricket Ground. Cricket fans will be at the edge of their seats as home-grown favourites Australia and New Zealand take on visiting teams which include England and India.

February 6 – May 3, 2015

Photo courtesy of Sergio Luiz

Rio Carnival 2015

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival April 10 – 12 & April 17 – 19, 2015 Indio, California, USA

Bringing more than 20 million revellers each day to the streets of Rio de Janeiro is the city’s biggest party – the Rio Carnival. With colourful costumes, samba parades in the iconic Sambodromo, and a no-holds-barred fiesta in the streets, the Carnival is the best place to savour the fun-filled spirit of the Brasileiros. Party with street bands each afternoon on Copacabana beach, and don’t miss the Marvellous City Ball at Rio Scala for a night you won’t forget.

One of the USA’s biggest and most loved music festivals returns in 2015 with new headliners, bigger crowds, and some of the hottest tunes around. Featuring artists from a wide range of genres, including rock, indie, hip-hop, and EDM, the festival caters to all musical tastes, and even has an art scene – bolstered by works from Abigail Portner and James Peterson – to add to Coachella’s creative buzz. Expect to see artists like Ellie Goulding, Motorhead, and Pharrell Williams take the stage, and plenty of hipsters in the crowd.

February 13 – 17, 2015 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Photo courtesy of Grant Ritchie

Photo courtesy of Alexander Janetzko

Berlin International Film Festival


February 5 – 15, 2015 Berlin, Germany

December 30, 2014 – January 2, 2015 Edinburgh, Scotland

Celebrating its 65th anniversary and hosting more than 300,000 movie buffs each year is the Berlin International Film Festival, commonly called Berlinale. The ten-day event hosts over 400 international and European premieres, and will see 20 films go head to head for the prestigious Honorary Golden Bear award. With the hottest celebrities in the film industry walking the red carpet, and journalists and visitors descending on Berlin from more than 130 countries, it’s no surprise that Berlinale is the world’s largest public film festival.

Ring in the New Year with true Scottish flair with Edinburgh’s famous four-day Hogmanay celebration. Start with the spectacular Torchlight Procession through the city, followed by the Candlelit Concert at St Giles’ Cathedral, before letting your hair down for a night of partying on the streets with 400,000 other revellers as the clock ticks towards midnight for the ultimate firework display. Try your feet at traditional celidh dancing, or head to the Concert in the Gardens where you’ll find Lily Allen headlining.

Khajuraho Festival of Dances 2015

Taiwan Lantern Festival

Celebrating India’s rich history and culture through a celebration of its ancient classical dance forms is the Khajuraho Festival of Dances. Set against the backdrop of the Chitragupta and Vishwanath Temples, the week-long festival sees dance styles like Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, Kuchipudi, and Manipuri, which tell the tales of famous Indian legends and epics, and praise the gods of Hindu mythology. Watch out for internationally renowned dancers like Dakshina Vaidyanathan, Megharanjini, and Kasturi Pattanaik, and performances filled with talent and grace.

Marking the start of the Lunar New Year is the country-wide Taiwan Lantern Festival. Watch the awe-inspiring sight in the Pingxi district as over 200,000 bamboo and kerosene lanterns fill the sky, or join in the fun at the Yanshui district’s Wumiao Temple for the exuberant firecracker ceremony. For a real party, head south to see the massive Tainan Yanshui Fireworks Display, and revel along with thousands of others to usher in prosperity and good health for the new year.

February 20 – 26, 2015 Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India

March 5, 2015 Taiwan 7


PAMPERED BLISS New to the recently-opened Mondrian London at Sea Containers is the Agua Bathouse & Spa, a sanctuary of six brand new treatment suites and deeply relaxing lounges. Decked out with eclectic yet relaxing décor, the spa fosters the same sense of community found in ancient Roman spa culture, and features top of the line spa brands like GLAMGLOW, Natura Bisse, Soveral, and Ciaté for a thoroughly indulgent spa experience. Agua also boasts a bold new spa playground concept which allows guests to create bespoke spa treatments based on their individual needs and desires. For the ultimate girls’ night, grab six friends and book in for the four-and-a-half-hour long Glamour Room package, where you’ll be treated to champagne, steam bath mudpacks, express manicures, gourmet ice cream sundaes, and much, much more.

Fun in the Sun For those with a naturally creative spirit, the first ever Wonderfruit Festival in Chonburi, Thailand, is the place to be. Running from December 19 to 21, the festival promises to be a blast and will feature a range of internationally renowned musical artists such as Little Dragon, Fat Freddy’s Drop, and Chet Faker, as well as abstract art installations by Wit Pimkanchanapong, Rukkit, and Lolay. Adventureseekers can also take on an afternoon of mountain biking or horse-riding, while foodies can sample feasts by award-winning chefs David Thompson and Paolo Vitaletti. With workshops, themed camps, farmer’s markets, and debates for the environmentally conscious, as well as a day care centre to look after the kids, all festival-goers can let their hair down for three days of sun, fun, and relaxation. 8

Journey to the Unknown Limited to just 15 lucky souls, Natural Habitat Adventures’ newest explorary trip, Undiscovered Cuba, takes travellers on a nature-inspired journey to the exotic island of Cuba. With just three 12day expeditions running between February and April, travellers will get the chance to meet the locals and experience local culture and traditions, while also embarking on a journey to discover the lesser-known natural side of the country. Visit the Cienaga de Zapata National Park to catch a glimpse of the endangered Zapata wren and Cuban screech owl, and then marvel at the Valle de Los Ingenios as you take in views of Cuba’s famous sugar plantations before spending some time with local school children at the rural library. You’ll also see the sights of Trinidad and Havana, and you’ll definitely get to try your hand – and your feet - at salsa dancing, the ultimate experience of Cuban culture.

Da Vinci’s Genius Lovers of history and machines will rejoice at the latest showcase in Singapore, the Da Vinci: Shaping the Future exhibition at the Art Science Museum at Marina Bay Sands, unveiled for the very first time in Southeast Asia. The masterpieces by world-famous artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci that will be on display include original pages from his largest workbook, Codex Atlanticus, which focus on the Section for the Tiburio of the Milan Cathedral (Circa 1487-90) and Studies on the Flight of Birds (1505). As well as these pages, six of da Vinci’s paintings will also be on display, along with 20 models from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana which bring da Vinci’s designs to life. Through the carefully curated exhibition, viewers will get a glimpse of da Vinci’s unique genius. 9


Turning Japanese Young at heart adventurists, this one’s for you! Launching in March 2015 is Contiki’s first ever venture to Japan. Japan Unrivalled is a 13-day tour that will take travellers from Tokyo to Osaka, past Hakone, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and some of Japan’s smaller cities. Discover all aspects of Japanese culture by engaging with the country’s sights, food, and people as you explore temples, meet geishas, and sample sake and teppanyaki, while also taking sushimaking classes, meditation lessons, and indulging in a night of karaoke, followed by a stay at a traditional ryokan guest house. You’ll see Tokyo’s fashionable district of Harajuku, and the city’s largest shrine, the Meiji Jingu, all before you pay your respects at the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima. For a bit of fun, culture, and history Japan-style, this is a can’t miss trip.

Wild Renewal Offering a one-of-a-kind experience is South Africa Yoga Safaris, which combines meditation exercises with an excursion through the South African Bushveld. This 10-day adventure happens only twice a year during the spring and autumn, and caters to small, intimate groups of up to six people for an authentically African, and wholly natural, experience. Each day begins and ends with a soul-cleansing yoga session, and in between, yogis will get to explore the untamed natural beauty of South Africa. The journey begins two hours north of Durban, in a game reserve where travellers will see African lions and rhinos roaming their natural habitats; moving south towards a pristine Indian Ocean beach, nature lovers will get to snorkel the area’s untouched reefs and interact with wild dolphins. Each night sees guests rest their heads at luxurious hotels, but the last day will be spent at the famous iMfolozi nature reserve to sneak peeks at Africa’s ‘big five,’ the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and Black and White rhinos. 10

Chocolate Indulgence To be held on the Caribbean island of Grenada between May 8 and 17, 2015, the Grenada Chocolate Fest follows the journey of chocolate, from the humble cocoa bean to the sumptuous chocolate bar we enjoy. Known for producing chocolate using traditional and organic methods of harvesting and processing, the local Diamond Estate Chocolate Factory will produce a variety of cocoa-laced indulgences in the form of cocktails, beers, rum, and even chocolate-themed meals to give festival goers a taste of Grenadian culture. Take part in hikes and field trips through cocoa plantations with local school children to learn about the importance of sustainable farming, and the health benefits of cocoa. With art, jewellery, crafts, and fashion inspired by cocoa also available as souvenirs, the festival is sure to be a chocolate lover’s paradise.

Recreating Shackleton’s Epic Celebrating the centennial of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition are two new voyages by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic. With itineraries running between November 2015 and February 2016, the 12-day Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent and 22-day Antarctica, South Georgia and The Falklands allows passengers the chance to retrace Shackleton’s epic journey, while also affording them the opportunity to hike and kayak on the ice to recreate the 1914 Endurance voyage. As an homage to Shackleton’s expeditionary photographer Frank Hurley, a National Geographic-approved photographer will also be on board to assist travellers in replicating Hurley’s iconic photographs. Guests will also get to toast the Endurance team with Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt. 11


The Indian Ocean

Melting Pot The authorities of the paradisiacal archipelago of the Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, are making efforts to bring together its people and unique culture, and the thousands of travellers which visit each year from across the globe.



t’s dusk in the northern Maldives, and as the warm ocean waters turn silky with the ebbing light, I clamber aboard a traditional Dhoni for a spot of night fishing. The little vessel sways in a light chop, as waves fling themselves dramatically over a nearby reef. Then the engine coughs to life, and we begin making our way out to deeper waters. For many holidaymakers to the Maldives, the closest they’ll come to a true Maldivian is a waiter, a concierge, or a chef at their far-flung resort. Traditionally, this tiny Muslim archipelago, located south of the Indian subcontinent, has preferred to keep its people and the thousands of tourists which visit each year at arm’s length. The nation’s geography, split into over a 1,000 sunkissed atolls and isles, helped bolster this policy, meaning a night such as this, with ten local fishermen and nary a chilled hand towel or cocktail in sight, was very rare. Yet change is afoot; a new government has been elected, and opening the Maldivian people up to the world around them has been named, along with combating rising sea levels and employing sustainable fishing practices, as a priority. “Things are certainly changing and it’s change for the good,” says Simon Hawkins, managing director of the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation, whose task it is to promote the Maldives abroad. “The old government was rather set in its ways, but the new one realises that this is what a growing number of affluent travellers want; to be able to meet real Maldivians, to interact and to learn, not just sit by the resort swimming pool.” And what a way to interact. I’m given a pair of gardening gloves and stand my ground on the slippery deck as the helmsman, his leg extended, a toe gripping the tiller, chugs us into position a few hundred metres off the local island of Kudarikilu. The crew, their skin the hue of deeply tanned leather, leap into action. One man hands out net loads of live bait fish – they’re called gaurung by the fishermen, but to a novice like myself they look just like goldfish – which are set on hooks with weights and cast overboard. As part of its sustainability policies, the only 13

MALDIVES fishing allowed in the Maldives is line fishing, which means everything is done by hand. But angling isn’t exactly difficult in the Maldives, with its abundance of marine life, and no sooner has the weight hit the bottom, than there’s a tug and the crew urge me to start hauling back in. We’re rewarded with a glistening, wriggling jackfish, the first of over 40 fish we catch before night’s darkness sets in completely. Equally unique is that the local fishermen are working with Anantara Kihavah, one of the Maldives’ most luxurious resorts, which is trying to bring guests and locals closer together. Anantara’s resorts in both the southern and northern Maldives all have

local interaction programs designed to give guests insight into Maldivian culture and traditions, from cooking classes and fishing expeditions, to visiting local chiefs for storytelling sessions. The night fishing isn’t for everyone – the boat isn’t spruced up, or the crew beautified - but for those looking for a unique local encounter, and a chance to fish with men who still follow the stars and currents as their ancestors did, it can’t be beaten. “It’s good for people to come and see the Maldives through our eyes, to see how we as a people live, and to learn our culture,” says Ibrahim Abu Bakuru, a school teacher and local historian I meet on the island of Kudarikilu. In another cooperation with Anantara Kihavah, guests can make the short journey over to this tiny island village of 500, and delve into the life of local 14

Maldivians. Ibrahim and I walk the sand and shell streets of the village, past ancient cottages built from coral (now illegal under new environmental protection laws) and women sitting in circles in the shade of towering banyan trees, weaving rope from coconut husk. In the turquoise surf line we watch a man fish for tiny silver mushimas and thavalha fish, while in the distance the afternoon prayer is announced through crackly speakers. Ibrahim shows me the school he teaches at, a collection of simple, brightly painted buildings nestled around a sandy netball court where young girls

dressed in head scarfs take turns shooting for goal. We visit his pride and joy, a tiny two-room museum packed with treasures; Chinese pottery recovered from reef wrecks,ship-building tools used by his father and grandfather, traditional dresses rarely seen in modern Maldivian society, and the skeleton of a dolphin. His guest book is filled with comments from visitors from as far off as Korea, Japan, and Australia. “It’s important that we Maldivians know about our past and our culture, but it’s also good to be able to share our ways with visitors to our country,” says Ibrahim. “While we still can.”

Getting There

The main airport servicing the Maldives is located on an island off Malé, although some charter services also fly into the Maldives’ second airport at Gan, in the south. The airport literally takes up the whole island, so that speed boats to resort islands, ferrys to the capital, and seaplanes are all within easy reach of the arrivals hall. A range of hotel booths offer greeting services for guests arriving in Malé, all of whom require onward transportation of some kind.

Getting Around

The Maldives is made up of over 1,000 islands, so speedboat and seaplane transfers are the norm. Hotelowned speedboats depart from the bustling piers directly outside the airport arrivals hall. Two companies – Maldivian Air Taxi ( and Trans-Maldivian Airways ( offer seaplane services from the northern side of the airport complex and transfers are arranged from outside the arrivals hall. Maldivian (www., a domestic airline, also offers flights between Malé and several points throughout the archipelago.

Where to Stay

Only 35 minutes from Malé by speedboat, Naladhu (www. is considered one of the most intimate and luxurious resorts in the Maldives and boasts just 19 lavish beach and sea-front houses. Adjacent to Naladhu is Anantara Dhigu Resort & Spa (, which offers 110 beach villas and overwater suites, as well as ample water sports and a full dive centre. In the north of the Maldives, honeymooners will especially like Anantara Kihavah (www., one of the newest resorts to open in the archipelago, and home to 79 spacious overwater bungalows and one of the nation’s most extensive overwater spas.

Where to Eat

Fans of Moroccan-inspired tapas will love the innovative Treehouse Lounge at the new Viceroy Maldives (www. Located at the island’s southern-most tip, expect sexy tracks spun by international DJs, stunning starry canopies, and even telescopes for checking out your favourite constellations. Alternatively if you’re staying at the Anantara Kihavah (www., you can’t go past its recently opened Sea underwater restaurant. With room for just 20 and views directly onto a house reef bustling with marine life, expect some of the finest cuisine available in the Maldives – you can even have the chef cook your own caught fish. 15




Oslo, the new home of Scandinavian cool, comes to life during the summer months, with new boutique hotels, chic restaurants, and world-class museums drawing crowds towards the city’s namesake fjord, discovers Nick Walton

16 17



urvaceous, elegant, and utterly mesmerising, like a diva on a stage, the Oslo Opera House comes to life as the first rays of morning reach down the tranquil waters of the Oslo Fjord, tickling at the structure’s white Italian marble facade and acute angles. But it wasn’t long ago that the site was barren docks and warehouses, a far cry from a world-class arts centre. Anyone who has visited Oslo in the past can now be forgiven for not recognising the waterfront precincts of Bjøvika and Tjuvholmen. These once desolate neighbourhoods of maritime warehouses and ship docks have been completely revitalised as part of a new Fjord city development that’s bringing the heart of Oslo closer to its beloved fjord. And it’s during the summer months, when the city’s northern latitude promises long days of sunshine, that the city’s new persona comes to life. Between the Opera House and Oslo’s central train station, diggers, cranes, dump trucks, and construction crews carve out new subterranean highways that will plunge below the waterfront, leaving an unprecedented green belt –


already dubbed Operakvarteret - in their wake. Much of the development is taking place in Oslo’s city centre – known as the Sentrum – with the addition of avantgarde architecture, revitalised warehouse properties, and plenty of wide open spaces, while the government is already proposing to move the city’s famed Munch Museum, the Oseberg Ship exhibit, and city library to the new-look foreshore. From the Opera House, it’s an easy walk into some of Oslo’s most historic streets. Once rundown and empty, Aker Brygge’s shabby warehouses are now being populated with art galleries, book stores,

and cafes with sidewalk seating. There are fine-dining restaurants hidden behind thick velvet curtains, cocktail lounges that open and close late, and before the City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, an open belt of gardens and sculptures reaches to the glistening waters of the fjord. From the City Hall you can walk into the city’s past or the future. To one side of the bay is the Akershus Fortress, an ancient castle and former prison that hugs the fjord. The castle has watched over the city’s evolution since 1292 and is now used by

the royal family for formal occasions. The Armed Forces Museum, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Nasjonalmuseet National Gallery, and the royal stables are located nearby. Veer right and you’ll enter Tjuvholmen, where much of the new building is taking place. A former criminal commune where executions once took place, Tjuvholmen has turned chic as boutique hotels like The Thief and luxury apartment complexes compete for space on the coveted waterfront with the offices of Norway’s elite. Below, at pavement level, gourmet restaurants like Lofoten Fiskerestaurant, which specialises in modern Norweigian cuisine, fashion boutiques, and even a Fisker dealership vie for the attention of pedestrians bound for the new Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, located on the tip Established in 1993, the private collection of contemporary of a finger of land which reaches out into the glistening waters of the art, which features works by Tom Sachs, Cai Guo-Qiang, fjord. Cindy Sherman, and Jeff Koons, among many other artists, opened in its new waterfront location at the end of 2012, The museum is to Tjuvholmen what the Opera House is to Bjøvika, an in an elegant timber and steel building designed by Renzo architectural anchor, a rationale for visitors to venture off the beaten Piano that resembles the bow waves of the iconic fjord path, to explore the new neighbourhood and its ambitious designs. ferries that crisscross the water in summer. 19



New Benchmark

Smart, fashionable, tech-savvy, and incredibly adventurous, Royal Caribbean’s newly launched Quantum of the Seas is poised to bring the cruise industry into the 21st century.


oyal Caribbean International’s newest cruise ship, Quantum of the Seas, has arrived into her home port of Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, bringing with her a wave of unprecedented first-at-sea features and amenities. Superfast wireless connectivity, the world’s first robotic bartenders, a skydiving simulator, bumper cars, futuristic entertainment, and partnerships with celebrated chefs Jamie Oliver, Michael Schwartz, and Devin Alexander, are just a small sample of what the modern age of cruising looks like onboard Quantum of the Seas. “Quantum of the Seas isn’t just changing cruising, it’s changing how today’s traveller holidays,” says Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “It’s not just how you travel; it’s the experience from start to finish. With Quantum, we are empowering our


guests to customise every aspect of their journey, providing them an unprecedented level of freedom and flexibility.” Unprecedented levels of technology amp up the holiday experience onboard Quantum of the Seas, which allows for the utmost in simplicity, efficiency, and customisation. Guests can be online and connected 24/7 should they choose to be, thanks to superfast wireless speeds that match broadband connections onshore, while RFID luggage tags provide the option of tracking luggage in real time through smartphones, and a downloadable app, Royal IQ, empowers guests to manage every detail of their holiday during the cruise. Not to mention robots! Technology also enables a number of surprise-anddelight elements on Quantum of the Seas, including a brand new venue, Bionic Bar powered by MakrShakr that is set to make waves with robots at centre stage.

If you prefer to be unplugged during your cruise, Royal Caribbean has added elements to its portfolio of exclusive, ground-breaking onboard experiences that have never before been imagined at sea, including a skydiving experience called RipCord by iFLY, as well as the engineering marvel North Star, a glass observation capsule that gently rises more than 300 feet in the air to treat guests to dramatic 360-degree views. More “firsts,” including bumper cars, a circus school with flying trapeze, and rollerskating can be found inside SeaPlex, the largest indoor active space at sea. Cruise ship dining has also been modernised onboard Quantum of the Seas, with Dynamic Dining, where guests have total control of their own culinary journey and can choose from a landscape of 18 distinctive restaurants. Five complimentary, full-service restaurants replace the traditional, common main

William Close and his variety of one-ofa-kind majestic instruments, while the all-new Music Hall sets the stage for live music featuring bands, musicians, DJs, theme night parties and more.

dining room, while a variety of specialty restaurants will wow even the savviest foodies, including the new multi-sensory venue Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine, as well as concepts from award-winning chefs Jamie Oliver, Michael Schwartz, and Devin Alexander.

Sophisticated in design and big on size – an average of nine percent larger than those of Oasis class ships – the 2,090 staterooms onboard Quantum of the Seas cater to 4,180 guests, yet are Royal Caribbean’s largest and most advanced to date. Guests can choose from a wide selection of categories, including FamilyConnected staterooms that are perfect for multi-generational families or groups of friends, new balcony and interior Studio staterooms that were created for single travellers, as well as Virtual Balcony staterooms, which are interior accommodations with large digital screens displaying real time views that ensure every room has a view. What’s more, Quantum’s lofts and suites are the most luxurious yet, and were designed with insight from HGTV star Genevieve

Gorder. The retail offerings, which can be found within the Royal Esplanade and The Via, boast an unparalleled collection of celebrated brands including Cartier, Kiehl’s, Bulgari, and Hublot. Stateof-the-art fitness facilities make it easy and inspiring to stay fit while on holiday, with all-new options including Technogym equipment, as well as well as professionally instructed Flywheel, TRX, and Beach Bootcamp classes, which were influenced by former NFL linebacker Dhani Jones, who worked with Royal Caribbean as Quantum Experience Advisor for Sports and Fitness. And there’s fun for the whole family, thanks to a number of new enhancements to Royal Caribbean’s award-winning Adventure Ocean youth program, including a fullyequipped Adventure Science Lab, as well as the very first wave pool at sea, which debuts as part of the DreamWorks Animation Madagascar-themed H2O Zone.

Technology headlines Quantum’s entertainment, with a line-up of first-oftheir-kind productions and performances, and is most prevalent in the ship’s transformational new venue, Two70. Here, the most highly advanced digital displays, Vistarama and Roboscreens, intertwine with live performers, music, and special effects to deliver spectacular, multidimensional shows and events that have never before been seen on land, let alone at sea. The Royal Theater is home to Broadway’s smash hit musical MAMMA MIA! as well as an all-new headline show, Sonic Odyssey, which was inspired by musician and innovator 21


The TranzAlpine passes a glacier-fed stream bound for Greymouth.


Go West YOUNG MAN The TranzAlpine train, which passes through and below the mountain ranges of New Zealand’s South Island, remains one of the world’s most iconic rail journeys, discovers Nick Walton.


e all remember remarkable ‘firsts’ in our lives; it might be the first time you saw the ocean, the first time you heard All Along the Watchtower, the first time you flew in an airplane, or the first time you kissed your wife. These moments stay with us for years to come. For me it was the first time I travelled on New Zealand’s TranzAlpine railway, four-and-a-half-hour, 223-kilometre climb through the backbone of the South Island between the garden city of Christchurch and the weather whipped town of Greymouth, gateway to the glaciers and ruggedly-beautiful coastline of the west coast. My first time riding those rails was in 1988, only a year after the traditional Christchurch-Greymouth express trains, which had been operating since the 1920s, were replaced with a new tourist-friendly initiative designed to showcase the remarkable skyline and incredible diversity of the South Island. The old rolling stock was given a vibrant new blue paint job and larger windows, stylish dining cars were added, and suddenly staff that had been working a line used almost exclusively by farmers, students, and retirees headed to and from the ‘big smoke’ of Christchurch, had to cater to international travellers who had come to ride the rails, cross the line’s four towering viaducts, and play “hold your breath” through each of the 19 tunnels. I’ve always had a thing for trains, and I’m clearly not the only one. Thanks to the steady growth of the airline industry, we can zoom between virtually any two destinations in the world in a matter of hours, but the elegance and nostalgia of train travel still appeals to travellers from across the globe, whether its riding the rails through the Canadian Rockies, the backwaters of Kerala, or the rural landscape of New Zealand. If fact, not long after it was launched, the TranzAlpine was named one of the top ten-day train journeys in the world, a distinction it’s proudly retained. In the years since that first Grandmother-escorted winter journey I’ve travelled on the train twice again, 23


as a teenager and as an adult, one way and return, in summer and winter, alone and with friends, and the magic remains. Under Kiwi Rail’s ownership, modern rolling stock was introduced in 2012, with an advanced air bag suspension system for a quieter, smoother trip, and non-reflective windows on both the sides and the roof to ensure captivating views. A 2-2-1 class configuration ensures there is space for everyone, and table seating for four is great for family or friends travelling together. This time on the train I’m playing tour guide, and there is a sense of excitement in the air at Christchurch Railway Station as my Malaysian in-laws, Yee Fook and Swee Hiong, my wife Maggie, and I congregate on the platform, finding our appointed carriage in the early morning chill. With suburban trains dying out in the 1970s, the TranzAlpine remains a minor celebrity in Christchurch and locals wave as the train chugs its way through suburbs of weather-boarded houses, children’s play sets in the back yards, past timber yards and country stores, and then out across the flat Canterbury plains, in summer a brilliant palate of gold and green, in winter, when we travel, a wide open landscape of tilled earth and lush grass, the lumbering line of ancient peaks that make up the Southern Alps crawling ever closer. Most of my fellow passengers, in their rows of blue airline seats, are content 24

to gaze at the scenery and daydream, plugged into the train’s GPS triggered commentary system, while my intrepid in-laws and I bundle up and head to the open-air observation car, certainly one of the best additions to the TranzAlpine.Our route slips between Lake Sarah and Lake Grasmere, and then follows the course of the ice-fed Waimakairiri River, its mineralrich waters turquoise and foaming white. We charge into the Waimakariri Gorge, crossing the braided river, its name meaning ‘cold waters’ in Maori tongue,

on a low-slung bridge that cascades across white-hued river stones and a vivid streak of icy blue before reaching land again. Not long after, we’re soaring over the formidable Staircase Viaduct, at 73 metres the highest viaduct on the line. It’s standing room only in the Observation Car as the last cool winds of winter bite at my cheeks and lips and blur my eyes, but the view is completely mesmerising. There are also chances to step off the train, including at the journey’s summit,

Clockwise from top left: Mountains spring up from the Canterbury plains; The sleek new carriages at Christchurch station; New airliner-style seats and large panoramic windows ensure plenty of comfort indoors; The TranzAlpine approaching the Southern Alps; Swee Hiong enjoys the outdoor observation car.

the tiny railway town of Arthur’s Pass, where the train halts long enough for a few photos and a stretch of the legs. Arthur’s Pass is only home to about 50 souls today, but in the past was an important centre during the gold rush of the 1800s. Heading west again we dive into the Otira Tunnel, once the world’s longest, emerging high above the deep mountain valleys of the dramatic West Coast, passing through ancient rainforests and then thick groves of alpine beech on its decent towards Greymouth. Everything is different on this side of the Southern Alps. It’s wet almost all year round as clouds from the Southern Ocean dump their rain on the climb over the peaks, and the golden plains of Canterbury are replaced by timeless rainforests, towering ferns, and low clouds. This is coal country, and the TranzAlpine pauses to let lumbering coal trains cross the peaks bound for the port at Christchurch. Our journey continues as the train curls its way around Lake Brunner on the approach to Greymouth. Here, many passengers leave the train bound for the glaciers, national parks, and coastal communities of the west. In March, the TranzAlpine is a popular way to reach the annual wild food festival at Hokitika. Others, on day trips, follow us across the road for a lunch of whitebait fritters and Speights beer at the local pub before making their way back to the station, where the east-bound train stands ready to start the long, steady climb back into the alpine valleys and ancient peaks of the real Middle Earth. 25


EAST BOUND & UP The ruggedly beautiful eastern coast of Taiwan is a place of myths and legends, and of stunning scenery rarely encountered by locals and visitors alike.



ime’s a funny thing. Walking on the street, 13 minutes doesn’t seem like a whole lot. But when you’re underground, travelling beneath millions of tonnes of ancient weatherwithered rock, the walls only metres apart on each side, 13 minutes – all 780 seconds worth - can seem like a lifetime. This is especially true in Taiwan’s Hsuehshan Tunnel, a 13-kilometre long highway that opened in 2006 and which passes beneath the Snow Mountains, a natural barrier between the capital, Taipei, and the rural county of Yilan on the island’s picturesque east coast. Not only a feat of engineering that took 15 years to complete, Hsuehshan is a symbolic link between Formosa’s industrialised west, home to 98 percent of Taiwan’s population, and the wind-whipped, mountainous east, where spirits and legends still hold sway. And it’s Hsuehshan that is bringing much needed tourism from the big city and beyond to the east, home to some of Taiwan’s most spectacular natural beauty. In the tunnel, my driver turns on a dedicated radio station which plays easy listening Mandarin songs and warning messages about speeding. The tunnel has cut the travel time between Taipei and Yilan from two hours to just 30 minutes, 13 of which we spend passing through the tunnel, its sides lit by candle-hued sodium vapour lamps which give life to brightly-coloured roadside murals.

Yilan City is less a city than a town with a future. It’s home to meandering rivers, bustling farmer’s markets, and one of east Taiwan’s newest malls, Luna Plaza. Atop the mall is Silks Place Yilan, the city’s only five-star hotel, and part of a Taiwanese-owned hotel company that’s intent on capitalising on the east’s new fortunes. In many ways, Yilan is cultural time capsule. Each year, thousands attend events like the Dongshan River Water Festival, or visit the National Centre for Traditional Arts or the Yang Shih-Fang Memorial Gardens, which opened in 2004. Dedicated to Yang, a civil servant who advocated protection of the region’s unique culture, a former temple complex has been converted into an arts village where practitioners continue his dream. With little warning, we burst out into the startling sunshine of north-eastern Taiwan. As far as the eye can see, the world is a green billiard table punctuated by a scattering of Monopoly houses. The contrast from the city couldn’t be more extreme; Yilan is flat and expansive, the bright morning sun setting the colours of rice paddies and the Pacific aflame. In the distance, Turtle Island, a local icon, emerges from banks of morning mist. They say anything will grow in Yilan and from the risen highway, which cuts across the landscape like a concrete python, they could be right. A sea of emerald green rice stalks, their tips flickering with the whims of the wind, reaches towards the horizon, where purple mountains loom. Leaving the highway, we pass through quiet, manicured towns and past ancient temples stained with generations of incense smoke.

Within the garden’s restored temple buildings, I meet retired school teacher Chester Lim, who spends his afternoons making traditional Taiwanese lanterns from bamboo papyrus and fibres. Scores of colourful finished products, in all shapes and sizes, dance in the late afternoon breeze. “It’s important that we retain these traditional arts,” says Lim, as he smooths soaked pulp over a fibre frame. “We get a lot more visitors from the capital and even overseas because of the tunnel, and it’s a chance to show the Taiwan that was. If we don’t hold tight to these traditions, who will? Certainly not those living in the big cities.” He holds the finished lantern

Visitors come to Yilan for many reasons; for a respite from the bustle of city life and for the unique dishes available in the rural villages, or to surf at Honeymoon Bay and to spy pods of dolphins and migrating whales in the shallows of the Pacific. This is the land of the Kavalan aboriginals who, as legend has it, came one day from the sea. It was their name, which means ‘flatland people’, that eventually morphed into ‘Yilan’, and their folk culture is celebrated at the annual International Children’s Folklore & Folkgame Festival, held in Yilan City. 27

TAIWAN up to a group of camera-toting visitors. “It’s up to us to make sure young people still learn the old ways.” At dusk on the Silks Place’s aptly named Sky Garden, a series of mineral pools set at varying temperatures, prove popular with gaggles of gossiping middle-aged Taiwanese women. Submerged up to the tips of their brightly coloured bathing caps in steaming water, they watch the last of the day’s light fade behind the mountains, the fields below falling dark and silent. After quietly giggling at my less-thanmanly shrieks as I join them in dousing myself with cold water from powerful wall-mounted jets, they warm up to this towering western stranger, pointing out how red my ears get as I soak in the hottest pool. “It’s nice to come here and remember how beautiful Taiwan can be,” says one somnolent soaker, to the nodded agreement of her friends. “We try to get down here every few months; we visit the temples and soak in the hot pools and try and find a little piece of calm. You always forget just how beautiful the east is, until you return.” The next morning, I rise early to tackle Yilan on two wheels. The city has developed some serious green credentials; it hosted a green expo in March, attended by experts and architects from around the world, and recently implemented a Green Map that allows visitors to discover the best of the city’s parklands, organic restaurants,

and environmentally-friendly buildings, many of which are local government offices. Yilan City even hosts the annual Green International Film Festival, a noncompetition showcase of green-themed productions.

air space between Formosa and its giant neighbour, China. More jets shelter under camouflaged canopies, but my driver tells me that what I can see is just a fraction of the force, and points to the distant mountains while tapping his nose.

Guides from the Silks Place take guests on complimentary bike tours alongside the Dongshan River. Wide green belts of dancing reeds on either side of the river testify to the extent of the annual flood season, as teams of dragon boaters power down the waterway to the boom of Chinese drums. Nearby, early morning walkers cross the river on a bridge constructed from recycled building materials.

Many visitors to Hualien stop in at the Ji-An Wild Vegetable Market, where Amis tribespeople sell the traditional vegetables and herbs they’ve used in food and medicine for generations. The markets are a great spot to explore, even if you don’t plan to take any of their fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables home.

By noon, I’m boarding a local train south. The train races across Yilan’s vast green plateau, before diving into the mountains again, emerging minutes later closer to the sea, the train traversing a sliver of land between the wind-whipped ocean and towering peaks, lush with persistent drizzle. In Hualien, eastern Taiwan’s largest city, the sky erupts every few minutes as Taiwanese F-16s take off to patrol the 28

I backtrack north on the Suao-Hualien Highway to take in the grandeur of the Qingshui Cliffs, five kilometres of towering bluffs which slide dramatically into the ocean near the entrance to the Taroko Gorge. Taroko is one of Taiwan’s best kept secrets. Nestled in the heart of the Taroko National Park, the 19-kilometre long canyon is the ultimate testament to the powers of nature. For 70 million years, rushing alpine rivers have worn down layers of marble to create an awe-inspiring geological landscape of mile-high cliffs.

waterways, shrines, and nearby Tiansiang Convent in comfort. I spend the evening in one of the hotel’s outdoor hot pools under a canopy of stars and to a chorus of insect calls from the bush-clad mountains. The hotel’s Wellspring Spa boasts suites over looking a rushing river, as well as tennis courts, fine-dining restaurants, and even cultural shows in the evenings. But most people come to commute with the serenity. At daybreak I set out to explore the gorge. It’s an easy downhill walk from the hotel and across the Cihmu Bridge to the Tunnel of Nine Turns, one of the route’s most impressive engineering feats. Joining groups of Mainland Chinese tourists toting white hard hats to protect against falling rocks, I follow a path between two cliffs, the space narrowing to less than 10 metres at some points. Below, the water’s of the river are turquoise and awash in froth as they tumble through ancient boulders worn smooth by the elements. At the Swallow’s Grotto, birds flutter on the thermals and nest in natural pock marks in the cliff face. Many walkers also continue down to the Eternal Spring

Named for the Truku aboriginal word for ‘magnificent’, the description actually comes from the tribe’s first venture beyond the canyon to the cusp of the Pacific Ocean which, for a people used to the confinement of the gorge, must have looked pretty magnificent. That said, Taroko, and man’s miniscule impact on it, is inspiring alone. Nationalist soldiers retreating from the civil war in China were put to work

carving a road through the living rock. The results now whisks visitors from sea level up to 3,400m and some of Taiwan’s tallest peaks, all within the space of 60 kilometres. At the gorge’s heart is Silks Place Taroko. Once the site of the famous Tian Hsyang alpine lodge and a favourite haunt of Asia’s power brokers, Silks Place Taroko’s modern, minimalist rooms offer visitors the chance to view the canyon’s

Shrine, which looks out over a picturesque ‘eternal’ waterfall, but I choose to tackle the gorge further in the darkness of night, with one of the hotel’s nighttime bike tours. Despite being strung with more lights than a Christmas tree, the darkness is like a vacuum, the silence when we pause along the way, all but deafening. I chat with my guide, a fit young Chinese woman for whom the hills back to the hotel offer little challenge, about city life. She sits back in her saddle, looks up at the stars and mutters with a smile: “most people don’t know what they’re missing.” Thanks to a tunnel that links a once divided people, all that is about to change. 29



Nestled amid 30 acres of lush rainforest on a quiet corner of Sentosa Island, Capella Singapore is a hidden oasis of colonial charm and unfettered luxury that feels miles removed from the bustling metropolis across the causeway. By Gayatri Bhaumik


the two-storey bungalow, with its white columns, open-air verandahs, and red-tiled roof, are so evocative that you can practically see the galas that were held here back in the day. Now, the intricately restored structure hosts the hotel’s simple, modern reception area, a fine-dining restaurant, and the quaint library where guests can curl up with a book and snack.

Arriving here, you’re immediately immersed in old world grace as you get your first glimpse of the hotel in the form of Tanah Merah, the grand, colonial-style building built in the 1880s by the British military. A gorgeous remnant of Singapore’s past,

Capella Singapore boasts 112 sumptuous guest rooms – including 11 suites and 38 villas - that combine cutting-edge modernity with a design aesthetic that hints at the area’s history. You’ll be spoiled with lavish furnishings no matter which room you get – king-sized beds dressed in Pratesi linens; fullystocked minibars with Nespresso machines; Bose surround sound systems – but you’ll fully appreciate the property’s zen-like ambiance in a One Bedroom Villa. Set amid gardens

pulent five-star hotels are a dime a dozen in Singapore, so finding one that offers guests a unique experience is rare; few properties here are able to take their luxurious offerings to the next level by simultaneously paying homage to their historic settings while also allowing guests to feel far removed from their location. Yet in an unlikely corner of Sentosa Island, Capella Singapore marries its heritage surrounds with the luxuries of space and quiet, creating a resort-like oasis that’s the antithesis of the urban properties the Lion City is known for.


towards the edge of the property, the villa feels like your own private cocoon, complete with a plunge pool and daybedstrewn terrace fringed with greenery and shielded from prying eyes, and a wellconcealed alfresco rain shower off the expansive marble bathroom. Of course for a truly extravagant treat, you won’t do better than one of the decadent Colonial Manors. Two-storey properties totally isolated from the rest of the resort, the Colonial Manors are completely selfsufficient, lavish boltholes that so adroitly capture the area’s history with colonialstyle furnishings Asian inspired décor, and plenty of art, that you’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re in 21st- century Singapore.

No luxurious resort would be complete without an equally fabulous wellness offering, and with its Auriga Spa, Capella Singapore doesn’t disappoint – and being tucked away in a tranquil enclave, out of sight of the rest of the property, only adds to the feeling of sanctuary. Dressed in contemporary Asian style, the 1,115sqm wellness haven features a distinctive wellness philosophy based on the phases of the moon and developed by Sweden’s Raison d’Etre spa company. A full range of wraps, scrubs, and massages are on offer but if you only have 60 minutes, treat yourself to the Waning Moon, a massage by The Organic Pharmacy that’s designed to enhance the lymphatic flow. Incredibly soothing, you’ll be lulled into

falling asleep on the table, but wake up feeling thoroughly rejuvenated and ready to use the vitality pool, herbal steam bath, and experience shower, and relaxation lounge that round out the spa’s amenities. An unashamedly sumptuous retreat infused with personality by its heritage surrounds and providing a spacious, quiet refuge from the city bustle just minutes away, Capella Singapore is an heavenly staycation hideaway for locals and urban retreat for visitors. Capella Singapore; 1 The Knolls, Sentosa Island, Singapore 098297; +65 6377 8888; singapore

The property’s unique transcendence of time and place even extends to its dining options. Cassia, the elegant finedining Chinese restaurant helmed by Hong Kong’s Andre Fu, fuses its colonial surrounds with Asian culinary heritage, dishing up innovative cuisine inspired by the historic spice routes through southern and western China; its 12-seater private salon is perfect for quiet, intimate celebrations. On the other side of the resort the airy Mediterranean restaurant, The Knolls, serves up one of the best weekend brunches in the city, and sitting on the terrace while overlooking the hotel’s three-tiered pool and the South China Sea on a sunny day, you could easily imagine you were on some idyllic tropical island. 31




With traditional hot springs, gastronomic feasts, and an endless supply of powdery white snow, Niseko, Japan, is a choice spot for a winter break. 32


y family and I were looking for a quick weekend getaway that was a little more exciting than just lounging by a pool, when a friend of ours told us that Niseko, in Hokkaido, Japan, would be a great, easy-to-organise winter getaway. Averaging 1.5 metres of fluffy, powdery snow every year, Niseko has the second-highest average snowfall of any ski resort in the world, making it the perfect winter wonderland for those looking for a quick escape. Since skiing was high on our list of priorities, we stayed at Niseko United, which has five different ski areas – Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Niseko Grand Hirafu, and Niseko Hanazono, and the often overlooked Moiwa– for access to the entire mountain on one lift pass with convenient bus connections around the base. The adrenaline rush that came from powering down the powder-dusted slopes was an experience beyond words, but we soon realised that Niseko has more to offer visitors than just snow sports. It’s also a place to reflect, connect, and find personal fulfilment. I found myself doing just that as I sat in one of the 15 onsens (geothermal hot springs) that fringe the base of the ski slopes across the entire area. Soaking in one of Japan’s famous natural hot tubs is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures here, and one that’s incredibly calming and soothing – it’s the best way to ease tired muscles after a day on the slopes, before taking advantage of the après-ski scene. As we quickly realised, no experience in Niseko is complete without getting out and discovering the many culinary delights that the area has to offer. We found time to chat to a few local chefs – all specialists in their own particular culinary field – who helped us bridge the gaps in our understanding of Japan’s culinary traditions with some phenomenal gastronomic treats. It would be a sin to leave without trying some soba

at the world-renowned Soba Dokoro Rakuichi, a small, wood-filled restaurant that we discovered was only accessible by a bridge. You may have to wait, but you’ll be thankful you did once you take your first bite of the Soba Kaiseki. Nothing short of spectacular, the noodle-based dish is filled with umami and handmade, hand-cut soba noodles. We also couldn’t leave without trying the sushi and sashimi for which Japan is known, and we stumbled across the best at Hanayoshi, in the centre of Niseko. With friendly, quick service, we gorged on fresh, raw seafood while basking in the restaurant’s warm and welcoming atmosphere; the experience was something we won’t soon forget. My family also decided to be a little adventurous with our sleeping arrangements. We chose a homely ryokan – a traditional Japanese guest house – as home base. Filled with quaint elements of traditional Japanese culture, the ryokan offered us more chances to sample local food and unwind in more onsens, and we couldn’t have been more charmed by the incredible service and kind hospitality. My family and I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend than one filled with experiences that are not only unique to Japan, but also to Niseko. If, like us, you’re looking for a memorable winter holiday with a side of tradition and culture thrown in, Niseko is the place to go. 33

Profile for Don Pierre Riosa

Explorer december 2014 issue  

Explorer december 2014 issue