ATACAMA HOUSEBOATS OF KASHMIR KINGS OF THE FOREST ASSISI CHINAâ€™S EXTRAORDINARY RICE TERRACES
eMag Number 7
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Welcome to Fellow Traveller
HOUSEBOATS OF KASHMIR KINGS OF THE FOREST ASSISI CHINA’S EXTRAORDINARY RICE TERRACES
eMag Number 7
eMag Number 7
Atacama – the “Absolute Desert”
The rice terraces of China – Where farming mirrors art
I Witness – Singular views from around the world
The Last Kings of The Forest – Ancient giant kauri
Assisi and the treasures of Umbria
New Zealand’s Luxury Lodges
Cover: Evening on Dal Lake, Kashmir Fellow Traveller is a periodic eMag published by Nomads Secrets and dedicated to the Art of Exploration Lucia O’Connell Founder Tony Sernack Editor John Harber Design Tony Sernack Photography
The Houseboats of Kashmir
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N this edition we travel to Srinagar in Kashmir,
Assisi and the Umbrian region of Italy, the giant kauri forest in New Zealand and the extraordinary rice terraces of southern China. I have also written about my experience exploring the Atacama, desert spanning Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. We are about to go Tonga at the end of August to see the migrating humpback whales that go to these Pacific waters to have their calves. Last year we made a spur of the moment decision to do this trip as a getaway holiday, but discovered that it was getting late in the season and the whales had started to move on. So we booked one year ahead to secure accommodation and a yacht at peak time and are really excited about the trip. Something for a future edition of Fellow Traveller! Lucia O'Connell
the "A b s o l u t e D e s e r t " Lucia Oâ€™Connell explores the majestic beauty of the driest place on Earth
TRETCHING approximately 1,000 kilometres from Peruâ€™s southern border into Bolivia, Argentina and northern Chile, the Atacama Desert rises from the South American continental shelf, squeezed between
the Pacific Ocean and the Andean Cordillera. It is an otherworldly landscape of stark beauty and ancient secrets.
Its unusual ultra dry climate has preserved ancient fossils and the artefacts of past civilisations. It also provides near perfect conditions for powerful telescopes to scan the night skies as scientists seek to decipher the genesis of our universe.
The Atacama is an extraordinary place, a vast expanse of plains, pampas, altiplanos and rocky mountains. A Scenery that is harsh, spectacular, colourful and beguiling.
sophisticated Argentinian city is justifiably proud of its opulent Spanish Baroque colonial heritage that dates back to its foundation in 1582.
I started my journey from Salta. This magnificent and highly
Giant cacti and fossilised algae cover the rocky ground of Incahuasi Island rising from the vast expanse of the Uyuni salt flat, a 10,300 square kilometres basin left behind by the lake that covered the same area 16,000 years ago.
It was here that I met my guide Federico, a former army officer and a highly educated salteño with a long career as a guide and explorer. He has led expeditions for scientists, mountain climbers, fashion designers and photographers on their different quests. Through Federico’s passion for the Atacama he calls ‘his home’ I was able to gain an insight into this fascinating region. We left Salta in the pre-dawn light and headed straight for the desert. Soon our Toyota Landcruiser was speeding across the Altiplano’s lunar starkness towards snowcapped mountains. However the longer we drove the more unreachable they seemed. The crystal clear unpolluted air made them appear so much nearer than they were.
Our first destination was the foothills of Cerro Llullaillaco, the volcano where the mummies of three Inca children were found in 1999 by an archaeological expedition financed by the National Geographic Society. I had seen these mummies in the purpose-built museum in Salta and wanted to walk the same path their sacrificial cortège would have followed. The volcano rises 6,739m/22,100ft above sea level and was chosen by the Incas as the burial site for the three high-cast children to rest nearer to the gods. As we approached, I imagined the sacrificial pilgrimage and the rituals that would have taken place, as the children got closer to their final resting site. I was deeply saddened by the idea of the children suffering and dying alone, far away from their home in the silence and emptiness of this place.
Sunset over la Cordillera de la Sal formed by the horizontal accumulation of thin layers of sand, clay and salt. Subsequent erosion by wind and water has created a sequence a peaks similar in outline to the bellows of an accordion.
Driving onto the salt flats of Uyuni to reach Icahausi Island feels like leaving the safety of land for an uncertain mirage beyond reach. As we stepped out of our 4x4 we saw the myriad of salt mounds dug from the worldâ€™s largest salt plain waiting to transported for processing.
â€Ś.rain has not fallen for more than 500 yearsâ€Ś
Federico explained that the children (aged 13, 5 and 4) would have been venerated as the “chosen ones”. Selected for their physical beauty and looked after in the same way as royals. They would not have suffered, their consciousness numbed by concoctions of cocoa leaves and alcohol.
would have accompanied them.
Scientific examination of the mummies showed the 13-year old girl enjoyed a rich diet typical of high-ranking members of Inca society. The other two younger children, a boy and a girl were chosen presumably to be more her companions than her equals from examinations of their clothes and the food they ate. The journey to the mountain would have taken months and their parents, dignitaries and the priests who performed the final sacrificial ritual
We walked back down the steep and slippery path to our car, our silence only broken by the wind whistling in our ears and the sound of our boots on the gravel. I could not get the images of the children out of my mind and the thought that they had waited in this isolated place over the centuries to be re-discovered.
Federico recounted that when the mountaineers found them, their bodies were not buried, but partially sheltered from the elements, as it was customary in Inca culture. In a region where it literally never rains, their tiny desiccated bodies were preserved.
While still in Salta, Federico and I met with the director of the indigenous art museum. He gave his great insight into the culture
and artistic mastery of the Andean communities of the Atacama. He also provided a road map for the next phase of our journey to see the most interesting villages and the people we should meet along the way. Federico suggested that the best way to understand the region was through meeting the people who lived there - a travel philosophy that I certainly share. So we set out from Cerro Llullaillaco with a plan to do just that. We travelled north and entered a magical landscape of wild and brightly coloured lagoons inhabited by flocks of flamingos. In some there were grazing llamas and vicuñas, and others had geysers with plumes of hot steam rising high into the deep-blue sky.
This train is one of a many relics left behind from more prosperous times when the railways were the best way to move people and cargo across the South American continent. Exploring its carcass brings the past into the present.
We passed huge silver mines managed by foreign multinationals and onto the largest salt flats in the world. The salt shimmers in the sun like diamond dust. Atacama salt is exported to all the corners of the world. It is also used to build atmospheric hotels near the flats for travellers and the houses of local workers. Artists carve it to create unusual salt sculptures.
We were in what scientists call the “absolute desert”, the driest non-polar desert on Earth, where rain has not fallen for more than 500 years and certainly not since recording began.
…a magical landscape of wild and brightly coloured lagoons inhabited by flocks of flamingos
In the villages I met people, some descendants of the Incas, determined to claw a livelihood out of a place where life does not seem possible. We were introduced to Andean creativity through textile art in wool and feathers and fine goldsmithing. I learnt about ancestral beliefs and how they materialise through music, propitiatory rituals and folk dances. The locals shared stories about legendary hunters, shamans, princesses and Spanish conquistadors. They showed us how they made pottery, wooden artefacts and woven items of vegetable fibre in the same way as their ancestors.
Laguna Verde (Green Lake) is a permanent lake bordered by volcanoes and rich in local fauna whose waters are replenished by the underground springs bubbling on its southern shore.
A dirt track borders the cobalt-blue water of the heart-shaped lake of Laguna Miscanti part of Los Flamencos (The Flamingos) National Reserve. An adobe house at the end of the track is proof of seasonal human habitation in the area.
The men and women we met had skin weathered by the wind and the unrelenting sun and rough hands toughened by hard work. Their ages were hard to tell, their looks made them appear wise andÂ experienced. The peasant societies of the high Andes maintain cultural and medicinal practices that date back to pre-Columbian times. Some ancient implements are still used today in cultivating their meagre crops and managing animal herds for wool, milk and meat. 20
We were headed for the Chajnantor
Plateau to visit the most expensive and highest observatory ever built - the US$1.3b ALMA observatory. The acronym stands for Atacama Large Millimeter Array. On the way Federico detoured to a valley not far from our very comfortable hotel, whose uncanny resemblance to Mars spurred American scientists to test special robots and rovers destined for the mission to the red planet. The valley is flanked by multicoloured jagged rocky spines and on the valley floor there are small craters, remnants of a
turbulent geological past eons ago. This surreal setting is a favourite backdrop for fashion photographers who shoot glamorous models against this most striking landscape. As we climbed toward the plateau, Federico explained that in the mid 1990s astronomers were looking for the perfect location for an observatory capable of penetrating deep space. The search led them to the area surrounding the small town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Here with the help of military maps they found the Chajnantor
Plateau where the humidity is the lowest in the world. After 20 years of hard work, the highest and most powerful observatory on the planet opened its doors in 2013. The large plain rises at 5,050m /16,570ft above sea level. It is dotted with ALMA’s great dishes and antennae all pointing towards the crystal-clear heavens. The air was piercingly cold and very dry. We met with the observatory staff who confirmed that the plateau is the ultimate place for their work. It is really an amazing site. We were shown around the science-
fiction-like technology that drives the whole operation and also saw photos of new-born and dying stars, exploding ones and colliding galaxies taken by the observatory’s powerful telescopes. I felt really privileged to have come to a place at the front line of our human quest to reveal the secrets of the cosmos. On our departure our hosts asked that we drive with our lights off until we were out of sight of ALMA to avoid creating any light pollution. In the fading light of dusk the Altiplano and the Andean Cordillera definitely felt extra-
terrestrial and alien. Soon we saw the welcoming lights of San Pedro in the distance and the promise of a spa and a hot bath to warm me up. After farewelling Federico, I spent my final couple of days in San Pedro, relaxing and reflecting on my Atacama adventure. One final surprise was seeing the ghost train cemetery of what was once a thriving railway running east-west across the continent. ◆
A few (amazing) facts about ALMA ◆ ALMA combines 66 radio antennas, most almost 12 metres (40 feet) in diameter, to create images comparable to those that could be obtained with a single 14,000 metre -wide (46,000-foot) dish. ◆ As a comparative measure, the observatory is accurate enough to clearly discern a golf ball 9 miles (15 kilometres) away. ◆ At an altitude of 5,050 metres (16,570 feet) above sea level atop the Chajnantor plateau puts ALMA above much of the Earth's atmosphere, which blurs and distorts light. ◆ As Chile's Atacama desert is the driest place on earth, almost every night is cloudless and free of light-distorting moisture. ◆ The surfaces of the radio dishes are almost perfect, with none deviating from an exact parabola by more than 20 micrometres (20 millionths of a meter, or about 0.00078 inches). Each dish weighs about 100 tons and is made of ultra-stable CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic) for the reflector base, with reflecting panels of rhodium-coated nickel. ◆ The electronic detector called the "front end" that amplifies and converts the radio signals collected at each ALMA antenna must be kept at a chilling 4 Kelvin (minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 269 degrees Celsius), to prevent introducing noise to the signal. ◆
NEPAL– The great festival of Bisket Jatra, Bhaktapur At the beginning of the Nepali New Year, the three royal cities of the Kathmandu Valley – Kathmandu: ‘city of wood’, Patan: ‘city of beauty’ and Bhaktapur: ‘city of devotees’ – celebrate with their own distinctive festivities. The great Bisket Jatra festival in Bhaktapur is held over eight nights and nine days in April each year and carries immense religious and cultural significance for local Nepalis. In 2015, one week after the festival, the valley was hit by a catastrophic earthquake. Photographer Tony Sernack produced a book to raise money for relief efforts through the Australian Himalayan Foundation. ◆ All proceeds from the book go to help rebuild schools. 24
i WITNESS NEW YORK CITY – Grand Central Station Sitting between Madison and Lexington Avenues, and covering roughly 15 mid-city blocks between 42nd and 49th Streets, Grand Central Terminal (as it is officially named) is one of the world’s iconic stations. It started life in 1871 as the Grand Central Depot to service three railroads, the New York Central and Hudson River, New York and Harlem, and New York and New Haven. Built at a time when longdistance train travel was booming, the construction was financed by Cornelius Vanderbilt, known as the Commodore, who made his considerable wealth from railways and shipping. The tracks loop at the 42nd Street end, basically under the cavernous Main Concourse, which is as high as it is wide (at 38 metres) and instantly recognisable as it has featured in numerous movies. ◆
i WITNESS FRANCE – Galerie des Glaces, Versailles Construction of the Hall of Mirrors began in 1678 and was designed to connect the apartments of the flamboyant king, Louis XIV, and his queen. At the time he was married to Maria Theresa of Spain but after her untimely death at 44 (due to an abscess on her arm), Louis married Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon who enjoyed this lavish gallery. In the 17th century, mirrors, and especially mirrors of great size, were the most expensive of possessions. Venice held a monopoly on mirror production and in order to manufacture the mirrors in France for Versailles, Colbert, the king’s Finance Minister, brought workers from Venice. Legend has it that the Venetian government sent agents to France to poison these workers so their city could retain its lucrative monopoly. ◆ 28
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and the treasures of Umbria Italy has two patron saints, Catherine of Siena and Francis of Assisi. Both came from beautiful historic towns. 32
TUSCAN SIENA, the great rival of Florence has a UNESCO World heritage listing for its medieval centre where the famous roughhouse horserace, the Palio, is contested twice each year, the first between June 29th and July 2nd with the second between August 13th and 16th.
Assisi, sitting on a hilltop in central Italy’s Umbria region, has been the focus of pilgrimages to venerate St Francis since the 1200s and the whole town is a UNESCO site! While so much in and around Assisi celebrates the life of St Francis, he is not the patron saint of the town itself. That honour falls to the martyred St Rufino, first bishop of Assisi, who lived about 900 years before St Francis and whose remains rest under the altar of the cathedral dedicated to him in Assisi. St Francis’s final home and memorial is the Basilica di San Francesco. Built on two levels, this massive and opulent cathedral is perhaps a rather odd memorial to a man who
preached a simple life of abstinence and renunciation of worldly goods.
way into shrines all over Europe, this was quite extraordinary.
The lower church was completed in 1230, just four years after St Francis’s death. His body was moved there and so effectively buried and concealed by stone beneath the high altar that it would be almost 600 years before it was rediscovered in 1818. When the coffin was opened the skeleton of the saint was found intact, eerily preserved. Given that bits and pieces of other saints found their
Modern day pilgrims can approach his tomb in the crypt to pray, something their medieval counterparts were unable to do. The walls of the lower church (the basilica inferiore) are covered with vivid frescoes that tell of the life of St Francis in parallel with the life of Christ.
Concert held against the backdrop of the lavish frescos of the lower church of the Basilica di San Francesco
The place is dimly lit, photography of any sort is forbidden. When we were there preparations were underway for a concert. Lucia talked with the Franciscan monk who was directing the placement of a grand piano and he suggested very casually that we might like to come back in the evening. We were among the first at
the huge portal to the lower church and when the doors opened we walked under the medieval artwork to our front row seats. A chair was placed in front of us for the Cardinal and behind us all the pews filled quickly. Then the lights were turned on and the walls came alive. The mostly Italian audience
took out their cameras and iphones and blasted away photographing the glorious illuminated frescoes with impunity. Two sopranos, a base and a tenor, backed by a full choir then thrilled the audience with Giacomo Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle. The conductor was none other than our laid-back monk.
Completed some 50 years after this lower chapel, the basilica superiore or upper church is a striking example of Italian Gothic. Unlike the dark and cloistered church below, it is a huge, airy space and full of light, decorated with Giotto frescoes of the life of St Francis. These are a big attraction to art aficionados but for me, seeing the lower church lit revealing its full glory is a lasting memory.
There are many churches worth visiting in Assisi, but two stood out for me. The Basilica di Santa Chiara, another 13th century structure and the resting place of St Francis’ childhood friend and follower, St Clare.
Like Francis, Clare’s remains lay hidden and undisturbed until the mid 1800s when her skeleton was also discovered intact. The basilica’s simple striped façade is striking. The other is a couple of kilometres below the hilltop town, the Porziuncola. This is a small church within another, the huge Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels. This tiny church is the most sacred to the Franciscan order as it is where the young Francis came to understand his calling and renounced all worldly possessions to commence his ministry to the poor.
Above Assisi is the Eremo delle Carceri, a small retreat in the forest on Mount Subasio. Francis came here to pray and contemplate in the tranquility of the forests and caves. We were fortunate that on the day we visited there were only a few visitors and they were respectful. This allowed some sense of the solitude and spirituality this place offered in medieval times.
Basilica di San Francesco
Palazzo Dei Consoli
Of course there is much more to Assisi and the Umbrian region than its deep religious roots.
is half an hour from Assisi at San Sisto. Who hasn’t enjoyed a hazelnut topped Bacio?
Let’s start with food! Umbria is famed for its cured meats, particularly pork for which the town of Norcia is renowned. Porchetta is a local delicacy, pork carved off a stuffed, herbed and roasted piglet and served in a hearty panino for lunch.
Another medieval town, Gubbio, is also in the province of Perugia. Sitting on the slopes of Mount Ingino, Gubbio is known as ‘the city of fools’ because of an ancient tradition of giving a ‘fool’s licence’ and citizenship to anyone who circled the small fountain in Largo del Bargello three times. The view from the top of the Palazzo dei Consoli is spectacular and the
Umbria also produces excellent wines such as those from Sagrantino and Orvieto. And chocolates. The Perugina factory
museum housed inside includes the seven Tables of Gubbio, an historical record on bronze from the 3rd century BC. Unlike more popular Tuscany, Umbria has no shoreline but this green heart of Italy offers rich reward to the traveller. And Assisi is a great place to start. ◆
One of the seven Tables of Gubbio or the Iguvine Tablets (after Gubbioâ€™s ancient name of Iguvium)
Medieval reenactment in Gubbio
Bronze statue of St Francis at Eremo delle Carceri
A pious life Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in 1181 and lived just 44 years. The son of a wealthy family, he led a life of leisure. However at 21 he had joined a militia group (where he took on the nickname of Francesco or Francis inÂ English). After a battle with the town of Perugia, Francis spent a year as a prisoner of war. His thoughts turned from his privileged life to seeking a closer relationship with God and the real purpose of his life.
Convinced that it was God’s will that he help the poor, he gave away his worldly possessions, angering his wealthy father. When Francis heard the words of the gospel of Matthew at a mass, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts – no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff” he saw this as God’s calling.
forgiveness, the beginning of the Franciscan Order.
In time other young men joined his life of service and simplicity, preaching God’s love and
St Francis died in 1226 and was canonised just two years later by
Claire, a childhood friend of Francis, also gave up her wealth to adopt a simple lifestyle and help the poor. She helped care for Francis in the last years of his life and formed a prayer and service group that became known as the Order of the Poor Clares.
Pope Gregory IX. Today he is also remembered as the patron saint of animals, which he saw as brothers and sisters in God’s creation. At the moment of his death it is said that a flock of larks swooped down near him and sang. The saint is interred in a stone sarcophagus in the crypt of the Basilica that bears his name. ◆
ERHAPS one of the most spectacular duomos in Italy is located in Orvieto, the Cathedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. Construction started in 1290 and took three centuries to complete! The duomo is distinctive for its ornate façade and its internal walls striped with alternate layers of local white travertine and blue/ grey basalt. I was transfixed by the sculpture of Mary cradling the crucified Jesus just taken down from the cross, La Pietà o Deposizione, and spent some time trying to get a good photograph of it. The cathedral is truly a treasure trove and the San Brizio Chapel, an enclave off the main nave, rivals the Sistine Chapel. ◆ Photography by Tony Sernack
The spectacular interior of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta in Orvieto and the marble sculpture PietĂ o Deposizione
The San Brizio Chapel
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The Houseboats of Kashmir
SRINAGAR is the largest city and the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. 52
It is built around the adjoining Dal and Nagin Lakes, which are famous for their houseboats (actually the word Dal means lake so Dal Lake isÂ somewhat an overkill).
Covering around 21 square kilometres and located in the Kashmir Valley, the lake is not just
a tourist attraction but through fishing and floating gardens provides sustenance to the local population. During the time of the Raj, in granting the Maharaja of Kashmir control over his territory, the British agreed not to build houses in the
Valley. However, seeking respite from the summer heat of the plains, the English bureaucrats got around this restriction by building lavish houseboats on the lake.
…each one a little piece of England afloat on Dal.
Nowadays the houseboats are owned and operated by Kashmiris and cater for tourists. Their popularity was, in part, sparked when Ravi Shankar taught George Harrison to play the sitar while staying on the Dal. There are as many as 1000 stationary houseboats lined up along the shores of the lake some with really fanciful names. They vary in size but generally are around 30 metres long. The larger boats can have up to 4 or 5 bedrooms, a lounge and dining room, internal pantry and a balcony with steps accessing the lake. 56
They are water born hotels and, like hotels, the quality of the houseboats varies from budget to luxury. Staying on a houseboat is a somewhat romantic experience and one I think most travellers will enjoy, even if only for a few nights. Your houseboat has a staff of a captain, chef and a room boy and the tariffs are all inclusive of meals. Made from cedar, the best houseboats are lavishly decorated with elaborate carved wood ceilings and decorations, quality furniture, fine cushions and rugs. Most have good bathroom facilities with hot water but even on the best
boats don’t expect the amenities to be the equal of the best land based hotels. Unlike the time of the Raj, Each houseboat also has its own Shikara-wala. This man paddles a small wooden boat (a Shikara) and will pick you up from your houseboat and take you on excursions to see the lake, floating markets and gardens. The Shikaras are well set up with plenty of cushions so you can see the sights in comfortable ‘lounge’ style. In the cooler months it gets chilly on the water. Make sure your Shikara-wala has blankets! ◆
Snow covered Zabarwan mountain range from Dal Lake
Deluxe Class or…. Finding the right houseboat does take a bit of time and insider knowledge. When we were in Kashmir last year we looked at a number. The first houseboat we stayed on was adequate but the truth of its quality had been stretched (not uncommon). With some exploration we found something much better with another operator. Whether it was true that Mick Jagger really had stayed on our boat is an open question mark but we couldn’t fault the generosity of the owner and our boat crew. Also expect that during the day that back staircase off your over the water balcony will be visited by shikara born salemen carrying everything from rugs and shawls to flowers and saffron. It’s part of being there.
Kashmir, is it safe? Our experience was fine. We also had the advantage of excellent guides. We did travel up into the mountains, above the snow line and also visited artisans in the homes in the city and ate at local restaurants with no trouble. Certainly passing through the airport requires some patience in filling in forms and there is a strong military presence there and in parts of Srinagar. Occasional disturbances seem not to affect the areas travellers will generally go to but like all destinations one should check ahead of your trip.
Lucia O’Connell 59
riterraces ce Where farming mirrors art. Indigenous engineering on aÂ grand scale. 60
Hewn into hillsides across the rural south, the rice terraces of China are simply extraordinary. These man-made mosaics, built high in the mountains have helped sustain local ethnic tribes for centuries. They are testament to ingenuity, determination, hard work and collaboration. In the winter the terraces fill with water and mirror the sky, glistening like crystal. In spring they come alive with bullocks and double-bent farmers in gumboots planting rice seedlings. Weeks later, the terraces are transformed into furry scalloped carpets and in the autumn there is the activity of the harvest and the terraces turn golden yellow, their plants swaying in the breeze, undulating like a giant dragon awaking from its slumber. Every season has its wonder and fascination. Photographers arrive at dawn and sunset to capture images that remind the viewer more of an abstract painting than anything worldly. This type of terracing occurs in a number of regions across Southern China. In the west are the famed Yuanyang Terraces. Situated just north of the Vietnam border and a UNESCO World Heritage site, terraces were first built here by the Hani people 1,300 years ago and sit at elevations of up to 3,000 metres above sea level. The Yunhe Terraces in the east and south of Hangzhou are regarded as some of the most beautiful. Being
further north they are often covered in snow in the winter especially those at higher altitudes (up to 1,400 metres). Perhaps the most well known are the Longhi Terraces (also known as Longsheng). Located roughly in the centre of southern China in the Guillin Prefecture they are worth visiting in every season. The wooden houses of the Zhuang and Yao villages set among the farmland are unique and the women wear traditional clothing as they go about their daily tasks. It is here that the Zhuang people built the Dragon’s Backbone, an amazing terrace where construction began during the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century and continued for around 500 years. The rice terraces resemble the scales of a dragon, while the ridgeline of the mountain range looks like its backbone. Wherever you go, visiting these extraordinary terraces is also a wonderful opportunity to experience traditional ethnic cultures and, beyond being a photographic wonderland, provide some fabulous walks. A local guide is recommended, as signposting can be tricky. Returning travellers have the luxury to choose the seasonal spectacle that enchants the most. However if you intend to visit China only once and want to experience the classic image of the terraces glistening in the sun then winter is the time to go. ◆
"The resilient land management system of the rice terraces demonstrates extraordinary harmony between people and their environment, both visually and ecologically, based on exceptional and long-standing social and religious structures." UNESCO
CHINA’S FAMOUS FIVE 1 The Longji Rice Terraces – A visit for all seasons. Don’t miss sunrise over the Longji Rice Terraces and the ethnic wooden houses of the Zhuang.
2 Yuanyang Rice Terraces – Visit in January and February. And from late February to March, the terraces are adorned with flowers, including peach and pear blossoms. Don’t miss seeing the mushroom-like Hani houses.
3 Jiabang Rice Terraces – Visit from April to June, and from September to October. Don’t miss the mysterious scenery of the five rice terraces in Guizhou province in the southeast and the quaint wooden Miao houses.
4 Ziquejie Rice Terraces – Remote but worth the effort! Visit in all seasons – from March to early May for the mirrored terraces; from late May to early June for the seedling terraces; and in October, see the golden terraces. Located in the Xinhua County about 300 kilometres west of Changsha City, the Ziquejie Rice Terraces are named "the Terrace Kingdoms", because of their variety and size (the largest terrace covers about 2 square kilometres).
5 Yunhe Rice Terraces – In Yunhe County in China’s east, these are often described as China’s most beautiful terraces. Rising from 200 to 1,400 metres (650 to 4,600 feet) and covering an area of about 51 square kilometres (20 square miles) across mountains, hills and valleys, the altitude of the terraces lends a great sense of theatre to the panorama. Visit from May to late June or in October, when you can see the golden terraces. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the culture and customs of the She ethnic group.
THE LAST KINGS OF THE FOREST New Zealand’s ancient and mighty trees O NCE forests dominated by the magnificent kauri, one of
the world’s oldest and largest trees covered much of the land north of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island. Today, while small stands of kauri are found throughout Northland, there are only two forests remaining, the Waipoua and Trounson. These two protected areas only cover about 90 sq kilometres and are situated about 4 hours drive north of Auckland and just south of the Hokianga Harbour on the west coast. Agathis australis or kauri to the Māori, is a conifer and related to the Norfolk Pine. Its antecedents appeared some 150 million years ago during the Jurassic period. Walking through these remaining forests one certainly feels that ancient heritage.
The loss of the forests came with colonization. Traditionally the Māori used the trees for building huts and war canoes. Felling huge trees with simple tools was very difficult. With European settlement came metal tools, bullock trains, wheels and winches and there was a big demand for wood for construction
as well as land for farming. As a result by the end of the nineteenth century most of the kauri forests had disappeared. It took until 1952 for the remaining forest to be designated as the Waipoua Sanctuary. It is now illegal to fell a kauri anywhere, except in specific circumstances, such as culling a diseased tree or for a ceremonial canoe. Two spectacular trees stand out from their neighbours in Waipoua. Tāne Mahuta or ‘The Lord of the Forest” is the largest known kauri standing today. Its age could be anywhere between 1,250 and 2,500 years old. It is 18m to its lowest branches and its crown is home to a variety of epiphytes. In the Māori legend of the creation, Tānne is the strongest son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother. He put his shoulder to father and pushed him upwards to separate his parents and create light and life.
Tānne then set about clothing his mother with ferns and trees. When man first spread across the world, this soft protective ‘clothing’ covered it. The trees of the forest are regarded as Tānne’s children and the forest was called Te Waotapu-nui-a-Tānne (the great sacred forests of Tānne). The Māori honored Tānne and his legacy. The local Te Roroa people only took down trees sparingly and with great ceremony for significant projects. Tāne Mahuta at 516 cubic meters in volume is the world’s fourth largest tree. The other huge kauri, about a kilometre south, is Te Matua Ngahere, the “Father of the Forest” and the second-largest tree in New Zealand. It lays a short walk from the main road through a spectacular prehistoric forest of giant ferns and near the Four Sisters, a stand of comparatively slender kauri growing close together. Te Matua Ngahere is not as tall as –Tane Mahuta but with its massive girth (of some 16 metres) that does not seem to taper at all it is a very impressive sight. Estimates of its age have ranged from 1200 to 4000 years! These massive and ancient kauri dwarf the tataire, kohekohe and towai trees that surround them.
Some 50,000 people a year travel to the Waipoua to see the trees. To help prevent dieback disease there are stations to clean footwear before venturing along the forest walks. ◆
A little south of the forest outside the village of Matakohe, the Kauri Museum tells the story of the pioneering days of early European settlement and the felling and milling of the kauri and also the search for its gum. While the museum basically tells the story from a colonial viewpoint, it provides a fascinating look at the methods and equipment used and the hardships endured by early foresters. Kauri gum, or amber, was collected for its resins and use in lacquer and for jewelry.
Lodge at Kauri Cliffs
New Zealand’s Luxury Retreats The North and South Islands of New Zealand are today home to over thirty luxury lodges that provide the finest of accommodation, cuisine and activities for travellers from all over the world. The genesis of this relevantly recent phenomenon was the development of Huka Lodge after it was bought and developed by Dutchman Alex van Heeren in 1984. Huka started life as a simple flyfishing camp on the crystal clear waters of the Waikato River just above the tremulous Huka Falls at Taupo, roughly in the centre of the North Island.
Established by an Irishman Alan Pye, the camp’s fame for trout fishing spread and soon dedicated anglers from across the world made regular pilgrimages. The American author of westerns, Zane
Grey enjoyed an angling sabbatical at Huka, James A. Mitchener penned part of “Return to Paradise” when he wasn’t fishing and other famed anglers in earlier times included Queen Elizabeth, Charles Lindbergh and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr.
are now a variety of super luxury retreats available to the discerning traveller each with their own character and attractions.
The original tented camp was spartan. Today the Lodge, set in magnificent gardens, offers ultra luxurious accommodation and the finest cuisine. Certainly nothing surpasses sharing a meal of rainbow trout you caught a couple of hours earlier and expertly prepared by Chef Paul Froggart.
Kauri Cliffs is famed for its golf course set spectacularly on the east coast at Matauri Bay. The Lodge and the golf course enjoy 180 degree views across the Pacific Ocean, Cape Brett and the Cavalli Islands. The kauri forests of the Waipoua and the sand dunes of Hokianga Harbour are about an hour and a half’s drive away and
Following on from Huka there
Two we particularly enjoyed on the North Island were Kauri Cliffs and Poronui.
Kauri Cliffs and the Cavalli Islands
the northern Cape Reinga and 90 Mile Beach can be visited by helicopter. Closer is the historical Treaty House at Waitangi where a wonderful new museum tells the story of the agreement between the Queen Victoriaâ€™s administrators and the Maori chiefs in 1840. The Lodge property itself offers plenty to do (other than simply relax and eat and drink the very best New Zealand has to offer). It is set on a 2400-hectare working farm and has access to a number of beaches ideal for swimming, kayaking and surfing.
At Pink Beach (so named as it is made up of tiny pink shells) the Lodge will arrange a picnic under the Pohutukawa trees just off the beach. There are nature walks, guided bird watching, a pool, tennis courts and a spa complex. For us dinner on the Lodge verandah was a highlight. Of course for golfers, Kauri Cliffs offers a spectacular par 72 championship course currently rated number 39 in the world! Fifteen holes have extraordinary ocean views and six are set along the top of the cliffs. The 201metre par 3 7th at the southern end of the course is one of the most scenic and demanding holes (there are shorter tees!). It has a backdrop of the Cavalli Islands, which will momentarily divert you from the challenge of a shot across the cliff top gorge. Non-golfers - just bring your camera. 72
Porunui is a different experience. It is situated south of Taupo in the secluded Taharua Valley. On a 6500-hectare property (actively farmed for livestock and sustainable timber), Porunui is set up more as a fishing and hunting lodge (which it how it started life). As the Lodge manager Eve explained to us, here guests can do everything or nothing. Trout fishing is at the core of the Lodge. Wild brown and rainbow trout abound in the property’s pristine streams. Catch and release is the norm here. There is also horse riding, mountain biking, archery and hunting and walking, a spa and the opportunity to explore Māori culture. While it is a sportsman’s private retreat, some guest simply come to relax, enjoy luxury accommodation, the stories of the day’s catch in front
of an open fire and sit down with fellow guests to fresh, gourmet New Zealand food and wine. There are several accommodation options on the property that allow small groups complete privacy. The Safari Camp on the Mohaka River is camping out in real style (there are only two ‘tents’). Overall we thought Poronui was special. It has a truly beautiful location. Friendly, relaxed, private and with everything quietly organized to ensure a great experience. ◆
New Zealand has a lot to offer the discerning traveller. However distances between some of the best experiences demand good planning.
Safari Camp at Porunui
The fascinating life of Nomads Words Lucia O’Connell, photograph Tony Sernack
The first time I encountered nomads was in Tunisia over 25 years ago.
during the annual migration to seek greener pastures for their goats and sheep.
My friends and I had gone to visit the Roman amphitheatre of El Jem on the edge of the Sahara. We decided to drive cross-country along a stretch of a poorly marked track through the Northern Sahara to reach our next destination, the ancient city of Al-Qayrawan. I had read its medina (the old walled part of a North African town) had just become a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its remarkable monuments built between the 9th and 12th century when the town was an important Arab trading post.
Over the next few days we stayed with these desert nomads and learnt about their way of life. The women mostly managed the household chores of tending the herds, making butter and cultivating a seemingly dry patch of land.
Locals advised against taking the “short cut” as we could easily get lost. Seeing our disappointment, they suggested we hire a local Berber, Salim, as a guide. His family had an encampment halfway to our final destination where we could spend the night. He explained that he and his uncles used the camp as the provisioning post for wealthy Saudis who wanted to hunt antelope on camel back deep into the Saharan desert. Circumstances now promised an interesting detour. The track eventually petered out into the desert sands; we were lucky to have Salim who could navigate his way by just looking at broken twigs that had been brushed by other vehicles before us. We arrived at the camp just after dusk and were greeted by a bunch of women and their children. The women were bejewelled with heavy silver bracelets and necklaces. They were busy repairing the dark camel hair tents their husbands would use on the hunting trip. The same tents they used
In the evening they would embroider garments, cushions and make rugs to sell in the towns they passed by as they wandered to find new pastures. The men’s job was to ensure nobody would go hungry, so they used their hunting skills to earn cash to buy what was needed. When they were not away hunting, they would repair their generators and trucks. Their community was tight knit and interdependent. The women would laugh and chat away together as they were looking after the children, cultivating crops and tending their goats. The men would spend time talking over a cigarette and a cup of tea. Life was simple, but seemingly pleasant. The experience of spending time with real nomads was unexpected and utterly fascinating. Since then I have spent time with nomadic tribes in Tibet, Morocco, India and Mongolia and although the customs are different, they are all driven by the same imperatives; the need to find food for their herds and using their skills to provide for their families. It is a life that seems very difficult to us but, from what I have seen, the nomad would not change it for the world. ◆ 75
To my mind, the greatest
reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is
taken for granted.
Published on Aug 21, 2017
Specially designed for that enthusiastic band of travellers who like to venture off the beaten track to experience countries and cultures th...