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MCI (P) 134/03/2013

Š Innsbruck Tourismus

JUL-AUG 2013

National Parks Issue Austria | Canada | Thailand

INCLUDES plus: Japan Special


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For a list of our distribution outlets, visit www.sportsandtravelonline.com. Sports and Travel is a publication of Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd (Singapore). All articles published are in good faith and based on bona fide information available to The Publisher at the time of press. The Publisher accepts no responsibility other than that stipulated by law. The Publisher also accepts no responsibilty for unsolicited manuscripts, transparencies or other materials. All rights are reserved and no part of this publication may be reproduced in part or full without the previous written permission of The Publisher. Neither can any part be stored or recorded, by any means. The opinions expressed in The Publication are those of the contributors and not necessarily endorsed by The Publisher. This publication and the name are owned solely by Lennox and Ooi Media Pte Ltd, 391B Orchard Road, #13-09 Ngee Ann City, Tower B, Singapore 239974. Email: enquiry@sportsandtravelonline.com. Sports + Travel Singapore is published bimonthly and distributed throughout Singapore. Trademarks and copyrights for all other products, logos and depictions contained herein are the properties of their respective trademark and copyright owners. All colour separation and printing by Stamford Press Pte Ltd. Singapore MCI (P) 092/07/2012


Protecting Nature

02

Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writers Konrad Clapp Samantha Pereira Creative Director Lynn Ooi

The summer season is when tourism across the world kicks into high gear. As flights and accommodation fill up quickly, it’s always best to book early to avoid disappointment. For those of you lucky enough to snag a seat, avoiding the summer crowd will probably be a constant challenge. Our tip? Head away from busy cities and into greener, quieter national parks.

places under the guise of “national parks.” And since they say “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”, we’re also featuring stories about the hard issues these and many other natural wonders face. See page 8-11 and 25 for our special reportage on the illegal wildlife trade and deforestation. To kick off our travel stories, we explore 2 islands that are popular destinations for travellers from Singapore. The first island is the UNESCO-listed Penang to explore both its cultural heritage as well as its green national parks that are just a stone’s throw away. We then follow up with Koh Samui, famous for its sand, beaches and amazing limestone formations in Ang Tong Marine National Park. For those into high altitudes, we explore Tibet’s cultural treasures, from dramatic hilltop fortresses to colourful annual horse racing events.

Designer Marilyn Wong General Manager Aaron Stewart

Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 242A River Valley Road Singapore 238299 Tel 6732 0325 www.sportsandtravelonline.com sportsntravel@gmail.com Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746 Fax +852 2961 4800 enquiry@sportsandtravel.com.hk

Advertising Sales Singapore Aaron Stewart, Lennox & Ooi Media aaron.stewart@sportsandtravelonline.com

For those looking to Europe, summer is the perfect season for hiking. Austria’s Innsbruck makes the perfect base for you to explore the nearby Karwendel mountains for some iconic hikes and MTB rides.

Hong Kong Chris Ng cng@sportsandtravel.com.hk

Across the ocean, the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec is the location of one of the country’s most iconic cycling trails: the Gaspé Peninsula – we explore the various attractions dotting this week-long itinerary.

Gunther Deichmann, Ken Berg, Teng Jing Xuan, Yoon Ji Seon

Also with this issue is our Japan Special! If you’re heading to the Land of the Rising Sun sometime this season, we’ve got some ideas. Among them include a hike and hot spring excursion to Hakone, a foodie outdoor tour in Toyama, a surfing experience in Chiba, as well as some rafting, climbing and ziplining adventures in Shiga. Plus, we have an 8-page segment on some of Hokkaido’s top activities for both the summer and winter season.

Contributors Special Thanks Innsbruck Tourismus Penang Tourism Quebec Tourism and many, many others!

Until then, Happy Trails! OUR WEBSITE: www.sportsandtravelonline.com OUR FACEBOOK PAGE: fb.com/SportsandTravelSingapore OUR BLOG: http://sportsandtravelsg.wordpress.com


GEAR GUIDE

The North Face Darkwind Shell

INSULATING FLASK Perfect for an outdoor excursion or picnic, the Hydro Flask has a range of high-performance, double wall vacuum-insulated stainless steel water bottles to keep your liquids at their intended temperature. The flask keeps hot liquids hot for up to 12 hours, and keeps colds liquids cold for up to 24 hours. These 100% recyclable bottles are made from food-grade stainless steel, and are BPA-free, backed by a lifetime warranty. These lightweight flasks come in a variety of sizes with multiple accessories like the Hydro Flip lid. It's available at all Running Lab stores from S$33 - $46.

Hydro Flask

FILTER FEEDER The portable Miniwell outdoor water filter allows you to turn lake, stream and rain water into safe drinking water simply by putting the hose into the source and pumping the handle to extract clean water. There are 3 components to the filter, including the Miniwell PP cotton pre-filter to remove impurities like micro-mud and rust, Miniwell Carbon Fibre with a filtering precision that's 6-8 times higher than highquality activated carbon available, and Miniwell UF which is a medical grade blood dialysis membrane silk filter that filters 10 times more than other outdoor water filters in the market. Now available at Campers' Corner at S$99.

SUPER SHELL With a hybrid construction, The North Face's Darkwind Shell is a versatile soft shell that's highly water resistant without sacrificing breathability. The front of the jacket provides protection when exposed to the wind, while the back features Apex Aerobic four-way stretch technology for improved ventilation and mobility while wearing a pack. A DWR (durable water repellent) finish sheds moisture during light rain showers. For comfort, the hem-cinch cord in the zipper pockets allows for a snug draft-free fit, while the brushed collar lining provides comfort on the skin. Now available at The North Face stores at S$156. Miniwell Water Filter

BOOTLEG Hi-Tec Harrier

Whether it's for a demanding day hike or a multi-day adventure, Hi-Tec's Harrier range of lightweight hiking boots features a range of technologies. These leather-and-fabric boots consist of a synthetic Nubuck and mesh upper for lightweight comfort and breathability, utilising ion-mask and Dri-Tec (a proprietary waterproof, breathable membrane) for waterproofing. The moisture-wicking lining keeps the foot dry, with a soft padded collar for comfort. The EVA midsole provides internal cushioning while the carbon rubber MDT hiking outsole is built to handle any trail. Now available at at all World of Outdoors stores and at major World of Sports stores at S$109.


ALL-PURPOSE PACK With 22 litres of gear storage plus the included 3-litre water reservoir, the Platypus Sprinter XT 25 Hydration Pack is designed for activity on the go. The ventilated mesh suspension and BioCurve ergonomic pack panel provide comfort during full-day peak bagging excursions, while the reservoir carries enough water to quench any thirst. Key features like ice axe, trekking pole and helmet carry options makes the pack ideal for any type of excursion, while the weatherproof construction keeps gear dry. External pockets provide quick access to gear, and the stashable waist belt helps transfer load stress. Available at Outdoor Life at S$240.

Platypus Sprinter XT 25

Pacsafe Camsafe

CAMERA BUDDY Pacsafe's Camsafe V3 Anti-Theft Top Loader Bag is a compact top-loader camera bag with padded modular dividers, offering quick access via its dual-zippered compartment. It comes with a built-in rain cover, along with anti-theft additions like the slashproof Carrysafe strap and Pacsafe's eXomesh which is constructed of high-tensile, slash-proof mesh wire netting – it can additionally be attached to a secured fixture (like a lamppost) with its polycarbonate locking device and hardened padlock. The front organiser pocket also comes with an RFID-safe blocking pocket to avoid non-contact data theft. It is available at all The Planet Traveller outlets at S$149.

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Engangered pangolins caught in the illegal wildlife trade

Precious Cargo The price of the illegal wildlife trade

expensive status-symbol gift. However, poachers impatient for quick cash usually seek out younger rhinos – smaller and more plentiful prey. The poaching operation is brutal and efficient. On moonlit nights, rhinos are immobilised with guns and wire traps. Horns are hacked off, and the animals are left to bleed and die.

The world seems to be falling apart. We’ve been presented with the proof of climate change and ecological crisis, in hard numbers and in freak weather events across the globe. We’re losing species rapidly, disappearing with the 13 million hectares of forest we destroy annually, and it’s easy for anyone to feel helpless looking at the seemingly uncoordinated international efforts to, well, save the earth. Even as we’re struggling to save ourselves from the weather, we continue to act on our timeless desire for dominion over other living things. The trade in wildlife is a massive international industry, most of it existing outside the law. Every year, over US$300 billion of illegal wildlife products change hands, causing countless casualties along the way. In this National Parks issue special, we’ll focus on the wildlife trade problem, and examine how we’ve come to be on the losing side of a battle that’s ultimately with ourselves.

THE SELLERS The absurdity and scale of the problem was obvious in March this year, when Thai authorities thwarted the attempted smuggling of more than 10% of the world’s ploughshare tortoise population when they seized a bag at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. In the consequent weeks of investigation, at least half the seized tortoises died.

TEXT BY Teng Jing Xuan

Smuggled ploughshare tortoises seized at a Bangkok airport last year

The Bangkok tortoises belonged to a remaining wild population of only 400. Endemic to Madagascar, they’re prized as exotic pets for their distinctive colouration and the plough-like protrusions on their carapaces, with live specimens fetch black market prices as high as US$60,000 in Southeast Asia. It’s these exorbitant profits that keep international wildlife supply chains running. Gains are unevenly distributed, favouring the links in the chain closest to the consumer. Every middleman between the poacher and the consumer makes a progressively larger profit, with even those at the bottom benefiting substantially. A full-sized adult white rhino horn – another high-demand good – weighs an average of 5.5kg, and brings in half a million US dollars’ revenue when it reaches its end-user, typically a wealthy Southeast Asian seeking an

Brutality is not restricted to the rhino horn trade. To supply shark’s fin commercially one must first catch a shark, slice its fins off, throw the writhing body back into the water, and then repeat a few thousand times. To make a delicate, light-as-a-cloud Shahtoosh shawl, up to five endangered chiru antelope must die to give up their exquisitely soft down. Wildlife trafficking looks like good money to many poachers and smugglers. Half the world lives on less than US$2.50 a day, and a kilogram of rhino horn can bring even the Kenyan poacher at the bottom of a supply chain US$1,040 in a single transaction. It’s such good money that the illegal wildlife trade draws in other perpetrators of organised crime. Drug, arms and human traffickers, and militias like the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa, are attracted to the high yield and lighter legal penalties associated with the wildlife trade. Illegal industries reinforce and sustain each other, with drugs and other wildlife products often accepted as payment for trafficked animal parts.


THE BUYERS Demand for wildlife-derived goods involves surprisingly diverse interests. Activists in the West often frame the conservationist struggle as a straightforward clash between unenlightened ‘traditional’ practices and righteous environmentalism. Comments like ‘Asian countries love gold and this is a gold tortoise’ and photographs of street market stalls hawking forest produce perpetuate this paradigm. It’s true that the Chinese soup at the heart of the shark finning industry dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The prestige that comes from consuming the body of a fearsome sea predator, a rare delicacy obtained through extreme cruelty, is ancient. Yet the economic and social factors that shape shark finning and other forms of wildlife exploitation today transcend borders and defy easy generalisation. Growing incomes and the deification of money in officially communist states like China and Vietnam encourage the converting of rare animals into commodities. This mercenary attitude towards nature isn’t restricted to ‘developing’ nations. The US National Wildlife Property Repository receives thousands of forfeited wildlife products a year. Its shelves are lined with the gruesome spoils of the conservation war: an orangutan skull covered with decorative carvings, taxidermied animals posed in grotesque imitations of their human killers, entire flocks of birds reduced to bags of bones. The US is one of the world’s largest importers of exotic pets. If you attend the Carolina Reptile & Exotic Animal Show, or watch the National Geographic channel’s ‘Animal Intervention’ programme, you’ll see evidence of a thriving exotic pet culture in the States. Plenty of legal animal acquisition channels exist, but the numerous reports of Americans being injured by captive animals every year usually involve illegally sourced bears, big cats and even capybaras. Closer to home, in Singapore, the Straits Times reported in December 2012 that at least 23 Singapore-based web sites were illegally touting exotic pets – which included the threatened military macaw – and animal parts, with approximately 1300 new listings The endangered chiru

appearing in six months. Many of these were fraudulent listings, but their numbers suggest a substantial underground market. Sting operations carried out by the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society in the past decade confirm this. It’s not just big cat-loving farmers and misguided hobbyists keeping squawking menageries in tiny high-rise flats who get involved. In 1999, for instance, dozens of American socialites were summoned to court over their possession of Shahtoosh shawls. Shahtooshes are banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but continue to be sold worldwide, with buyers typically fed false stories of naturally shed goat chinhairs painstakingly collected and spun into precious wool. Elephant tusks hauled

CRISIS AND RESPONSES Unsustainable industries are usually marked out by their long term consequences, but for the wildlife trade the eventual catastrophic collapse looms alarmingly close. The Amur Leopard, for instance, backed into an ecological corner by both the fur trade and habitat destruction, lost 80% of its endemic range from 1970-1983. Three out of nine tiger subspecies have disappeared in the past century, thanks to poaching, and the Black Rhino is now extinct in West Africa. World Bank reports suggest that wildlife products account for as much as 22% of rural households’ incomes, but the growth of trade far outstrips the environment’s recovery rate. The resulting ‘empty forest syndrome’ – described by scientists as standing forest stripped of its faunal inhabitants – ironically means suffering for both the exploited (ecosystems) and the exploiters (the very people who depend on forests). We can already see the destabilising effect of population decline in the wild: coral reefs are dying in the absence of sharks (which are predators responsible for controlling the numbers of other species, and maintaining equilibrium). Countering the effects of the illegal wildlife trade is a delicate juggling act. Elephant numbers in South Africa, for example, have

recovered so well after a century of conservation efforts that the 20,000 strong elephant population in Kruger National Park is now trampling nearby crops, felling centuries-old baobabs and straining local resources. The government has been forced to consider culling elephants, even as continentwide elephant numbers remain dangerously low.

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In most other trading hotspots, enforcement of international and regional conventions restricting wildlife trade is difficult. Endemic corruption makes it nearly impossible for honest law enforcement officers to achieve anything, when informants from within the police system often alert suspects before investigations even begin. The case of Vixay Keosavang, a former soldier with ties the Vietnamese and Laotian governments, illustrates the impotence of law enforcement. Accused by South Africa of running an international wildlife ‘laundering’ operation – disguising poachers as tourists legally hunting trophy animals, falsifying documents and passing off trafficked animals and parts as legal goods – Keosavang remains free thanks to his government connections. Sadly, the wildlife trade has grown dramatically in the past decade, thanks the combination of skyrocketing demand and weak legal restrictions – shockingly, 400 rhinos were killed for their horns in 2012, a massive increase from a mere 13 in 2007. Of all the elements in the wildlife trade industry, consumers, at least, seem to be making small victories for conservation. The early 2010s saw the increasing presence of anti-shark’s fin voices in Singaporean and regional media. Serving shark’s fin at wedding banquets now seems passé and insensitive within educated (and highly vocal) circles. Regional airlines like Korean Air Lines, Cathay Pacific Airways and Air New Zealand have officially refused to carry shark fin cargo on board their planes, and in June this year Brunei became the first Asian country to ban shark finning.

And while these developments show there is cause for hope in the fight to save wildlife, it also shows we’re only touching the very tip of the iceberg in terms of challenging the forces – legal and illegal – driving this destructive industry. To learn more about how you can make a change for good, visit sites like www.wwf.sg, www.wcs.org or others.


The Wildlife Trade’s

Illegal Channels Exotic Birds

Bear Bile/Gallbladder Harvested in Southeast Asia, transported to China where it is processed and sold around Asia.

ds Bir tic o x E

Chiru

orn s Rh ino H

ry

Big Cat Skins

Rhino Horns

Madagascan Wildlife Madagascan animals (including ploughshare tortoises): flown into Southeast Asia to be distributed to Asia, European and North American consumers.

Ivory Most of continental Africa is prime poaching ground for ivory traders. Tusks are moved to the Southeast Asian transit area, processed and then distributed to Chinese and Thai markets. Within the African continent ivory crosses multiple borders before reaching convenient ports.

Big Cat Skins Big cat skins go through a ‘laundering’ process: large groups of poachers disguised as tourists hunt ‘trophy animals’ legally in South Africa, and then illegally send the dead animals off on an international trade route that passes through trafficking operations along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.

Rhino Horns Poached mostly from South Africa and central Africa, transported to Southeast Asian markets (where both middlemen and consumers are situated) and Middle East/northern Africa (where they are made into ornamental objects).

r de

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Tiger parts

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Ivory

Transported from India to wildlife trading hotspot in Southeast Asia, where parts are processed and further distributed to smaller markets.

B il

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Tiger parts

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Tibetan Chiru antelope fur is woven into shahtoosh shawls in the Himalayas, makes its way into Indian city markets, where shawls are purchased by agents to be sold in North American and European cities (e.g. New York and London) or directly purchased by tourists.

TRADING HOT SPOT


Illegal wildlife products and live animals often take roundabout routes across the globe, stopping at convenient ports with lax law enforcement, processing centres, regional distribution networks and market hotspots (Southeast Asia and UAE), before reaching consumers. The map below (for reference only) indicates the flow of the illegal wildlife trade.

For more detailed information, refer to these bodies: Wildlife Conservation Society | www.wcs.org World Wildlife Foundation | wwf.panda.org AVA Singapore | www.ava.gov.sg ACRES | www.acres.org.sg

11 Bear Bile/G al

B tic Exo

lbladder

irds

Bear Bile/Gallbladder Harvested in North America, transported on a large scale to Asia where it is processed and sold, or brought back to North America and Europe in small amounts for the smaller western markets.

Tigers

Tigers

Exotic Birds Exotic birds are also taken from the Philippines.

Captured in India or produced through ‘backyard breeding’ and transported to the USA, where there are currently more tigers in captivity than exist in the wild.

Ex ot ic

Exotic Birds Exotic birds from Suriname make several stops in Barbados, Cuba and Russia, changing hands and transportation methods, before they are distributed to markets in Europe.

Exotic Birds

REFERENCE EXOTIC PETS Madagascan Wildlife Tigers Central American Birds

TRADITIONAL MEDICINES Rhino horns Bear gallbladders/bile Tiger parts

FURS/SKINS Tibetan Chiru Big cat skins

IVORY African elephants

Ivory

Bi

rd s


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Nestled on the northwest coast of the Malaysian peninsula, Penang’s charisma lies in its medley of cultures, speckled with colonial charm, eastern influences and streams of modernity peeking through the corners. The eclectic architecture and culture may be the island’s draw card, but thanks to its relatively small size, Penang’s lush green nature is never too far away. With plenty of white sandy beaches nuzzling the coastline, forest parks canopying the north and peaks rising in the east, Penang offers a mixed bag of experiences for any traveller.

TEXT BY Samantha Pereira

© Arthur Teng

IMAGES BY Penang State Tourism

PENANG’S OFFERINGS GEORGE TOWN Sitting on the northeast end of the island, Penang’s capital of George Town is a flurry of colour and vim. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its profusion of colourful ethnic and historic landmarks, Penang is dotted with ornate edifices, whitewashed colonial monuments, and rows and rows of pastelcoloured shophouses bracketed by a warren of side streets and alleys. Located on the outskirts of George Town is the waterfront enclave of Weld Quay, a 6ha. area which includes 6 clan jetties that are

home to Penang’s living heritage and a reminder of one of South East Asia’s most important maritime ports. Built at the turn of the 20th century, these stilted buildings were once topped with atap roofs. The best time to visit the jetties is during the festivals of Thee Kong Seh (Jade Emperor’s birthday), Phor Tor (Hungry Ghost Festival) and Kew Ong Yeah (Nine Emperor Gods), when you can see colourful performances, spiritual acts and explosive fireworks. Arts in the City Complementing the smorgasbord of diverse architecture is the dynamic arts scene that thrives within Penang’s archaic lanes.

Introduced as the new addition (in 2012) to the island’s well-known existing festivals, ‘Mirrors George Town’ encompasses mural paintings covering the marred walls of George Town’s backstreets. Other annual events that continue to draw international audiences include The Penang Island Jazz festival (to be held at the Bayview Beach Resort from December 5-8 this year) with plenty of jazz-related activities at Batu Ferringhi, and the George Town Festival, an arts festival that isn’t just an ode to the island’s cultural offerings, it pays homage to the international acts that are deeply-rooted in the arts scene.


A group of peaks tucked away in Air Itam (a town 6km from George Town) and enveloped in lush green hues, Penang Hill (830m) is the island’s highest peak, and a heritage area offering a bird’s-eye view of the island’s vista. Generally cooler than the rest of the island, the hill’s summit encompasses a range of historical places to visit, from Malaysia’s first hill station to several temples and impressive colonial bungalows dotted throughout the hill. Apart from the historic buildings, Penang Hill is covered in large swaths of rainforest, which makes it ideal for outdoor activities. Trekking and hiking is best left for intermediate-level hikers as the hill’s terrain is fairly steep. Some cyclist can also be spotted tackling the punishing uphill roads. There are several well-marked trails like the

Moongate Trail, which starts from Air Itam Dam to Tiger Hill (one of the peaks in Penang Hill). All of the peak’s trails are open to the public, but getting around would require a map, as some of the trails are not signposted. There are also a number of guided tours available.

(1,034m, 20 mins) which links the 2 major trails in the park. You can walk amongst the treetops (15m high) along the coastline of Sungai Tukun to reach the various beaches that dot this pint-sized park.

An easier access to the hill is possible via Penang Hill Railway, giving you access to the colonial bungalows on top of the hill in less than 5 minutes.

Monkey Beach is one of the more famous beaches in Penang; its crystal-clear waters are pristine, while Pantai Kerachut – arguably Penang’s most picturesque beach – is a turtle sanctuary for the endangered Green Turtles.

PENANG NATIONAL PARK Canopying the northwest tip of Penang Island, the Penang National Park (25 sq.km) may be small, but the varied terrain – which includes rainforests, mangrove swamps, coral reefs and turtle-nesting beaches – are not usually found in other parts of the island. With 8 pristine beaches, and most of it accessible only by hiking, visitors can choose to trek across the dense jungle cut by the wellmarked trails (and guiding ropes) to reach them. There are 2 major trails in the park – leading to Muka Head lighthouse and Pantai Kerachut – and thanks to the size of the park, either trail can be completed within 2 hours (one-way).

Malaysia

PENANG HILL

15

For those looking for a scenery change for the return trip, there are the options of taking a boat back to the entrance of the park from either Monkey Beach or Pantai Kerachut.

You can also explore the park with a bird’s-eye view along the Canopy Walkway

PENANG BRIDGE INTERNATIONAL MARATHON (17 November 2013) An annual international running event that sees a slew of entries from both novice and veteran runners, the 2013 Penang Bridge International Marathon will be held at the old Penang Bridge. Although the race was supposed to be on the Penang New Bridge this year, its recent collapse has led the organisers to hold the marathon on the older bridge instead.

to Queenbay.

© Liu Tat Mu

The route will be the same as last year’s, with a kick off at Queenbay Mall. Runners will cover parts of the Jelutong Expressway, George Town and Villa Emas before returning

Dominating the top spot of the men’s open marathon last year was Kenyan runner, Isaac Kiplagat, with a time of 2 hours, 31 minutes. In the women’s open category, Fischer Monika from Germany took the leading position with 3 hours, 25 minutes. Similar to the previous year’s format, the 2013 Penang Bridge International Marathon will be divided into 4 categories: full marathon

(41.25km), half marathon (21km), 10k run and the fun run, which has reduced its running distance from 10km to 7km. A new addition to this year’s marathon is the Women’s Veteran Category which has now been included in the full marathon category. The 2013 Penang Bridge International Marathon is scheduled to take place on 17 November this year. For registration, visit www.penangmarathon.gov.my.


Eighty years into its existence and the Alpenpark Karwendel continues to mesmerise its visitors. Covering an area of 727sq.km., it is not only the Tyrol’s largest nature reserve but also one of the most impressive landscapes of the region stretching all the way to the city borders of Innsbruck. The park is characterised by wild rivers and primeval forests, comprising almost the entire Karwendel mountain chain and the area from Innsbruck to Lake Achensee. The nature park comprises a total of 11 protected areas, all of which can be experienced along special hikes and tours. These protected landscapes include cultural treasures, as well as some natural conservation areas and quiet zones.

ABUNDANT NATURE Alpenpark Karwendel is home to ancient forests, pristine creeks and gorges which are dotted with fixed-rope routes. It is also where you can find rare plant species and unique botanical rarities such as orchids, the Eurasian smoketree and the hophornbeam. There are also lots of opportunities to witness nature in flight with birds like the common sandpiper, rock ptarmigan, eagle, and the largest lammergeier in the Alps. On the ground, local wildlife like chamois and alpine ibexes sometimes venture very close to hikers.

KARWENDEL MOUNTAINS PHOTOS FROM Innsbruck Tourismus

CYCLING Mountain biking is permitted on all toll roads throughout the Karwendel which are accessible by car; in addition to this, a further 14 routes have been opened up to cycling in the Tyrolean sections. The Karwendel is also known as an Eldorado for alpinists and mountain climbers, with pristine peaks that have not been conquered yet. For freeriders, the Nordketten Singletrail is one of Europe’s steepest, longest and most difficult mountain bike descents, located amidst picturesque mountain scenery at 1,900m. Accessible via the Nordketten-

bahn in Innsbruck, the trail features 4.2km of technically demanding paths and 1,030m of difference in altitude with banked turns, rock drops and root passages to provide a technically-diverse range of rides for experienced bikers. To experience this, you can rent your bike from BikeBörse (www.dieboerse.at), which offers comprehensive packages from May to October including bike delivery and pickup your hotel. If your prefer to watch experts in action, you can attend the spark7 Nordkette Downhill.Pro (July 20, 2013).

A veritable natural gem is the small – but quite unique – nature reserve Martinswand and Fragenstein in the Zirl-Innsbruck area with its fascinating botanical variety. An unusually hot microclimate provides perfect conditions for the so-called “foehn flora”, consisting of thermophile shrubbery and dry grasslands. Another highlight of the nature park is the Ahornboden in the rear Risstal valley, which is characterised by the most impressive sycamore forest of Europe. Sycamores have existed in Europe since the Ice Age, however pollution has pressed this tree species to near extinction. At Ahornboden, this forest has found a protected ground.


One of the best aspects of hiking in the Karwendel is its convenience – the trails are easily accessible by public transport (whether it's by cable car or bus) and there are plenty of mountain huts for refreshments and/or overnight stays. Near Innsbruck The closest and most accessible protected nature reserve to the city of Innsbruck is the Nordkette, which is the traditional local recreation area for its citizens. Here you can find ample opportunities for hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking; there are also numerous alpine lodges or chalets like Höttinger Alm, Rumer Alm, Thaurer Alm or Enzianhütte, all of which are easily accessible, offering a comfortable place to rest and sample tasty local fare. Recently a direct link was added, connecting Innsbruck city centre with the higher reaches of the Alps. Once you reach the top, the Hafelekar is a starting point for several rewarding walking tours, hikes and fixedrope climbing.

Another protected nature reserve close to Innsbruck is the Vorberg reserve, situated on the southern edge of the Karwendel range and is a hiking region known for its easy tracks. A nature trail through the forest, impressive gorges and waterfalls – such as the Fallbach waterfall – along with distinctive rock formations, ensure this reserve provides a breathtaking backdrop for hiking adventures. Multi-day hikes The Alpenpark Karwendel is not only ideal for leisurely day trips, the Karwendel also plays host to several long-distance hiking trails, including the Adlerweg, parts of the Via Alpina trail, the tour from Scharnitz to Pertisau (Achensee lake), and the route from Munich to Venice. For a scenic hike, you can tackle the most attractive sections of the Adlerweg trail, a hiking track stretching through the entire province of Tyrol, leading from the Hafelekar cable car station along the Goetheweg trail to the remote Pfeishütte. This challenging alpine hike for the more

experienced visitors is among the most beautiful hikes in the greater Innsbruck region. You set off in the city centre, taking the Nordkette cable car up to Hungerburg station, continuing up to the Hafelekar, leading you past numerous mountain lodges with ample refreshment stops. From the Hafelekar summit station, continue east, following the well-secured Goetheweg trail across the Mandlscharte ridge all the way to the Pfeishütte. Once you've reached your destination after a 5-hour hike, you can enjoy the culinary delights of this mountain lodge, before returning along on the same path.

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Those who want to explore more of the mountain can extend this trek to 3 days. The Pfeishütte provides fine shelter for the first night, and the tour from the Hafelekar to the Pfeishütte provides an opportunity for the more experienced hikers to conquer three further summits: Kaskar-Spitze, Praxmarerkar-Spitze, and Rumer-Spitze. On the following day, the trail will lead you along a 3-hour trek across the Wilde-Bande-Steig to the Hallerangerhaus. Secured with steel cables and iron hooks, this is a trail where a secure step is required. The last section – with a walking time of about 3.5 hours – runs from the Hallerangerhaus to Herrenhäuser across the Lafatscherjoch (or alternatively across the more picturesque Isstal) before ending at the village of Absam from where there is public transport back to Innsbruck.

GETTING THERE While there are no direct flights to Innsbruck, there are connections via cities across Europe, including Frankfurt, London and Vienna. Innsbruck is also easily accessible by rail and bus from any major European city. For more on Innsbruck and its surrounds, visit www.innsbruck.info.

Austria

HIKING


When it comes to beach or island holidays, Koh Samui often tops the list of Thai destinations thanks to its pristine beaches, an abundance of marine life and easy access. While most tourists tend to congregate at popular areas like Chaweng and Lanai, there is a lot more in Samui than just beaches and bars. Most of the accommodations are spread along the coast, while the interior of the island is made up of mostly hilly jungle. There are plenty of jungle tours that take visitors to the interior, and activities include 4WD, elephant trekking, and even canyoning. For more offshore adventures, there are plenty of islands and national parks to explore, each with its own attractions. Wherever you go in the area, there’s always opportunities to snorkel or dive.

ISLANDS AROUND SAMUI Koh Samui is a good base to explore nearby islands like Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Taen, each with its own attractions. Koh Tao is synonymous with diving and snorkelling, and the island is a popular destination to learn diving thanks to its profusion (and reputation) of dive schools. The profusion of nearby dive sites ensures sightings of turtles, stingrays, barracudas, reef sharks and reef fish at famous dive sites like Chumporn Pinnacles and Southwest Pinnacles. Those wanting to challenge themselves can opt for a freediving course at one of 2 schools on the island. Inland, Koh Tao has a burgeoning rock climbing scene, where trad-, sport- and top rope routes (in addition to bouldering) are available.

Koh Phangan is famous for its full moon festivals at Haad Rin. Snorkelling and diving are popular activities, along with a bit of hiking in the jungle where you can access panoramic viewpoints and dip in waterfalls which can be found in Phaeng National Park and Than Sadet-Ko Phangan National Park (once visited by several Thai kings). Offshore is Koh Maa, a marine national park that is accessible from Haad Mae Haad beach. Koh Taen is a small island just off Samui’s southwest with limited tourist facilities. Home to about 30 villagers, the island is ideal for those looking for a quiet island time, where you can take a mountain bike through the back roads or explore the mangrove forest along the wooden platforms where you may be able to spot giant monitor lizards as they lounge near the bays.

ISLANDS AROUND KOH SAMUI


For those looking to get away to more secluded spots, a trip to nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park – a protected archipelago of 42 islands – promises towering limestone mountains, thick jungle, subterranean rivers, emerald marine lakes, secluded white sand beaches, fertile mangroves and hidden coves to explore. Well-known for its exotic limestone cliff formations, the 100 sq. km. park offers both terrestrial and underwater attractions, and main activities include snorkelling, hiking, sea kayaking, diving, sailing and wildlife watching. You can get around the islands via a sea kayaking tour, speedboat charter or a liveaboard. At 28km from Koh Samui, boats to Ang Thong depart from Na Thon and Bo Phut, taking about 2.5 hours. Most visitors to Ang Thong arrive on a day-trip tour or boat charter from Koh Samui or Koh Phangan, and the park does get busy during the peak summer season. Those wishing to stay overnight can opt for one of the simple bungalows or rent a tent at the Park Headquarters on Koh Wua Talab, where there is a simple restaurant.

Land Among the 42 islands, only a handful are popular with visitors, where activities include hiking (some requiring a good level of fitness) and kayaking. The park is home to 16 species of mammal, including langurs, leopard cats, fishing cats, otters and flying foxes, in addition to 52 species of birds. The main island in Ang Thong is Koh Wua Talap, which is home to the park’s headquarters and a number of bungalows. It has white sandy beaches, 2 marine lakes and a cave that is home to a lotus-shaped stalactite formation. Koh Mae (Mother Island) features a stunning beach with a 20m-deep saltwater lagoon called Thale Nai (Emerald Lake) that is connected to the sea via a cave. You can climb up a wooden staircase to a nearby mountain from where you can get a 360º view of the archipelago.

Water As the islands of the archipelago rise steeply from the water, only narrow coral reefs occupy areas close to the shores. These reefs which include brain corals are home to a variety of marine life, including parrotfish, stingrays, blacktipped sharks, as well as sea cucumbers and crabs.

Thailand

ANG THONG NATIONAL MARINE PARK

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Away from the shores, sea fans and sea whips dominate, and soft coral is abundant, making them ideal nurseries for various marine life. The area offers many snorkelling and diving sites, and you can dive the area with liveaboards. The best time to visit is when the seas are calmer between March and October.

Koh Sam Sao (Tripod Island) has a beautiful coral reef, and is home to a large natural stone arch along with some great hiking grounds, while Koh Paluay is home to a community of sea-gypsies that still maintains its traditional fishing lifestyle.

GETTING THERE There are daily direct return flights from Singapore to Koh Samui via Bangkok Airways, which takes about 1.5 hours. The airline also has direct flights from Koh Samui to international destinations like Siem Reap, Tokyo, Vientiane and Yangon. Bangkok Airways Thailand’s first privately-owned airline, Bangkok Airways operates scheduled flights to over 20 different major routes, covering nearly all major resort destinations in Thailand. It also has international links to

Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, India, Bangladesh and Maldives. In addition, it also maintains its privatelyoperated airport at Koh Samui. Recently, Bangkok Airways has been voted the 3rd place in the category of World's Best Regional Airline and the 2nd place in the category of the Best Regional Airline in Asia by more than 18 million airline passengers from around the world as part of SkyTrax’s "World Airline Awards 2013". For more on Bangkok Airways, visit www.bangkokair.com.


GEAR GUY: Ken Berg Animal encounters can be certainly be a highlight of a trip into the outdoors or (in rare cases) it can lead to disaster for you and/or the animal. Here is some gear that you can bring with you to make the most of the encounters that you have.

FOOD STORAGE Common sense precautions to keep animals from becoming habituated to humans and prevent an unwanted visitor to your tent include never feeding a wild animal, keeping your campsite/wild areas clean and adhering to proper food storage. Food should be about 100m from your campsite and downwind where possible. Use a sturdy stuff sack and a scentproof bag to further dissuade bears and rodents from finding your goodies. Take about 30m of rope to suspend the bag 3-5m off the ground, 2m from the trunk and 1m below any branches. The quickest method is to tie one end of the cord to a small stick or a bag with a rock in it, and toss it over a thick branch. Haul up the food bag and tie it off to the tree. Where there are no trees it may be possible to suspend the bag over a steep cliff.

ENCOUNTERS Scent-proof bags like Loksak Odour Proof Barrier Bags, Bear Vault’s Bear Resistant Food Containers, Garcia Machine Backpacker’s Cache and Ursack’s bear resistant bags also help out rodents and other animals.

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY Many times when you see animals you only have a few moments to get a shot before they run off or fly away. So be ready. If you’re using a DSLR, have your telephoto lens on and your camera set up for an action shot (either pick an appropriate shutter speed or have as low a number in aperture priority mode, set ISO at around 800). Most people don’t have lenses goes beyond a focal length of 200mm, so a solution is to get a lens extender; you’ll likely lose some sharpness, but they’ll double your focal length at a fraction of the cost.

BINOCULARS When looking at binoculars, the first number represents the magnification and the second

Ken grew up on the doorstep of the Canadian wilderness, backpacking, paddling and rock climbing in this rugged land. Armed with a degree in recreational studies, he has been working at Canada's premier outdoor retailer for the last 10 years, putting gear to the test whether it's cycling in -35ºC winters, running marathons or travelling to the far reaches of the planet.

represents the objective lens diameter. You’ll want a magnification of around 8 or 9 for wildlife viewing (going higher than that will usually require a monopod or tripod to stay steady). In general, the higher the objective lens number, the brighter and sharper the image but will also make it bigger, heavier and more expensive. You’re better off going into a store where you try a few out and see what the differences are for yourself.

BEAR SPRAY A few things can help you make your decision as to whether to carry a bear spray when going into bear country: how prevalent are bears in the area that you’re headed to, and how common bear encounters are. If you’re going to polar bear territory, don’t even bother. If you’re going to take bear spray with you, it’d make sense to get a holster for it – if it’s in your pack, it’s useless to you.


Forests Under Attack

TEXT BY Teng Jing Xuan

CAN MADAGASCAR OVERCOME THE ODDS?

The logging of Madagascar’s 47 species of rosewood trees seriously harms the island’s ecosystems. Over 100,000 precious wood trees have been illegally felled in protected areas, destroying more than 20,000 hectares of the world’s most diverse forests, and the collateral damage – an estimated half a million non-timber trees to float rosewood down rivers – has been massive. Moreover, deforestation drastically decreases soil fertility, intensifies flooding and erosion, and removes ecotourism incomes, lowering local residents’ living standards and bringing on food and resource shortages. All this is already happening in Madagascar.

Bois the Rose

More than a century of ecological mismanagement by colonial and Malagasy governments, a recent political crisis, the influence of foreign money and a failing economy in Madagascar have together posed a massive threat to one of earth’s most biodiverse regions. We’ll take a look here at one major aspect of Madagascar’s deforestation crisis – the rosewood trade – and unearth some surprisingly close links between Asia and Madagascar’s environmental problems. Illegal logging

ufacturers and retailers in China, and support logging with revenue from their legal importexport operations. Almost all of the rosewood harvested in Madagascar is exported to China; Chinese laws regulating wood focus on protecting consumers rather than on wood sources. In 2009, a military coup led by Andry Rajoelina removed president Marc Ravalomanana, ushering in a state of administrative chaos. Park rangers and police deserted their posts, and opportunistic poachers and loggers accelerated their looting of forests in defiance of previous government’ s already weak antilogging stance.

Perhaps the biggest price the world will pay is the loss of the island’s unique species – over 80% of which exist nowhere else in the world. In the past 10 years over 600 new species were discovered on Madagascar, some (like several new types of coffee plant) harbouring great pharmaceutical and economic potential. Isolated from the rest of Africa, and split into two distinct biomes by a central mountain ridge, Madagascar’s bizarre and incredible life forms have been shaped over millennia, but could be wiped out in just a few more years by habitat destruction. The iconic silky sifaka, for instance, lives amongst rosewood trees and is now one of the world’s rarest mammals, with an estimated population of 100 remaining in the wild.

The pieces of Madagascar’s ecological nightmare were falling into place.

THE PROBLEM THE CONTEXT : A PERFECT STORM Deforestation in Madagascar has a long history. The Malagasy have been slash-andburn farmers for centuries, but runaway deforestations rates only truly set in when French colonial rule between 1896 and 1960 saw more than 70% of the island’s natural forest cover destroyed and replaced in many places with coffee crops. Since independence, the exhaustion of major rosewood sources elsewhere in the world (such as China and Myanmar) has focused growing international demand for luxury wood on Madagascar, with little effective resistance from the Malagasy government – logging is now the main cause of deforestation in Madagascar. Members of the Chinese business community (whose presence in Madagascar dates from the 18th century) provide links to man-

In the aftermath of the political crisis, the international community largely withdrew foreign aid (which accounted for most of Madagascar’s public spending), and the US revoked substantial trade privileges. Many industries collapsed, including tourism which suffered from travellers’ security concerns. This desperate economic situation coupled with coercion by armed gangs funded by logging businesses, pushed many unemployed locals into the timber trade. Export of precious woods was banned by the government in 2000, but multiple amendments creating loopholes and government indecision on the issue turned the ban into a toothless, merely symbolic gesture by the time it was repealed in 2009. Timber barons, funded by advance payments from Chinese traders and buyers, took the repeal as a signal of government weakness. Subsequently, rosewood trade volume increased by 340% between 2009 and 2010.

Silky Sifaka

THE FUTURE? While the political and economic situation in Madagascar can only be solved by the Malagasy themselves, demand for precious woods is a crucial driver behind the problem, and it’s the one thing that we can change. Rosewood is most commonly used in China for furniture, and smaller quantities end up in Europe and North America (recently, the headquarters of Gibson Guitar was raided and investigated for illegal wood use). Successful education programmes have decreased demand in Europe and North America, and if the Asian market shrinks too, a major force undermining conservation efforts might finally be tamed.


© TQ / Bouchard, Claude

© TQ / Bouchard, Claude

Unique among North American destinations, Quebec’s fullypreserved French heritage sets itself apart from most of its Englishspeaking neighbours. Beyond its cultural heritage, the province features a multi-faced geography, diverse landscapes and a rich history spanning 5 centuries. CYCLING QUEBEC The best way to explore Quebec’s charms is from the saddle of a bicycle, especially along the 5,000km-long Route Verte that stretches from the banks of the St. Lawrence to scenic mountain-side routes, past various attractions and scenic sights. Some highlights include the Véloroute des Cantons which extends for some 225km across the Eastern Townships, allowing you to discover the region’s villages, natural parks and rolling landscapes. If you’re into historic rides, the P'tit train du Nord linear parkway (200 km) path was created on what used to be the Laurentides railway, taking you past forests and small villages. For some coastal riding and adventure, the Route Verte travels along the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula, a region that’s dotted with rolling coastal mountains, small seaside villages, plenty of pristine national parks, and about 500kms of bike lanes lined with cyclist-friendly hotels. Located south of the Lawrence River, it can be explored in a week.

GASPÉ PENINSULA One of 5 maritime regions of Quebec, the rugged coastline is not only synonymous with coastal Acadian villages, panoramic ocean vistas, misty mornings and steep cliffs, there are also opportunities for wildlife watching, fly fishing, hiking, canoeing and taking in a little culture. Possessing passable French is an advantage, as this is a mainly French-speaking region. While the loop around the entire peninsula is about 900km, the 500km that belongs to the “Route Verte” is decidedly the best section. The most common starting point is from Mont-Joli, where you can rent a bike (bringing your own is best). From here, the full-length loop follows Route 132 clockwise around the peninsula to take advantage of the headwind from the west. The ride starts easy along the north shore past pretty French villages until the ChicChoc mountains – the northern end of the Appalachians – where the landscape is akin to the Rockies. Halfway through the loop is Forillon National Park, where Route 132 continues to the southern coast. The easier Route Verte portion follows the

QUEBEC’S GASPÉ PENINSULA

southern portion of Route 132, running anticlockwise and ends halfway at Forillon National Park, avoiding the mountains. Chaleur Bay The first portion of the route takes you through forests past small towns before reaching the protected Chaleur Bay. The ride is pretty easy along this stretch of coast, where Basque, Norman and Jersey immigrants colonised what’s considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The bay is lined with a number of towns including Miguasha and Carleton-sur-Mer where you can enjoy kayaking in the bay. From here, you can ride inland to Parc National de Miguasha, a World Heritage site, where you can ogle at 380-million-year-old fish fossils which display a crucial time during the evolution of life on earth. Further along the bay at the mouth of the Bonaventure River, you may be able to sight some whales just offshore or paddle along the river on a canoe tour. The route flattens out here all the way to Percé, passing Port-Daniel – a century-old railway port that’s now speckled with fishing boats – along the way.


Percé is home to the peninsula’s most famous icon: Percé Rock, an 88m-tall limestone monolith that rises dramatically from the ocean. Close to the rock is Bonaventure Island, which together with Percé Rock form Parc National de l'ÎleBonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé. The park is a migratory bird sanctuary for the Northern gannet, with a population of over 110,000 nesting birds (the second largest in the world). In addition, you can also find other seabirds like puffins, razorbills, Black guillemot and kittiwakes. You can walk up to the rock at low tide (or take a boat tour to include Bonaventure Island) and explore the flora and fauna. Access is restricted between May 28 and October 12 (the top of the rock is not accessible at all times). From May to December, some species of blue whale, humpback whale, minke whale or fin whale can be seen along the coast.

Gaspé The final leg of this route rolls past limestone cliffs to Gaspé, a famous artist’s enclave. While it is a city, there are plenty of small communities dotted around. From here, you can opt for sea kayaking just off the coast, go salmon fishing (a popular summer activity) or ride further into neighbouring Forillon National Park. Forillon features pebbly beaches, mosscovered waterfalls, and sheer cliffs that drop for hundreds of feet. Although essentially a marine park, Forillon is also home to a number of land mammals including the moose, which is very much at home in the park’s rugged wooded terrain. Seabirds are abundant here, and during each spring migration, birds like cormorants, kittiwakes, gulls and razorbills breed en masse on the sea cliffs of the Bon Ami Cape area.

Gaspé peninsula ends here, where you can opt to leave by rail or air, or continue northwards along the coast (although the headwinds can get pretty strong in this portion).

Canada

Percé Percé is a popular attraction where art galleries, comfortable lodging and fine dining can be found.

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With its Acadian and French roots, attractions like Percé Rock, as well as parks like the Forillon National Park and Miguasha National Park, it is no wonder that the Gaspé peninsula remains a classic destination for touring cyclists. For those not into the saddle, the trip can also be done in the comfort of a car.

The park is also home to Canada’s tallest lighthouse at Cap-desRosiers, and offers opportunities for diving and snorkelling, kayaking and whale watching. The Route Verte portion of the

© TQ / Hurteau, Paul, Parent, Claude © TQ / Baronet, Robert © TQ / Baronet, Robert

© TQ / Bouchard, Claude

GETTING THERE The province of Quebec has 2 major international airports – at Quebec City and Montreal – that are easily accessible from Singapore.

connects the towns along the coast, having a mirror on the bicycle is a good safety feature, as traffic can get pretty hairy (especially when trucks drive by).

The most common starting point of Gaspé Peninsula’s Route Verte is Mont-Joli, from where there are air, rail and road connections to major Canadian cities like Montreal and Quebec City. At the end of the Route Verte at Gaspé, you can return to Mont-Joli or Montreal by train or air.

The best time to tackle the Gaspé peninsula is during the busy summer between June and September when campgrounds are fully open (most sites are perched over cliffs with sea views) and the bird migration season is in full swing.

As Route 132 is essentially a highway that

For more on Gaspé and Quebec, visit www.bonjourquebec.com.


plus

JUL-AUG 2013

WIN! 4 Nights

Stay (Niseko)

in a Luxury 3-Bedroom House

+ Car Rental

5 Days with English GPS See page 08 of our Japan Special!

JAPAN SPECIAL

Mt. Fuji Š JNTO

Hokkaido | Shiga | Toyama | Chiba | Kanagawa


Located east of Kyoto and tucked within vast mountains and forests, Shiga prefecture is Kansai’s (Western Japan) green heart. The main draw of Shiga is Lake Biwa which is surrounded by 5 mountains – it’s Japan’s largest lake (at 670 sq.km.) located in the centre of this wooded prefecture. Shiga is also home to some 800 of Japan’s historic treasures, including the canals of Omihachiman to Azuchi that displays Japan’s eclectic collection of historic architecture, the castle town of Hikone, as well as Otsu which is home to ancient temples, most notably Enryaku-ji which is a UNESCO site located atop Mt. Hiei. Even with its abundance of national landmarks, Shiga is overshadowed by its famous neighbour Kyoto; for visitors, it means less crowds to jostle with. Also, its pristine natural landscape means that in addition to cultural tours, you can also indulge in plenty of outdoor activities, including watersports (rafting, canoeing, swimming, windsurfing, etc), camping, as well as ziplining.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURE IN S

TEXT BY Miho Ota

SETA RIVER RAFTING Flowing through the scenic mountainous region in southern Shiga is Seta River, the only river that originates from Lake Biwa. Its clear blue water snakes through thick woods and rugged rocks, providing enough rapids (around Class II) to make it the most accessible whitewater rafting spot in the Kansai region. Friendship Adventures organises half-day sessions for whitewater rafting, tubing and river bugging trips along the Seta River, which are available twice a day from 1 April to 30 November. Whitewater rafting sessions (¥5,000, 2.5 hours) are limited to 6 participants per raft, and a minimum of 3 participants is required per tour. Each session includes a briefing

session followed by a group practice, so they can be done by anyone with or without experience. In addition to rafting, Friendship Adventure is the only company offering water tubing trips in Kansai and river bugging in Japan. For those who prefer navigating the river solo, water tubing (¥5,800, 2.5 hours) trips allow you to glide down the rapids in a large rubber tube. As you are in direct contact with the river, the thrill of sliding down the river is more intense. When you approach the rapids, you may be spinning a lot, so avoid big waves if you don’t want to flip over. The latest addition river activities is river bugging (¥6,700, 2.5 hours), which was invented in Europe and brought to Japan exclusively to the Seta River. The ‘river bug’

looks like an inflated chair that resembles a bug on water (hence its name), and navigation is achieved via the hand straps attached to the chair with the aid of flippers on the feet. Reclining on the backrest of the ‘river bug’, you tackle the rapids face-forward. While these activities last half a day, there are packages available for those who want to combine rafting and tubing for a full-day affair. Friendship Adventures (www.friendshipadventures.com) provides or rents all the necessary gear. Online reservation is required, and English-speaking staff are available upon request. There are hot spring resorts nearby where you can soak and warm up your body to complete the day.


SHIGA

JAPAN SPECIAL

BIWAKO VALLEY A vast grassy hill that spreads from the foot of Mt. Hourai to the western edge of Lake Biwa, Biwako Valley is a hotspot for outdoor activities; hiking, camping and grass sledding are popular from late spring to autumn, while skiing can be done from winter through to early spring. Many visitors come here for the spectacular view of Lake Biwa, which can be seen from any corner of this hill, and a panoramic cable car (Biwako Valley Ropeway) up to Mt. Hourai takes advantage of this scenery.

wild birds, dotted with some steep hill portions. A popular spot along the route is a slim path between huge rocks where only one trekker can pass at a time. The undulating Fufu-daki Route meanders along mountain streams, ending at a 35m-high waterfall (named ‘couple’ waterfall as there are 2 streams falling side by side). Zipline For more of an adrenaline rush, you can actually zipline down Mt. Hourai. Once you’re strapped to a harness and attached to a pulley, you’ll slide down a series of cables,

giving you the feeling of flying down the mountain towards the lake. There are 7 zip lines set up around the valley (the longest line is129m long) overlooking the lake. Each organised zipline session with Biwako Zipline Adventure lasts 2 hours (¥3,000), taking you around the entire course with an experienced instructor, and takes place 5 times daily (available until November 4). Biwako Valley is accesible from Shiga Station by bus (10 mins). For more on Biwako, visit www.biwako-valley.com.

There are 3 hiking courses at Mt Hourai, each of which features a different attraction lasting about 3 hours from the ropeway station. The Kojoroga-ike Route goes through an exposed mountain ridge with views of Lake Biwa and ends at a 6,300 yearold pond, while the shaded Mt. Hira Route takes you through a lush forest full of

GETTING THERE The main gateways to Shiga are the Maibara Station (2 hrs 20 mins from Tokyo Station) in northern Shiga and the city of Otsu in the south where most of Shiga’s population resides, which is easily accessible from Kyoto and Osaka via high-speed trains (10- and 40-minutes respectively). Most of Shiga’s ancient towns and attractions lie along the shores of Lake Biwa, meaning you can easily take in a cultural tour and enjoy the great outdoors at the same time. For more on Shiga, visit http://en.biwako-visitors.jp. ©Yasufumi Nishi/JNTO

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While Toyama is not a glamorous city like Tokyo or Osaka or a historical big shot like Kyoto, it is a place to unwind and take in the subtle beauty of its traditional culture, hospitality and vast nature. Toyama is home to the famous Shirakawa-go (a collection of UNESCOlisted thatched-roof farmhouses) and the dramatic Kurobe Gorge, which is dotted with hot springs and accessible via the scenic Kurobe Gorge Railway. Tucked between the soaring Tateyama mountain range (at over 3,000m) and Toyama Bay, the prefecture of Toyama is blessed with natural resources. The region experiences one of the world’s heaviest snowfalls, resulting in plentiful water sources from the Tateyama mountains that has cradled its rich

agriculture and marine life. Toyama’s self-sustainable nature has also managed to preserved its culture and industry for centuries. However, the exodus of many of its younger residents to nearby metropolises like Tokyo and Osaka has meant that Toyama’s natural bounty may have been underappreciated. This has led young business owners and civil workers of NPO Toyama Style to design unique “sightfeeling” (instead of “sightseeing”) tours that let visitors experience the unspoiled charms of their native land.

ADVENTURE FOODIE TOURS One such tour is the “Nippon Travel Restaurant in Toyama” series. Despite its name, these tours are more than just a gourmet tour – they create an opportunity for a face-to-face connection between consumers and regional producers, a vital link to protect and sustain the industry for the generations to come. Participants will also get to experience genuine regional culture and entertainment to make the experience more meaningful and memorable. As Japan prides itself on seasonal foods, these tours are run throughout the year to feature different seasonal produce according to the time of the year.

©Tateyama Kurobe Kanko/JNTO

© JNTO

TOYAMA’S HANDS-ON DINING

TEXT BY Miho Ota

NIPPON TRAVEL RESTAURANT Nippon Travel Restaurant’s tours usually accept up to 20 people and are organised irregularly throughout the year. Most tours are 2 days long and cost ¥20,000, excluding the transportation to Toyama and lodging. For more, visit toyamastyle.jp (Japanese only) or their FB site at fb.com/toyamastyle. If you don’t speak Japanese, you can email them (toyamastyle@hotmail.co.jp) and request for their English-speaking staff to come along.

GETTING THERE Toyama is accessible by air, rail and road from Tokyo. Toyama’s airport has connections to Tokyo as well as international destinations like Shanghai and Seoul, and its railway station has frequent connections to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, with a journey time of about 3 hours.

©Gokayama tourist office/JNTO


JAPAN SPECIAL

Farm Fresh Food Rice produced in the expansive Toyama plains puts the beautiful Nanto city at the heart of the rice producing region, with a colour palette that changes throughout the year. The vibrant green stretches all the way to the ridges of the mountains in early summer, and in a few months, the entire vicinity becomes a golden carpet ready to be harvested.

for copper and brass Buddhist ornaments – and continues to be innovative; soft, pure tin products, including the sake cup which is believed to make sake taste mild and clear, is an example of their latest innovation.

During the tour, not only will you get to experience the oldest methods of casting, you can also taste fresh sake from your very own handmade cup. For more on these tin cups, visit www.japanstore.jp (in English).

as 1,200m, and is home to a wide variety of cold- and warm-water, surface- and deepwater marine life, as well as the world’s oldest submarine forest. It is here, from March to June, that the surface of the sea is carpeted with thousands of

A popular stopping point along the tour is Mr. Yoshida’s pad situated in the middle of the Toyama plains. The local farmer treats guests to his homegrown products, from freshly harvested vegetables to rice, cooked in a local style. Some tours even combine the hike up a nearby trail to cook freshly harvested rice on the mountaintop overlooking beautiful paddies that stretch all the way to Toyama Bay.

Combining Craft with Tasting Another popular tour is one that combines Toyama’s renowned sake brewing industry and the country’s largest and oldest metal casting industry. There is a tour that involves custom-making your own 100% tin sake cup, followed by a visit to a brewery where you get to taste sake with it. At a 3-hour workshop at Takata Seiki (www.imono.com), a local tin casting company, you get to experience the entire casting process from sand casting to polishing. Takaoka city (where Takata Seiki is located) has a 400-year history of a flourishing metal casting industry – mainly

Hiking Tours A trip to Toyama is not complete without visiting the Tateyama mountain range in the southeast edge of the prefecture. Although it is most famous for the popular alpine route’s snow corridor which resembles a 20m tall crevasse (open from mid-April to late May), trekking in the summer and autumn has its charms as well. In collaboration with Travearth (www.travearth.jp), experienced local climbing guides provide trekking and camping tours within the Tateyama ranges, enabling Nippon Travel Restaurant to provide interesting and localised treks with specialist knowledge and opportunities to taste local delicacies. Squid Fishing The tours also take you to Toyama Bay, known locally as the sea of “mystery” and “prosperity”. The bay goes down as deep

firefly squid, both a famous delicacy of the region and the creatures behind the mysterious illuminations that etch the bay with an enigmatic glow. If you’re in the vicinity, you can jump aboard one of the many squidfishing ships for a night-time cruise to harvest these illuminated morsels.

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Hakone is the closest hot spring resort from Tokyo, at only a 90-minute train ride away from Shinjuku station. This little onsen town is surrounded by the high peaks of the Hakone mountain ranges, which was created as a result of ancient volcanic activity along with the beautiful crater lake, Lake Ashi, which lies along the western edge of the town. The volcanic activity has also created countless sources of hot springs around the town with a wide spectrum of spring quality. Hakone has long been a popular hot spring spot, first appearing in historic documents in 757, but it blossomed especially since early 1600s when the country’s capital moved from Kyoto to Edo (current Tokyo). The abundant hot springs of Hakone were initially valued mainly for medicinal

use, but after the launch of the Odakyu railway connecting Tokyo and Hakone, tourism started to blossom. Its natural beauty – with views of the Hakone mountains, Lake Ashi, Mt. Fuji and the Pacific Ocean – has made it into one of the most popular destinations from Tokyo, especially since the area was designated as Hakone National Park in 1936. Popular tourist destinations in Hakone are located mostly inside the Hakone basin, which is a local train ride and additional funicular ride away from Hakone-Yumoto station (the gateway to Hakone). These spots let you enjoy a variety of hiking and trekking routes in the rugged mountains, scenic rides on the ropeway overlooking the mountains and lake, as well as cruises around the lake.

HIKING AND HOT SPRINGS IN HAKONE

BY Miho Ota

© Kanagawa Prefectural Tourist Association

GETTING THERE From Tokyo, the Odakyu line from Shinjuku station takes you direct to Hakone-Yumoto in 90 minutes. Alternatively, you can take the local train to Odawara and transfer to Hakone-Yumoto station.


JAPAN SPECIAL

MT . KINTOKI Those who prefer a more laid back, less touristy day trip from Tokyo can opt to go hiking on Mt. Kintoki (1,231m). This relatively easy half-day hike lets you enjoy views of all of Hakone’s highlights including the beautiful mountain ranges, Lake Ashi, the Suruga Bay opening into the Pacific, and the spectacular view of Mt. Fuji from the top of Mt. Kintoki.

patches of arrow bamboo cover the neighbouring mountains). The last stretch of the trail gets quite steep, and the section is equipped with ropes in some parts, since they are rocky and bare. There is a view of the town spread below the mountain.

There are 4 routes in the Mt. Kintoki area, including the Kintoki Shrine Course, Ashigara Toge Course, Otome Toge Course and the Kintokiyama Course.

The summit of Mt. Kintoki is deep in this mountainous region, and you have to ascend a few peaks before reaching it. At Kintoki’s summit is a symbolic axe (which is a popular photo spot) of a legendary local hero, Kintoki Sakata (for whom the mountain is named), who is said to have been the strongest man in Japan during the Heian period.

The Otome Toge (4.7km, 2.5 hrs) route takes you through a wooded area for the first third of the trail before it suddenly becomes exposed. In the middle section, a trail is cut through a dense forest of arrow bamboo, as if shaved from a thick green carpet (similar

There are two cabins at the top of Mt. Kintoki where you can purchase snacks and enjoy warm udon and soba noodles at the picnic table or on one of the large rocks around the peak when it’s warm out. On a clear day, the view from the top is worth the entire hike,

encompassing the magnificent Mt. Fuji, Lake Ashi and Sengokuhara which is famous for its patch of Japanese silver grass. Access to the route is slightly tricky without local knowledge, so it’s essential to take a map with you. The trailhead is about a 5minute walk from “Otome-toge” stop along the Hakone-Yumoto station to Myanoshita bus route. The bus winds through mountain roads which are carpeted in lush green in summer and vibrant foliage in autumn, making this slightly bumpy 40-minute ride worth the trip alone. The Kintoki-yama (Mt. Kintoki) Hiking Pass includes a 1-day pass for buses between Hakone-Yumoto and Miyanoshita stations (a cheaper alternative to return tickets) and discounts on some merchandise at the mountain cabin on top of Mt. Kintoki.

©Odakyu Electric Railway/JNTO

HOT SPRINGS

©Odakyu Electric Railway/JNTO

Hakone has been one of Japan’s most popular hot spring (onsen) destinations for centuries. Over a dozen springs have become a source for the many hot spring bath houses in the Hakone region, stretching all the way to the shores of Lake Ashi. Located at the entrance to the Hakone area (near Odawara station), Yumoto is Hakone’s most famous hot spring zone with a particularly long history and high water quality. This has led to the profusion of baths and inns (ryokan), many of which are also open for daytime visitors (fees are typically 500 to 2,000 yen). After a long day’s hike, it has become a ritual to soak in Hakone’s famous therapeutic hot springs. One of the newest resorts is Hakone Yuryo, which is a day-use hot spring spa. The whole complex is relatively compact, but it offers great views from the baths which

are situated on a wooded hill. The spa is designed in an authentic traditional style, decorated with genuine antiques collected from all around the country to give it the feel of a rustic yet modern farm house in the countryside. The clear spring water is ideal for easing joint pains and fatigue. There are a number of private outdoor baths and shared indoor and outdoor baths, all connected via garden paths. The collection of shared outdoor baths (rotenburo), placed at different levels on the slope, is surrounded by woods and evokes the feeling of bathing in the middle of a forest. You can end the day with a meal cooked on the restaurant’s open hearth grill. Hakone Yuryo (www.hakoneyuryo.jp) is accessible by a free 3-minute shuttle service from Hakone-Yumoto station. There are 19 private outdoor baths (from ¥3,800/hour), each with its own relaxing space.

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Travelling in PRODUCED BY RoomBoss and Powderlife

Hokkaido

© JNTO

GETTING THERE AND AROUND Hokkaido’s wide open spaces are best explored either on self drives or on coach tours. An international driving permit is needed when hiring a car in Japan. Hokkaido is blessed with extensive wide roads, coupled with lack of traffic congestion, making it perfect for a leisurely drive. You can explore the coast of Shakotan, the flowers of Biei or the enchanting ShikotsuToya National Park either as day-trips or part of a multi-day circuit. For driving itineraries, visit www.hokkaido-drive.jp. Coach tours take the hassle of driving away and are available as 1, 2 or 3-day options. These include Furano and Biei’s Lavender 1-Day Tour (¥6,500) where you can sample Hokkaido’s signature foods, and the FuranoAsahiyama 2-Day Tour (¥13,000), which includes a trip to the famous Asahiyama Zoo. The more extensive 3-Day Noboribetsu-ToyaHakodate (¥19,800) tour incorporates historic sites and breathtaking natural parks. Visit www.access-n.jp for more.

Hokkaido is a nature lover’s paradise with wide open areas, pristine national parks and a huge selection of topographies to explore. There are six national parks in Hokkaido and five quasi-national parks. Shikotsu-Toya National Park is the area surrounding the two pristine lakes of Toya and Shikotsu. This national park has some amazing mountains to hike including Eniwa-dake and Tarumaezan, as well as the two beautiful lakes. Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan QuasiNational Park is also the quasi-national park that surrounds the coastline from west of Niseko in Iwanai, all the way around to the coastline north of Niseko in Otaru. There are many beautiful places to camp along the rugged coastline, including some nice beaches.

A little further from Niseko is the Daisetsuzan National Park, which is Japan’s largest national park. The heart of the park is the giant Daisetsuzan mountain range, with a host of peaks that stretch above 2,000m. There are numerous hiking options that range from a few hours (with a cable car), to a grand traverse that visits many of the peaks and spans several days and over 55kms. Even further from Niseko is the Rishiri-RebunSarobetsu National Park that has the beautiful and remote islands of Rishiri and Rebun, perfect for hiking and enjoying nature. Last but not least is the beautiful and pristine Shiretoko National Park in east Hokkaido. It’s known as being the most remote area of Japan (notably in winter) and is refuge for large populations of deer and bear.

© Niseko Promotion Board


JAPAN SPECIAL

NEW CHITOSE AIRPORT

Hot Spots A popular base for exploring Hokkaido’s top spots is Niseko, from where it’s within a 2-hour trip to many attractions, including Sapporo, Shakotan, Lake Toya and Noboribetsu. In addition, Niseko has plenty of attractions to offer in summer, including hiking, biking and rafting tours. The following 6 destinations are easily accessible by self drive or coach tours. A 4-5 day itinerary would allow you to cover most of these sites.

The main point of entry into Hokkaido, the New Chitose Airport is 50km from Sapporo. Apart from car rental (and bus and train connections), the airport complex offers shopping, dining and entertainment facilities, including the Royce Chocolate Factory and Onsen Manyonoyu, a hot spring bathhouse. © Yasufumi Nishi / JNTO

SHAKOTAN The rugged coastline of the Shakotan peninsula is surrounded by clear blue waters, where you can enjoy a variety of outdoor sports like hiking up Shakotan-dake and sea kayaking (the area is also Hokkaido's only sea park). The area is renowed for its seafood (don't miss Katsuei Sushi in Kamoenai) as well as its hot spring resorts.

FURANO

© JNTO

Furano (and neighbouring Biei) are located in the centre of Hokkaido, known for their picturesque rural landscapes. In July the lavender fields are in bloom, while in winter Furano turns into a popular ski resort. Outdoor activities include rafting down the Sorachi-gawa River and hot-air ballooning. Every summer, Furano hosts a “belly button” festival, when participants draw funny faces on their bellies and dance in the street.

NISEKO

© Farm Tomita

One of Japan’s most popular all-season resorts, Niseko is centered around Mount Niseko-Annupuri and has excellent modern accommodation options, in addition to a wide variety of food, activities and nature tours. It’s a good base from which to explore surrounding areas, like Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Sapporo and Hakodate.

LAKE TOYA Part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, this caldera lake is within eyeshot of the active volcano, Mt.Usu. The hot springs here are well regarded – at Kohantei ryokan, there are superb views of the lake and mountains from their outdoor bath that’s 32m above the lake. Forests, waterfalls and campsites dot the lake’s edge, and fishing is a popular activity here.

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© Toyako Tourist Association

NOBORIBETSU One of Japan's most famous onsen towns, a large amount of Noboribetsu's many types of hot spring water surfaces in the Jigokudani (Hell Valley) where yellowy gray volcanic gas spews from the surface of the rocks. Other attractions include Edo Town and the Jikoku Festival (23-25 Aug). Part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, it is also home to Noboribetsu Primeval Forest.

© Noboribetsu Tourism


Hokkaido Summer

Action

While Niseko is known as a premier winter destination, the summer season brings no shortage of outdoor activities.

ACTIVITIES Hiking & Running Niseko is surrounded by mountains dotted with a variety of walks and hikes suitable for all abilities. For strong climbers there are courses up Mt. Yotei (including the popular 4.5km Makkari route at 8 hours round trip), courses that traverse the Niseko mountain range, as well as Mt. Iwaonupuri, Mt. Asahidake and Mt. Tarumae.

Rafting and Canoeing Rafting and canoeing can be done along the fairly gentle Shiribetsu River. However, from April to May, the meltwater from nearby mountains transforms the river into a raging torrent for those looking for a thrilling descent. Plenty of outdoor adventure companies in the Niseko area offer rafting and canoeing trips, which are ideal for all abilities.

For less experienced climbers, there are plenty of trails around Lake Shinsen-numa or around the upper wetland area.

Cycling From relaxed, meandering rural roads to challenging mountain roads (like the loop around Mt. Yotei), Niseko is dotted with a variety of cycling courses. Hokkaido has a good mix of flats, rolling hills, and steeper climbs, and a road cycling trip can be had within 30-40km loops throughout the island.

Hokkaido has seen a growth in runners in recent years, thanks to the growth in trail running and tabi-run (destination running). Runners based in Niseko can explore popular routes along lightly travelled roads surrounded by fields sewn with summer produce.

There is also a profusion of cross-country trails and downhill courses around Niseko; located at the base of the Annupuri Ranges, it’s an ideal location for setting up northshore style ramps and jumps, with new sections built on a regular basis.

For wildlife enthusiasts, various kinds of animals, birds, and flowers can be found along nature tours with experienced nature guides on early-morning and night tours.

For established trails, many ski resorts open their doors (and lifts) to mountain biking enthusiasts. Hanazono, Niseko Village and the Niseko Annupuri area maintain bike trails.

Further afield, Furano and Otaru also offer access to their high-speed lift and designated trails for riders of all ability levels. Offroad tours are available in Niseko from a number of providers, with several options exploring the Mt. Annupuri and Mt. Yotei footlands. Rhythm Cycles offers tune up and repairs if travelling with your own gear. Others Summer is also ideal for a spot of canyoning, hot-air balloon rides, as well as horse riding, where you can saunter through Niseko’s beautiful natural surroundings.

DAY TRIPS An ideal (and very traditional) way to relax after a long day on the roads/trails is to hit an onsen (hot spring) to soak your muscles. Onsen resorts are available in Niseko, but a short drive away will bring you to 2 of Hokkaido’s famous hot spring areas: Noboribetsu and Lake Toya. The former has up to 9 sources of hot spring water and an abundance of large-scale hot spring resorts, while the latter is located along the picturesque Lake Toya where you can have a view of the lake and Mt. Usu from the outdoor baths.


JAPAN SPECIAL

Top Picks NISEKO ADVENTURE CENTRE

NISEKO VILLAGE “PURE”

NAC is Niseko's original outdoor tour company and offers a range of summer activities. Including guided river rafting, river and sea kayaking, MTB, canyoning, trekking and trail runs. Indoor rock climbing and © Niseko Adventure Center ‘bouldering’ facilities take up part of the NAC building, offering the unique experience of climbing while diners in the upstairs cafe JoJo’s look on.

Walking through elevated © Niseko Village boardwalks and ropeways through trees, flying out of trees on a zip line, games of mini-golf, beach volleyball, horse riding and more. Niseko Village has these activities and more as a part of its "Pure" activities, which are available during the summer months from late April to mid October.

T 0136-23-2093 | W www.nac-web.com

T 0136-44-2211 | W www.niseko-village.com

NISEKO HANAZONO RESORT ACTIVITIES

SELF DRIVE

Niseko Hanazono Resort provides a variety of outdoor activities. Take a spin on their purpose-built bike park, designed by competition riders and catering to riders of all levels. Follow up with an adrenaline fueled, © Niseko Hanazono Resort physically challenging canyoning session, or a cruisy day tour to Lake Toya, Otaru, Sapporo or Noboribetsu.

The freedom to do whatever © JNTO you want, whenever. Hike Mt Yotei, bike Mt Annupuri, visit Shakotan, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu. Ask your accommodation provider for help on sites and activities accessible by car. From a day trip to a 3D/2N course covering half of Hokkaido, getting around by car makes it possible for you to discover hidden spots.

T 0136-21-6655 | W www.hanazononiseko.com

W www.hokkaido-drive.jp

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Japan's most famous ski resort internationally, Niseko is renowned for having tons of light powder snow (last season sported 16m of snowfall) and great facilities for travellers. The majority of Niseko services (such as accommodation, ski schools and ski hire) have English-speaking staff on hand, which is important for beginners for whom good advice is essential to a good holiday.

RESORTS Niseko's ski resorts are all located along the slopes of Mt. Niseko-Annupuri (1,308m). Four major resorts – Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Annupuri – cover most of the southeastern half of the mountain. These neighbouring resorts are connected at the top of the mountain (you can ski between them) and at the base (connected by shuttle buses). Access to all is possible with the Niseko All Mountain Pass. Grand Hirafu is the largest area with a dozen lifts including a new high-speed 8-person gondola, and easy access to peak runs and Niseko's legendary "slack country" (lift accessible backcountry). It’s home to the most recent ski field developments (on and off the mountain) with the widest variety of accommodation, restaurants, bars and services. Hanazono offers the best free ride and terrain parks in Niseko with hip hop thumping in the background. Paradoxically Hanazono is home to arguably the best facilities in Niseko for first-timer skiers and snowboarders. Hanazono doesn't have many accommoda-

Winter

Fun in Hokkaido

tion options or night spots, but it's a great place for daytime activities and lunch. Antithesis to the eclectic variety of Hirafu, Niseko Village is a one-stop resort with 2 large hotels. Ski-in ski-out accommodation and in-house services (e.g. rental equipment and snowsports school) make it a convenient resort, with shuttle buses and taxis available to reach Hirafu’s restaurants and bars. Annupuri possesses wide, open ski trails suited to beginners advancing to intermediate level. Advanced skiers are also catered for by Annupuri's popular back bowls. Accommodation options are fewer than Hirafu but one benefit of this being less contention for first tracks in the morning.

SKI EXPERIENCE The same plethora of snow that draws serious powderhounds also provides an ideal starting point for first-timers and beginners. Hokkaido ski slopes are consistently softer and more forgiving than other areas, an important attribute for new skiers and riders. Ski schools are available at the base of the mountain on all sides, however the larger English-speaking schools are located in Hirafu, Hanazono and Niseko Village. It's a good idea to book lessons in advance if you're travelling during peak winter dates.

PHOTOS BY NAC

In addition to kilometres of ski trails, Niseko offers easy access to slackcountry and backcountry areas – a level of flexibility that's relatively uncommon in Japanese ski resorts. Out-of-resort areas can be accessed via a number of gates located within Niseko’s ski fields. Gates are closed during unsafe conditions, but even when they’re open, caution and experience (or a guide) are essential. A number of local companies run tours in slackcountry and backcountry areas.

WHEN TO VISIT Niseko’s ski fields typically open from the end of November until early May. The most snow falls from mid-December until mid-tolate February. The second half of February (outside of main holiday periods) is ideal for uncontested access to fresh powder snow. The best deals are had during March when the snowfall slows down (by Hokkaido standards; there's still a lot of snow) and gives way to more frequent blue sky days and panoramic views from the mountain.

GETTING THERE Coach and taxi are more convenient than rail and are readily accessible from December to early April. Coach fares are competitively priced (¥2,300 per person one way) and services run frequently between New Chitose Airport and Niseko.


JAPAN SPECIAL

Ski Alternatives

Niseko’s snowy landscape offers a range of activities for non-skiers, and for those having a day off. Explore on snowshoes, or a snowmobile, or take the relaxing option of reindeer sledding.

SNOWMOBILING Snowmobiles give you access to remote areas that would be impossible to reach otherwise. There are different types of "sleds" and terrain for every level of ability. There are also 2-seater snowmobiles for those who just want to hitch a ride. Zoom up hills, down hills and traverse along flats, floating through the powder in a fashion akin to riding a jet ski or a motorbike. If you’re more of a speed seeker, sleds are

available that can manoeuvre through deep powder at speeds that exceed legal speed limits on roads in Japan. Smaller, easy-to-ride snowmobiles are also available for those that prefer to go around a course in a calmer fashion. Hanazono Resort offers a range of snowmobile tours from ¥6,500 and are available to those 13 years old and above.

SNOW BIKING One of the latest winter activities is Ice and Snow Biking offered by Niseko Adventure Center (NAC). Their range of mountain bikes are fitted with studded tires, allowing you to cycle on snow and ice. A guide will take you to explore some of the most beautiful and remote trails in the area. Breathe the fresh air and enjoy great views of Mt. Yotei and Mt. Annupuri on a clear day.

Guides match course difficulty to a level that suits each group, with routes ranging from mostly flat 6 km rides to challenging 10 km trails. NAC claims that if you can ride a bike in the summer, you can snow bike – the only limitation being that you have to be taller than 150 cm. Tours run every day from 9am to noon and cost ¥6,000.

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Hokkaido Winter

Happenings © Niseko Promotion Board

As winter season settles in, Hokkaido transforms into a pure white landscape from sea level up. In addition to becoming a playground for snow sports and outdoor activities, it also plays host to a variety of interesting and unique events and festivals.

18-19 February 2014, the weekend is packed with events ranging from the rather odd nabe (hot pot) making and gumboot kicking competitions, through to snowball fights, and a crazy contest involving riding or skiing across an impossibly long pool of icy water. For a more relaxed experience, enjoy a

WITHIN NISEKO For those looking for a community-based event, Kutchan’s Yukitopia features a host of events right in the Niseko area. Held from

© Kutchan Town Office

reindeer sled ride at Niseko Village. The 120kg reindeer can easily pull twice their weight, their large broad hooves act like snowshoes, emitting a clicking sound as they walk. Reindeer sledding is available over certain holiday dates including Christmas and Chinese New Year.

OTARU

SAPPORO CHRISTMAS MARKET

An easy day trip from Niseko by train is the port city of Otaru, well worth a visit for its historic architecture, fresh seafood and handicrafts.

The Sapporo Christmas Market is inspired by the biggest and most traditional Christmas market in the world, which is held in the sister city of Munich in Germany.

© Yasufumi Nishi / JNTO

The Christmas Market is scheduled from 26 November to 24 December. One of the market’s main attractions is being able to visit a wide range of Christmas vendors, where you can source Christmas gifts and souvenirs that are that are handcrafted works rather than being mass-produced. From wood-carved toys and nativity figurines to authentic German mulled wine and baked cinnamon apples, it’s not difficult to find something from the dozens of stalls. There are also official souvenirs that you can buy, including mugs and pins that are exclusive to each year. This year’s event will also feature performances from nativity plays to puppet theatre.

A town that grew from fishing and trade, the city’s most famous landmark is the canal, which used to be the transportation hub for tugboats. The canal is adorned with Victorian-style street lamps on its walkway and lined with warehouses – once used for storage in the days when the canal was crowded with jostling barges – that have been converted into souvenir shops, workshops and restaurants. When night falls, oil lamps on the cobbled streets are lit, and the town evokes a gentle, nostalgic mood. Otaru is also famous for its sushi and sashimi and supplies high-quality seafood across Japan, so make sure to try some. You can also explore the large 19th century wooden building of Nishin Goten (so called 'herring mansion') to learn about the fishing industry. Another major industry in Otaru was glassware. The glass factories across the city supply glass buoys and lamps for fisheries (some are historical) as well as homewares – a colourful option for souvenirs.

After the market shuts on December 24, you can visit the Christmas-light-esque ‘White Illumination’ that runs until February across snow-covered Odori Park, where dozens of landmarks are adorned with thousands of lights which come to life after dark.


JAPAN SPECIAL

Top Picks NAC CAT SKIING

NISEKO HANAZONO SNOWMOBILE TOURS

Cat skiing is for those who want a mountain to themselves. Literally. NAC runs tours from Niseko to Weiss ski resort which is reserved for cat skiing operations. The terrain is not overly steep, and tours are suitable for intermediate and advanced skiers and riders. A popular activity, it's worth booking in advance.

Take a ride through Niseko’s famed powder snow on your very own high performance snowmobile. Your guide will take you via forests trails, through snow covered pastures, to spectacular views of the Niseko range and (weather permitting) the sea beyond. T 0136-21-6655 | W www.hanazononiseko.com

T 0136-23-2093 | W www.nac-web.com

THE BARN

TSUBARA TSUBARA

For French fare prepared with fresh Hokkaido produce, meat and seafood, The Barn is a top pick for a night out in Niseko. The Colonial Dutch architecture, modern sculpture, and a vibrant crew makes for great atmosphere. After dinner, head upstairs for a drink at the bar. Open summer and winter.

Another must-try is Hokkaido’s famous soup curry. The base is a light broth in which meat, seafood and lightly-cooked vegetables are immersed. Located in Niseko Izumikyo, Tsubara Tsubara serves this Hokkaido delicacy. Choose a number between 1 and 20 for level of spice, and don't underestimate multi digits. Open all year round.

T 0136 23 0888 | W www.nisekobarn.com

T 0136-23-1116

SAPPORO YUKI MATSURI (Feb 5-11, 2014)

OTARU SNOW LIGHT PATH FESTIVAL (Feb 7-16, 2014)

© Yasufumi Nishi / JNTO

© Yasufumi Nishi / JNTO

Every February, Sapporo city centre is transformed into a fantasy world of crystal-like artistic creations. From famous rock stars to giant royal palaces, house-sized cartoon figures to tiny snowmen – hundreds of impressive snow statues and ice sculptures line Odori Park, the grounds at Community Dome Tsudome and the main street in Susukino.

The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is a winter festival held every February in Otaru, during which the city becomes decorated in lights and small snow statues for 10 days. Both Unga Kaijo and Temiyasen Kaijo areas are officially lit, but locals also put lanterns in front of their shops and residences, further adding to the festival spirit.

W gosapporo.com

W www.city.otaru.lg.jp

15


Minami (Southern) Boso refers to an area in southern Chiba prefecture and the southern Boso-hanto Peninsula. To its east and south, rocky beaches and precipitous cliffs created by sea erosion face the Pacific Ocean, while its western coast – the gateway to Tokyo Bay – is lined with many sandy beaches.

SOUTHERN CHIBA SURFING SPOTS

As the area is around 2 hours from Tokyo, plenty of urbanites visit the peninsula to enjoy its warmer climate and myriad attractions, including hot springs, local cuisine and famous landmarks.

The beaches of Southern Boso are lesstrafficked, beginning with Awa Kamogawa and continuing southwards through Wada, Chitose and Chikura – all within 20 minutes’ walk from stations along the Uchibo line.

Thanks to Minami Boso’s geographic position, it is also a favourite haunt for Japanese surfers who come to experience Chiba’s famous waves and surf beaches, which run along the east coast of the peninsula. As a general rule, the crowds thin out as one heads further south (away from Tokyo).

Photo by Dave Yamaya Photo by Dave Yamaya

SURFING CHIBA

KAMOGAWA With its coast facing the Pacific Ocean, Kamogawa is a magnet for many Japanese surfers who have moved to the city to live and work. The surf scene here was established in the 1960s by American servicemen, which led to Japan’s very first surfing competition in 1965. Since then, many surf clubs and shops have been established in Kamogawa, giving it a reputation as a hotspot for surfing in Japan. While you will not find towering waves and giant pipelines like you would in Hawaii, the exposed beach breaks here provide reliable surf that come in the form of windswells with left- and right-hand beach breaks. There are 5 surf breaks in Kamogawa, all along the same beach. The breaks are mostly similar, with different underwater contours.

The most popular for intermediate level surfers is Maruki, which is a sandy beach with rocky reef bottom. Because of the ease of access from town, this beach can get crowded, even in off season. However, it does offer lots of wind and swell (about 4m), with one of the most excellent left breaks in Chiba. A 5-minute walk from the Awa Kamogawa station, Seaside is another well-regarded surfing point, dotted with beach shacks with a local vibe. Overall, Seaside has 5 breaks which are consistent, making them ideal for beginners. Beginner’s Point is a baby wave area ideal for surf schools, while the protected Long Board Heaven – as its name suggests – is packed with longboarders. The typhoon season produces waves that are fiercer and suitable for experienced surfers only.

In general, Kamogawa has a number of spots for surfers of all levels, while beginners can participate in trial lessons. More on surf lessons can be obtained from the Kamogawa Surfing Club (kids@violin.ocn.ne.jp). Other Attractions Apart from surfing, Kamogawa also prides itself on its local produce and a handful of historic temples. These include Seichoji Temple (or Kiyosumidera), which is home to the Thousand Year Cedar and Asahigamori, one of Japan’s Top 100 Most Beautiful Sunrise Spots; and Tanjoji Temple which features the world’s second largest onigawara (ogre tiles) on its roof. After a long surf day, you can indulge at one of many hot-spring resort; the springs fall mostly into the lower temperatures, many of them iron-based.


JAPAN SPECIAL

WADA Wada, located south of Kamogawa, has a coastline that stretches for 6km. It has a relaxed, mellow atmosphere and constant waves. Due to its rocky reefs, the water is clean and clear, with 3 main surfing points in the area. Shirasuka is Minamiboso's main point. This spot, sensitive to the northern current, is at its best in the winter. The low air pressure brings a hollow left-break that draws in surfers even in the middle of winter. Also, from spring to summer, a small river mouth creates a sand bar where the waves aren't as strong as winter, but you can fully enjoy the light waves.

in topography, the quality of the waves can vary by period. However, if the topography is just right, top quality waves are assured.

CHITOSE A popular destination for Tokyo surfers, its sandy 500m-long beach provides the biggest swell window of the beaches in southern Chiba. Sensitive to the current from the east, the bottom is reef and sand, and there are constant waves; however, since the current is sensitive, the waves close early, but you can hold for about the first half.

CHIKURA

Hakashita is characteristic for having wonderful left breaks due to the north-east swell. However, since it is sensitive to the current, the waves close out easily, and when they're big, you need to beware of strong currents.

With a lovely contrast between the deep blue ocean, the white sandy beaches, and the green pine trees making it an ideal point for surfing, many surfers visit during all seasons of the year (there are even fireworks in the summer). The beach, which is perfect for taking a breezy walk, continues on endlessly, and in the summer it is bustling with swimmers.

Surf Shop J'S marks this beautiful beach where the white sands form an arc. Wadaura Swim Area to the south of this point was even chosen as one of Japan's top 88 beaches for swimming. The waves are constant, but as there are extreme changes

From Wada heading towards Chitose, the southern swell drops one size, but if you size up, you can also see powerful, tubey breaks. When Wada is closed due to the strong southern swell, the breaks that cut around often come to this area with the

perfect timing. The waves here are popular for long boarders; board rental (long, short and boogie) and lessons are available and reasonably-priced.

TATEYAMA (HEISAURA) This 5 km stretch of bow-shaped beach runs along the Flower Line in the southernmost point of the Boso Peninsula. A forest of Japanese blank pine trees spreads out to block the strong southwest wind, and the road leading from the parking lot to the beach somehow gives off a southern mood at this beautiful surf spot. During typhoon season the southern swell comes in, and the area is bustling, but you should be able to leisurely enjoy your surfing. There is a reef located on both sides of the beach, so you can get a taste of waves that are different from regular beach waves. Many locals await the waves here. Other Attractions In addition to surfing, Tateyama is home to Tateyama Castle and the impressive Daifukuji Temple (Gake Kannon), which is built into the side of a cliff and accessible via a series of steps that lead to a deck on the precipice which has a fine view of the ocean.

Photo by Dave Yamaya

Photo by Dave Yamaya

SURF SCENE As Japanese surfers are making waves at pro surf competitions worldwide, the burgeoning sport is growing fast in Japan. With the summer season approaching, you can catch some of Japan’s best surfers in action at local surf competitions throughout Japan. In Chiba, Chikura’s beach will host the “All Japan Surfing Grand Champion Games 2013” from October 26 to 27. Beginners who want to try surfing can participate at various surf schools. For more, visit www.nsa-surf.org.

GETTING THERE The Minami Boso peninsula is easily accessible from Tokyo by car and train. Both the Sotobo and Uchibo JR Lines run along the entire coastline of the peninsula, connecting all the towns along the coast to Tokyo.

17


©Akira Okada/JNTO

© L'Eroica Japan/Photo by Ryosuke Kawai

ABOUT L’EROICA L’Eroica began in Siena Province in 1997 with the aim of safeguarding the environment and its landscape, especially the “Strade Bianche”, or White Roads (dirt roads that are white because of the limestone in the Siena area), at a time when the area wasn’t considered a "heritage" to be protected.

L’EROICA JAPAN

Inspired by “L’Eroica” in Siena, Italy, L’Eroica Japan is an official cycling event that aims to celebrate the rich Japanese heritage of the Fuji Five Lakes region which is located at the foot of Mt. Fuji (Japan’s most prominent UNESCO site) in Yamanashi prefecture. On May 19, 2013, about 120 cyclists rode vintage bikes along the region in both the 50km and 100km legs of L’Eroica, with the starting and finishing point at the traditional village of Iyashi-no-Sato. FUJI FIVE LAKES REGION At about 1,000m above sea level, the Fuji Five Lakes area is located at the foot of Mt. Fuji, where visitors can enjoy not only views of the mountain itself, but also the five surrounding lakes of Kawaguchi, Sai, Motosu, Yamanaka and Shoji all year round. The area is a magnet for visitors especially during the spring (for cherry blossoms) and autumn (for the orange hues of fall leaves). Lake Kawaguchi The most famous of the five lakes, the town of Fujikawaguchiko-machi is the main entry point into the region and has the best vantage point for views of Mt. Fuji. It is also a popular starting point for climbing Mt. Fuji in July and August; from Kawaguchiko 5th Station, ascent to the top usually takes about 6 hours. Lake Sai Lake Sai has a network of hiking trails to the mountains and surrounding lakes, as well as to the expansive forest of Aokigahara

Jukai. The area is known for its autumn colours (best in early November), in addition to several caves that are worth visiting. On the south side is Iyashi-no-Sato village, where reproduced traditional residences feature traditional grass thatch roofing. Lake Motosu Largely undeveloped except for its few campsites, Lake Motosu is famous as the site of the Fuji Shibazakura Festival. From mid April to early June, a carpet of bright pink shibazakura flowers are on display, with Mount Fuji in the backdrop on clear days. Lake Yamanaka The largest of the five lakes, Yamanaka has a few hotels, minshuku and camping grounds, dotted with a few public outdoor hot spring baths. Lake Shoji Sandwiched between Motosu and Sai lakes, Shoji is the smallest lake in the region and is largely undeveloped, making it popular for outdoor activities like hiking and camping.

Giancarlo Brocci, creator of L’Eroica, began the project with the principle of riding vintage bicycles to reflect the region’s history. By riding these bicycles – which have no fancy gears – one can admire the landscape at a slower pace. While the ‘vintage’ bikes in L’Eroica have to be produced before 1987, L’Eroica Japan’s criteria allows New Vintage Bicycles (made after 1987) to be used, as long as it has a steel frame made in a classic style. L’Eroica Japan shares the philosophy of L’Eroica in Italy, with an aim to celebrate Japanese heritage and character.

L’EROICA JAPAN 2014 The second edition of L’Eroica Japan (organised by L’Eroica Japan Committee and the City of Fuji Kawaguchiko) will open for registration on January 2014, with the actual ride happening on 18 May (Sunday) from Fujikawaguchikomachi along Lake Kawaguchi in Yamanashi prefecture. In addition to the 2 existing routes, a longer 150km-long run will be introduced. The course will also pass along Lake Motosu, with a beautiful panorama of Mt. Fuji in the backdrop (this scenery is printed on Japanese banknotes). In addition, cyclists can enjoy typical dishes of the area at aid stations along the way. L’Eroica is not a race, but a bicycle tour where cyclists get to experience the story of the region. While the roads aren’t easy runs, you get to admire classic Japanese scenery – and its symbolic mountain – at each curve. The participation fee is ¥10,000/person, and bicycle rental info will be updated on their website. Next year’s participant numbers will be increased to 300 riders. For more on the ride and registration (with a video of the event), visit www.eroicafan.jp.

Sports+Travel Singapore | Issue 52  

National Parks Issue | Singapore's free adventure travel magazine. Jul/Aug 2013 www.sportsandtravelonline.com

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