MCI (P) 142/07/2017 NOV-DEC 2017 Free
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Wild and Cultured It’s the end of the year, and time to plan for the long year-end break. This issue’s theme is ‘wildlife and culture’ – while it may seem an odd couple, it’s clear that wherever there is an intact and well-preserved human culture, it seems to go hand-in-hand with nature (and wildlife). For instance, villagers in remote places often have a unique symbiosis with their environment, and with that understanding of nature, there is an equilibrium where humans share the landscape with the wildlife that inhabit it. One such example of culture going hand-in-hand with wildlife is in the Okavango Delta. The ebb and flow of human activity coincides with the annual floods that turn this desert into a lush oasis, attracting amazing African wildlife and the safari-goers whose contributions go towards helping these villagers maintain this pristine environment. Next we head to Spain, the best place in Europe to spot soaring giants: vultures. These carrion eaters with their uniquely-adapted plumage are nature’s own sanitation squad. What Griffon vultures don’t eat, the Bearded vultures finish off – they are specialised bone-eaters after all. But these raptors aren’t the only attraction in the Pyrenean foothills – where the mountains meet the plains, dramatic canyons and rocky cliffs are home to some of the most picturesque medieval hill villages in Spain where you can experience the majesty of human ingenuity. Papua New Guinea is all colour, whether you’re in the highlands at a Goroka Show, where feathered headdresses vie for attention, or underwater to check out colourful creatures in the muck at Milne Bay. An entirely different creature roams Indonesia’s Komodo Island – the ferocious komodo dragons; they even eat their own babies (but live alongside humans). Further afield is Greenland, so far flung it is home to some of the world’s last remaining polar bears and narwhals. While spotting for whales, drop by some Inuit villages and see how villagers still hunt with harpoons, or go on a dog sled ride through the silent snow. In the southern hemisphere, check out Chile’s Chiloé Island with its colourful villages and wooden churches; it’s a great place to see penguins and whales. Staying under the equator, it’s off to Australia’s Snowy Mountains to hike, bike, and ride a wild brumby (horse). Nearby New Zealand’s wildlife – most famous for its weird birds like the kea and kiwi – can easily be seen as you hike or paddle across its landscape. Visit our website for our blogs, or drop us a line if you want to give us some feedback or contribute a travel story! Until then, happy trails!
Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writer Konrad Clapp Creative Director Lynn Ooi General Manager Aaron Stewart
Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 19A Lorong 41 Geylang Singapore 387830 Tel 6732 0325 www.sportsandtravelonline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746 email@example.com
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Contributors Marc Nair, Ken Berg, Lorna Del Rosario
Special Thanks Visit Flanders Visit Greenland Tourism Australia Turismo Chile and many, many others!
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Of all the places, in all the world, none is better known for wildlife than Africa. Names like Ngorongoro Crater, Kruger, and the Serengeti have become synonymous for seeing the famed Big Five – the Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion, and rarest of all, the Rhino. Add to that the beauty of cosmopolitan Cape Town, or trekking with the rarest of all primates, the Mountain Gorilla, and Africa becomes so much more than just a safari destination. 9 Days KAMPALA TO KAMPALA from US$1,997
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Uganda & Gorillas Overland Setting out from Kampala, the journey to experience Uganda’s rare primates begins in the Kalinzu Forest Reserve, famed for its chimpanzee tracking amidst misty hills and scenic tea plantations. Next is the aptly-named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – one of the last bastions of the largest and rarest of primates, the Mountain Gorilla. An official
gorilla trek is the only and best way to experience this once-in-a-lifetime encounter with these amazing primates. Leaving the mountains behind, the next stop is scenic Lake Bunyoni, followed by Uganda’s adventure capital, Jinja where you can raft the waters of the White Nile to Lake Victoria, ending your journey along the shores of Africa’s greatest lake.
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Tanzania Safari Experience Arusha sits on the rim of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, and is the nexus for safari trips into nearby Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti. After a Big Five safari at Lake Manyara is a trip to the Ngorongoro Crater that’s home to everything from the rare Black Rhino to thousands of gazelles, and the cheetahs and leopards that hunt them. Visit a Maasai village and see how initiaties like G Adventure’s Clean Cookstove Project are helping local families.
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Explore Cape Town & Kruger National Park Experience Africa from the bottom up, with National Geographic Journeys’ legendary insider access. With its unique culture and stunning setting, Cape Town tops almost anyone’s African must-visit list. Visit its iconic sites, including Cape Point, the Stellenbosch wine country, the famous Kirstenbosch Garden, and Boulders Beach, home to African penguins. Next is a trip to Johannesburg and big game country, where you spend 2 days in Kruger National Park to look for the Big Five, and spend time with a conservationist from the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative for an exclusive Carnivore Conservation Experience. This is followed by a visit to the private game reserve of Karongwe, one of Africa’s best spots for seeing leopards.
The Serengeti is home to one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles: the vast annual migration of beasts like wildebeest, giraffe, and zebra. Take it all in on safari drives, or on optional sunrise balloon rides. The park also has the highest density of big cats in the world, where you can see hunting packs of lions. The route from Ngorongoro back to Arusha is via the legendary Olduvai Gorge, made famous by Louis Leakey as the cradle of mankind.
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For over 60 years, Dr. Jane Goodall has been a global face for conservation. Today, the Jane Goodall Institute has pioneered the Jane Goodall Collection – 20 exclusive wildlife adventures aligned with her ethos of protecting nature by empowering the communities that live in it.
MADE FOR TACTICAL TRIPS
First Tactical’s sturdy Tactix 1-Day Plus Backpack (38.8L) is covered in MOLLE webbing, a solid piece of reinforced fabric with laser-cut slots that allow it to accept an endless array of additional accessories. The pack has 9 external pockets (to keep flashlights, sunglasses, etc) and 22 internal pockets. The large main compartment includes several smaller pockets to keep things organised, while the rear padded compartment is wide enough to fit a large laptop. Between the back panel and shoulder straps is a compartment to hold an armour plate, and rear panel has a hook compartment. Made with 500D/1000D water-resistant nylon, it’s available in black, coyote and OD green at Outdoor Life at S$175.
Whether for a weekend or a week-long mission, Mystery Ranch’s Glacier (70L) is a midsized, backpacking pack that offers ample space for essentials. The top-loading pack with dual draw cord shroud increases weather resistance and allow for upward expansion while the detachable lid converts into a hip sack for day trips out of basecamp. There are external zips for quick access into the pack, as well as water bottle pockets on the hip belt. The pack is made with 500D nylon fabric, and the frame has an adjustable yoke. Available in olive and abyss (grey) colours, at Outdoor Life at S$652.
KLEAN KANTEEN Wide Insulated Bottle with Café Cap
A solution to carry hot coffee, cold brew, tea, water or more is with the 16oz Klean Kanteen Wide Insulated Bottle with Café Cap. Constructed with high quality stainless steel and double-wall vacuum insulation, it keeps drinks hot for 10 hours, and iced for 30 hours. The leak-proof Café Cap 2.0 is spill-free, with an easycleaning construction. The wide mouth opening makes it easy to fill and pour ice, the loop cap makes it easy to clip and go, and the electropolished interior and rounded corners makes it easy to clean. Available in various colours at all The Planet Traveller stores and Boarding Gate at S$63.
POWER OF THE SUN
The Fizan Compact is a 3-section, adjustable and collapsible trekking pole, which looks very similar to other trekking poles, but weighing only 158g (8090g lighter that some of the light carbon versions). The lightweight 7001 aluminum alloy pole’s length is adjustable from 58cm to 132cm, with a Flexy Locking System (an internal barrel adjuster comprised of a delrin expander and aluminum pin). Each pole has an EVA grip, neoprene strap, 50mm removable basket and carbide tip. Made In Italy, a pair of Fizan Compact trekking poles are available at S$169 at Adventure 21.
The latest in Canon’s mirrorless M series, the EOS M5 is positioned to perform more like the larger, heavier DSLRs. The M5 is much more compact (at 427g) but features a 24MP dual-pixel APS-C sensor which gives an image quality and video focus performance about on par with crop sensor DSLR. It has a 3.2” tilting rear touchscreen (including a ‘selfie’ tilt), and built-in Wi-Fi so you can use your smartphone to control the camera. The shutter maxes at 1/4000, and the ISO runs from 100-25600. The 300g kit lens is the EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3, which is ideal for most shooting purposes, and auto-focuses relatively fast. The EOS M5 is available at S$1,499 (body only); the EOS M5 Kit (with EF-M18-150 IS STM) is at S$2,099.
One of the dangers of travelling with credit cards, passports, and identity cards is the fact that radio frequency identification (RFiD) microchips can be found in them. To avoid inadvertent scanning of these microchips, Lifeventure’s wallets and accessories utilise RFiD-blocking material – a unique nickel-andcopper-coated polyester fabric that acts as a barrier against RFiD readers by stopping the information being transmitted, therefore helps dramatically reduce the risk of electronic identity theft. Lifeventure’s range is available at Gearaholic, with prices ranging from S$25-S$38.
LIFEVENTURE RFiD wallets
A byword in African safari, the Okavango Delta is one of the world’s largest inland water systems and supports an extraordinary diversity of wildlife. This labyrinth of lagoons, lakes and hidden channels is trapped in the parched Kalahari desert, making it a magnet for the wildlife who depend on its permanent supply of water. Dubbed ‘Africa’s Last Eden’, the delta embraces a part of the richly diverse Moremi Game Reserve – one of the few places in Africa that’s home to all of the Big Five. When the delta floods from the rains, the area can expand to over 17,000sq.km., and large numbers of wildlife starts to congregate on the edge of the newly flooded areas.
OKAVANGO DELTA THE RIVER
With its headwater starting in neighbouring Angola’s highlands, it flows through Namibia before entering Botswana, where it is called the Okavango. Without this river, this area of Botswana would have otherwise been a dry Kalahari savanna.
its water would have evaporated. The Okavango’s water is remarkably clear, due to the fact that it passes through very sparsely populated areas on its journey from Angola. The delta’s floods begin with Angolan rains (October to April) which cross over to Botswana and Namibia by December, reaching the bottom end of the delta (at Maun) sometime in July.
There are 3 geographical regions of the Okavango: the Panhandle, the Delta and the dryland.
The unique feature of this river is that it takes almost 9 months for the water to reach the bottom from its source due to the lack of elevation. By the time it reaches the Kalahari, over 95% of
Beginning at the Okavango’s northern reaches at Mohembo, the Panhandle extends down for about 80km. The deep and wide river, with perennially-flooded swamps, is ideal for fishing and birding excursions. The vast papyrus beds and phoenix palms also
flank the colourful villages that line its western fringes. The fan-shaped Delta is where the waters spill over the landscape, creating stunning mosaics of channels, lagoons, ox-bow lakes, flooded grasslands and thousands of islands. At the Delta’s lower reaches, the perennial swamps give way to seasonal swamps and flooded grasslands, leading to the dryland. The dryland itself has 3 major features: the Matsebi Ridge, Chief’s Island and the Moremi Tongue. Among the acacia and scrub bush, this is the region where large numbers of mammals retreat during the dry winter months. Not surprisingly, the Delta and dryland areas are ideal for game viewing, birding, and boating.
poles by guides from the local tribes along the numerous waterways. The mokoro glides along the silent surface, with the waters occasionally punctured by curious hippos (they’re used to visitors). On the banks, wildlife like crocodiles, elephants and ungulates like kudus are not uncommon sights.
The diversity and numbers of animals and birds can be staggering. The Okavango counts 122 species of mammals and 444 species of birds. A successful rhino reintroduction programme has increased the population of White Rhino to approximately 35, and Black Rhino to 4. On the mainland and among the islands in the Delta, big game like lions, elephants, buffalo, hippos, and a variety of antelope are here in droves. The same goes for smaller animals like the warthog, mongoose, and monkeys. In the indigenous forests of the Delta and its islands, and along the floodplains of
During the flooding, the areas surrounding the delta will begin to dry out, driving the wildlife to the edge of the newly-flooded areas between May and October (winter). This is the best – and most popular – time for wildlife viewing, and the risk of malaria is at its lowest. The best time for birding in terms of spotting the greatest variety of species, is during the rainy season (November April) in summer, when the migrant bird populations return. However, greater numbers of birds come in the dry winter months around permanent water sources where pools are drying, feed-
water and sand, more than 400 species of birds flourish. The winding Okavango spreads through tiny channels that weave among walls of papyrus reeds and into an ever expanding network of smaller passages. The most iconic way for wildlife viewing in the Okavango is along the water in a traditional mokoro – a dugout canoe which is punted by bamboo
On solid ground, game viewing can be done in 4WD vehicles on the main islands (night drives are available in the private concession areas) or on foot via walking safaris that are available from most camps and lodges in the park. Perhaps the most majestic way of exploring the Okavango is on the back of an elephant at Randall Moore’s famous Abu Camp. While game viewing can be done from the air on a light aircraft and helicopter, hot air ballooning is prohibited.
ing on the trapped fish and shellfish.
The Okavango doesn’t really cater for the budget traveller, in a bid to protect the fragile eco-system that is its main tourism draw. The government achieves this by making the Okavango an expensive and (relatively) difficult place to visit – the government-owned Air Botswana is the only carrier that flies into Maun (the ‘gateway’ to the Okavango Delta) from major hubs, with the corresponding fares being high.
A number of private, high-end safari lodges and camps have been established in and around this watery wilderness either within the national parks or on private concessions. These can be found in the game-rich Moremi Game Reserve (bordering the Delta), nearby Chobe National Park and Linyanti Wildlife Reserve. Very few of these camps can be reached by road, meaning the only way to reach certain accommodations is via light aircraft from Maun or Kasane.
GEAR GUY: Ken Berg
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 over 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.
Few of us can afford to own the best of everything, but there are instances when going with something cheaper isn’t always worth it. There are also some pursuits where you simply need the best gear, like a serious mountaineering expedition: you don’t want something substandard and end up risking not summiting or (worse) putting yourself and others in danger. Also, if a particular sport is your passion, you might want to spend a little more. For many people, an entry-level road bike with aluminum frame and basic components will do, but if you’re serious, you’re eventually going to want a carbon frame and high-end parts. Here are some guidelines and specifics for when to save a few dollars and when to spend a little more.
A FEW THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
When in doubt, go middle-of-the-road. The truly cheap gear is almost never worth the money you save. It often underperforms, ruining your experience, and other times it doesn’t last as long. It’s also inevitable it’ll break at the most inopportune time possible. Really expensive gear is often fantastic but the performance benefits are sometimes only noticeable in certain activities or conditions. A great example of going middleof-the-road price-wise is with rain jackets. A cheap rain jacket might have a PVC coating which is inexpensive but is horrible for the environment, tends to crack quickly and is very uncomfortable under even moderate activity levels. A high-end GoreTex proshell jacket will be light and breathable but if you’re mostly using it as a light hiking jacket, you won’t see the benefits.
GEAR TO SPEND MORE ON
Packs: Don’t spend less on a pack that’s going to be uncomfortable. You’re going to use it to lug around a lot of weight and it’ll be on your back for a while. If the bag has a good ventilation system you’ll be more comfortable. An uncomfortable bag can literally ruin your trip and cause you actual pain. Socks: Cheap cotton socks aren’t suitable for sports. Once they get wet you can get blisters, tear up your feet, or just feel downright icky. Good socks aren’t that expensive. Get good synthetic socks for high-intensity activities, and merino wool for low-intensity or colder conditions.
Tents: Quality is a must when it comes to shelter. A lacklustre tent can result in a wet sleep which is both uncomfortable and dangerous if you get cold. Look for fully-taped seams and multiple layers of polyurethane on the floor and fly. Also spring for a footprint; it’ll make it less likely for water to get in through the floor and help the tent last longer. Most of the cheapest tents also come with fibreglass poles which break easily and can’t be repaired; in high winds, they also bend, leaving you little room even if they don’t break.
SAVE YOUR MONEY
Camera: Unless taking pictures is your passion/profession, avoid a bulky SLR camera and lenses. Most new smartphones have very impressive cameras; or get a good point-and-shoot (some are even good underwater). These save valuable weight and space when travelling. If you need some of the control of an SLR, consider a mirrorless camera; they’re usually less expensive and save a lot of weight, sometimes performing just as well (or better) than some SLRs. Boots: No matter the cost, boots HAVE to fit well. Get the boots you need for the activity you’re doing. Do you really need something waterproof or or full-grain leather? Do you need a full backpacking boot for day hikes or light overnight trips? The benefit to not getting boots with these features is that you can also save weight and increase comfort with better breathability.
Baselayer (insulating clothing): If you’re going out in extreme cold or on a major expedition, you’re wise to spend what you need to be comfortable and safe. A base layer that doesn’t wick moisture is uncomfortable and will make you cold. An outer shell that isn’t waterproof or very breathable also creates issues. Doubling up on thinner insulating layers isn’t ideal but can work. If you need a little more insulation for a low price, there are some inexpensive fleece layers that’ll work. Sleeping bags: If you’re going to be in mild or warm weather you can get away with inexpensive bags. The difference between a +10ºC synthetic bag and a down bag is usually not enough to justify the extra cost. Even in cold weather, you’re likely better off getting another sleeping bag to double up what you already have rather than buy a -30º bag for hundreds of dollars.
These guidelines may or may not work for you, dependent on factors including where you’re going, the conditions you’ll face, what you own already and what’s important to you. The key is to think critically about what benefit you get from the better gear and whether it’s worth the added cost for your unique situation. Never sacrifice safety or something that is key to an incredible experience.
The Pyrenees mountain range straddles the border between France and Spain, almost from end to end, separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe. Stretching about 490km, the serrated chain of peaks soar to over 3,000m and are home to snow-capped mountains that offer limitless opportunities for hiking in summer, and skiing in winter. In addition, these secluded ranges are also home to numerous wildlife, especially giant birds of prey which are emblematic of the Pyrenees.
national parks to heritage villages; its gorgeous scenery is dominated by ochre canyons where you can find ancient villages and castles perched on hillocks.
In this quiet part of Spain, you can have the company of soaring vultures as you hike the many canyon trails.
The easiest portions of the Pyrenees to access are the foothills, which are mostly in Spain, and stretch across northern Aragon and Catalonia. This region is home to a number of UNESCO sites, from
FOOTHILLS OF THE SPANISH PYRENEES VULTURES OF THE PYRENEES
Lammergeier Despite its reputation for snatching lambs and calves, the Bearded vulture (identified by the ‘beard’ on their beaks), or Lammergeier, is a scavenger that prefers dining on picked-over carcasses. As they live on a steady diet of bones (80% of their diet consists of bone and bone marrow), Lammergeiers drop their bony carrion from a tremendous height onto rocks below in order to shatter them and gain access to the
bone marrow. In Spain, Lammergeiers are called quebrantahuesos, or ‘bone breakers’. These giants can grow up to 1.2m tall, with a wingspan of up to 2.7m. Perhaps what gives these birds their fierce look is the fact that they actually dye their head and neck feathers red by preening themselves in iron-rich muds – the redder, the fiercer. These birds are often solitary and it’s rare to see more than 3 in a group. Once abundant in almost all mountain ranges it Europe, it was hunted to near extinction until they were reintroduced to the Pyrenees in the 90s. Spain is the Lammergeier’s last European stronghold. Today, the Aragon portion of the Pyrenees is home to the biggest population of Lammergeiers in Europe, with over 100 breeding pairs. Griffon Vulture Griffon vultures can grow up to 1.2m tall with a wingspan of up to 2.8m, and unlike the Lammergeier, it has a bald head which is advantageous for digging deep into bloody carcasses which they can track based on gaseous chemicals
they emanate. Griffons often survey their territories in groups of 3 or more individuals. Traditionally, these vultures fed on dead sheep or goats left out by local farmers, but as that practice was banned since the BSE crisis, vulture numbers have been in steady decline. To prevent these protected raptors from hunting weak or young livestock, some areas maintain a “vulture restaurant”, supplementing the birds’ diet with a steady donation of heads, hooves, entrails and other offcuts from local abattoirs.
SIERRA DE GUARA
Protected as part of the Sierra y Cañones de Guara Nature Reserve, this is a region of stunning limestone ranges, perforated with deep canyons and caves carved by river water and wind erosion. Capped by Tozal de Guara (2,077m) as its highest summit, it is protected by the high Pyrenees to the north, hence its southern slopes receive little precipitation and are very dry. This has created a rugged land of stunted oak forests and maquis scrub. The park is also a designated ZEPA (Special Bird Protection) area, one of Europe’s most important birdlife sanctuaries. The area’s rugged, rocky limestone walls are perfect nesting places for gigantic birds of prey like the Griffon vulture, along with Golden eagles, Peregrine falcons, and the mighty Lammergeier (Bearded vulture). In summer they are joined by other birds of prey like Egyptian vultures, Booted eagles and Honey Buzzards. The lower altitudes are a patchwork of rolling oak woods, dotted with small wheat fields and groves of almond and olive (olive oil is a specialty in this region). Some of the most stunning areas surround pretty little limestone
villages that ride the flanks of the sierra. In small, historic villages – built of sandstone, wood and adobe – locals still live a rural lifestyle, surrounded by terraced hillsides of almond and olive trees, interspersed with vineyards. Good bases to explore the region are larger villages like Bierge, Rodellar, Colungo, or Alquézar – one of Aragon’s most famous Moorish landmarks.
Canyoning With over 70 river gorges, it’s no surprise that this is the birthplace of canyoning in Spain. Canyoning trips to the gorges of El Mascún, Gorgas Negras, La Peonera, El Vero and El Balced – with their narrow sculpted walls, tranquil pools and waterfalls – can be arranged
from towns that are in or near the park, like Bierge and Alquézar. With so many routes, it’s easy to find one suited for your skill level where you can jump, slide, rappel, and swim through waterfalls and vaults. The best seasons are from spring to autumn, and prices for an excursion range between €40-60 per person (bring your own boots that will inevitably get wet). Hiking The sun-drenched Sierra de Guara is crossed by a network of well-marked paths with varied distances and difficulty, making for ideal hiking in spring or autumn. The long-distance GR45 route and the Somontano Nature Route weave their way through the sierras, offering trails of various lengths (from short hikes to multi-day excursions) and difficulty levels. Many of the signposted hiking trails were once ancient paths used by shepherds, conquerors, and pilgrims, leading to spectacular bathing areas or shallow caves that are home to prehistoric rock art.
The 50km-long Somontano Route can be undertaken in 3 stages (overnighting at refugios) or used as out-and-back day hikes. One of the most popular is a 6-hour circular hike from Alquézar, passing the village of Asque and the gorgeous 16th century stone bridge of Puente de Villacantal along the way. Along the trails, multicoloured lizards weave their way amongst herb bushes like lavender and thyme; meanwhile you’ll have views of canyons and rock formations, sliced with aqua blue rivers, pools and waterfalls as the ever-present birds of prey soar overhead.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Moors and Christians wrestled for control over the northern limits of Spain, hence the construction of many hilltop fortresses all over the Pyrenean foothills. One of these was the 8th century Moorish citadel of Alquézar which sat on a pinnacle above the Rio Vero gorge. Taken over by Christians in the 11th century, the medieval village is now
the most popular landmark of Guara, thanks to the canyons in the backdrop. The very heart of medieval Alquézar is dominated by the Santa Maria Collegiate church and Pedro Arnal Cavero Street, once known as Calle Mayo – one of 3 main streets in the village, it connects tiny callizos (covered passages) and many smaller streets with gothic porches and arched squares, adorned with ancient family emblems.
are especially striking. The most dramatic is Mallos de Riglos, whose reddish-tinted walls rise dramatically to 300m in height from the plains, and are spectacular at sundown. The towering crags are also a paradise for birds of prey – carrion-eaters such as the Griffon vulture, red kite and Lammergeier – that nest in the many hollows in the ridges and can often be seen flying over the area. Mallos de Riglos is home to one of Spain’s largest breeding colony of Griffon vultures; you can view them from the Bird of Prey Interpretation Centre in Riglos, or head to the Eagle Lookout for a view over the synclines.
MALLOS DE RIGLOS
West of Guara is the the region of Hoya de Huesca, an area which transitions from mountains to plains. Part of the Pyrenean foothills, the landscape here consists of a number of mallos – rock formations consisting of isolated vertical stone pillars, known as synclines. The mallos of Riglos, Agüero and Murillo, all situated around the Gállego River,
Rock Climbing The enormous syncline towers, with sheer, vertiginous faces are internationally famous amongst rock climbers. Some of the best climbs can be found at the Riglos synclines, where there are plenty of routes and one via ferrata path.
and lengths from 200m to 300m (except on bouldering paths and small synclines which are under 100m). The multi-pitch, bolted routes are the most popular, where holds are firmly cemented into the sandstone. Climbing access is from the village of Riglos, which is along the Gállego river with a backdrop of the mallos. Rafting The Gállego river is a popular destination for whitewater rafting, especially between the Carcavilla hydroelectric station and Murillo. The section between Murillo and Santa Eulalia is the easiest to access and navigate; the most turbulent rapids are “La Lavadora” (the washing machine), with several waves and a leap at the end. Plenty of rafting outfitters line the river near the towns of Murillo de Gállego and Santa Eulalia de Gállego.
Some of the popular climbs include the Firé, the Puro, the vertiginous Visera, and the Pisón which dominates them all. There are nearly 300 routes here, from sport climbing to traditional climbing, with grades ranging from F4 to F8a
Not far from Riglos is the impressive Loarre Castle, which is perched above the town on a rocky outcrop. As Spain’s oldest fortified castle built in the 11th century to hold back the Moors, it’s now a well-preserved romantic ruin with an impressive view over the plains which is a vast expanse of semi-desert interspersed with terraced groves of olives and almonds.
From a distance it’s an imposing structure surrounded by a 172m-long perimeter wall studded with circular towers. The interior features a Royal Chapel with its magnificently carved pillars, and the the Keep is the castle’s tallest tower (22m) with 5 floors. This UNESCO site was made popular as the film location of Ridley Scott’s ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.
ORDESA NATIONAL PARK
Established in 1918, the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park was Spain’s first protected area and is a highlight of the Pyrenees, being both a UNESCO heritage site and biosphere reserve. Standing watch over the mountainscape is the limestone summit of Monte Perdido (3,355m) – the third highest peak in the Pyrenees. The landscape consists of 4 deep canyons – including Anisclo and Ordesa with their towering cliffs – where the craggy upper areas contrast with the lush green valleys sluiced by crystal clear rivers and waterfalls. The plateaus on the higher reaches resemble a moonscape. The Ordesa valley is the most popular for hikers; with cliffs rising over 800m on both sides and Monte Perdido perched at the valley’s end, there are 4 main routes for day hikers. Access to this part of the park is via the picturesque town of Torla, and hikes start from the Pradera car park which is a 20-minute drive away.
Hiking The easiest hike is a 16km circular route on the valley floor following the Arazas river towards Circo de Soasa, where there is a waterfall and views of Monte Perdido on the ridgeline above, before returning to Pradera. There are 2 ways to approach Circo de Soasa: one takes you on a steep 2-hour climb (800m ascent) along Senda de los Cazadores to the mountain shelf of Faja de Pelay, affording panoramic views over the valley floor and surrounding peaks before descending to the valley floor on the way back to Pradera (8 hours). The less strenuous way is to follow the flat valley floor route all the way there and back (6 hours). A dramatic route is the Faja de las Flores (16km, 9-10 hours) which is perched high on the northern cliffs. The path is only a metre wide, with a 400m sheer drop to your right at all times – the descent is via a scary set of chains and pitons. If you’re looking to spot Sarrios (Pyrenean chamois) and Lammergeiers, the Faja Racon (11km, 5-6 hours) route takes you under the
northern cliffs for an alternate view of the canyons. Wildlife As with the rest of the Pyrenees, these steep rock faces are nesting grounds for Griffon vultures, Lammergeiers and Golden Eagles – you can spot these raptors as they soar on rising thermals throughout the park.
The Ordesa valley is also home to Sarrios (Pyrenean Chamois), which are goat-antelopes with short horns, and grow to just 80cm. These shy animals congregate in the upper slopes to graze in summer, and are now protected in many Pyrenean valleys.
AIGÜESTORTES I ESTANY DE SANT MAURICI NATIONAL PARK
With over 180km of piste, it’s the largest ski area in Spain, and caters to all levels of skiers and boarders with a lift system that’s able to transport 60,000 people per hour up to the slopes.
The protected nature reserve of Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, the only national park in Catalonia, sits in the upper reaches of the Pyrenean chain. It’s a picturesque landscape of rivers and lakes surrounded by jagged, snowcapped peaks. guides are available for nature or birdwatching tours (with snowshoe tours available in spring). There are over 200kms of historic trekking trails – called the Camins Vius, or ‘Living Paths’, that date back to medieval times – that join the 6 valleys, 3 mountain passes, and their villages throughout the park. Ranging in elevation between 1,600m and 3,000m, the park has montane and alpine vegetation that is home to wildlife like the Pyrenean chamois, marmot, roe deer, as well as birds like the gigantic Lammergeier and Golden Eagle. Park
North of the park is Val d’Aran, Catalonia’s northernmost outpost which is located at the western end of the Pyrenees, with 3,000m-tall soaring peaks and valleys. Dotted with plentiful historic sites, quaint hilltop villages and plenty of nature, Val d’Aran is also home to Spain’s biggest ski resort. Situated between altitudes of 1,500m and 2,500m, the ski resort of BaqueiraBeret is the only Spanish ski resort located on the northern slopes of the Pyrenees, with a ski season that lasts until early April.
VALL DE BOÍ
Just an hour south of Val d’Aran is Vall de Boí, a valley that contains the densest concentration of Romanesque architecture in Europe, dating back to the 11th century. Situated at the edge of the Pyrenees, it is home to the 9 UNESCO-listed churches in villages including Santa Maria de Taüll, San Joan in Boí, and Santa Eulàlia in Erill la Vall. These historic monuments are well known for their bell towers and murals. While most of the murals have been removed, you can still see the characteristic architecture of the area. The Romanesque Route 1 is a mountainous walking trail that connects many of the villages in this valley along a 16km loop.
The resort is the most prestigious in Spain, patronised by many celebrities, including the Spanish royal family. Even so, the prices here are generally lower than at Alpine resorts.
ENDANGERED WILDLIFE ADDAX Also known as the white antelope, or screw horn antelope due to its twisted horns, the Addax is rare in its native habitat in the deserts of North Africa. A close relative of the onyx, their coat is greyish brown in winter and almost completely white in summer. Both males and females have horns; male horns can grow up to 120cm, 40cm longer than the female’s. Excessive hunting for its horns, meat and hide are thought to be the main causes of the Addax’s huge population decline.
FLORIDA BONNETED BAT Formerly known as the Wagner’s mastiff bat, this is the largest of Florida’s bats, with a wingspan of up to 45cm. They are non-migratory, and roost in places like tree hollows and dead palm fronds. Their diet consists of primarily of flying insects that they catch while they fly. They can take flight from a flat surface and they are extremely rare, having only ever been seen in a handful of counties in Florida. Loss of natural roosting sites like pineland forest and mangroves, along with pesticide pollution have put them on the endangered species list.
VAQUITA Vaquita, which means ‘Little Cow’ in Spanish, is the smallest porpoise in the world, found only in the Gulf of California. Only discovered in 1958, they look as if they are wearing lipstick and mascara, due to the dark rings around their eyes and mouth. Fewer than 100 of these mammals are left, and scientists estimate that they will be extinct as early as 2018 because fisherman in the gulf regularly catch these creatures in their gillnets by accident.
AXOLOTL The Axolotl, or the Mexican Salamander, is unique in the fact that it retains its larval form throughout its life, keeping its tadpole-like dorsal fin and feathery gills that protrude from the back of its neck. Found exclusively in Xochimilco Lake near Mexico City, they can live for up to 15 years and grow up to a foot in length. Wild axolotls are close to extinction thanks to water pollution, habitat destruction and poaching (Axolotl is an Aztec delicacy).
ROLOWAY MONKEY Found mostly in Ghana, the Roloway monkey is one of the most endangered primates in the world. An arboreal species feeding mainly on fruits and insects, they live in tropical forests, and are not very adaptable to new habitats. These bearded monkeys face numerous threats, from dwindling habitat to poaching for their meat – roughly 800 tons of bushmeat is traded annually in Ghana alone.
There are a lot of animals that one thinks of when they think of endangered species. Tigers, elephants, rhinos, pandas, and a few others jump immediately to mind. Sadly, those are only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many animals on the endangered list that it would be impossible to mention them all. Below is a highlight of a few of the lesser known ones which are in danger from any thing from poaching to habitat destruction.
GHARIAL Native to India, they have long thin snouts that end in a bulbous tip. The tip resembles a pot used in India called the ‘Ghara’ and it is from this that the animals get their name. Once hunted for their skin, the main threat to them now is habitat destruction and pollution. They once thrived in major river systems across India, but are now extinct in the Indus, and survive in just 2% of their former range.
AMUR LEOPARD This particular species of leopard is native to the Russian Far East, having adapted to live in the temperate forests that make up its habitat. Their behaviour is much the same as the leopards of the savannah – they are adept climbers and hide their kills in trees to keep them safe from other predators. Hunted to the brink of extinction for its exquisite spotted fur, they are dangerously close to disappearing.
SUNDA PANGOLIN A nocturnal, solitary animal that somewhat resembles an armadillo, they usually live in tropical forests and woodlands. The size of a small cat and covered in scales, they are so unique that they have their own mammal order – Pholidota. They have almost been hunted to extinction as they are considered a delicacy and are also used for medicinal purposes in China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia.
WHITE HANDED GIBBON Possessing the long arms typical to gibbons, these primates are perfectly suited to swinging from branch to branch. They are incredibly agile, their movement so quickly that they often seem to be a blur. Even though they lack the tails most primates use for balance, they have not been known to put a foot wrong. One of the biggest threats to them is the illegal wildlife trade, with many of them even being recently found traded on Facebook as pets, or worse, to various buyers in Malaysia.
KAKAPO SOUTHERN CORROBOREE FROG One of Australia’s most endangered species, this little frog is only found in small pockets in the Kosciuszko National Park. At about 2.53cm long, this amphibian got its name from the black and yellow stripes; its skin oozes a potent toxin, so has no natural predators, but is in danger from external factors, including climate change and habitat destruction from feral pigs, feral horses, and deer. However, the biggest threat is the virulent chytrid fungus, which is decimating frogs worldwide.
The Kakapo is the world’s rarest and strangest parrot, being the only flightless one in existence, as well as the heaviest (up to 3.5kg). It is ground-dwelling, and subsists on a diet of nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetation, and some insects. Females can only breed when a particular tree fruits, which is once every two years, only laying one egg at a time. This slow breeding rate, coupled with how easy they are to catch, meant that they have almost been hunted to extinction. Only about 125 are left in the wild today.
Located 160km north of Australia, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an island paradise, with its rich culture that is largely untouched by the modern world, lush tropical jungles and pristine beaches. In addition, the country has some of the best dive sites in the world, one of the best being Milne Bay. The crystal clear waters provide great views of the colourful coral reefs, diverse marine life and hulking WWII wrecks that dot the ocean floor.
PNGâ€™S CULTURE & DIVING
HISTORY AND CULTURE
Remote and shrouded in mystery, PNG has always captured the imagination of adventurers. The population of around 5 million is split into over 1,000 different tribes that speak more than 700 languages, with some only having recently come into contact with the outside world. Once practising head-hunters and cannibals, the islanders are now a peaceful people, more than happy to invite travellers into their homes and villages to show off their rich heritage. With one of the most diverse populations on the planet, almost every tribe has different cultures and customs. However, all lead predominantly subsistence lifestyles, farming, hunting and gathering to survive. Although modern clothes are worn, and there is the odd
mobile phone and 4WD, people still mostly live as they did hundreds of years ago. Most villages are in isolated portions of the jungle, cut off from modern civilisation. To get a glimpse of traditional life, there are villages that are open to visitors (usually on organised village tours). Visitors will be able to meet the chief, watch the men perform their traditional dances, and may be given the chance to see evidence of the islandâ€™s headhunting past. There are many festivals in PNG that celebrate the people that inhabit the country, with the largest and most famous being the Goroka Show. Held annually in September in the Eastern Highlands, more than 100 local tribes
participate in a 2-day event where each one shows off their unique cultures. The colourful event features tribes like the famed Asaro mudmen with their white clay-covered bodies and giant clay masks, and the fierce-looking Silimbuli warriors with their blackened faces. Milne Bay in WWII During WWII, Milne Bay became a huge naval base through which hundreds of thousands of servicemen passed; today, itâ€™s home to a number of wrecks. The Battle of Milne Bay (1942) also happened here, when Japan tried to invade Milne Bay but was thwarted by Australian troops, ending their campaign in just 13 days. It was the first major battle in the Pacific where Allied troops decisively defeated Japanese land forces.
DIVING IN MILNE BAY
There are several great dive sites in PNG, but one of the best is Milne Bay. Located on the eastern edge of the country, the province is famous for its beautiful coral reefs and culture. Milne Bay is also celebrated among divers as the birthplace of muck diving, where you search the ‘muck’ on the ocean floor for all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures such as the pygmy lionfish, cockatoo waspfish, and the whimsical mantis shrimp. You can your time sifting through the sand to catch a glimpse of this elusive marine life. These muck diving sites are located along the north coast, including Dinah’s Beach, Tawali House Reef, and Observation Point, a curved beach near a village. These are enclosed on both ends by small reefs and play host to sealife like snake eels, star gazers and cuttlefish. Another great place is Lauadi, where you can find elusive creatures such as octopus, cuttlefish, mantis shrimp, mandarinfish, and seahorses. If you’re
lucky, you may even spot some sharks or rays swimming about. It’s not just a great spot for muck diving, as there are also lots of options for those that don’t want to get dirty. Tania’s Reef for example, is a colourful reef playing host to a huge variety of life that’s just 2.5m below the surface. You can circumnavigate the entire reef on one air tank, meaning that you can see a lot in a short space of time.
For those who want to get up close with one of the ocean’s most fearsome predators, there’s Wahoo Point, located on the north side of the mainland. With a sheer cliff that drops down over 60m,
it’s one of the best places to see hammerhead sharks and even the occasional whale shark, although this is a rare occurrence. Manta rays and schools of barracuda also call this beautiful spot home. One of the best and most intact plane wrecks in the whole of PNG, a B-17 Bomber called the Black Jack, can be found in the north near Cape Vogel at a maximum depth of 46m. This famous plane was credited with sinking many ships, and was ditched in 1943 following engine trouble. Samarai Island, south of Milne Bay, has an easily accessible manta ray cleaning station and a wonderful wharf to dive.
For land-based diving, there are resorts and dive operators in Alotau or along the north coast of the bay. There are also liveaboard diving vessels that frequent this vast area. Diving is yearround, although rainy season (May to August) can be choppy with poor visibility; September is manta season. Milne Bay is ideal for divers looking to pack the most into a short break. It has some of the best muck diving in the world and a diverse range of sites, all in close proximity to one another, offering the chance to see everything from tiny shrimps to huge sharks. Even non-divers will find something to do, whether it be relaxing on the beach or experiencing the ancient local culture.
Dragons don’t just exist in the Game of Thrones. They can also be found on a few islands in Komodo National Park, just off the coast of Flores in Indonesia. Revered by the locals and enmeshed in lore, this protected species might not spew fire or wreak destruction from on high, but they certainly pack a deadly bite.
VISITING KOMODO DRAGONS TEXT BY Marc Nair PHOTOS BY Marc Nair & Eugene Soh
FAST FACTS: ABOUT THE DRAGONS
Komodo dragons don’t swim if they have to. They are like giant solar panels, soaking up the heat of the sun as they go about their day. At night, they curl up in caves, holes or under tree roots, seeking warmth. A dragon will only swim to another island if there’s a fire and they have to escape, look for food or mate with a female dragon. Otherwise, it’s near-suicide for a dragon to brave the cold water.
As the apex predator in their domain, the dragons often resort to eating their young in order to keep the population stable. Baby dragons know this instinctively from the moment they hatch so they race up trees to hide, often for their first few years. If they have to come down to eat, they will cover themselves with faeces to hide their scent. Up in the trees, they snack on geckos and small insects.
Komodo dragon fossils in Australia date back over four million years ago, and are estimated to have been up to 9m in length. Female dragons have the ability to reproduce through parthenogenesis, which is when a female can reproduce without fertilisation from a male. The Komodo dragon has an incredible sense of smell, and can detect a dead animal from almost 10km away.
VISITING THE DRAGONS
and occasional trees, the view from afar is a sprawl of low peaks and rugged valleys covered in soft brown moss.
A visit to the dragons is usually paired with snorkelling and diving in the azure waters surrounding the islands. A variety of marine life is on display, and you can spot hawksbill turtles, manta rays and the odd hammerhead shark if the currents (and fish) are in your favour. The real stars of the show are the park’s namesake komodo dragons themselves. Measuring up to 3.7m in length, they can move at speeds of over 20 km/h – more than fast enough to catch deer, wild pigs or even a human. There are around 3,300 komodo dragons spread across the five neighbouring islands of Flores, Gili Dasami, Gili Motang, Komodo and
Rinca, with the largest numbers found on Komodo and Rinca. The geography of the park’s outlying islands is vastly different from the mainland (ie. Flores). At first glance, the hills of Komodo Island are like a miniature landscape out of the late Jurassic period. Covered by low scrub
Short, medium or long treks can be organised on each island, and after paying for all the different permits, it costs around Rp250,000 (roughly SGD$25) per visit. However, dragon sightings are not a given, particularly during mating season. If you are lucky enough to spot a dragon, local guides are experts at helping you get selfies that looks like you’re practically petting the dragons.
There are daily flights from Denpasar (Bali), or Jakarta to Labuan Bajo on Flores. If you’re travelling overland, there are daily buses from Ende, or you can hire local transport over the rutted road from Bajawa or Moni. Coinciding with the beginning and end of the dry season, April-May or October-November are the best times to visit the park. As the main access point for the park, numerous boat operators depart daily from Labuan Bajo for both day-trips and multi-day live-aboards with some operators also offering accommodation options such as eco-lodges just outside the national park.
You can easily combine a trip to Komodo National Park with a climbing trip to Mt. Kelimutu. Accessible via the town of Labuanbajo, the volcanic mountain is located on the eastern end of the island. While not the tallest peak on the island (the honour goes to Mt. Kelibara at 1,731m), it is famous for its crater lakes that change colour depending on the time of day. While it’s a popular island for liveaboard circuits, the island’s lush interior, smoking volcanoes, spectacular rice fields and hidden beaches have so far managed to hide themselves from large-scale mainstream tourism. Depending on when you go, the colours range from blue to green, and sometimes white, black, and even red. Scientifically, the colours of the lakes change due to several factors including the sunlight, microorganisms, reflections of the walls, as well as varying chemicals.
From the town of Moni, the easiest access is an 11km drive up – via a shared truck or motorcycle taxi (ojek) – to the main carpark, followed by a 1km walk
(about 30 minutes) to the foot of the 127 steps leading to the edge of the crater. You can also walk the entire way up, which takes roughly 3 hours.
Greenland conjures up images of life in the Arctic Circle, of magnificent landscapes carved by ice and sea, of whizzing dog sleds, and of the Northern Lights. There is also spectacular green farms in the south, and multi-coloured houses in villages dotted along the coast. About 85% of Greenland is covered with ice cap or inland ice – there’s a reason there’s so many different words to describe ‘ice’ in Greenlandic. Some of these ice caps and glaciers are thousands of years old, and make up 10% of the world’s freshwater reserves. But this icy landscape isn’t stationary: they flow and move, as can be seen in Ilulissat Icefjord – this gigantic ice wall is one of the world’s most productive glaciers, which constantly creates icebergs.
Along with ice, there is also fire: hot springs occur naturally in Greenland. At Uunartoq, the hot spring is a constant 38°C year round, with a view to icebergs and pointy mountain peaks. The world’s biggest non-continental island also has the world’s sparsest population – with only 56,000 residents and roughly the same number of annual tourists spread over an area the size of Western Europe, the imposing silence simply adds to the charm of the country.
© Ella Grøodem/Visit Greenland © Tikki Geisler/Visit Greenland
GREENLAND’S NATURE AND CULTURE
While polar bears are the icons of the Arctic, they are also incredibly rare, mostly seen in remote parts of North and East Greenland. However, there are good chances of spotting whales, seals, Greenlandic reindeer as well as mountain hares and arctic foxes. About 50 species of birds, from ptarmigans to Black Guillemots, are also common. Kangerlussuaq has one of the world’s biggest flocks of musk oxen – thousands of them live in the mountains surrounding the town. There are about 20 species of whales along the coast of Greenland. In South Greenland, fin and minke whales play
in the extensive fjord system. Sailing is a form of transportation here, so even a quick jaunt between towns and villages is a whale watching opportunity. In summer, Disko Bay’s famous sea of ice has more whales than icebergs when humpback, minke, and fin whales all head straight for these northern
waters. Meanwhile, the bowhead whale spends its whole winter here. Thousands of humpback whales head to West Greenland’s waters near Paamiut, Maniitsoq, and Aasiaat for a few months, while a special dozen humpbacks make Nuuk Fjord their summer home every year. Greenland is also the permanent home of beluga whales and narwhals (aka the unicorns of the sea), and for part of the year blue whales and orcas also traverse the same waters. While these whales stick to remote pockets of coastline and are quite rare, Greenland is one of the few places in the world to see them in the wild.
Dog sledding is at once a social, physical, and nature-based experience, and an essential means of transportation in the Arctic. Dog sled drivers are always locals with a distinct understanding of their natural environment and a deep connection with their dogs. These dogs can read the environment; if they sense the ice is too thin, they will stop. Mastering the art of mushing is vital to prevent sled dogsâ€™ disobedience from turning into a matter of life or death,
and in Greenland the learning starts early. Children often have their own small sleds and even a few dogs of their own, and they never mistake the dogs (as working animals) for pets. There are strict crossbreeding rules when it comes to sled dogs: no other breeds are allowed into sled dog territory, and once a sled dog leaves the area, it cannot return. Today, dog sledding is one of the most popular winter activities in Greenland;
they last from 20 minutes to several hours, days, and even weeks. The energy level and endurance of sled dogs is unmatched â€“ sled dogs howl and jump at the mere sight of the musher, and the challenge is getting them to slow down, as they will run nonstop. Best places to ride dogsleds are the northern parts of the Arctic Circle and in East Greenland. The best months are from February to April; in Tasiilaq, you can get a dogsled driving license after taking a two-day training course.
ÂŠ Mads Pihl/Visit Greenland
In a landscape as harsh as Greenland, the pioneering waves of immigrants have adapted to the forces of nature and climate in the Arctic and shaped modern Greenland. The cultural mix is diverse: from the Inuit who migrated here thousands of years ago, to the Vikings and other Europeans who settled in the country, Greenlandic society is a unique blend of Inuit and Danish blood. Perhaps Greenland’s culture can best be interpreted via its national dish: suaasat, a traditional soup often made from seal, sometimes whale, reindeer, or seabirds. Another traditional Inuit specialty is mattak, a raw hide of narwhal. These
foods represent what is readily available in their environment, and are traditionally hunted. One of the best places to experience original Greenlandic hunting culture is in the remote northwest corner of Greenland in the Thule region, in the town of Qaanaaq. Hunting, especially of reindeer, remains a revered profession and traditional foods like seal, narwhal, and caribou are consumed frequently. Hunters still wear handmade polar bear skin garments and skin boots for warmth in winter. Dogsled is still the main means of transport, and the locals are some of the last people on earth who harpoon narwhals from kayaks. Trophy hunting trips are mostly concentrated around the area of Kangerlussuaq where musk oxen and reindeer rule. Hunters make sure nothing goes to waste, as the meat will either go
to different institutions in town or locals. In winter, hunting is aided by dog sled while in summer, it’s via a boat trip up the fiord. Sometimes, smaller game – like hare, fox and ptarmigan – are hunted. The ptarmigan breeds all over Greenland, and are plentiful during a “Ptarmigan year” when the birds kick their breeding into high gear; the bird meat is so versatile, it can even be used to make ptarmigan schnapps.
© Paul Zizka/Visit Greenland
© Mads Pihl/Visit Greenland
The main gateway to Greenland is Kangerlussuaq – or simply ‘the K-place’ – where there’s an international airport that connects with domestic flights. To get to the capital of Nuuk, the smallest capital in the world, the only ways are by air or boat as there is no road or rail system on the island.
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Chile may be famous for its soaring Andean mountains, the barren high-altitude Atacama Desert, and the glacier-laden landscape of Patagonia, but most visitors tend to miss out on the country’s charming coastal communities. Located on Chile’s southern coast that’s characterised by myriad archipelagos, Chiloé is a world of its own. Known as a land of myths and legends, unique folklore and culinary traditions, it is also blessed with abundant nature. The Chiloé archipelago’s biggest island – Isla Grande – is the second-largest island in Latin America after Tierra del Fuego, and is surrounded by several smaller islands. One of the most defining characteristics of this island is the profusion of colour which is evident in the quaint palafitos (stilted houses) and pretty wooden churches that are UNESCO-listed. Chiloé is striking for photographers. Nature lovers won’t be disappointed either: trekking routes take you through rich ecosystems, and boating trips get you up close to penguins.
CHILE’S CHILOÉ ISLAND PHOTOS PROVIDED BY Turismo Chile
CHILOÉ NATIONAL PARK
Situated in the middle of Isla Grande is Chiloé National Park, one of three major parks blanketing the island, and home to the indigenous Huilliche tribe. The breathtaking terrain soars to over 800m, where rushing rivers and lakes are surrounded by forests, before sloping towards the coastline. A number of hiking trails cross the park, ranging from moist, moss-laden forests along the Tepaul Trail boardwalk, to wide open sand dunes and beach walks in the Chanquín area. Another alterna-
tive is to explore the park on horseback as you take to the trails or the beach with mule drivers at Cole-Cole, or kayak the calm waters of Lake Cucao. The park is one of the best places to watch humpback whales on their way to Patagonia; on Metalqui Island just offshore, there is a colony of sea lions. Among land mammals, the endemic (and rare) Darwin’s fox (so named because Charles Darwin first discovered it) and the pudú, a small deer, may also be spotted.
CASTRO, CHONCHI, AND CHURCHES
the planet, built during the 17th century to serve the evangelisation of the New World. Mixing Spanish design with techniques and materials of the island, they are unique in the Americas.
One of Chile’s oldest cities, having been founded in 1567, Castro is located between lush hills and a beautiful calm bay that brilliantly reflects the colours of its famous palafitos. Built on stilts along its promenade, these colourful houses traditionally housed boats in their ‘basements’, and can be found in many coastal villages around the island.
Just 30 minutes south of Castro is Chonchi, a small fishing village that was the starting point for the Jesuits to evangelise the southernmost part of Chiloé. Chonchi is home to the Church of San Carlos de Borroneo, the best preserved of Chiloé’s UNESCO churches.
It’s best to see Castro on foot: start from the Plaza de Armas with its painted cathedral and head towards the market area and then up the hill toward the mirador (lookout) with its bird’s-eye view of the city’s cemetery. It’s a good place to try typical Chilote foods include the traditional curanto (a dish of mixed seafood cooked over hot stones in the ground), as well as recipes made from the hundreds of colourful local potato varieties for which Chiloé is famous. The best time to visit is from January to February when a multitude of traditional events spring up in villages and fields across the island. In Castro, the colourful wooden
San Francisco de Castro Church is UNESCO-listed, and is part of a larger network of 16 heritage churches spread across Chiloé’s eastern coast. Nine of them are on the Isla Grande, while the others are scattered throughout other smaller islands, and are less than 10km apart from each other. These churches are some of the oldest wooden constructions still standing on
Kayaking One of the best ways to experience local life and visit UNESCO churches is on a kayak excursion which takes you to several islands where these churches are located. Most operators offer a full day of sea kayaking in the Dalcahue Channel where you can expect to see great numbers of local seabirds including black-necked swans, oystercatchers, and grebes.
The main island of Chiloé is accessible from mainland Chile via Route 5, part of the Pan American Highway, which is over 3,000km long. The route breaks at Pargua, where there’s a 30-minute ferry ride to Ancud, the biggest town on the main island. Further down Route 5 is Castro – Chiloé’s capital – from where nearly every village of Chiloé is easily accessible via good paved roads.
ISLETS OF PUÑIHUIL
The protected Islets of Puñihuil (Islotes de Puñihuil) consists of three small islands off the northwestern coast of Chiloé, and is the only place in the world where (near extinct) Humboldt penguins and Magellanic penguins live together. The best time of year to see them is during the breeding season from September to March.
A number of operators offer tours to the islets – you can either take a short boat ride for a close look at them, or walk along the coastal trekking paths. The site is also a breeding area for other bird species like the red-legged cormorant, kelp gull, kelp goose, and the massive, flightless Fuegian steamer duck. Marine otters, sea lions and blue whales can also be spotted from here.
It’s the end of the ski season, but New South Wales’ Snowy Mountains are also known for springtime adventures. From hiking to riding, this region is home to Australia’s five highest peaks including Mt Kosciuszko (2,228m), all alongside the area’s rich fauna, much of it found nowhere else in Australia. During the warmer months, the winter resorts at Thredbo, Perisher, Charlotte Pass and Mount
MTB IN THE SNOWIES
Come spring, the Snowies offer a network of dirt tracks and sealed roads, ideal for biking. The Cascade Hut Trail is an idyllic track year-round. The remote path twists through snowgum woodland and the virtually untouched Pilot Wilderness Area where you can spot wild brumbies (feral horses). This versatile trail, which is part of the Australian Alps walking track, is great for beginners and experts alike. From Dead Horse Gap to the rustic and cosy Cascades Hut (where you can sleep over), it’s a 10km ride one-way, or 20km return trip. Bikes can be hired in several towns, including Cooma, Jindabyne and Thredbo, as well as at Lake Crackenback Resort where you can purchase a day pass to access the resort’s 25kms
Selwyn change into alpine trails for bushwalking, mountain biking and horseriding. And as the snow melts, the crystal-clear mountain rivers become perfect for fly fishing and kayaking. Take a break with a tipple – the region is famous for its sparkling wines (available at any of the many cellar doors), and apple cider at Batlow. Also worth trying are locally-made schnapps and craft beer.
of mountain bike tracks and the ‘pump and flow’ track designed by MTB world champion Caroline Buchanan. The roads in the Snowy Mountains are home to the annual L’Étape Australia by le Tour de France, a unique road cycle event that this year will feature the reigning Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, riding alongside amateur cyclists on 2 December. Another cycling event is the Thredbo Cannonball MTB Festival (6-10 December), Australia’s biggest gravity-inspired MTB festival where amateurs and some of the world’s best riders descend on Thredbo for five days of gravity-fuelled action.
HORSE-RIDING IN SNOWY MOUNTAINS
Immortalised in Banjo Patterson’s 1890 poem The Man From Snowy River, the
© Paddy Pallin / Tourism Australia
SPRING IN NSW’S SNOWY MOUNTAINS
magnificent Snowy Mountains is a good place to experience horseriding. More adventures are available around Jindabyne, where Australia’s highest peaks and beautiful Lake Jindabyne provide a majestic backdrop. You can opt to go horseriding in a sanctuary for wild brumby horses. These feral horses first arrived in Australia in 1788 with the first fleet of prisoners, and are today free-roaming throughout Australia. Although found in many areas around the country, the best-known brumbies are found in the Australian Alps region. A variety of horse-riding tours are available in the region, some taking you along brumby trails and through snow gums, or through wilderness areas that feature alpine streams, steep forested ridges and pretty meadows.
HIKING MOUNT KOSCIUSZKO
In Perisher Valley near Charlotte’s Pass, the Porcupine Walk winds from the Perisher Valley Reservoir through snow grass and snow gums to Porcupine Rocks, huge granite boulders with panoramic views of Thredbo Valley and beyond.
A great way to experience the spectacular scenery of the Snowy Mountains is on foot. There are many walking tracks, from heritage and waterfall trails to challenging hikes in Kosciuszko National Park. If you’re visiting Kosciuszko National Park after the snow has melted, a walk to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko is a must-do between December and March. Starting at the top of the Kosciuszko Express chairlift at Thredbo, this popular day-walk takes you to the rooftop of Australia. After the scenic chairlift ride, the 13km return trail (4-5 hours) takes you past the rocky granite outcrops of Ramshead Range, and alpine wildflowers. The longer summit walk from Charlotte Pass (Australia’s oldest and highest snow resort at 1,765m) is 18.6km return (6-8 hours). The trail to the mountaintop weaves past alpine wildflowers and snow gums, across the Snowy River and the historic Seaman’s Hut to Rawson Pass.
For the less adventurous, there is the Bullocks Walking Track, also in Kosciuszko National Park. Starting from Thredbo Diggings campground or Bullocks Flat SkiTube carpark, this short track meanders along the Thredbo River taking around an hour each way. Hikers will be treated to views of rocky, often snowcapped summits, and the rivers are so clear you can often spot fish swimming past. Wallabies and kangaroos are also common along the track, as are wildflowers such as the yellow bossia and purple hovea. Around dawn and dusk, look out for platypuses along the river’s edge and pools.
From Mount Selwyn Resort, the 10km-return Four Mile Hut trail (with hiking, mountain biking and horseriding) winds through snow gum forests and grasslands blanketed with pretty wildflowers in summer. The clifftop Wallace Creek lookout offers a vantage point over the Great Dividing Range while at nearby Goldseekers track, hikers may catch a glimpse of endangered pygmy possums which can be found in the hollows of old gum trees. Found only in Kosciuszko National Park is the iconic endangered species, the southern corroboree frog. This striking – if camouflaged – frog with its bright yellow and black stripes is a resident of the sphagnum bogs in the park, and faces extinction primarily due to a disease known as the amphibian chytrid fungus, although feral pigs have also ravaged its preferred habitat.
© Tony Karacsonyi / Tourism Australia
Pristine waters from melting snow caps flow each spring into rivers and lakes teeming with jumping trout and native fish like the Murray cod and golden perch. Fishing in most wild rivers and streams is permitted from October to June but you’ll need a recreational fishing licence (easily available) before casting your line; Thredbo River in particular is famous for fly fishing.
© Camille Nuttall / Tourism Australia
With its dramatic landscapes and multitude of adventure activities, New Zealand is where adventure junkies can get off the beaten track and spot some elusive native wildlife along the way. From encountering native alpine birds on tramping excursions to swimming with rare dolphins, there is no shortage of wildlife experiences in New Zealand.
ADVENTURE IN NEW ZEALAND Diving around Kokomohua The Long Island-Kokomohua Marine Reserve at the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound houses a huge array of marine life, from fish to penguins and seabirds. At a depth of 15m, scuba divers can explore the reef systems where schools of perch and tarakihi, as well as many large blue cod and visiting predators such as kahawai can be seen. Rocky crevices shelter crayfish and rock lobster. The reserve is accessible by boat from the port town of Picton.
The Marlborough region is world-famous for Sauvignon Blanc, fresh seafood, and native species (like kiwi birds), spread across a diverse landscape covering the top of the South Island with numerous bays and 1,500km of winding coastline. Walk/cycle Queen Charlotte Track The Queen Charlotte track stretches 70km from Ship Cove to Anakiwa and is an intermediate to advanced grade. The whole track can be completed in 5 days on foot, or 5 days on a mountain bike with luggage transfers available by water-taxi. You will be rewarded with stunning views of Queen Charlotte and
Kenepuru Sounds and encounters with native birds such as fantail and weka. Paddle close to nature Kayak tours abound in the Marlborough Sounds. Kayaking the beautiful Wairau Lagoon gets you up close to about 90 species of native New Zealand birds, including the unusual-looking Royal Spoonbill, Black Fronted Tern & Bartailed Godwit. Marlborough Sounds is situated along a migratory route between the North and South Island, making it a great place to see whales (like humpback, southern right, and orcas), several species of dolphins, as well as fur seals on sea kayak tours.
Inflatable kayak in Pelorus Tackle the small whitewater rapids and paddle past rock walls, waterfalls and a picturesque ancient native forest along the Pelorus River which was a film location from ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’. The Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve is also home to the long-tailed bat – one of the last remaining populations in Marlborough – and many native birds.
The breathtaking landscape and wild scenery of the Ruapehu region is defined by the three volcanoes that tower over a landscape of tussocked desert, rivers, lakes and native forest. Whanganui National Park is a large lowland forests that’s home to various native
birds like the brown kiwi; its rivers are also home to native eels, trout and koura (freshwater crayfish). Hike the best one-day walking trail Often called the best one-day walk in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a high-altitude, strenu-
ous 19.4 km hike past Mt. Ngauruhoe and past Mt. Tongariro and takes 5 to 8 hours to complete. The lunar-like landscape features active volcanic areas, emerald crater lakes and panoramic views, and is best hiked in the summer months (December-February), as snow can still be found at higher altitudes well into the spring. For a bigger challenge you can add climbs up Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom in “Lord of the Rings”) or Mt. Tongariro to your trek; each will add hours to your schedule. The hike is free, but it’s not a circular track; shuttle services are available for pickup and dropoff.
Home to New Zealand’s highest mountain – Aoraki Mt. Cook – in the heart of the South Island lies the beautiful lakes of Pukaki, Ohau and Tekapo. Soak up alpine grandeur by day and admire starry galaxies by night at this International Dark Sky Reserve – from the observatory on the summit of Mt. John above Tekapo.
Swim with dolphins Hector’s dolphins – the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin species – are endemic to New Zealand, and the only place you can swim with them is at Akaroa Harbour which is a flooded crater of an extinct volcano. Set within the picturesque Banks Peninsula, this sheltered harbour boasts towering volcanic cliffs where most dolphin encounters in summer take place. You may also spot fur seals, and white-flippered and yellow-eyed penguins.
Interact with seals in Kaikoura The best place to see (and interact with) curious New Zealand fur seals is crowdfree Kaikoura Peninsula. You can get into the shallow water and swim with these wild seals, or take to a kayak and paddle with seals as they swim around the peninsula hunting for octopus. There may also be encounters with dusky dolphins and blue penguins.
Whale watching in Kaikoura As the whale watching capital of New Zealand, you can spot many species of whales, with sperm whales being the most famous. Plenty of boat operators offer whale watching trips; if you prefer to take to the skies, there are helicopter tours that offer a birds-eye view of the Kaikoura Whale Sanctuary where you can also see the spectacular Seaward Kaikoura mountains rising out of the ocean to over 2,500m. Hike Arthur’s Pass Arthur’s Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps, characterised by a varied landscape ranging from beech forests to deeply-gorged rivers and an alpine landscape of snow-covered peaks and glaciers. Plenty of hikes – ranging from 3-8 hours – originate from the village of Arthur’s Pass, taking you to amazing natural attractions like The
Devil’s Punchbowl Falls and the Dobson Nature Walk. Full-day walking tracks like Cons Track and Mount Bealey are connected via huts and shelters.
Hikers may be able to spot the great spotted kiwi and the kea, the only alpine parrot which is a comical giant famous for its inquisitive nature. They have no fear of humans and are out during the day on mountain peaks waiting for hikers. Once abundant across New Zealand, their numbers are now estimated to be less than 5,000.
Insights courtesy of AVIAREPS Singapore
Among the many trends in travel these days, one that’s often overlooked is what’s happening in (seemingly) expensive destinations. Every traveller is always on the lookout for travel deals, and these days with the relatively strong SGD, destinations that were once perceived to be expensive may not be so today. With travel trends shifting as rapidly as sands in the desert, getting value-formoney doesn’t mean you have to turn down travel to places seemingly reserved for moneyed travellers.
land), and the most visited is Oʻahu, home to Honolulu (the international gateway) and Waikiki. Getting there will be cheaper From 19 December 2017, Scoot will kick off its direct flight to Honolulu (Oahu) – it’s a 13-hour flight with a 2-hour layover in Osaka (KIX), a drastic cut from previous available options. Best of all, fares start from under S$1,000 all-in return. Hawaiʻi has always been hugely popular for its volcanoes, unique culture, and laid-back island life. Located practically in the middle of nowhere, travel to this island paradise has always been an expensive issue, especially when travelling from Singapore. Made up of 6 main islands, the largest is The Island of Hawaiʻi (aka Big Is-
Avoid peak season where hotels and flights will be most expensive. Plan for end-January, February (humpback whale season), May, September (Aloha Festivals) or October. To get around the islands, flights are the fastest way; at under 1 hour, fares from Oʻahu to The Island of Hawaiʻi hover around US$150 return.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think about Dubai is high-end. Everyone tends to think that the city built from scratch in the middle of the desert must be expensive to visit. Sure, Dubai is often associated with luxury travel – with the Burj Al Arab and Palm Jumeirah – but there are plenty of things you can do in the city without breaking the bank. Affordable in the UAE The iVenture Card Dubai (valid for 3 or 5 days) saves you up to 50% on over 20 attractions like the Desert Safari, AquaPark, Burj Khalifa, and on dining establishments. There are even premium options which include a Burj Khalifa Sky VIP experience, an Aquaventure Atlantis, and a helicopter city tour. Big things are happening Dubai will host the 2020 World Expo, which is a global destination to showcase innovation and human ingenuity that’s organised every 5 years, and lasts for 6 months. The Dubai Expo is set to open on 20 October, 2020 in Dubai South. Dubai is also building the world’s biggest airport: the expansion of the Al Maktoum International Airport near Jebel Ali. With this, they can accommodate up to 220 million passengers per year, as the oil-rich emirate seeks to solidify its position as a global aviation hub in the next decade.
Attractions Hawaii is popular for hiking, especially the Kalalau Trail (Kauai), Diamond Head (Oʻahu), Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park (Big Island) and Haleakala National Park (Maui). Some parks have admission fees, costing US$1-US$12 per person. There are feefree days, so check with the national parks site (www.nps.gov). The star attraction is Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, where you can hike (day-hiking and backcountry) or drive into this lively volcanic landscape. You can also go on a boat tour to see Kilauea volcano’s lava sea cliffs and watch the lava flow into the ocean in a show of eruptive steam and splatter.
Europe has always been on top of the list for many travellers – it’s got a unique mix of historic culture that’s well preserved, and agreeable weather that changes every season. We often assume some countries to be more expensive than others, but this idea is changing. Getting there and around There are plenty of flight deals to Europe recently, and with budget airlines being thrown in the mix, prices are getting even more affordable. In addition, self drive holidays are on the rise – thanks in part to affordable car rentals (and petrol prices) compared to Singapore. These types of holidays let you explore at your own pace, and visit places that aren’t on regular tourist routes. If you’re not keen on driving, there’s always a good rail option. Rail Europe covers much of the continent, and if you’re travelling to Switzerland, the rail system is one of the best in the world. Giving you access not just to towns and cities, you can get to the tops of snowcapped mountains via speciality operators like the Rhaetian Bahn, covering trips like the famous Bernina Express. Better yet is the fact that travellers to Europe have the option to get a rail card that gives you unlimited access most or all train rides.
Our latest Wildlife + Culture issue is out now! This issue focuses on combining some of the best cultural destinations and wildlife experien...
Published on Nov 9, 2017
Our latest Wildlife + Culture issue is out now! This issue focuses on combining some of the best cultural destinations and wildlife experien...