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Saturday, 30 April 2016

Comprehensive circumnavigation of Australia aboard Ponant


Most comprehensive circumnavigation of Australia ever offered

Aboard the 5-star French mega yacht, L’Austral

* Save $5000 per couple – book by May 16, 2016

40 day expedition - 25 destinations including remote places such as the tip of Cape York - * Voyage includes complimentary drinks and zodiac excursions *

Two and a half centuries after French explorers extensively charted the mysterious ‘Terre Australe’ (southern land), the five-star French ‘mega yacht’, L’Austral, will embark on the most comprehensive circumnavigation of Australia ever offered.

The intimate 264-guest Ponant cruise ship will offer the line’s first round-Australia voyage on January 25, 2018, on the eve of Australia Day. The special 40-night expedition will visit 25 destinations, including small and remote places like the northern tip of Cape York inaccessible to the larger ships which normally circuit the continent. Bookings made through Cruise Express by May 16, 2016, will attract a saving of $2500 per person.

Rather than just visit capital cities and large ports, L’Austral’s in-depth voyage of the island continent will feature small towns such as Beauty Point in northern Tasmania – close to wineries and historic estates – and Grassy on King Island, famous for its premium dairy products. Also on the itinerary are Port Campbell just 10 km from the spectacular Twelve Apostles, Turquoise Bay near Ningaloo Reef and its beautiful marine life and also the tiny and isolated community of Thursday Island in Torres Strait.

The chic vessel will also call at pristine and remote locations where complimentary zodiac excursions will be offered ashore. These include the crescent of deserted beach at Wineglass Bay in Tasmania, Talbot Bay near the natural phenomenon of Horizontal Falls on the Kimberley coast and the Yirrkala indigenous community in Arnhem Land – home to renowned Aboriginal artists and the famous, indigenous rock band, Yothu Yindi. Passengers will also be taken ashore by zodiac to the northern-most tip of Australia at Cape York and onto the palm-fringed sands of Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling and swimming.

Other ports include Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln, Esperance, Broome, Wyndham, the Indonesian island of Selaru, Cooktown, Hamilton Island and Fraser Island, with optional tours offered from each destination.

A specialist expedition crew aboard L’Austral will offer lectures with information about upcoming ports during the cruise and also guide passengers during zodiac excursions. The luxury ship boasts two restaurants, three bars, a pool, theatre and library and is renowned for her gourmet cuisine, personalized service and intimate ambience.

Cabins on the landmark cruise are now available exclusively through Cruiseco agents such as Cruise Express. Including a full beverage package, gratuities and five zodiac excursions, fares on L’Austral’s 2018 circumnavigation are available from $26,500 per person, twin-share, if booked by May 16, 2016 – a saving of $2500 per person.

Call Cruise Express on 1300 764 509 or visit 

Friday, 29 April 2016

Invitation: An introduction to Expedition Cruising with Wild Earth Travel


An introduction to Expedition Cruising with Wild Earth Travel
- Thursday 5th May

Discover the world of Expedition and Small Ship Cruising during an evening with one of Australasia's most experienced Expedition Leaders. 

Aaron Russ will share his experiences leading small ship cruises to exotic locations and the travel opportunities that are available for you in destinations such as the Arctic, Alaska, South Pacific, Greek Islands and theGalapagos.

There will also be book on the day expedition cruise specials including: 
  • NW Passage - save up to $20 000 USD 
  • Save up to 50% - Galapagos 11 day 
  • Save up to 30% - South Pacific voyages 
  • Save up to $3800 - SE Asia small ship cruise
  • Save up to 30% - Antarctic Voyages 

More about Aaron Russ, GM of Wild Earth Travel 
Aaron Russ has led expeditions on over 100 small ship cruises to the world’s most interesting regions. With a degree in zoology, a passion for photography and a desire to showcase the world’s premier destinations, he is the perfect person to share his knowledge of small ship and expedition cruising with you. 

Date: Thursday 5 May
Time: Drinks and nibbles from 5.30 with presentation beginning at 6pm.
LocationKirribilli Club
11 Harbourview Crescent
Lavender Bay NSW 2060

Ensure that you don't miss out, RSVP today.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Four new ships for Hurtigruten


Hurtigruten adds news ships to its fleet in record investment move to meet growing demand for adventure travel

Norwegian exploration travel company Hurtigruten has announced an order of up to four new explorer ships for 2018/19 sailings in a move to meet growing demand for adventure travel from holidaymakers across the globe.

The signing, which marks the largest investment Hurtigruten has made in its more than 120-years of exploring the Arctic and Antarctic waters, will open-up the polar waters and exciting new adventure opportunities.

Set to offer a host of activities for adventure seekers, from climbing and kayaking to rib-tours, whale and sea eagle safaris, the new vessels will embark on exploring some of the world's most exceptionally beautiful and unspoilt natural surroundings. Adventure tourism is one of the fastest growing global tourist trends valued at $263 billion*, and has witnessed an increase of 195% over just two years.

The order includes the construction of two new state-of-the-art vessels, which will be designed and customised specifically for adventure-rich expedition voyages in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, as well as along the Norwegian coastline. Hurtigruten prioritises sustainability, and the new ships will be equipped with advanced environmentally-friendly technology to reduce emissions, underlining its vision of playing a lead role when it comes to green shipping.

Hurtigruten's new ships will also offer lectures on topics relevant to the destinations they sail to from experts in areas such as history, zoology, botany, and environmental science. In addition, experienced expedition teams will accompany passengers on educational excursions to isolated places only accessible by ships or zodiac boats.

Daniel Skjeldam, Hurtigruten's CEO says, "This is a milestone for us and an expression of our confidence in the growth of the global market for adventure tourism. We are to build the most formidable expedition ships the world has seen."

"People no longer want to spend their holiday time being passive spectators. The new adventure traveller is looking for authentic experiences, which is why sedentary, standardized travel packages are becoming less popular and active adventure travel is booming" Skjeldam adds. "Our experience is that explorers travelling with Hurtigruten crave adventurous activities and mindfulness in combination, therefore Hurtigruten offers active voyages. We offer real experiences in local environments, just steps away from the wildlife."

Magnus Zetterberg UK Managing Director of Hurtigruten explains further, "We offer our guests a truly unique experience on-board all of our ships. Every season we've seen an increase in demand from guests to travel with Hurtigruten for the unrivalled range of adventure activities we offer. It has been more than ten years since Hurtigruten last placed an order for the construction of a new ship so the prospect of being able to expand this with the arrival of new vessels is very exciting."

The agreement is testament to Norway's strong international position as a shipbuilding nation. It will also ensure Hurtigruten's position as world leading within adventure tourism in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Daniel Skjeldam adds, "We are proud to be a more than 120-year old pioneer company. Along parts of the Norwegian coast, Hurtigruten drew the charts - literally. We will bring this knowledge and know-how with us when we put the new ships into operation."

The vessels will be designed and developed by Rolls-Royce, with the assistance of renowned Norwegian ship designer Espen Ă˜ino, and built by Kleven, a longstanding partner.

From 2017, Hurtigruten will offer explorer travel to additional new destinations such as the Amazon Rainforest and Arctic Canada. And with the new explorer ships, guests will be able to land close to new completely new adventurous destinations.

*Statistic from the Adventure Tourism Development Index Report 2015

For more information contact your local Travel Agent, email Discover the World on or call 1800 OCEANS (1800 623 267).

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Aboard MS Expedition: A sand blast on San Blas


From on board G Adventures MS Expedition in Panama
San Blas Islands, Panama
25 April 2016

G Adventures Zodiacs and local traffic mix in the waters off Carti Sugdub
Kuna lady displays her handmade embroidery, called 'mola'.

Kuna women in traditional costume.
I guess what makes the San Blas Islands so fascinating, is twofold. Firstly, their location in a quieter, yet very beautiful corner of the Caribbean and secondly, their curious autonomous status within the nation of Panama. The native Kuna people withdrew to these islands decades ago after pressure from landowners to either get with their program or ship out. The Kuna shipped out and stuck to their guns, declaring the San Blas Islands their own.

We came ashore on one of the lesser populated islands with a name like some Outer Rim planet: Carti Sugdub. We then relocated briefly to tiny Isla Perlo Chico for some frolicking in the water. Finally we ended up at not-much-larger Wylie Island for lunch of fried fish and chicken in a cute overwater restaurant/bar.

You'd be hard-placed to fit a soccer pitch on either of these last two 'islands' but each contain a bar, backpacker-style lodge, Kuna women's pop-up handicraft stalls and a tiny marina of sorts. Even though the area is apparently free of destructive storms, there must be some hazards, as two wrecks are nearby, one very recent, the other very old.

Away from the populated islands, the water is crystal clear, the white sand warm and the coconut trees sway ever so slightly in the gentle breeze. The visitors, I'm told come from all over, but mostly from Panama City for a genuine tropical island escape from the concrete and glass canyons of the burgeoning capital.

On Carti Sugdub, the scene is not so idyllic. The 1000 or so residents live cheek-by-jowl in cement and thatch shacks that extend right to the water's edge with no room for wheeled transport anywhere in the narrow alleys. Much of the available space is taken up by optimistic Kuna ladies displaying their very lovely embroidery, called 'mola'.

Again, the debris of modern consumerism in the form of discarded plastic bottles and non-biodegradable trash is everywhere. Communal latrines simply hang over the low concrete seawall where the bottom is lined with all manner of sunken stuff. A few lonely solar panels fill in for street lights and every second roof sports a bright red satellite dish.

Okay, this is not the shiny or contrived tourism offering, this is the real, everyday deal for these people and, for better or worse, this is what expedition cruising is all about. If you want air-conditioned shopping malls with 'Made in China' trinkets lining the shelves and burger restaurants, then get on one of the big ships with 2000 others and snuff out what's left of any genuine culture. You can't have it both ways.

While there were some frowns and sideways glances, G Adventures and their guests actively promote conservation and recycling efforts in many of the destinations they visit through their Planeterra Foundation. The San Blas Islands will have to go on next year's list for now.

All words and images (c) Roderick Eime

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Monday, 25 April 2016

Aboard MS Expedition: Maiden transit of the Panama Canal


From on board G Adventures MS Expedition in Panama
Maiden transit of the Panama Canal.
24 April 2016

MS Expedition approaches Miraflores Locks
G Adventures expedition staff celebrate
The memorial plaque

Today I shared a first with G Adventures' flagship, MS Expedition. We both made our very first passage through the famous Panama Canal, that century-old engineering feat that joined – at great human cost – the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by digging a whopping (80km) trench across the Panama isthmus.

Normally a vessel of this size would be required to travel at night when conditions were safer. The big Panamax ships (built to maximum canal dimensions) are the ones allowed to travel during daylight hours for maximum visibility, but G Adventures insisted on delivering maximum enrichment to guests and secured a daytime slot at some expense.

I will detail the entire, lengthy process in a later article, but to give you some idea, it was basically an all-day affair, entering the first (southern) lock at Miraflores after breakfast and exiting the northern end at Colon just before dinner. Watching the big ships squeeze in and out of the 100-year-old, 32m wide concrete compartments, each filled with more than 100 million litres of water, is quite a spectacle. And to think this whole shebang was designed in the late 19th century, well before any decent computing devices were available, is quite amazing.

There was quite the celebration aboard ship as the MS Expedition entered the first lock around 9am. This whole process was viewed via webcam at

Cruise ships make up barely seven per cent of all canal traffic, but the Norwegian Pearl enjoys the distinction of paying the highest toll: US$490,000. This is calculated on the base rate of $5.10 per nett ton, but numerous add-ons, like pre-booking fee quickly add to the overall cost. The minimum costs for any vessel (eg private yachts) is currently US$800 and the lowest cost ever paid was 36c by Mr Richard Haliburton who swan the canal over the space of a week in 1928.

The fastest vessel through the canal was the USS Pegasus (a hydrofoil) that completed the transit in 2hr41mins in 1979. In its lifetime, more than one million vessels have transited the canal. Already expansion works are well progressed to allow even larger ships (from max width of 32m to 49m) which will, if claims prove true, effectively double the capacity of the canal.

Further reading: Cruising the World's Great Canals

All words and images (c) Roderick Eime

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Aboard MS Expedition: Panama City exploration

From on board G Adventures MS Expedition in Panama
Panama City shore excursion
23 April 2016

From its inauguration in 1519 by Spanish conquistador, Pedro Arias Dávila,
Panama City has been a waypoint for treasure seekers and gold diggers. In
fact, so infuriated were the English that they sent the rampaging
privateer, Henry Morgan, to sack the fledgling city in 1671. Morgan took
gold, silver and hostages before leaving the place in flames.

The city was relocated and rebuilt, but succumbed to several subsequent
fires leaving the old city, now UNESCO listed, with a mixture of
architectural styles from Spanish, French and Caribbean influences. Then
again in 1989, US forces invaded in order to capture the rogue president,
General Manuel Noriega, again leaving portions of the old neighbourhoods in

Now with the revelation of the so-called Panama Papers, this renegade city
seems none to keen to shed its reputation for creative banking and currency
conjuring. Since 2000, the government have made all manner of enticements to
foreign investors and the new skyline has grown like bamboo shoots in the
steamy heat. Made up mainly of residential condominiums, there is also a
fair share of corporate and hotel developments including a new luxury Trump
tower. Some of the original real estate pricing was a little optimistic,
with many of the strata properties falling by as much as half of their
initial asking price. A decent condo, I'm told, can be acquired for as
little as US$250,000 these days.

Prior to our transit through the canal, we had time to wander the streets,
taking in sights, sounds and smells of the old town where many buildings are
under restoration, adding a curious blend of sad cosmopolitan decay and
trendy colonial rejuvenation.

As one might expect, tourist traders were out in force selling all manner of
trinkets, but the prize was certainly the genuine Montecristi, that
distinctive handwoven hat so typified by historic figures like Teddy
Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. This is despite origins of the hat actually
deriving from Ecuador. An 'Ecuador Hat' is apparently too much of a mouthful
and a marketing impediment.


* Contrasting skylines of Panama City
* Street in the old quarter
* Panama Hats. About US$25 will get one.

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Sunday, 24 April 2016

Aboard MS Expedition: Survivor and the Panamanian pirate islands

From on board G Adventures MS Expedition in Panama
Mogo Mogo and Chapera Islands, Archipiélago de Las Perlas (Pearl Islands)
Friday 22 April 2016

Well, it's easy enough to deduce the origin of the name since a mighty 32
carat number was produced from the molluscs who still inhabit these shallow
waters south of Panama.

But the islands are full of stories of intrigue and skulduggery even to this
day. Pirates of the like of the 17th Century English privateer, Henry
Morgan, operated in these waters during the English/Spanish conflict of the
time and would have almost certainly have used the Pearl Islands as a
hideout in between looting galleons and trashing Panama City.

Our activities were far more sedate. Zodiacs took guests ashore at both the
uninhabited Mogo Mogo and adjacent Chapera for swimming and lazing about.
The latter has been in the media in recent times for a number of reasons.
Many believe it was a drug staging point for the infamous Noriega prior to
his arrest by US authorities and soon after the island was purchased
outright by another drug baron, the Colombian Nelson Oriega. The figure of
1.5 million dollars was mentioned. He then built a sprawling beach house on
a point overlooking the two islands but had the entire package confiscated
after he annoyed someone in the Panamanian government. Oriega spent seven
years in prison on a hastily concocted money laundering charge and is
currently suing for the island's return.

Many will remember the island as the setting for one of the early 'Survivor'
TV Series and the producers of the evergreen reality TV show are currently
in the process of building a new set for a return installment. Our Zodiacs
stumbled on the crew at work and gained some unwelcome stares from the set
builders and their burly, shirtless security thugs. Secrecy would seem an
impossible task as the waters just offshore make a popular route for
yachties. That and the nearby populated island of Isla Contadora with its
many elite mansions would make the activity hard to conceal. So, you heard
it here first, Survivor returns to Panama! Location: 8.60, -79.03


* ex-pat expedition guide, Brandon, relives an episode of Survivor at Mogo
* The former drug lord's mansion on Chapera, now occupied by the Panamanian
Coast Guard
* Dirty looks from Survivor TV series security as their new secret location
is sprung

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