Friday, 31 August 2012

Seabourn Adds Seventh Continent with New Cruises to Antarctica



More than 20 years after pioneering an entirely new style of small-ship, ultra-luxury cruising, Seabourn today announced plans to extend its repertoire of highly desirable cruising destinations in 2013 to include Antarctica for the first time.

The newest ship in Seabourn’s award-winning fleet, Seabourn Quest will begin a series of four 21- to 24-day voyages sailing between Valparaíso, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina starting in November 2013.

The new Ultimate Antarctica & Patagonia sailings will open for sale in Australia on Wednesday, September 5, 2012.

Seabourn President Richard Meadows said Seabourn was already renowned for its extensive portfolio of worldwide itineraries, with Antarctica the only continent that did not feature in the cruise line’s itineraries.

“This move expands Seabourn’s global reach to all seven continents and builds on our already impressive list of exotic destinations,” Mr Meadows said.

“We are very proud to be bringing our highly rated ultra-luxury cruise experience to Antarctica.”

The all-suite Seabourn Quest will cruise the Chilean coast, including visits to Puerto Montt, Castro and Puerto Chacabuco as well as Punta Arenas, from where guests can tour the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park. Then the intimate ship will thread the glaciers, peaks and channels of the Chilean Fjords, culminating in a transit of the Beagle Channel and its spectacular Glacier Alley. Weather permitting, following a call at Ushuaia in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, Seabourn Quest will cruise by Cape Horn bound for the Southern Ocean.

Guests onboard will experience five days in Antarctica, including scenic cruising of highlights such as the breathtaking Lemaire Channel, picturesque Paradise Bay and the Gerlache Strait.

An experienced Antarctic expedition staff will ensure that guests enjoy the best of the hundreds of available sites for landings and cruising in smaller inflatable boats, based on real-time weather and wildlife reports during their Antarctic adventures. Scientists, naturalists and other lecturers in a number of disciplines will speak on board and accompany guests ashore to add insights to their once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

During the South Atlantic portion of the voyage, guests will enjoy visits to Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, and Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, en route to or from Buenos Aires.

A 24-day holiday version will include two days exploring the sub-Antarctic wildlife Eden of South Georgia Island, renowned for its beauty and its vast, teeming rookeries of king penguins and other seabirds, as well as breeding elephant and fur seals.

For more information see a licensed travel agent, call 13 24 02 or visit www.seabourn.com

UPDATE: 17 Sept Departing on November 20, 2013, this luxurious experience has been reduced by nearly $3,000 to $19,990 and includes return airfares and taxes from Sydney, accommodation, all meals, drinks and entertainment on the ship, port charges, city tours in BA and Santiago and transfers. For more information contact ecruising.travel on 1300 369 848 or check-out www.ecruising.travel


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Orion voyages to the lost paradise of Papua New Guinea


During October this year and in March and April 2013, the award-winning expedition cruise ship Orion will again provide a very civilised and luxurious way to explore the coast and islands of near-neighbour, Papua New Guinea.

11 night itineraries conveniently commence and conclude in Cairns, Queensland, seamlessly incorporating a charter flight direct to or from the ship in Rabaul for boarding or disembarkation.

Discover the photographer-within or anthropologist-within as you explore this land of over 800 languages and a diversity of largely self-contained cultures that will challenge the imagination. Until relatively recently Papua New Guinea was still perceived as an isolated world of head-hunters; a land of mythology, sorcery and witchcraft.

Bypassing the main towns, as Orion does, many villagers have only been exposed to the modern world through the workings of missionaries and occasional traders. Yet step ashore with members of Orion's specialist expedition team and you will be greeted with broad smiles and warm welcomes from gentle villagers – an eye opening introduction to a way of life far removed from our Western world.

Between 1920 and 1926 famed Australian Antarctic photographer, Frank Hurley, visited New Guinea, returning with a portfolio of stunning black and white images.  Men in dugout canoes, women carrying babies in string bags, delicate shell and feather ceremonial decorations, intricate tattoos; amazingly, photos of scenes that could have been taken this year so little has changed in a century, perhaps many centuries.

On these Orion voyages encounter primitive tribal cultures (and perhaps purchase superb indigenous artwork and carvings), see unique flora and fauna and enjoy luxuriant snorkelling and fishing in warm indigo and cobalt blue waters, home to some the world's most prolific marine and coral life.

In Rabaul, volcanic Mt Tavurvur grumbles, expelling smoke, gases, ash and volcanic rocks from deep within the earth. Here Admiral Yamamoto directed much of the Japanese Pacific campaign and the detritus of World War II lies scattered for your examination. Tufi's villages are situated within a picturesque series of jungle clad volcanic fjords, tribal cultures unchanged for centuries; while the colonial town of Madang conjures scenes of a Conrad or Hemmingway sitting in a cane chair well positioned to catch the afternoon breeze, sipping pink gin.

Orion's voyages to Papua New Guinea provide modern day explorers with the opportunity to venture to places far from mainstream tourism, yet to do so in the company of like-minded fellow travellers, in comfort and safety and without sacrificing creature comforts.

Priceless experiences that will stay with you for life.

Putting a price on priceless experiences:

11-night  Papua New Guinea Cultural Highlights: CAIRNS - optional direct charter flight to RABAUL (overnight onboard), Sepik River & Watam Village,  Madang, Tami Islands, Tufi, Kitava (The Trobriands), Samarai and Kwato Islands, Alotau (Milne Bay), CAIRNS. (Or vice versa commencing in Cairns and ending in Rabaul followed by an optional return charter flight to Cairns.)

2012 Departures: 2 October, 13 October and 24 October
2013 Departures: 16 March, 27 March

Fares: 11 night fares from $7,415 per person for an ocean view Stateroom /

Junior Suites begin from $9,590 per person / Balcony Suites are $12,535 per person / Owners Suites are $14,560 per person

All prices twin share. Charter flight to or from Cairns/Rabaul $600 per person

Details of Papua New Guinea voyage itineraries available at www.orionexpeditions.com/png

Further information on Orion Expedition Cruises can be obtained by visiting the website www.orionexpeditions.com 

For reservations or to obtain a brochure of 2012 or 2013 voyages call Orion Expedition Cruises: 61-2 9033 8777 (Sydney callers) 1300 361 012 (regional and interstate) / 0800 444 462 (New Zealand) or see your travel agent.

Email: info@orionexpeditions.com

SeaDream savings Rome, Italian Riviera, Monte Carlo and Nice


IF you've a week up your sleeve in Europe in October, the world's #1-rated boutique SeaDream II is sailing 7-nights from Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, to Elba, Corsica, the Italian Riviera, Monte Carlo and Nice with prices starting from a low US$3426pp twin-share – around a third of the originally brochured price.*

It includes all 5-star dining, drinks from the open bars, wines with lunch and dinner, nightly cocktail gatherings, a 30-course golf simulator, power and sail watersports (where permitted,) mountain bikes for shore excursions, onboard gratuities and port charges and taxes; SeaDream II carries on average 100 guests in just 56 staterooms served by 95 crew.

For full itinerary and other details see travel agents or www.seadream.com

SeaDream II departs Civitavecchia on October 13 for Bonifacio on historic Corsica, Portoferraio on picturesque Elba in Italy's Tuscany region, Viareggio for Florence, Portovenere amid the serrated cliffs of the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera, Portofino also on the Italian Riviera, Monte Carlo for 24-hours and Nice.

*Originally brochured price was US$9327pp twin-share.

                                                      

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Coral Princess Cruises releases Kimberley '2013 Waterfall Season' Savings

Australia's pioneer of small-ship expedition cruising Coral Princess Cruises celebrates its 30th anniversary year in 2013 and is offering 'Waterfall Season" specials of between 15 and 25 per cent off normal prices on their 10-night Kimberley Coast expeditions. The savings are valid on five April 2013 departures aboard their state-of-the-art 72 passenger small ship Oceanic Discoverer or the fully-refurbished 35-metre catamaran Coral Princess. 

The Kimberley wilderness of Western Australia is three times larger than England with a population of just 30 000. Coral Princess's voyages between Darwin and Broome cruise through some of the planet's oldest and most awe-inspiring scenery and landscapes. Exploring the Kimberley Coast in April, immediately following the 'wet season', affords guests the unique opportunity to experience the region's spectacular waterfalls in their full grandeur. From the towering 80-metre King George Falls, four-tiered Mitchell Falls and the iconic King Cascades to the amazing natural phenomenon of Horizontal Falls and lesser-known highlights such as swimming beneath beautiful Ruby Falls, Coral Princess's Kimberley itinerary includes all of the icons of this spectacular coast in unrivalled style and total comfort.

Waterfall Season prices for the 10-night Kimberley cruise aboard Oceanic Discoverer start at $6,592.50 per person for Coral Princess Cruises past guests (25% off) and $7,471.50 for first time travellers (15% off) in a Main Deck (Category B) Stateroom. Special prices aboard Coral Princess start at $5,392.50 for past guests and $6,111.50 for first time travellers in a Cabin category room. The reduced prices include all meals, lectures and services of the all-Australian expedition staff and excursions aboard a fleet of zodiacs and the unique 'Xplorer' excursion tender. The discounts apply to all new bookings on April 2013 departures and are available until 30 November 2012 or until sold out.  

Coral Princess Cruises pioneered small-ship expedition cruising on the Kimberley Coast in 1996 and has 34 departures scheduled across the 2013 season, which runs between April and October. As a 100% Australian-owned, flagged and staffed operation, Coral Princess guests avoid the need to transit an international port as part of their Kimberley itinerary, a guideline applying to foreign-owned and flagged operators in the region. With a minimum of two landings most days Coral Princess guests will enjoy the opportunity to see more of the Kimberley and make the most of every minute of their expedition.

For further information and reservations contact Coral Princess Cruises on 1800 079 545 or visit www.coralprincess.com.au.


Queen of the Mississippi christened

Source: www.cruiseweekly.com.au


NASHVILLE was the scene of a historic event over the weekend, with the first authentic paddlewheeler built for the Mississippi River in nearly 20 years, Queen of the Mississippi, officially christened at a lavish waterfront event, before setting sail on her inaugural seven-night voyage to St Louis.

Following her debut, the Queen of the Mississippi will feature a schedule of itineraries that will take guests along the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.



North Star Cruises' 2-for-1 Offer


North Star Cruises has announced a very rare 2 for 1 offer. Buy one Adventures in Paradise cruise to Papua New Guinea and get one for free! Yep that’s right – treat yourself and bring along your best friend for absolutely free. Depending on your cabin choice – this offer could save you up to $17, 995*

Papua New Guinea is made to measure when it comes to adventure-cruising and, the Australian crew of the TRUE NORTH are unsurpassed when it comes to pampering small group expeditions. This is a very unique opportunity to visit areas bigger ships cannot access and to encounter overwhelming hospitality and unchanged village life. Snorkel the most highly regarded coral reef in the world. Join our multiple expedition boats and explore mighty rivers deep into the jungle. Climb mountains in the comfort of the ship’s air-conditioned helicopter. Match wits with monster mackerel and then each night, return to your floating boutique hotel.

The 7 night Adventures in Paradise cruise departs November 24 and December 1 and includes return charter flights ex Cairns.

For more information – contact your adventure partners at cruise@northstarcruises.com.au

*Nominated saving based on Explorer Class.

To view the example itinerary click on the link: http://www.northstarcruises.com.au/documents/AdventuresinParadise2012_000.pdf



Wind Star Shines Brighter with Recent Renovation


Wind Star recently completed a stem to stern renovation, bringing a more modern, casual elegance to the Windstar experience that you love. As part of the $18 million fleet-wide renovation, Wind Star was the first yacht to receive redesigned staterooms and owner's suites and enhanced public areas including The Lounge, Casino, Reception, Library and The Pool Bar. According to our guests, one of the most popular updates is the brand-new Amphora Restaurant, previously known as The Restaurant. In addition to an enhanced ambiance and redesigned layout, a new menu was introduced featuring savory dishes such as Dover sole, duck a l'Orange and lobster ravioli. Other dining areas on board were also expanded, including The Veranda's outdoor seating and The Compass Rose's adjoining outdoor deck. Wind Surf is next up in the renovation project, scheduled to be complete by December 1, 2012, when the yachts sails from St. Maarten in its first Caribbean voyage of the season. Wind Spirit follows shortly after, finishing up in time for its December 22 voyage from Barbados. To stay up-to-date with the latest enhancements, visit Windstar's Yacht Renovation page



Monday, 27 August 2012

G Adventures upgrades Galapagos fleet

Queen of Galapagos

G Adventures is upgrading its Galapagos fleet for 2013, with the acquisition of three 16-passenger motor yachts: the Daphne ‘G3’, the San Jose ‘G5’, and the Queen of Galapagos, ‘G8’. The company will be adding additional vessels in the coming months as it looks to accommodate continuing growth in the region.

Jeff Russill, VP of Innovation for G Adventures, says the upgrades have been made to provide an improved customer experience and to future-proof the fleet ahead of further customer demand and changing regulations.

“Our new vessels have larger and more comfortable public spaces and will be heavily focussed on the customer experience, offering the best wildlife viewing and the onboard service. Leading with service is one of our core values and these upgrades mean we can deliver on that promise and keep prices affordable.

“Additionally there have been, and will continue to be, changes made to Galapagos regulations, so we’re also ensuring the future viability of our fleet,” says Russill.

Each of the new vessels caters to a slightly different market. The G3 is the most affordable standard-level option, the G5 is a comfort-level vessel and the G8 provides an even more deluxe experience.

G Adventures will continue to use its Javier ‘G4’ comfort-level vessel, a firm customer favourite, meaning the fleet will expand to four vessels in 2013.

Current vessels will maintain operations as per the normal G Adventures high quality service until the end of the year when the G3, G5 and G8 will take over operations.

Itineraries for the three new vessels include:
  • A six-day Voyage Galapagos – South Islands standard-level trip onboard the Daphne ‘G3’ is priced from $2,179pp from Quito return for departures from September to November 2012 and January to April 2013.
  • A seven-day Voyage Galapagos – South Islands comfort-level trip onboard the San Jose ‘G5’ is priced from $2,899pp from Quito return for departures from January 2013 year-round.
  • A 10-day Deluxe Galapagos – Northern Islands deluxe-level trip onboard the Queen of Galapagos ‘G8’ is priced from $4,499pp from Quito return for departures from January 2013 year-round.
For more information please call 1300 796 618 or visit http://www.gadventures.com/marine/galapagos-island-cruises/.

* Prices exclude flights, for inclusions please see trip links above. 



Lyubov Orlova sold for scrap

The Lyubov Orlova, which has accrued more than $200,000 in unpaid berthing fees, lists badly. (John Rieti/CBC)

The sad tale of the adventure cruise ship, Lyubov Orlova, seems to just go on and on.

After being arrested back in 2010, the ship was bought by an Iranian scrap merchant for $275,000 in March and destined for the scrappers. But an unconfirmed report says the ship caught fire as it was leaving the harbour and was towed back in. This pic from www.vocm.com shows fire tenders responding back in May.





Saturday, 25 August 2012

One Ocean Expeditions - Northwest Passage - Cambridge Bay

Ship: M/V Akademik Ioffe
Operator: One Ocean Expeditions
www.OneOceanExpeditions.com
Itinerary: Northwest Passage 12-26 August 2012

Date: Friday 24 August 2012. Temp: 7°C
Location: Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada.
68deg 50.1'N, 105deg 05.2'W
Distance travelled: 2112NM

The last landfall before our final destination, Cambridge Bay (pop. 1500) in the Kitikmeot region is another one of Nunavut's remote outposts that serves to remind those who would question Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.

Before we reached shore in our familiar Zodiac convoy, there was time to inspect the wreck of The Maud, Roald Amundsen's last exploration vessel sitting ignominiously, for the last 82 years, in a few metres of water in front of 'the old town site'. The story of The Maud is a book in itself and now the Norwegians want her back, regardless of her lamentable state. If all goes to plan, The Maud should be back in Oslo this time next year.

Ashore in the new town centre, we see a lively little hamlet sporting a big new school/library/community centre adjacent other government and service buildings. There's time for a final fix of retail, postcards and some museum gazing before tummy rumbles signify another hearty lunch is waiting back aboard Ioffe.

Cambridge Bay also became a strategic outpost when the Distant Early Warning (DEW) installation became operational in the 1950s as a kind of intruder alarm against possible ballistic missile attack from you-know-who.

Image: A beaver floatplane comes in to land on the inlet in front of the new town site.



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Friday, 24 August 2012

One Ocean Expeditions - Northwest Passage - Victory Point

Ship: M/V Akademik Ioffe
Operator: One Ocean Expeditions
www.OneOceanExpeditions.com
Itinerary: Northwest Passage 12-26 August 2012

Date: Tues 23 August 2012. Temp: 3°C
Location: Victory Point, Nunavut, Canada.
70deg 10.1'N, 097deg 52.0'W
Distance travelled: 1843NM

There's nothing victorious about Victory Point. Named, not after some long-forgotten triumph, but after the ship commanded by Capt. John Ross during his 1830 voyage.

We landed at about 1000hrs on the most desolate and rocky shoreline in our well-rehearsed procedure where shotgun-toting scouts disembark ahead of the main group to set up a polar bear perimeter. After the abundance of polar bears sighted the previous day at Coningham Bay, there's plenty of reason to
be cautious.

Dotted along the ridge above the high water mark are several stone cairns erected to attest the arrival and departure of various vessels and their shore parties. None, however, are likely to be the original cairn built to mark the initial progress and later demise of Franklin's last surviving men who suffered, as John Rae wrote in 1853, "a fate as terrible as the imagination can conceive."

None of the existing stone monuments contain any clues to their origin. Some weathered mahogany once fastened with modern stainless screws and some soggy, illegible scraps of parchment are all that remain of previous visits. But it was here that the famous official Admiralty document was found in 1859 bearing definitive news of the fate of Franklin.

The document's first entry was on 24 May 1847 signifying 'all well', but further messages scribbled in the margins told a much gloomier tale, including the death of Franklin himself just two weeks later.

It read in part:

April 25th, 1848. Ships Erebus and Terror abandoned ... Total loss by death to date, 9 officers and 15 men ... Start tomorrow for Back's Fish River.

Despite a forensic examination of the puzzling remains by the search party, the mystery of the Franklin Expedition's demise remains unsolved. But as far as the Admiralty was concerned, the expedition was lost and 'case closed'.

Image: Expedition staff from Ioffe examine one of the mystery cairns erected at Victory Point.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

One Ocean Expeditions - Northwest Passage - Bellot Strait

Ship: M/V Akademik Ioffe
Operator: One Ocean Expeditions
www.OneOceanExpeditions.com
Itinerary: Northwest Passage 12-26 August 2012

Date: Tues 21 August 2012. Temp: 3°C
Location: Bellot Strait, Nunavut, Canada.
71deg 56.0'N, 093deg 56.0'W
Distance travelled: 1684NM

It's impossible to imagine that this waterway way once an impenetrable barrier of ice that had fatally thwarted the mid 19th century explorers who sought to find a way through to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa.

Bellot Strait was named after a handsome young French officer who volunteered to join Lady Jane Franklin's rescue efforts and served as second-in-command to William Kennedy aboard Prince Albert in 1851. While this expedition failed to find any trace of Franklin, Bellot Strait marked the separation between the Bothia Peninsula and Somerset Island and a) confirmed a viable link in the Northwest Passage and b) denoted the most northerly point of the North American continent, Zenith Point.

Today, as Ioffe sailed unhindered by ice and with a helpful tailwind, our passage was a little over an hour from Prince Regent Inlet through to Peel Sound. Earlier we'd gone ashore at an abandoned Hudson Bay Company outpost, a spot reminiscent of the old tumble-down buildings still clinging to life at Whalers Bay on Deception Island in the Antarctic. Built in 1937, it was still used until relatively recently by RCMP patrols and some Inuit hunters.

The day finished with a satisfying wildlife bonanza, including a pod of beluga and a almost a dozen polar bears gathered around carcases along the shore of Davis Island. (Pic)

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

One Ocean Expeditions - Northwest Passage - Beechey Island

Ship: M/V Akademik Ioffe
Operator: One Ocean Expeditions
www.OneOceanExpeditions.com
Itinerary: Northwest Passage 12-26 August 2012

Date: Mon 20 August 2012. Temp: 3°C
Location: Beechey Island, Nunavut, Canada.
74deg 42.3'N, 091deg 45.8'W
Distance travelled: 1475NM

Ioffe landed here just after breakfast and we spent some time walking into a stiff and chilly breeze pondering the fate of the many men who came here on such a fruitless search and of those who never saw home again.

Forlorn Beechey Island is the last resting place for three of Franklin's men who died in early 1846 during the expedition's first winter as they camped on this desolate shore. A fourth grave was added ten years later when one of the men from the search vessel, Investigator, died. Beechey Island is technically not really an island as a sandy spit joins it to the much larger Devon Island on the northern perimeter of Lancaster Sound.

Beechey has become something of a shrine for mariners and adventurers with many makeshift cairns and memorials added over the years. Ray, one of our expedition crew, found a marker left by his shipmates aboard HMCS Labrador in 1956 when they called here during a cold war submarine patrol. There are also the remains of a winter refuge hut imperiously dubbed 'Cumberland House' built in 1852 from timber salvaged from a wreck. It served for 50 years until it too finally succumbed to the fierce elements of Lancaster Sound, leaving scattered tins, wood, nails and assorted debris as a memento to man's struggle against the forces of nature.

The weather holds while we're ashore (just), but the afternoon's Zodiac tours are erased when a nasty bit of wind and sleet blows up. Ioffe heads due south into Prince Leopold Inlet toward the final link in the tortuous Northwest Passage.

Image: The anguished face of John Torrington frozen in time. The 20 year old from Franklin's expedition was buried in January 1846 and Ray McMahon examines a cairn laid by his navy shipmates in 1956.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

One Ocean Expeditions - Northwest Passage - Baffin Island

Ship: M/V Akademik Ioffe
Operator: One Ocean Expeditions
www.OneOceanExpeditions.com
Itinerary: Northwest Passage 12-26 August 2012

Date: Sat 18 August 2012. Temp: 4°C
Location: Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.
72deg 54.5'N, 075deg 57.6'W
Distance travelled: 1008NM

The last 24 hours NW across Baffin Strait signifies we are now into the Northwest Passage proper. Named after a 17th century sea pilot, William Baffin, who guided early expeditions into the region, the vast inland sea was not officially recognised (or even believed) until Capt. Ross revisited 200 years later. Pond Inlet, at the top of Baffin Island which forms the western shore of the strait, is a tiny Canadian outpost a couple of notches beyond the northernmost point of the USA, Point Barrow in Alaska, and is primarily inhabited by Inuit. Each one of the hopeful explorers would have passed this waypoint on their journey west, some of them to return, others not.

At Pond Inlet the locals turned out to perform some Inuit songs and dances in traditional costume, some sombre, others overtly comical with contorted faces and exaggerated gestures which sent waves of laughter through our group. As many of the first Europeans noted, the 'Esquimo' were resourceful, good-natured and enjoyed fun and laughs. As with many of these isolated hamlets, unemployment is high and those with jobs are mainly in government employ, but there is news of a large iron ore mine opening to the south. Understandably there is mixed opinion about it likely effects on tiny Pond
Inlet.

Friday, 17 August 2012

DescaradA 2 New Brochure Lures the 'Bucket Listers' to Escape to Paradise



Only 80 mins direct flight away from one of Australia's busiest cities (Brisbane) and 150 mins direct flight from Sydney, DescaradA 2's new brochure has been released to attract the 'bucket listers' who have always dreamt of cruising around the Whitsundays on a luxury motor yacht, with a crew of four ready to meet and exceed their needs.

With scheduled cruise prices starting from $4000 per copuple for a 4day/3night cruise or All inclusive private charter prices from $8400 for 3days/2nights for up to 8 guests, DescaradA 2 is waiting to full fill that dream. Availability is great over the next 3 months which is probably the peak period to travel weather wise.

About DescaradA 2: www.descarada.com.au

Descarada2, Queensland's world class luxury cruise operator on the Great Barrier Reef, is located in the breathtakingly beautiful Whitsunday's, with a home port of Abel Point Marina, Airlie Beach. DescaradA2, at 110 foot (33 metres) has 4 elegant cabins, ranging from a King Double, Double, Triple and Family Cabins, all with Ensuites, with a maximum capacity of 12 guests. A permanent crew of 4 looks after guests needs with activities such as Jetski-ing, Snorkeling, Bush Walking and a lavish selection food and beverages available. With 3 night pre-scheduled cruises available twice a week and private charters on a request basis ex Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, DescaradA2 can be accessed directly from all east coast international gateway cities in less than three hours. Couples and families with older children welcome.


One Ocean Expeditions - Northwest Passage - Goodbye Greenland

Ship: M/V Akademik Ioffe
Operator: One Ocean Expeditions
www.OneOceanExpeditions.com
Itinerary: Northwest Passage 12-26 August 2012

Date: Thu 16 August 2012
Location: Ilulissat, Greenland 66deg 27.5' N, 053deg 57.8' W

Goodbye Greenland.

A farewell to the world's largest island wouldn't be proper without acknowledging the hardy Inuit folk who have lived here on this mini-continent for some 5000 years. In that time they developed a respectful and harmonious coexistence with the land and its resources, always taking only what they need and making full use of their harvest. In modern times, however, their bounty is governed by the Danish who manage the fishing resources and when ashore, you spend Danish Kroner in the gift shops.

The Inuit's traditional game is the smaller whales, seals and birds, using their skin, meat and bones for food and all manner of tools and clothing. Their expert use of dogs on land and kayaks in the water was ignored by arrogant early European explorers, much to their detriment and despair.

It is a fitting tribute to the Inuit to enjoy a kayak excursion among the many bergs and random ice sculptures that adorn the waters of the UNESCO-listed Ilulissat Icefjord. To set the mood, Jimmy, our Tasmanian kayak guide and Elias Inuusuttoq, (pictured) a local expert, compete in a friendly 'roll off' to see who can do the most rolls of their little water craft in the frigid waters of the bay. It was neck-and-neck until Elias trumped the show with a series of cascading lateral rolls, around and round amid sprays of water and failing paddles, bringing the entire ship to spontaneous applause.

The paddle in the fjord was much more subdued as four of us enjoyed a relaxed a water-level view of the mighty bergs in all their frozen
splendour.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

One Ocean Expeditions - Northwest Passage


Akademik Ioffe at anchor near Sisimiut, Greenland

Ship: M/V Akademik Ioffe
Operator: One Ocean Expeditions
www.OneOceanExpeditions.com
Itinerary: Northwest Passage 12-26 August

Date: 14 August 2012
Location: Sisimiut, Greenland 66deg 27.5' N, 053deg 57.8' W

If Ponant's swank Le Boreal is an indicator of the future of adventure cruising, then One Ocean Expeditions'(OOE) Akademik Ioffe is a reminder of the original motivation behind the first expedition cruises stretching back to the ground-breaking Lindblad voyages of the '60s and '70s. That is, take a capable and robust vessel into the remote realms of the ocean in search of natural and cultural wonders.

Along with sister ship, Akademik Vavlilov, the Ioffe represents the cream of the former Soviet oceanographic (read:spy) fleet that operated in ice-choked Arctic waters undertaking research (read:surveillance) in the closing chapter of the cold war.

Operated by the state owned Russian Academy of Sciences (www.ocean.ru), the 117m, 6000 GT Ioffe was built in Finland in 1988 and carries typically 90 passengers for OOE on their Arctic and Antarctic voyages.

While the departing Ponant passengers carefully pack their sequinned GORETEX outer wear, incoming OOE guests toss their duffles onto the deck and instantly mingle in animated groups, chatting and sharing. We have a truly eclectic mix of travel professionals, hardened adventurers, academics, birders, media and even a couple of kids eagerly anticipating the historic polar journey.

Much more attention is given to the expedition and shore excursion schedule, with Ioffe merely a delivery mechanism for the enrichment and not the comparatively hedonistic refuge offered by Ponant.

The voyage culminates with a (hopefully) triumphant arrival in Coppermine CA on the 26th, but with all true expedition cruises, nothing is guaranteed and everything a bonus.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Sail the Amazon aboard SeaDream II


THERE'S a rare opportunity in February and March of next year to not only sail the Amazon River, but to do so aboard the world's most highly-rated boutique motor cruiser, SeaDream Yacht Club's 56-stateroom SeaDream II.

And depending on how much time you've available, you can choose a whole 20-days from Bridgetown in Barbados to Iquitos in Peru, or take shorter itineraries such as 10-days Bridgetown to Manaus in Brazil, 10-days Manaus to Iquitos, or any of these three in the reverse direction, or a 7-day return trip from Iquitos to some of the Amazon's most remote jungle towns and villages.

Prices start from US$6126pp twin-share for 7-days Iquitos return and from US$7731pp twin-share Bridgetown to Manaus or vice-versa, up to US$16,719pp twin-share for 20-days Bridgetown-Iquitos or vice-versa; airfares are additional.

Prices include all onboard 5-star dining and wines with lunch and dinner, drinks from the open bars, nightly cocktail gatherings, use of a 30-course golf simulator, services of local naturalists, botanists and historians at select points of interest as well as an Expedition Leader, onboard gratuities and port charges and taxes.

SeaDream II can carry a maximum 112-guests in 56-staterooms served by 95-crew; for full details see travel agents or visit www.seadream.com

SAILING HIGHLIGHTS: Depending on itineraries chosen, highlights of these unique sailings can include the infamous one-time French penal settlement of Devil's Island off French Guiana, Alto do Chao considered one of the most beautiful places in the Amazon Basin, Manaus with its famed "Opera House in the Jungle" that was first mooted during the rubber boom of the 1880s and took 15 years to build, and the Anavilhanas archipelago comprising100,000ha of islands and canals on the Rio Negro that's one of the largest of the Amazon's tributaries and the largest black-water river in the world.

There's also the opportunity to visit areas alive with birdlife, monkeys, dolphins and huge Victoria Amazonia water-lillies, take Zodiac safaris up narrow creeks, visit remote towns and one village whose population is just 40 families – even to be able to say you have swum in the Amazon.


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Cruise Weekly: Reykjavik – Kangerlussuaq aboard Ponant's Le Boréal


by Roderick Eime | www.cruiseweekly.com.au

Travelling again with Compagnie du Ponant reminds me that the world of expedition cruising is changing rapidly. The older, much loved and trusted vessels of the former Soviet oceanographic fleet and converted Baltic ferries are seeing their final years as this new echelon of state-of-the-art, purpose-built, environmentally friendly ships takes their place, luring those previously sitting on the fence with adventure cruising.

While I personally hope there will always be someone like NZ's harder-edged Heritage Expeditions continuing to offer wafer-thin niche voyages to unheard-of locations, the expedition sector is fast becoming more mainstream and it falls to companies like Ponant with their mix of modern, supremely comfortable ships and exciting destinations to take up the reins. I might lament that expedition cruising is no longer the sole domain of the determined and resilient eco-adventurer, yet more people than ever before are visiting the world's special places. Hopefully the more who do will vow to keep them special.

This trip also afforded a glimpse of Iceland, a mid-Atlantic country more recently known for economic collapse and unpronounceable volcanoes. Personally I found the otherwise overlooked little folk museums at Hafnarfjörður just near the wharf enthralling. Geysers are great, but humans make history.

Greenland, where we will spend most of our time on this cruise, is experiencing unprecedented melting of its huge ice cap. Glaciers are collapsing, filling the bays with bergs made of millennia-old ice while Inuit hunters who once patrolled in seal-skin canoes and harpoons, now motor out with rifles and come home to demountable cabins.

Just as well too I remembered to pack my tie as the call-up came to join Captain Etienne Garcia at his table for dinner. Captain Garcia, like so many modern ships' masters, is an agreeable combination of decades of nautical experience, a personable, congenial character and a keen eye for public relations. With a firm command of English, albeit with a thick Gallic flavouring, he enthralled the table with tales of his seafaring adventures with an obvious and justified pride in his current command.

"I'm looking forward to scouting Kamchatka with Nicolas (Dubreuil) our chef d'expédition," said Capt Garcia, "we're going to charter this little Russian boat, with maybe just six cabins to explore the new territories we visit with Le Soléal next year. Our Northwest Passage will be a marvellous too."

With Le Soléal, the third vessel of this type (Le Boréal being the first and prototype) joining the Ponant fleet next year, it follows that the company will be looking to add more enriching voyages to the sailing calendar. As you read this, the other three Ponant vessels are enjoying some hedonistic cruising in the Mediterranean, although Le Levant leaves the company in November to join Paul Gaugin in Tahiti. Le Diamant was sold last year and is now cruising as Ocean Diamond under charter to Quark Expeditions, while the namesake sailing ship, Le Ponant, will remain as company mascot.

For information on all Ponant sailings, visit Travel the World www.traveltheworld.com.au

Rod flew with Air Canada, the only airline to offer daily non-stop flights from Sydney to Vancouver. See www.aircanada.com


Greenland Highlights: Mon 6 August 2012. Ilulissat

Yesterday I recall waxing on about being impressed by icebergs. Big, blue, majestic ... and all that. Well, today I was really gob-smacked.

Again, after some extraordinary seamanship from Capt Garcia and his men, we arrived at the port of Ilulissat; a place that could easily be described as Iceberg Central and hub for the UNESCO World Heritage Ice Fjord that bears its name.

The morning began innocently enough with a hike out across the Sermermiut Valley to an overlook of the bay, choked with massive icebergs. There was a hint of mist, low sun and and mirror-still waters for an hour or so before thicker, nastier fog smothered the magic. But shutters ran hot and the results are captured forever both on digital and organic media.

There was time to check out downtown for an hour or so before another hike back to the port where Le Boreal's large, covered tenders were put to good use ferrying us to and fro. Apart from the numerous tour companies encamped near the city centre, there's not a lot else in this town, but I did uncover a museum dedicated to the memory of Knud Rasmussen, an Arctic explorer born in the town.

The day's grand finale was reserved for a quaint cruise among the bergs using a motley fleet of local boats, many showing signs of a hard life among the ice floes. Boarding from the marina was a bit of an adventure in itself with one of the larger old vessels refusing to come alongside until coaxed into position by a Zodiac acting as terrier tug.

As the flotilla set out into the evening mist, two things quickly dawned on us. One, it was seriously cold despite the last rays of the day and, two, the massive ice sculptures took on an most surreal, other-worldly appearance in the setting sun that even the normally chatty guests were reduced to silence. Our little boats putt-putted around at five knots, playing tag amid the growlers and brash ice and under the towering precipices of centuries old ice that loomed above us. It was a humbling, moving vista and quite likely the highlight for many. The religious few in our group could justifiably boast, "I told you so!"

You can read the naturalist guides' reports at: http://blog.ponant.com > Expeditions

Rod is travelling aboard Ponant's Le Boréal as a guest of Travel the World and flying Air Canada

Images:

Le Boreal all aglow in the midnight sun. Ilulissat. (R Eime)

Little local craft took gob-smacked guests on a midnight tour of the ice field. (R Eime)

The morning began with a hike to the Sermermiut Valley (R Eime)

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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Greenland Highlights: Sun 5 August 2012. Eqi Glacier

It doesn't matter how many times you see a glacier up close, these massive feats of nature cannot fail to impress you. Here in the 40,240ha UNESCO World Heritage-listed Illulissat Ice Fjord, it is one of the few places on Earth where you can witness these frozen monsters complete their millennia-long march to the sea, their impossibly slow journey ending in noisy catastrophe as they collapse and break at the ocean's edge.
While climate scientists remind us the grandeur of these events is a fast-closing chapter of the planet's cycle, it serves to spur us on to see them while we can. Watch as massive slices of ice drop from the glacier front into the sea with the crack of a cannon and a wave to match.
Capt Garcia and his team have their hands full, trying to squeeze this massive ship along the ice-choked channels of this fjord. Already he predicated a slow and difficult passage, but perseverance and more than a little skill in seamanship have seen us through, albeit behind schedule.
Le Boréal arrives at the Eqi Ice Camp, former base of the famous French explorer, Paul-Emile Victor. The view across the glacier is superb and we are blessed (again!) with perfect weather as the bands of hikers set out for their objectives. The 'Alpha' team hopes to reach the ice cap in a six hour round trip. "Beta", with me bringing up the rear, will do a three hour trek to wherever it can get to overlooking the glacier, while the remainder will stay at the Ice Camp, a group of a dozen or so huts and a tiny cafe to which we are not welcome. "It's just for guests and there are already too many people here," I am told when I enquire about a hot beverage. You have to love European subtlety and tact.
We forge on into a mighty head wind, climbing perhaps 800m and reaching the edge of the plateau, all the while treated to a breathtaking view of the glacier below. Next year, if gloomy predictions are correct, it will be an eight hour jog to the ice cap and back. Our respective hikes culminate in a Zodiac cruise near the glacier front, all the while the wind throws bursts of water spray into the boat, soaking those at the bow and just wetting the rest of us.
Of course, back aboard, a hot shower and warm drinks await us and Capt Garcia contemplates the 45NM return leg south to Illulissat, where we are supposed to be sometime after 2000hrs, but we are still gingerly picking our way through the ice field well after midnight with the occasional thud and vibration of a 'growler' (tiny iceberg) against the hull. I go to sleep nervously rehearsing the lifeboat drill.
You can read the naturalist guides' reports at: http://blog.ponant.com > Expeditions

Rod is travelling aboard Ponant's Le Boréal as a guest of Travel the World and flying Air Canada
Images:
Ice Camp Eqi at Port Victor, former base camp of Paul Emile Victor
Hikers set off for their objectives
Hikers from Le Boréal silhouetted against the massive Eqi Glacier
Le Boréal at anchor near the Eqi Glacier

Monday, 6 August 2012

Greenland Highlights: Sat. 4 August 2012. Kitsisarssuit.






Life above the Arctic Circle has to be tough and here in the little village of Kitsisarssuit, 250 km north of the polar line we get a glimpse of a real Inuit village and meet the people up close.

Just a couple of hundred folks live here on an island not far from the famous UNESCO World Heritage glacier near Ilulissat and their life revolves around fishing and hunting. We arrive by Zodiac from Le Boréal to a little sheltered harbour crammed with runabout-size fishing boats. Ugly scorpion fish, a wide ravenous mouth attached to a pointed tail and little else, congregate beneath the wharf.


The children play on a swinging pole or with their pet dogs. Because the fast ice no longer reaches the village in winter, they have no further use of dogs so the old wooden sleds lay rotting and abandoned along with fishing debris and plastic barrels strewn among the carcases of dead outboard motors. The latter seemingly have a very short life span in this environment.

There's a little school and post office and a diesel power station. On the hill overlooking the village is an oversize microwave dish and radio outpost behind which is a cemetery that appears much larger than necessary. There are no roads, hence no cars, yet what appears to be the local taxi is a dinky ATV running shuttle rides along the paths.

Today the residents have set up a little tent for us and have some crafts and local delicacies on offer. One smiling man is gleefully cutting slivers of whale meat, probably minke, for the suspicious guests to try. He cuts me a tiny morsel about the size of the end of my little finger. I tried whale sushi in Svalbard some time ago and recall it was surprisingly tasty, but this offering reminds me of the muk tuk (cured whale blubber) I sampled in Siberia earlier. Both had the same effect (yuck) and it's a taste that stayed with me the rest of the day.

You can read the naturalist guides' reports at: http://blog.ponant.com > Expeditions

Rod is travelling aboard Ponant's Le Boréal as a guest of Travel the World and flying Air Canada

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Greenland Highlights: Friday 3 August 2012. Nuuk, Greenland

Inuit girls from 1906 from photo at National Museum [www.natmus.gl]
The old town of Nuuk.
After a slow and foggy leg from the very bottom of Greenland, Le Boréal makes port in the misty capital of this land, Nuuk.

By virtue of its ties with Denmark (the currency is Danish Kroner), Nuuk is the most northerly capital of Europe even though it appears more a part of North America. With a population of just 15,000-odd, this makes Nuuk one of the smallest capitals by population.

Masks form a part of Inuit mythology and theatre
A small band of us opt for an energetic walk from the port across town to the National Museum which, although small, is packed with valuable and interesting stuff from the last few hundred years including mummies, canoes, artefacts and photography. There's time for a few postcards and a walk around the few shopping spots downtown. New Nuuk is a vast contrast from the dainty old Scandinavian inspired settlement down near the waterfront and museum. Instead of quaint, brightly painted bungalows, there are drab Soviet-style housing blocks in rows that stand in contrast to the cheerful village atmosphere of the old town.

A modern commuter bus takes us back to the container wharf where Le Boréal is tied up and we head out into the gloom once again. Around 4pm Capt Garcia calls from the bridge that more whales are sighted.

"Bonjour, votre commandant ici. Whales to port and starboard," he calls excitedly on the PA, "humpbacks, four or five at least, they are everywhere!"

After a delay to observe the whales, we continue north to cross the Arctic Circle sometime during the night.

You can read the naturalist guides' reports at: http://blog.ponant.com > expeditions

Rod is travelling aboard Ponant's Le Boréal as a guest of Travel the World and flying Air Canada

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Greenland Highlights: Wednesday 1 August 2012. Hvalsø, Narsaq



Just as Iceland isn't particularly icy, neither is Greenland particularly green. But over here on the south-western shores, there was just enough green for the early Norse settlers to get a toehold and today we visited the remains of the little village of Hvalsø.

This tiny farming village was little more than a church and central residence with around ten satellite buildings, the church being the most substantial remnant. Historians reckon it was established late in the first millennium, perhaps 985AD until the 15th century, when it seemed most of the Norse colonists were done with Greenland. Fabulous weather meant it was a breeze to stroll around in shirt sleeves and the view across the bay was superb. A nearby farmer continued to run a small flock of sheep and his house could be seen about a kilometre along the bay.

 

The afternoon was a casual affair, anchored in the bay off Narsaq where the Zodiacs came out again to inspect the many bergs and growlers grounded there. Some guests set off in kayaks to explore them up close. We didn't visit the town, more's the pity.

Life aboard the luxury expedition ship, Le Boreal, is comfortable and even a bit decadent. With just 260 passengers (when full) the ship never feels crowded.

You can read the naturalist guides' reports at: http://blog.ponant.com > expedition

Rod is travelling aboard Ponant’s Le Boreal as a guest of Travel the World

Madagascar and Southern Africa Adventures On Board Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

WINTER 2012 AND 2013

The HANSEATIC and the BREMEN Provide Up-Close Voyages Through Madagascar with Maiden Calls

Mighty Baobabs and majestic volcanic mountains between untouched rainforests and wonderful beaches, make Madagascar, the jewel of the Indian Ocean. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises will be offering two expedition trips through Madagascar and Southern Africa in December 2012 and December 2013 onboard the MS HANSEATIC and the MS BREMEN, with maiden calls on both itineraries. The HANSEATIC, the world's only 5-star expedition ship and the BREMEN, a 4-star plus expedition ship, according to the 2012 Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, were created to provide intensive exploration in the most elegant surroundings for a maximum of 184 guests on the HANSEATIC and 164 guests on the BREMEN.

An exotic flora and fauna has developed on Madagascar that does not exist anywhere else on earth. There are more than 12,000 species of plants recorded on Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world. Guests will experience lemurs in pristine nature, animals in the wild, and wonderful beaches on romantic coasts.

Winter 2012: The HANSEATIC will make stops at six new ports along her tropic adventure in December 2012, which include stops in the following new ports in Madagascar: Maroantsetra, Nosy Hara, Morondava, Nosy Ve, and Toliara and a first time stop in Mozambique, at the picturesque city of Ilha dos Portugueses.

Optional shore excursions: Hiking in Masoala National Park to see lemurs in the rainforest, canoeing to Lokobe Nature Reserve, zodiac landings on Nosy Lakandava and Nosy Hara for swimming between coral reefs and rock formations, a safari in Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa, and a visit to the Addo Elephant Park, also in South Africa.

Trip Details: This 16-day itinerary is from December 3-19, 2012, from Port Louis/Mauritius to Cape Town/South Africa. Rates start at $7,750 per person for an outside cabin.

Winter 2013: Guests will join the BREMEN as she calls on the west coast of Madagascar for the first time. New ports of call in Madagascar include: Nosy Hara, Mahajanga, Morondava and Nosy Be.

Optional shore excursions: Hiking in Lokobe Nature Reserve to admire gigantic trees and bird watching, a boat ride to Nosy Komba, also know as "lemur island," snorkeling on Nosy Lakandava and Nosy Hara, a visit to the Zulu village of Kwabhekithunga in South Africa and a safari to view the "Big Five," also in South Africa.

Trip Details: This 17-day itinerary is from December 1-18, 2013, from Port Louis/Mauritius to Cape Town/South Africa. Rates start at $7,020 per person for an outside cabin.

Expedition Travel At Its Best:
Both ships are well equipped for travel in difficult waters, holding the highest ice class ranking for passenger vessels (E4). Also shallow drafts and high manoeuvrability allow the ships to enter waters larger cruise vessels cannot reach. Guests explore the world's best-kept secrets in zodiacs (small motorized boats) with only 10-12 guests. Onboard experts include a team of experienced scientists, expedition leaders and specialists who guide landings and offer guests the rare opportunity to observe plant and animal life up close.

Booking/Information:
For more information on the exciting expedition itineraries offered visit www.hl-cruises.com.
For bookings, inquiries or to request a brochure call one of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' sales agencies below:
In the USA and Canada:
Euro Lloyd Travel Group, Inc. 1-800-782-3924
Kartagener Associates, Inc. 1-877-445-7447
AU: www.discountcruising.com.au

Hurtigruten sister ships in Tromsø for New Year's Eve

Christmas and New Year's voyages through the Norwegian winter wonderland

Tromsø, July 2012 - If you want to spend this year's Christmas and New Year period away from the festive hustle and bustle at home, let yourself be enchanted by a Hurtigruten voyage through the Norwegian winter wonderland. This season's highlight: the sister ships MS Trollfjord and MS Midnatsol will see in the New Year together in Tromsø.
For MS Midnatsol and MS Trollfjord, the 2012/13 New Year celebrations promise to be truly special: accompanied by a colourful fireworks display, these sister ships and their guests are set to celebrate the turn of the year together in Tromsø. The Christmas holidays aboard Hurtigruten are also packed with many highlights. In full Norwegian tradition, guests can look forward to a multitude of festive and joyous activities on board. Wintery shore excursions and a new multi-vision show about the fascinating Northern Lights round off the programme.
Festive activities on board
Christmas in Norway is primarily a social experience – and this is no different aboard Hurtigruten. The crew and guests jointly decorate the vessel and Christmas tree with Christmas decorations made on board, and learn Norwegian Christmas songs together. Norwegian festive treats such as "Julekake", a sweet Christmas bread with raisins, candied lemon peel, nuts and cardamom should not be missed. On 24 December, all Hurtigruten ships will moor in their respective destination ports for approximately 24 hours. In each location, the Hurtigruten guests are cordially invited to attend Christmas mass at the local churches. Christmas Eve is then celebrated on board with the crew and guests, where Julenissen, the Norwegian Father Christmas, pays the ships a visit. All guests then come together to ring in the New Year in the harbour, lit up by fireworks (in Tromsø), with dance and a champagne toast.
Winter adventure – the Hurtigruten shore excursion programme
Guests who not only want to enjoy the festive atmosphere on board but also experience the Norwegian Winter's Tale on shore should not miss an extraordinary outdoor event on the agenda: the excursion to Camp Tamok lets participants experience "pure winter". Equipped with warm winter clothes, participants are introduced to three methods of winter locomotion: take off for a winter safari through the Arctic from Finnsnes to Tromsø on dog sledges, snowmobiles and reindeer sledges. Hurtigruten's winter concept "Hunting the Light" lays on further exciting and varied excursions.
New Northern Lights multi-vision show
When winter comes, the polar lights return to the arctic skies. This season, the chances of seeing the aurora borealis are once again extremely high, with solar activity still at a maximum. As well as a fair prospect of enjoying the aurora borealis, those who join Hurtigruten on the trail of the fascinating polar lights can also enjoy the captivating multi-vision show of the Norwegian solar scientist Pål Brekke onboard each ship for the first time this winter. This impressive show is also part of the winter programme, "Hunting the Light".
Hurtigruten is a world leader in expedition cruising and is represented in Australia by Discover the World Marketing.
For more information or to make a booking, contact Discover the World Marketing on 1800 OCEANS (1800 623 267) or email hurtigruten@discovertheworld.com.au

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Iceland: All Steamed Up

The famous Blue Lagoon thermal baths began when water
from the nearby geothermal power station started leaking. (R Eime)
The Icelandic horse is an attractive and good-natured animal
and much loved by natives. I'm told they are also tasty.
From editor, Roderick Eime, aboard Ponant's Le Boreal
Itinerary: Reykjavik - Kangerlussuaq 28/7-9/8 2012
Sunday 29 July 2012, Reykjavik, Iceland

Nowadays when you think of Iceland, you're more likely to recall a land of financial catastrophes and unpronounceable volcanoes than a vast Arctic island twice the size of Switzerland with a romantic Nordic heritage and strong, resourceful inhabitants.

Arriving by aircraft will give you an immediate idea this is no ordinary land. There is no passport control and no obvious customs barriers. The airline, Iceland Air (FI), operates a fleet of ageing Boeing 757s and must be the largest single operator of this orphan type from Seattle. The cabin crew are attractive females in classic uniforms who, I'm sure, could evacuate the entire aircraft in 90 seconds even if all the passengers were unconscious. It's a bit of a bumpy landing, but then the windsock looks more like a set-square.

Volcanism is the basis of Iceland's creation
and is on show at locations like Krysuvik (R Eime)
I first heard of Reykjavik when the great Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer had their cold war chess showdown in 1972. I imagined a land encased in a vast glacier and wondered why these two chess masters would go to this unlikely place for a chess match on a card table in giant ice field. The naming of Iceland and its massive neighbour, Greenland, is also a story in itself. Iceland is green and Greenland is one massive glacier, albeit a rapidly melting one these days.

As a primer, the rolling screen on the Iceland Air seatback (the one you get when you don't pay for the inflight movies) tells you Icelanders enjoy a high standard of living and with most of the 300,000 nationals possessing a university degree yet the same percentage continue to believe in elves. Makes you wonder who was running the banks a few years back. The Prime Minister is a woman and so is the head of the church and, so my guide tells me with a smirk, men soon hope to have equality.

Iceland commands a healthy tourism industry with visitors arriving both by air and sea. While land-based visitors might indulge in some hiking and climbing in the lunar-like landscape, seaborne arrivals will typically arrive at the wharf in Hafnarfjörður, the historic harbour which once housed Iceland's famous fleet of tiny fishing boats and is home to the island's mysterious elves.

It's easy to overlook some of the dinky little houses and folk museums around from the wharf in your rush to get amongst the lava fields and opal-hued steam baths. Such is the imperative of modern tourism, but see the port museum [www.portofhafnarfjordur.is] if you can.

Either way, the iconic Blue Lagoon thermal baths are a great success, especially when you consider the whole thing began with a leaky power station. Today it seems every postcard and brochure will feature these lurid ponds dotted with willing bathers lolling about in the steamy overflow. The gift shop must rival the island's fishing industry for foreign exchange, with pricey salves, lotions, designer wear and trinkets marching out the door with the constant stream of towel-toting tourists.

Cruise tourists will typically embark on a range of shore tours that include such natural attractions as the world's original geyser, called Geysir, or Gullfoss (the Golden Waterfall). The Reykjanes Peninsula is where buses head for the Blue Lagoon thermal spas in the Krysuvik area. The main shore tour operators are www.atlantik.is and www.re.is

For details of this itinerary and others from Ponant, see www.traveltheworld.com.au

Greenland Highlights: Tuesday 31 July 2012 Cape Farewell and Prince Christian Sound

With Iceland behind us, Le Boreal sails for the massive mini-continent of Greenland. Our crossing of the Denmark Strait is uneventful in perfect conditions. Capt Garcia, master of Le Boreal, likens this sometimes tempestuous body of water to a "mini Drake Passage", but today we have a Denmark Lake. A lone Blue Whale escorts us for a short distance bringing amazed passengers quickly on deck for this gold medal opportunity.

Soon after land was sighted mid-afternoon, the call came out that a large pod of whales was sighted dead ahead and just a few nautical miles from the coast off Cape Farewell at the southern extreme of Greenland itself. Capt Garcia brought the vessel to a halt and we were surrounded by a mixed pod of Fin and Minke Whales. Jose, our mammal expert, was beside himself, never having witnessed such a spectacle. We reckon there were as many thirty animals in the pod, with at least half being the massive Fin Whales, the world's second largest whale after the rare Blue Whale.

With perfect visibility, Le Boreal enters Prince Christian Sound, a narrow channel much like Magellan's in Patagonia and tonight we will navigate its length and emerge on the sheltered west coast in the morning. But before dinner there is time to put out the Zodiacs to explore one of Greenland's many glaciers.