Wednesday 29 March 2017

Aranui 5 - the freighter to paradise


Aranui 5, the passenger-cum-cargo ship which departs every three weeks from Papeete in Tahiti to visit the Tuamotu Archipelago, Bora Bora in the Society Islands, and the world's most remote archipelago, the Marquesas, has released details of its Polynesian cruise programme for 2018.

Dubbed 'the freighter to paradise' the ship is a lifeline to the inhabitants of these exotic locations, transporting everything from dried coconut meat and citrus fruit, to brake pads and bulldozers!

Each day of the voyage brings panoply of glorious sights from turquoise lagoons, rainbow coloured coral and tropical fish, to spectacular volcanic scenery, towering cliffs, magnificent waterfalls and traditional stone tiki statues.

Guests may choose to relax, meet the warm and welcoming locals, learn about ancient traditions and the artistic heritage of the Polynesian culture, or join a soft adventure excursion to explore the islands more deeply.

Many onshore excursions are included in the itinerary, allowing passengers to hop on to one of the whale boats and travel to high mountains, white, pink and black sand beaches, a working pearl farm or incredible archaeological sights.

Optional excursions are also available at an additional cost, and include popular 4WD off-road tours, helicopter flights, horse riding and a 10-mile hike.

Among the Aranui's departure dates are several that qualify for a 10% discount on 14-day cruises, including January 13th, March 29th and June 12th 2018.

Alternatively, there is also a special 10% senior discount for over 60s on the two-week 2nd October 2018 departure, or a 10% discount on any 14-day voyage for repeat bookers. Only one discount per booking may be used.

Prices for a 14-day package on this 2,200-mile round trip start from 4,089 euros per person, based on two sharing a standard double room.

This includes all taxes, meals and wine during meals on board, planned excursions, expert lecturers and guides, a primarily Polynesian crew, plus facilities such as a swimming pool, fitness room, spa, bars, restaurant, lounges, library, video and computer room.

For further information about cruises on board Aranui 5, visit

Cruise aboard Ponant Le Soleal: Amazon birding


On every expedition cruise you're bound to meet 'twitchers', those with an obsessive fascination for birds and a burning ambition to see as many of the world's 10,000-something species in a lifetime. You'll find them huddled away at the end of the day, swapping notes and filling out their 'life lists' of observed species. However, even the most dedicated among them, including our PhD biologists like Dr Christophe Thebaud, admit to barely scratching the surface. It's no surprise then that 'birders' flock together on any cruise venturing into such rich environments.

The Amazon is a no-brainer for birders because within this vast region, you can expect to find a full one third of all known bird species. Dr Chris tells us that in one little 50sqkm patch of southern Peru, you might be able to see as many 200-300 species in a day, and in the course of a week, see almost as many as the entire species count for all of Europe (700). Colombia has some 1900 species alone with many of those endemic to the country.

The same incredible biodiversity can be applied to fish, butterflies, other animals and plants of all types. Preserving what's left of the primary forests of Brazil and the rest of the Amazon Basin, is therefore of utmost urgency if we want to arrest the alarming rate of loss of species already being experienced.

Birders therefore are ardent conservationists and a dead giveaway. They are wedded to their pair of Swarovski binoculars and converse in terms of 'lesser speckled', 'white throated' and 'brown winged' objects. 

Spotting birds with your premium Austrian binos is one thing, photographing them at a distance of 100+m from a bobbing Zodiac with modest kit is quite another, so the examples I offer you here were produced with some dedication, patience and more than a little frustration.

Monday 27 March 2017

Cruise aboard Ponant le Soleal: Amazon. Up a raging river


The romantic visions of the Amazon with their near-naked indigenous tribes living a subsistence lifestyle beneath the jungle canopy, hunting monkeys and deer with poison-tipped blow darts is just that. Unless you are prepared to trek and live for weeks like some Bear Grylls, it's best to dispel this myth now.

Since leaving Belem a few days back, Captain Debien and his team have expertly navigated the 142m Le Soleal more than 500nM through the jungle-lined waterways as far inland as Santarem, stopping at least twice a day to launch our Zodiacs on excursions into the dense undergrowth lining this powerful river, the largest by volume on Earth.

Birders, in particular, are rejoicing in the diversity of species sighted on every outing. Waders, raptors and waterbirds of every sort are ticked off. We even sight the bizarre hoatzin, a bird so ancient it has more in common with dinosaurs than any of the rest of its feathered genera. Sublime pink dolphins and fearsome caiman pop up regularly to check on our progress while howler monkeys, sloths, iguanas and bats survey us from above.

This entire region is populated by people with ethnicities that include predominately Portuguese and indigenous indian, but there are plenty of French, Dutch and Spanish genes in this deep pool as well. The port towns of Santarem, Mojuizim and Guarja support thriving populations with their multitude of satellite stilt villages connected, not by road, but by busy little ferry 'buses' zig-zagging across the torrent to transport workers, students and entire families back and forth.

It's widely known that the Amazon basin, from here to Peru, Ecuador and beyond, has been brutally exploited for mankind's short term needs such as timber, minerals, soy beans and cattle ranching. While wholesale ravaging of Brazils' jungles has eased, it wasn't long ago that it was vanishing at the rate of a soccer field every eight seconds, leaving an area the size of Turkey (750,000 sq km) stripped of important biodiversity.

All the regions we visit are long since denuded of their primary rainforest and valuable timbers. While these vast tracts are now listed as 'protected', that protection only extends to those few hardy forest species that have regenerated after initial clearing. Imagine a Renoir or Monet painting in black and white.

While it is encouraging to see such luxuriant growth and a great many native plants and animals living untroubled in the new foliage, many critical species will never return, exiled to those declining areas of technicolor primary rainforest hidden deep in the bosom of Brazil's Amazon basin.

While this may sound a depressing tale, it nevertheless underlines the urgency for those with the inquisitive passion to see for themselves the state of our Earth, for better or worse, and gather those observations and memories for future generations.

Yes, I know I sound like a broken record, but if it weren't for adventure cruise and travel companies like Ponant prepared to invest and seek out these special locations, the enrichment contained in such exceptional ecosystems, environments and civilisations may well never be seen by the likes of you and me.

For further information about Ponant's vast range of expeditions and destinations, see

Saturday 25 March 2017

Cruise the Amalfi Coast with Peter Sommer Travels


Australian travellers can explore Italy's spectacular Amalfi Coast by yacht this spring, with archaeological tour specialist Peter Sommer Travels offering two new sailings in September.

Escorted by archaeologist Dr Sophy Downes and art historian Francesca del Vecchio, the eight-day Cruising the Amalfi Coast tour offers a unique perspective on one of the world's most famous coastlines, with holidaymakers enjoying the comforts of a traditional Turkish gulet boat which has been stylishly refitted in Italy.

The tour visits some of the best known destinations in the area including the isle of Capri, the ruins of Pompeii and breathtaking Amalfi, as well as lesser known sites such as the ancient underwater city at Baia and the outstanding Roman frescoes of the Villa Oplontis.

Penguin-spotting in Antarctica


Time to go penguin-spotting: Antarctica home to millions more penguins than thought

Antarctica is home to almost double as many penguins as previously thought, according to research data revealed by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) last week, showing the population of Adélie penguins is nearly six million. This is 3.6 million more than previous estimates.

According to the AAD, the reason for the undercount was that previous population surveys had only taken into account breeding pairs but not non-breeding birds. This time, however, researchers counted both groups.

"Penguins are undoubtedly one of the most-loved species of wildlife in the world and a highlight of any Antarctica trip" said Chad Carey, co-founder of Australia's Antarctica specialist Chimu Adventures.

"At least one in three questions we get from clients booking a trip to Antarctica, involves penguins – where to see them, what species there are, how to interact with them, to name only a few. This shows us what a massive drawcard they are for Antarctica travel."

On top of Adélie penguins, there is a plethora of species to be found– from King Penguins to Macaroni Penguins, Rockhopper Penguins and Emperor Penguins, Antarctica has so much to offer for the wildlife lover.

Chimu Adventures has revealed a list of their top five hot spots for penguin-spotting in Antarctica and the Subantarctic:

1) South Georgia

This rugged and rarely visited Sub-Antarctic island lays about 800 miles east of the Falklands and is virtually unspoilt by man. Commonly referred to as the "Galapagos of the South", South Georgia is home to four breeding species of penguin and the largest colony of King Penguins (the second largest penguin) on the planet, as well as sheltering the Macaroni Penguin, a species that is not often seen on the Peninsula.

2) Ross Sea

Found off south western Antarctica, the Ross Sea is both the richest and most vulnerable ecosystem on Earth. Adélie is the most abundant species of penguin in the Ross Sea. Although smallest in size, the Adelie penguin is full of energy having been recorded swimming as far as 300km to forage for food for their chicks.

3) Macquarie Island

Located in the southwest corner of the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, Macquarie Island has been designated a World Heritage Site and is described by the United Nations Environment Programme as "the most diverse and extensive of all Sub-Antarctic archipelagos". Macquarie Island is home to the largest colony of Royal Penguins.

4) Snow Hill Island

An almost completely snow-capped island located off the east coast off the Antarctic Peninsula, Snow Hill Island is home to an Emperor Penguin Rookery – the tallest penguin on earth. Visiting the rookery in what is one of the world's most remote areas, is a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.

5) Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are a remote South Atlantic archipelago located east from South America's southern Patagonian coast. There are five penguin species breeding on the islands: King Penguins, Rockhopper penguins, Magellanic penguins, Gentoo penguins, and Macaroni penguins.

For more information on how to see Antarctica's penguins click here.

Friday 24 March 2017

From aboard Ponant le Soleal: Belem, Arrival Amazonia


If it weren't for the brown turbid waters and the little powered canoes, you'd think the city of Belem was a mini Miami or Surfers Paradise with all the slender high-rises piercing the low clouds.

This busy port was the site of the first European settlement in the Amazon dating way back to 1616 and is actually situated on the Guama River, one of the many arteries that comprise the massive Amazon Delta. Some 300 kilometres wide, this network dumps water into the Atlantic at the astonishing rate of one litre for every person on Earth every second – or so my guide Cicero tells me.

Cicero (fabulous name, I say) at 64, is a true man of the jungle and makes our visit to Belem a truly enriching experience. He spent 10 years living on a patch of primary forest way downstream and only came back to civilisation to put his kids through school.

"The government gave many people land when the highway was built about 40 years ago," he tells us, "but that's all you got. 'Here's your land' they said, pointing to the forest. 'bye bye'. So for many years, it was very hard work."

Our day starts with Cicero walking us through the local market on the riverside, a stone's throw from where Le Soleal is moored at the old rubber industry wharf, now long disused and slowly being converted to restaurants and shops.

All manner of peculiar fruit and vegetables unfamiliar to Western eyes are arrayed for our inspection. Names like cupuacu, bacuri, tapereba and acerola are piled in vivid stacks on the wobbly trestles. Like dense little apples, the acai fruit is the only one I recognise.

"This fruit has made the fortune of the river people," Cicero says, "and we export this all over the world for its miraculous medicinal properties. Once we had rubber, now it's acai!"

Cicero's eyes light up when I ask to try some of these colourful elixirs and I hand him a few rials (about $5) and ask him to buy some of the juices for us. The plastic cups are handed around and produce an amusing range of expressions as the unfamiliar liquids assails our taste buds. Our regenerating livers, revitalised synapses and vanishing kidney stones rejoice in unison.

Deeper inside the historic shed we meet Batu, a feisty woman of 70-something who presents us with a baffling range of jungle remedies and potions. A small photo gallery shows her many celebrity clientele.

"She's a shaman, you know," Cicero whispers with a glint in his eye.

I notice many intriguing little vials dangling in clusters from her stall when one catches my eye.

"What does this do?" I ask innocently.

"It makes you irresistible!" Cicero confirms, "and this, well you put it on your ..." His forefinger dabbing vigorously on his upturned thumb. Batu reinforces its unique property with a most unambiguous gesture. Okay.

The fish market reveals an even more astonishing variety of produce with several species looking like prototypes for the next Ridley Scott movie.

After lunch, we motor upriver a short distance with Cicero and visit a plot of secondary forest where we meet big furry spiders, industrious ants and a few remaining kapok trees, once the lords of this jungle. Our local hosts offer us a powerful spirit made from sugar cane and some mysterious leaves. I try a thimbleful and my tongue immediately electrifies. Imagine a sherbet bomb that transforms into a kaleidoscope of flavours, each detonating at predetermined intervals and lasting several minutes. I turn to ask Cicero what the heck I'd just sipped and he's laughing uproariously. My reaction is a pleasure he clearly enjoys.

On the return journey, past the many little stilt houses and moored ferries, we discuss the radical changes in the jungle he has witnessed over a lifetime and not all tell a cheery tale.

"Our president (Lula) introduced palm oil a few years ago," he says through a furrowed brow, "and now we have these [expletive] green deserts that have each destroyed hundreds of jobs for the people."

Today is one occasion that proves expedition cruising is much more than just sightseeing in exotic locations. It's a chance to meet and interact with local communities and their people and hear their stories. Listen and you soon start to understand their triumphs and challenges and how the ripples of change spread all around the world, affecting others at the farthest reaches of the planet. Something to ponder as you push your trolley down the supermarket aisle.

For further information about Ponant cruises:

Wednesday 22 March 2017

From aboard Ponant Le Soleal: Who cruises Ponant and why?


Bon appetit! (Clockwise from bottom left) Margaret and
Neil from Perth, Sue and Dennis from Arizona, myself, Noel and Elizabeth from Sydney.

It's always an interesting survey to chat to fellow passengers aboard any of the world's diverse fleet of expedition and boutique ships and Ponant follows a similar pattern to that genre of softer adventure vessels offering higher levels of onboard amenities and comforts mixed with enthralling destinations.

This second leg of my South American voyage sees Le Soleal sailing to its 264-passenger capacity. The make-up is cosmopolitan but predictably skewed toward French nationals and our Anglophone contingent of about 10 per cent comprises over-50s Australians, Brits, Germans, Americans and a couple from Hong Kong. It would be fair to call them either "well to do" or financially comfortable. No one is telling me they've scrimped and saved to be aboard. They understand you get what you pay for and, believe me, they expect it too.

Despite our small number, all announcements and printed material is in both French and English. Hotel staff, lecturers and crew are either fluent in English or sufficiently bilingual to converse without hesitation.

In contrast to many of the 'purist' expedition ships, our passengers have considerably more experience on conventional 'white ships'. They enjoy the comfortable offerings like semi-formal and flexible dining, superior cabin fittings and décor as well as ample public spaces like swank bars and lounges. It's the smaller ship, fewer numbers and more intimate atmosphere that is a consistent comment among our group when citing Ponant as part of their brag-bag.

Neil, Noel, Liz and Margaret with our English-speaking guide, Barbara, from Austria (who was a delight)

"It's friendly and generally a good mix of passengers," says Liz from Sydney, a former Orion passenger on her third voyage with Ponant, now shunning the larger ships, "The variety of destinations and excellent excursions top it off."

Nicholas, an ex-pat Brit from Hong Kong, loves to "stack 'em up" and frequently sails back-to-back voyages. He and his wife have an astonishing seven Ponant cruises lined up for this year alone.

"We love to sail Ponant and when I apply all my loyalty discounts and early booking bonuses, I can get quite a saving," he says, "and the excursions cater for all levels of activity and ability, so there's always something for you even if you're not feeling particularly energetic."

Margaret and Neil from Perth have eight Ponant cruises under their belt and Neil has developed a special relationship with Eric the sommelier. Many a cheeky wink is exchanged before a special bottle of Bordeaux is brought to the table. Although Margaret cites the itineraries, ship and excursions as her priority criteria, clearly Neil has an affinity with the French grape and Eric's comprehensive cellar.

Now just to dispel that hackneyed cliché about travelling with Americans, Sue and Dennis are third-timers from Arizona and have seamlessly grafted themselves onto our Antipodean clique. Dennis is a big fan of the all-inclusive policy, not because he's a conspicuous consumer, but rather the peace of mind knowing there are no surprises come check out time. Sharp and inquisitive, Sue thrives on the enrichment given during expedition outings and lectures given by Ponant's expert team.

As this is my third time aboard Ponant, it's now easy to see the attraction for those of a certain ilk. Dress code is chic but not ostentatious with an emphasis on comfort and practicality. Without too much exception, guests are worldly and successful in their own right with a wealth of lifetime experiences generously shared with like minds at mealtimes and without a sense of intimidation.

Why not try your own Ponant experience? Talk to your preferred travel agent because there isn't too much of the world without Ponant ship exploring there at some time.



Tuesday 21 March 2017

From On board Ponant le Soleal: Say Hello to Sao Luis


Unlike most of Brazil, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Sao Luis has French origins and was founded in 1612 by a royal consortium under the name Saint Louis de Maragnan.

Today most of the heritage buildings are occupied by shops or artisans but a great many remain unoccupied and in varying states of (dis)repair. The usual churches, civic buildings and hotels make up the balance.

Dark clouds and rain welcomed us, but broke just long enough for us to stroll through the cobbled streets and admire the mostly 19th century houses lining the narrow lanes and alleyways.

It was pleasing to see the city welcoming us with some performances of traditonal music and dance in the square and a particularly exhilarating carnivale-style demonstration in one of the empty spaces. It would have been extra special to see it outside in the square where it was planned, but the clouds threatened to send the mascara running.

The dance is called Bumba Boi and tells a folk tale about a villager's pregnant wife who craved bull's tongue and incurred the wrath of the farmer who owned the beast of her desires. Seemed a flamboyant and boisterous way to celebrate such an event, but to our advantage.

Monday 20 March 2017

From aboard Ponant Le Soleal: Oh for Olinda


Gilbert is probably the most enthusiastic guide I have ever had. If 'enthusiasm' can be measured in an ability to talk without drawing breath, then he is the winner, hands down.

Every seemingly minor detail is punctuated with an urgent "look over there!", "see what I mean!" or "you can take a photo of that!" in his charming staccato style.

We are on a shore excursion from Le Soleal on our changeover day in the city of Recife in the north-east of Brazil. Recife shares a similar history with so many coastal cities of Brazil. With an official foundation in the early 16th century it soon developed into an important Portuguese trading port that attracted envious attention from the Dutch, who made themselves unwelcome for a period in the mid-17th century before being asked to leave in a forthright manner by the locals.

We don't hang around the city centre, rather we join Gilbert's tiny Anglophone group with his voluminous narrative of the outlying cultural centre of Olinda. Listed by UNESCO in 1982, the little cobblestoned streets and squares are interrupted by churches and civic buildings painted in a variety of pastel hues without the influence of incongruous modern structures. That is, except the old water tower on the hill above the church of Sao Salvador. An elevator has been installed to the rooftop, and for a paltry R8- (about $4) you can ride it to the top to enjoy a panoramic view.

We gather in the square below where a few trinket stalls encourage us to fritter our dollars on carved and sewn items whose little charm is smothered by their homogeneity.

"Please enjoy your coconut and take a seat and rest or buy a souvenir!" Gilbert urges as we mingle awkwardly among the imploring vendors while slurping our gigantic fruit. My request to investigate the tower is dismissed with "we don't have time, please stay together". Five minutes later, our awkwardness undiminished and the empty coconuts piled high, I make my intentions clear and stroll purposefully to the little turnstile at the base. It is indeed a great view above the power lines and air conditioners that obstructed my outlook from the plaza.

We cautiously walk the short distance over the uneven cobblestones, gazing into the dainty little houses along the narrow sidewalks, to another church with the same gilded Madonna and where more copious descriptions ensue. My capacity to absorb any further detail of the Catholicisation of Brazil is long exhausted and I retreat to the small plaza to observe scraggy pigeons peck at the sand between the weathered stones.

Now don't get me wrong, Olinda is every bit the enchanting historic town with much to commend it. It just seems that, apart from the few merchants and their baubles, nobody knew were coming.

After a quick stop to photograph the Recife town square with its attendant fountain and colonial structures, our tour winds up back at the port where we navigate another cavernous, underutilised passenger terminal back to Le Soleal tied up at the wharf.

Igreja da Se (church) from the water tower
Igreja de Sao Joao (church)
Guests admire giant carnivale 'puppets' 
Carnivale decorations along Olinda's streets

Next: we head north west toward the Amazon

Sunday 19 March 2017

Cruise aboard Ponant 'Le Soleal': Days at Sea

From aboard Ponant 'Le Soleal'

'In the heart of Brazil'

Days at Sea

Small ship cruising is not always about 'expeditions' and on Ponant's Brazilian voyage between Montevideo in Uruguay and Recife in the north of Brazil, Captain Debien and his crew skippered this superb vessel more than 4000km making just two stops along the route.

Apart from our days ashore at Rio and Salvador de Bahia, there was plenty of time for good, old fashioned relaxing time at sea. On today's massive cruise liners, it's quite possible to sail for days on end without the sight of land and still have jolly time with all manner of distractions from water parks and ice rinks to lavish theatre productions and gourmet events.

Ponant's quartet of 142m, 264-passenger vessels are a chic package of both expedition ability and luxurious onboard amenities. There's the Sothy Spa, a 300-seat theatre for cinema, stage shows and lectures, a pool and comfortable lounges and bars.

During sea days, guests can do as much or as little as they like, but there is always something on offer. Lecturer, Jean-Luis Joret, enlightens us on history, culture and geography and we can later test our comprehension during one of cruise director, Axelle's daily quizzes. There are films in the theatre, morning exercises with the dancers, card and board games, dance classes, wine tasting with sommelier Eric, musical recitals with pianist Eugene or just quiet time in the Observation Lounge way up on Deck 6.

Thing are about to get more rigorous as I back up for the 'Over the Amazon & Orinoco' adventure over the next two weeks. Stay tuned for reports from seldom-visited locations like French Guiana, Venezuela and Martinique.


  • Dancers from Ponant's 'Baller Paris C'Show'
  • Guests gather pre-dinner in the Main Lounge
  • Musical entertainers in the theatre

For more information about cruising with Ponant, visit

Saturday 18 March 2017

Lindblad goes all-inclusive

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic has announced that starting April 2017, guests' bar tab and crew gratuities will be complimentary on all departures of National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Orion (pictured), effectively creating inclusive pricing.

With no extra charges for activities and excursions - from city explorations at the beginning and end of the expedition, to Zodiac, kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, or hiking explorations; expert lectures and presentations; all meals; equipment; photo instruction; wellness classes; group flight transfers - the new policy insures inclusive pricing on both ships on every voyage.

Friday 17 March 2017

From aboard Ponant Le Soleal: Dinner with the captain.

"No, adventure is not dead, and in spite of the steam engine and of Thomas Cook & Son" - Jack London, 'Cruise of the Snark'

Dinner with the captain.

Last night was 'Officers' Dinner' where passengers get the opportunity to dine with senior crew members in the plush restaurant "L'Eclipse" on Deck 2 of Le Soleal.

I imagine my hosts were mindful that I needed maximum supervision under such circumstances, hence I was placed under the watchful eye of Captain Mickael Debien along with five fellow Anglophones.

Captain Debien regaled us with his tales of his 14 years as sea under sail aboard the 30-year-old French cruise line's mascot sailing vessel, Le Ponant, and sommelier, Eric, chose some very suitable wines.

"It was always my dream to be a seaman," confides our charming host, "The change to these ships after so many years on Le Ponant was difficult, but an enjoyable challenge."

And even on these sophisticated vessels with so much technology to assist the master, it is important to remember that we must still be sailors in the old style and look outside, read the sea and weather with your eyes. I tell my young officers who will be our new captains to never forget this. We call this 'sens marin' (sea sense)"

From a master's perspective, Captain Debien tells us Antarctica requires the most skill, that Iceland in July (and only July) is perhaps his favourite and that new itineraries around the waters of PNG provide the most interest for the curious seaman.

A couple years back, Ponant took on a new investor who enabled this massive fleet expansion we are currently in the midst of. Captain Debien is understandably excited about the four new expedition vessels due to be delivered from next year until 2019. He also gives us something of a scoop when revealing Ponant fleet plans beyond 2020 include a luxury icebreaker and a new sailing vessel in the classic style.

"This will not be any ordinary icebreaker," he says imitating a rough and rugged ship with his hands, "she will be a beautiful ship and take us to some really special places. Perhaps even the North Pole!" ^

Thank you Captain Debien for a most enjoyable dinner.

^ Captain Debien later shows me some artist drawings and blueprints of the new icebreaker, which will be around 150m and some 29,000 GRT. I can't share these with you yet, but imagine Le Soleal with an 'ice knife' bow and fat beam and you have some idea.

For more information about cruising with Ponant, visit

From aboard Ponant Le Soleal: A Sense of Salvador

It's Brazil's largest port by size and one of the world's most favourable harbours with an enclosed body of water, at more than 1000sqkm, larger than the whole of Hong Kong. At an average of 42m, it's deep and the long passenger wharf has seen three or more famous cruise ships tied up at once. A big, shiny new three storey cruise terminal welcomes guests and even has free WiFi. But hard times seems to have fallen on UNESCO World Heritage-listed Salvador da Bahia's tourism industry.

"I used to get dozens of jobs a year," laments my guide, "but now it's just a few."

Our coach drives us through downtown and on to the seaside areas of this beautifully located city of three million inhabitants. Carnivale in Salvador is in the old style and winds through the streets, taking seven hours to run the course.

Our coach leaves us in the historic centre where ornate churches, spotlessly clean squares with statues and cobblestones and a variety of architecture dictate the scene. Locals set up food and souvenir stalls and the women carry themselves proudly, many wearing traditional colonial costumes. Tourist police gather on every corner, overseeing the welfare of the visitors who must number in countless ... dozens.

So what could possibly be holding Salvador back from tourism prosperity with what seems like a God-given set of tools for a bustling tourist industry? I'm still scratching my head.

Thursday 16 March 2017

Expedition kit: ChargeUp Digital 6,000 Portable Powerbank

Take a look around you. Just about everyone you see is dialled into their smart device of one sort of another. Androids, iPhones, tablets and iPads are the ubiquitous and inseparable accessory for today's traveller and commuter. We've come to rely on these increasingly sophisticated devices, not just for simple voice and data communication, but also for photography, GPS mapping and social media sharing.

Portable and lightweight, they have have replaced many of the cumbersome and bulky kit we were once burdened with on our travels. Travellers in particular have become wedded to these accessories as part of their mandatory packing list. How do you get to the bus station or airport, convert currency or even translate phrases and instructions? Yep, how did we ever travel without them?

As connected travellers, we've all experienced the panic and frustration of trying to get that last email or text message as the battery warning light flashes urgently before we are cast adrift in an analogue no man's land of dark alleys and strange foreign faces. Did you bring your charger? Will it plug into the curious puzzle that is supposed to be a power socket? Can you sneak a USB cable into the back of a random TV without looking like a shoplifter?

In the last few years, we've seen a spray of portable batteries designed to rescue us at the last minute before our pixels fade into oblivion. Most are good enough to keep our device alive for the rest of the train journey home, but what about a transpacific flight, Siberian railway expedition or arduous desert trek? You need something with power reserve.

For the last couple weeks I have tested the sleek and powerful ChargeUp Digital 6,000 Portable Power Bank. It's light, easily packed and just has a confident feel. 6000 what BTW? This number refers to the current it can supply and for how long, measured in milliamp hours (mAh). Most 'lipstick' size units are rated at about 1000-1200 tops and we know from experience they don't cut the mustard on longer trips. Cygnett's range of ChargeUp Portable Power Banks start at a useful 2500 up to a mighty 10000.

This what they tell me and I'm inclined to agree:

Featuring the latest in Lithium polymer battery technology, the ChargeUp Digital 6,000 Portable Powerbank provides power at your fingertips for when you need it most. Ideal for when you're on the go, travelling for business or leisure, the ChargeUp 6,000 is slimline and compact, making it the perfect addition to every backpack, laptop bag, handbag or briefcase. It comes fully pre-charged for instant use and provides up to 3-4 phone charges before needing to be recharged. Thanks to a handy digital display you'll always know how much power you have left. The ChargeUp 6,000 can be used to power any device that uses a USB connection to charge, and with two 2A USB sockets can quickly charge two devices at once. Use it to charge a huge variety of gadgets from smartphones, to your GoPro, portable speakers and even a Fitbit or Apple Watch.

The whole range and pricing can be found here:

Ponant L'Austral to dry dock in Manila. Cruise interrupted.

The 264-passenger luxury expedition vessel, L'Austral will enter dry dock in Manila to undergo a full inspection for hull damage after two separate accidents earlier this year, according to reports in Cruise Critic.

The report goes on to say "L'Austral altered the itinerary after its stop at the coral reef of Rajah Ampat, Indonesia, and headed directly to Manila, where passengers have been moved to hotels. During the three-day "stopover", the line is providing complimentary five-star accommodation and land-based activities, with three Ponant executives flying in from France to assist passengers."

Read the full report at Cruise Critic

Wednesday 15 March 2017

From on board Ponant Le Soleal: We go to Rio

I went to Rio, Rio de Janeiro 

Ponant 'In the heart of Brazil' aboard Le Soleal 8-17 March, 2017


I needed have bothered to set my alarm as the fog horn outside my window more than adequately got my attention.

The scene from my little private balcony was one of thick mist blanketing a mirror-still ocean. Le Soleal crept along at a sea snail's pace in the late evening gloom as we approached the entrance to one of the world's most famous harbours, Rio de Janeiro. By the time we'd tied up around midnight, the fog had lifted somewhat and Le Soleal was neatly berthed at the downtown pier.

Rio was an even bigger surprise to the Portuguese fleet sailing for India in 1500 when the towering monoliths of the famous 400m Sugar Loaf and 710m Corcovado greeted their tiny caravels in Guanabara Bay.

As any first-timer should, I'm making a beeline for these twin icons of Brazil and on this quiet, steamy Sunday it looks like we may just avoid the notorious tourist crush known to overwhelm these sites.

Many movie fans will recall Roger Moore as James Bond tackling the fearsome evil giant, Jaws, on the cable car to the peak in Moonraker. Fortunately, no such ordeal faced me as our group shuffled into the newest (third) variant of the Sugar Loaf cable car, installed in the last decade and able to take 70 tightly packed sightseers to the summit in just three minutes. Despite some lingering smog on this bright windless day, the view across the bay is quite spectacular and big Jesus on the Corcovado yonder rises imperiously through the wispy clouds in an oft-repeated 'second coming' to embrace His city.

Our coach winds through the surprisingly empty Sunday streets and parks of the city, past a mixture of architectural styles ranging from the ornate late Renaissance to the ubiquitous modern and monotonous glass and tile monuments displacing all else in so many cities of the world. The landmark cathedral is a curious amalgam of styles, looking something like a giant Mercury space capsule or Star Wars citadel from one of their mythical worlds.

I now have an appointment with Christ the Redeemer atop the adjacent Corcovado mountain. His benevolent 30m likeness was installed in 1931 and has defined the city ever since. We meter on to the electric train which rides almost to the 700m summit where, once alighted, we can ascend the final holy escalator to gaze up at Him from his feet. His pose makes me wonder whether He his welcoming and blessing the assembled masses, or about to take a swan dive. Either way, it's a moving experience enjoying the view while trying not to get impaled on a selfie stick.

Our final salute to this magnificent city is a swing-by of the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana where the multitudinous brown bottoms hang out along the seemingly endless stretch of sand.

My début visit to Rio dispelled several preconceived notions of this city and perhaps it was this quiet balmy Sunday, but there was never a feeling of being crowded or unsafe, the streets were spotless compared to the more familiar pavements of Sydney, and the spectacular setting was every bit as eye-popping as the postcards portray. Of course, things would be wildly different during one of the many festivals or sporting events, but for now, I'm content with a placid experience. I'll let the likes of Peter Allen and Carmen Miranda carry that torch.

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Tuesday 14 March 2017

One Ocean Expeditions 2018 Season 'Trip of a Lifetime' Cruise Series


The spotlight shines on Canada's North this year as the world is invited to discover epic locations in Canada celebrating 150 years of confederation. This event has inspired Canadian cruise specialist, One Ocean Expeditions (OOE), to introduce even more in-depth Canadian Arctic exploration.

The intimate and immersive nature of OOE's small ship expedition cruises impacts travellers' lives, while enhancing their appreciation for the Arctic and other Canadian destinations. OOE has been developing sustainable Arctic tourism for over a decade and is consistently innovative in creating itineraries that take visitors to some of the most unspoiled places on the planet, with programs focusing on education, science, history, arts, culture and exploration. OOE's small ship adventures provide travellers with access to archeological sites, remote Inuit communities and wildlife viewing opportunities experienced by few.

OOE's 2018 cruise season continues to inspire, with the introduction of a 'Circumpolar Art in the Arctic' program that bridges the Norwegian Arctic and the Canadian High Arctic through visual art. Internationally acclaimed artists include Cory Trepanier, David McEown, Bruce Pearson and Christopher Cran; wildlife documentary producer Karen Bass; and international award-winning photographer Daisy Gilardini, as well as polar scientists, historians and ambassadors of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

New for 2018 is the inaugural 'Canada's East Coast Golf Expedition.' The seven-night expedition cruise invites guests to experience some of the prime golf courses along Canada's East Coast. Passengers enjoy the luxury of waking up every morning to a new course and the ease of boarding an expedition zodiac to take them ashore for their next round of golf. With additional expedition stops at Sable Island and Iles de Madeleine, this program offers unbeatable memories for golfers and non-golfing partners alike.

From early July to the end of September, OOE operates several 12-night 'Classic Northwest Passage' voyages emphasising early Arctic exploration. Along with a historical focus, guests travel to some of the last remaining great wilderness regions on the planet with sightings of polar bears, whales and myriad bird species.

The nine-night 'High Arctic Explorer' voyage commences in Resolute, Nunavut, one of the most northern outposts in the Canadian Arctic. This trip offers the perfect blend of wildlife, history, culture and scenery. Whilst the 11-night 'Baffin Island - Jewel of the Arctic' trip introduced in 2016 has already become one of the top selling voyages.

The 10-night 'Labrador and Torngat Explorer' cruise departs from the historic town of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia and explores two iconic National Parks: Gros Morne and Torngat Mountains. Exploring the rugged Newfoundland & Labrador coast provides an abundance of wildlife experiences whilst sailing to Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit.

A number of early booking offers are in place for travel in summer 2018. For Canada's East Coast Fins and Fiddles and Golf Expedition a complimentary pre-voyage hotel and US$100 shipboard bar credit is provided. For all other Arctic and Labrador voyages, early bookings benefit from a flight credit ranging from US$500 to US$1000 per person. All offers expire May 31, 2017. ONE CLUB Loyalty Program members (past travellers with OOE) can apply their 10% loyalty savings to any current booking offers.

Hapag-Lloyd names new expedition cruise ships


The new expedition ships have been named HANSEATIC nature and HANSEATIC inspiration.

Karl J. Pojer, CEO of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, said: "The potential in the expedition ship segment is more than three times higher than supply. By virtue of the comfort and luxuriousness of our state-of-the-art new vessels, we will appeal to even more customers in the luxury segment in future. At the same time, authentic, natural spectacles that convey the feeling of a personal expedition have always been the basis for our decision-making."

"With our choice of names, we are continuing the success story of today's HANSEATIC – the only 5-star expedition ship** – retaining the popular and well-known brand name and establishing a new and separate class within our fleet."

Commissioning: April 2019
Ship category: 5-stars-expedition segment
Max. passenger capacity: 230 (199 for Antarctic expeditions)
Passenger decks: 7
Market: Germany, Austria and Switzerland

HANSEATIC inspiration
Commissioning: October 2019
Ship category: 5-stars-expedition segment
Max. passenger capacity: 230 (199 for Antarctic expeditions)
Passenger decks: 7
Market: German and English speaking markets, e.g. UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia/New Zealand and U.S.A.

The design concept, "inspired by nature", reflects the expeditionary spirit and is the creative idea underpinning both ships.

Nature is not only experienced outside, but also is reflected in the interior design. This comes to the fore in the choice of materials, colours and forms, as well as in the contours and lines of walls and surfaces, the lines of sight and therefore the interplay between the interiors and the world outside.

A genuine expeditionary feeling ensures the all-round deck in the forecastle. Here, passengers can experience the action at close quarters – closer even than the captain. This contributes to the expeditionary character, especially when the ships embark on journeys to the Arctic, Antarctic or Amazon. The on-board design highlights include also the two extendible glass balconies. Passengers standing on these balconies can experience the unique feeling of floating over the ocean.

Outstandig route concept and modern environmental technology

The current and successful route concept, which focuses on untouched and unspoilt regions, will be continued and expanded. PC6, the highest ice class for passenger ships, makes it possible to conduct expeditions far into Polar waters, with tropical destinations such as the South Seas and the Amazon remaining on the itinerary.

HANSEATIC nature and HANSEATIC inspiration have been fitted with cutting-edge equipment and environmental technology: the hulls of the two ships have been optimised to achieve the maximum reduction in fuel consumption for the propulsion system. Additionally, PROMAS rudder with a special propeller also reduce fuel consumption and therefore lower emissions anda SCR catalytic converter reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by almost 95 per cent.

The IR ice detectors are a further highlight, with the infrared camera making it possible to spot ice at night and in misty conditions. Cold ironing is also envisioned.

16 on-board Zodiacs and E-Zodiacs with eco-friendly electric drive systems allow for landings in remote expedition areas, regardless of the vicinity to a port. The ships also have a marina for water sports.

For the movie click here.

** According to Berlitz Cruise Guide 2017

Hapag-Lloyd Kreuzfahrten GmbH

Saturday 11 March 2017

From on board Ponant Le Soleal: Rough seas to Rio

"Adventure is not dead. I know adventure is not dead because I have had along and intimate correspondence with adventure." - Jack London, The Cruise of the Snark, when reading hundreds of applications for crew on his 45' yacht prior to his 1907 round-the-world voyage.

It's been more than a couple of years since I've been aboard one of the superb Ponant vessels, so the opportunity to examine Le Soleal, the third in the fleet of four ultra-modern and compact cruise ships was quickly jumped at. That, and a chance to make personal maiden calls to the east coast of South America, made the whole package irresistible.

From my earlier polar experiences aboard older sisters, Le Boreal and L'Austral, I had already developed a distinct affection for the 142m, 10,000 ton vessels which package chic design and technological prowess with adventurous itineraries that leave few parts of the world unexplored.

Launched in 2014, Le Soleal follows closely the layouts of the senior pair with 132 twin cabins. Newest Le Lyrial differs slightly, offering larger deluxe cabins on Deck 6 with a reduced total of 122.

As we departed the seldom visited (at least for Australians) port of Montevideo in Uruguay, it wasn't long before we encountered 3m-4m swells and 30 knot winds sailing north toward our next port of Rio de Janeiro. Le Soleal's extra length, compared to similar vessels in this class, soothed the oceans somewhat although it was interesting see Deck 6 awash as the mighty waves broke over the bow.

Two sea days gives plenty of time to explore this intimate vessel. I'm in the company of 140 mainly French guests, joined by a smattering of other nationalities including two Australian couples.

My companion on this trip is the 30-year-old Jack London and his 1911 book: "The Cruise of the Snark". I've been trying to read this for several months and will now get the chance. I'll sprinkle in some pertinent quotes as the journey progresses.

  • Jack London and I at the bar.
  • Crew on the bridge of Le Soleal ponder the weather ahead.
  • Sleek and chic: Le Soleal

Next: I go to Rio, Rio de Janeiro