Category Archives: Island dreams

E is for Ecuador

Named for the Equator this South American country is one of those somewhat overlooked places.

The capital Quito, built on the ruins of an Inca city,  is one of the highest capitals in the world, perched in foothills of the Andes Mountains at 2850 metres.   With its Spanish conquistador history and impressive colonial churches  and fascinating old town area, one of the delights of Quito is the colourful local markets with great fruit and brightly decorated ceramics.  Further out explore ruins of ancient civilisations.

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Take a drive to the equator itself and you have an impressive monument of the actual line of the equator and several museums recounting the history of the exploration of the equator.  You can straddle both hemispheres here.

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Ecuador is home to one of the most remarkable island systems on the planet – the Galapagos Islands.  A flight due west from Quito will bring you to the main island and from there the best way to see the islands is on a cruise.  Manned by expert guides who will explain this unique island chain and ecosystem, you will explore several islands and meet the local marine iguanas, bright red crabs, multitudes of seabirds, and possibly the amazing equatorial penguin.   Nowhere else can you get so close to wildlife.  Not hunted by men or feral animals, you can literally walk centimetres from birds on nests and past sealions basking on the steps on the back of your boat.  It is the place that crystallised Charles Darwin’s work Origin of the Species and revolutionised our understanding of how life evolved on earth.  Check out the blue footed boobies, again unique to these islands.

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Let Ecuador delight you in so many ways.

Islands in the sun

I have just returned from a seven night cruise aboard the Pacific Eden from Cairns to the Trobriand and New Guinea Islands.  The beauty of cruising is that they take you to places you might not think to go, or be comfortable travelling to any other way.  This was the case for me.  I need the holiday and I could not see myself going to New Guinea any other way, so this cruise was perfect.

The Pacific Eden was a Holland America ship, the Statendam, which P&O bought and rebadged as a P&O ship.

Departing from Cairns and their heritage terminal we sailed for a day and our first port of call was Alotau on Milne Bay, scene of a major battle in World War II.  We arrived on the final day of the Kundu and Canoe festival which brings villages and tribes from all over the Milne Bay province to compete and share traditional dance and song.

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We opted to do the traditional cooking class which was great fun.  All decked out in aprons and gloves we were set to chop vegetables and greens, scrap coconut and generally prepare the base of the claypot cooked traditional chicken and pork dishes.  We got to eat the food for lunch.  Traditional vegetable like yams and taro features strongly.  Very filling, and quite starchy, but good nonetheless.

And of course the locals were very friendly, especially the kids.

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Too good to be true?

The old adage is probably right – if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

There are some very enticing ads around offering an all inclusive package to Bali, or Phuket or Penang or wherever for $999 pp – accommodation, all meals, transfers, massages etc etc etc.  They offer 5 star properties and it all sounds fabulous.

And it can be IF you are aware of what is actually involved in making the booking.

Did you know flights are not included?

Did you know you have to pay up front BEFORE they will confirm the booking?

Did you know you may not get your preferred dates?

Did you know if you don’t YOU have to ask THEM for a refund within 2 weeks or they keep your money?

It is just not worth it for most people.

My tip – start with your dates of travel, allowing for some flexibility of you can, then select your resort.

Do you REALLY need all meals?  Most travellers like the idea of exploring the local restaurants and the local culture.  Why pay for something you don’t need?

A package needs to work for you.  Buyer beware,and be canny.  Ask me to put something together especially for you to get best value for money and holiday to remember for all the right reasons.

Bella Burano

Visitors to Venice need to know the tourist trap – its cheaper to stay on Mestre on the mainland, but that is NOT where Venice is.  Venezia of the black gondolas and Grand Canal and back canals, of St Mark’s and the Bridge of Sighs is an island and it is best experienced on the island itself, even if it means a two night rather than three night stay.

One of the joys of staying on the island itself is the ease of getting to the outer islands that make up this island state.  Murano is famous for its glass and rightly so.  But my island tip is Burano.  A little further out in the lagoon and serviced by regular vaporettos or by water taxis, Burano is home to lace-making and the bright colours Italians love so much.

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Nearly car less, Burano is almost frozen in time.  People live their lives as they have done for hundreds of years.  Kids play in the streets and churchyards; people sit in the late afternoon outside their houses catching the afternoon breezes from the lagoon and talking.

It is a photographer’s delight – every angle reveals new colours and shapes to capture the imagination and capture in camera.

The lace work is hand made and exquisite in its detail and quality.  You can chat to the ladies as they tat in the workshops and stores.  And it is entirely possible a piece will end up coming home with you.

 

Vancouver is an island too!

Quick quiz – what airport runway is sometimes closed for whales?

Vancouver Island’s Victoria seaplane runway!

A 20 minute flight from Vancouver, Victoria on Vancouver Island is famous for the Butchart Gardens, and for good reason.  A reclaimed and repurposed quarry, the gardens attract millions of visitors every year.  The array of flowers is vast, the blooms huge and the colours are amazing.

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But there is more to this island than just the gardens.  The Fairmont Empress Hotel is a landmark on the harbour and well worth a look.  Gracious and ivy covered, it harks back to an earlier era.  The stained glass dome in the ballroom is both beautiful and has a surprising quality.  Don’t be surprised if you can overhear the conversation of the other tables.  The dome picks up the sound and reflects around the dome to other tables!  It can be quite distracting and a real talking point.

There are some good local markets and the city centre is quite walkable.  Many visitors enjoy the horse drawn carriage as a way of seeing the city which continues the theme of old world ambience.  At night the lights of Parliament House are a feature.

The fact that Vancouver Island is but one of many islands, many of which are home to people who work in Vancouver, means that ferries and seaplanes are widely used forms of transport.  Seaplanes take off from the harbour and the whales have right of way.

The seaplane from Victoria to Whistler is the most spectacular flight I have ever taken.  But that’s another blog.

 

Darwin’s Treasure House

Few islands capture the imagination quite so much as the chain of volcanic islands in the midst of the Pacific Ocean a thousand miles from the coast of Ecuador.

The Galapagos Islands are unique.  In the proper sense of the word.  One of a kind.  Unlike anything else.

Remote, virtually untouched and pristine, life on the Galapagos Islands is all about getting up close and personal with nature at her most resilient and various.

It is worth the time and money to see this truly spectacular chain of islands and experience walking among seabirds that are totally unafraid of humans.  You can literally be a metre from a chick and the mother bird will not be fazed.  The animals have right of way, and sealions will use any convenient step landing or even the back of the boat you are cruising on as a good place for a night’s sleep.

Blue footed booby mother and chick

A cruise will include several islands and your guide will help you discover as Charles Darwin did, that finches adapt to become entirely different from each other depending on the island they are endemic to.  It is the place that crystallised Darwin’s theory of evolution that changed the world in Origin of Species.

Stark, sharp, rough black volcanic basalt is home to bright red baby crabs that grow to black adults, but advertise their danger as young crabs to all who would eat them.  Blue footed boobies will not glance at a red footed booby, because it is the feet that turn them on!  Seabirds dive in phalanxes of precision for fish that do not stand a chance.

Sealion and booby Galapagos Islands

And to ensure that this place remains extraordinary for all time – on the Equator, the islands are home to the Galapagos !

 

Lord Who? Lord Howe!

 

Some of the most interesting discoveries we make are those in our own backyard.  In this case on Australian soil, even if that soil is over the ocean.

Australia has many island territories.  Lord Howe Island is actually part of New South Wales.  It is a two hour flight from Sydney and the Royal Australian Airforce uses the runway as a practice landing strip from time to time.

Less well known that Norfolk Island, Lord Howe Island is beautiful, peaceful and has a multitude of nature based activities that offer the visitor many experiences you will not get anywhere else.

The town tour finishes at the recycling depot and gives you a great insight into how they manage the rubbish issues faced on a very small island.

On Lord Howe Island there are walks all over the island, from very easy local wanders to see the birds in the local area, to meanders to and along the coastal beaches.  For the more serious walker you can spend the day walking along well made tracks to little coves and up to Kim’s lookout and over Malabar back to the township.  Make sure you take a rainjacket if you are there in autumn winter or spring as the weather systems can move very quickly.

If you are hardcore about your walks, there is a climb to the highest point of the island  Mt Gower, at 875 metres it is an eight hour return hike involving ropes at some points.  I have seen a Japanese girl who was in training run from the other end of the island to the beginning point for the Mt Gower hike, complete the hike and run home!

And Lord Howe Island is the only place where you can hand feed the fish in the shallows – pelagic fish – wild sea fish who come in and take bread from your hands.

Relaxed and friendly, there are no cars permitted except those on the island.  Walk, hike, ride a bike and get in touch with the natural world. It will remain with you.