Category Archives: Pacific Islands

Powerful Cyclone Slams Fiji

Taking Cyclone Winston a bit personally.

FijiMe-logoI’ve visited Fiji, a beautiful island nation in the South Pacific populated by people who exemplify the Polynesian tradition of hospitality. I’m dismayed to read about Winston, the most powerful ever recorded with winds of 180 mph with gusts over of 220 mph, that slammed into Fiji. It has resulted in relatively few fatalities — thus far.

The lei is not just a Hawaiian sign of welcome, but a Polynesian one. Bula as experssed by a string of beautiful blossoms and the sweet scent of plumeria and other tropical flowers.. l
The lei is not just a Hawaiian sign of welcome, but a Polynesian one. Bula as experssed by a string of beautiful blossoms and the sweet scent of plumeria and other tropical flowers.. l

Some 900,000 people are scattered among the 100 or so inhabited islands of the total of 332.  Communications, water, electricity and sewerage must surely have been impacted, but how strongly is still unknown. And then there are the airports.  I flew Air Pacific to Nadi, one of the country’s largest cities, and from there to smaller islands — each with a ferry pier and/or a grass or asphalt airstrip. Fiji boasts secluded and yes, romantic resorts on outlying islands.

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In the interim, Air Pacific has become Fiji Airways, and my husband and I are scheduled to fly to Australia with them early next month.  We have a stopover in Nadi. Reports are that the storm tracked between the two biggest islands. Suva, the capital, and Nadi, where there main airport is located, are both on Viti Levu. The country will reportedly still be under a curfew and state of emergency when we pass through.

American cities on Fiji Airways’ route map are Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Honolulu. It also serves Australian and New Zealand and is a popular and convenient getaway for folks from both. Here’s hoping for the visitors and the tourism infrastructure catering to them that clean-up is fast — more importantly, for the Fijians that their beautiful islands are restored to full function very soon.

Woe-kiki Beach As Raw Sewage Spills into Bay

Big rains overwhelm system and foul fabled beach.

YuckFaceSomething on the order of 500,000 gallons of raw sewage flowed from manholes in Honolulu’s fabled Waikiki neighborhood yesterday  and into storm drains and eventually to the ocean. Lifeguards warned ten minutes to stay out of the water. Despite round-the-clock warnings, however, some tourists and even locals are still going into the ocean.

“City officials said the problem stemmed from heavy rains from overnight and debris that got into the city’s sewer system. Plus they said some people illegally opened manholes in their neighborhoods to alleviate flooding, sending rainwater into the sewer system,” Hawaii News Now further reports. “The city also said the problem was exacerbated because a nearby pump station was closed for construction.” The sewer system has since been patched to avoid a repeat of this potential contamination, and the ocean will cleanse Waikiki Bay. 

But as the recent release of contaminated wastewater into the Animas River in southwestern Colorado demonstrates, the after-effects of environment abuse linger in people’s memories and may affect travel plans for a long time.

Milford Track at 125 Years

New Zealand’s premier walking route celebrates a milestone

MilfordTrack-signNew Zealand is one of my very favorite countries. Its marvelous landscape of mountain and seacoast, its wonderful friendly people and its vibrant cities are unsurpassed. Next month, the Milford Track, one of the island nation’s nine Great Walks, celebrates a special anniversary. To mark the 125th anniversary of the opening of Milford Track, the Department of Conservation (DOC) has organized a guided, commemorative heritage walk between October 31 and November 3.

The guides, clad in period costumes, will add a nostalgic element to the 33.2-mile walk on the spectacular South Island as they tell historic tales mixed with their own real-life experiences. Hikers are also encouraged to dress in theme attire as described in the early guides, some dating back as far as the 1890s. At the end of the walk, which takes approximately four days, hikers are rewarded with the sight of the spectacular Milford Sound, described by storyteller Rudyard Kipling as the “eighth wonder of the world’”and on the bucket list of thousands of international travelers every year.

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I actually have been on Milford Sound on a day trip from Queenstown, but it was winter and raining to beat the band. We saw nothing but streams and waterfalls cascading from the surrounding banks, so it is still on my bucket list.

Guest Post: 4 Real Places of Unreal Beauty

Blue Fire Public Relations submitted the following guest post, including the links. I’m pretty picky about guest posts, but I really liked the four images on this one and wanted everyone else with the travel bug to see them. I edited the guest post very slightly.

The globe has been trotted, mapped and conquered, yet natural beauty remains and continues to beckon adventure seekers. From sprawling Asia to hometown America, the world is covered in wonders. Though the pictures may make you believe they’re from a fantasy land, here are four amazing places that actually exist:

Wulingyuan Scenic Area (Hunan, China)

Wulingyan Scenic Area

With 243 peaks surrounded by more than 3,000 karst upthrusts, Wulingyuan scenic area is filled with waterfalls, limestone caves and rivers unlike any other, according to LonelyPlanet.com. Located just outside of Zhangjiajie city, the subtropical forest of the park is locally known as the inspiration for James Cameron’s the idea for the floating mountains in “Avatar.” In 2010, Gadling.com reported that city officials renamed a peak called “Southern Sky Column” in hopes to draw more crowds to the park. The new name of the peak? “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.”  (Photo from Flickr user Jetske / Jetske19)

Writer’s Tip: The Zhongtian International Youth Hostel, located in Zhangjiajie city, has a sister branch on the mountain. If you stay there, you can pay to have your bags transported between the two hostels; just keep your personal information, passport and picture ID on you. My comment: When I visited China soon after the opening of the Three Gorges cam, the itinerary included a designated scenic area near Yichang, downstream from the dam. Tucked into a valley not far from the is a scenic area in which reenactors are (or were) stationed to demonstrate traditional fishing, agricultural and domestic skills.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

Old Faithful

Found in America’s first national park and known as America’s best-known geyser, Old Faithful is still as beautiful as ever. The geyser erupts about 20 times a day and can spout water anywhere between 130 and 190 feet in the air, according to Yellowstonepark.com. The place to experience steaming vents and shooting columns of water, Yellowstone is home to about half of the world’s geysers, making it the largest concentration of geysers on earth. Old Faithful (Photo by Flickr user Adrian Valenzuela)

Writer’s Tip: Before going on this trip, dig through your closet for your Teva sandals, waterproof hiking boots and an umbrella, as you’re going to need them. My comment: I’d don Gore-Tex or other rain gear rather than carry an umbrella. I want my hands free for photography.

Tunnel of Love (Kleven, Ukraine)

Tunnel of Love

A rarely used railway track in the small Ukrainian town of Kleven is slowly garnering attention as photographs surface of the phenomenon taking place. In an area of dense trees, a train has carved out a tunnel just big enough for it to chug through. Otherwise, the arching area is completely overgrown by greenery and leaves — creating what’s now known as the Tunnel of Love. According to the International Business Times, the area has become particularly popular with the young crowd, and lovers holding hands walk through the tunnel in spring. (Photo by Panoramia.com user Serhei under Creative Commons license)

Tip: Not yet tagged a tourist attraction, the Tunnel of Love is located 217 miles from western Kiev, the country’s capital city, noted by the International Business Times. When preparing for the trip, consider investing in a money belt to keep your passport safe and an identity theft protection company like Life Lock to monitor your personal information while you’re away. My comment: If China is not on your travel schedule, you can have a similar experience, sans railroad tracks, driving though the Tunnel of Trees, two rows of eucalyptus trees arching over the road to Poipu on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

Gran Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni, Bolivia)

Gran Salar de Uyuni

According to Ruaverdebolivia.com, the Gran Salar de Uyuni was part of Lake Minchin, a giant prehistoric lake. Now it’s the world’s largest salt flat. Located in southwest Bolivia near the crest of the Andes, the area is roughly 25 times larger than the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It’s estimated that Salar de Uyuni contains 10 billion tons of salt, though only 25,000 tons are extracted annually, revealed on the Ruta Verde website. (Photo by Flickr user Jürgen Schiller García / schillergarcia_

My comment: The startling white surface behind the cacti and other desert plants is the Gran Salar, the great salt flats of Uyuni.

First Everest Climb & Descent 60 Years Ago Today

Small town features a modest walkway honoring New Zealander Edmund Hillary

EverestSixty years ago today, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first people to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest and return alive. It took until June 2 for the world to find out in time for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Runners sped to Namche Bazaar so the news could be transmitted by radio to Kathmandu and telegraphed from there to London and from there to the world. Since then hundreds, maybe thousands of people have accomplished the same feat — some more than once –and dozens to have perished in the attempt. Now it takes no time at all for the word to get out, good or bad.

Just this week, 80-year-old Japanese mountaineer Yuichiro Miura summited and later said that he almost died on the way down, and Russia’s Valery Rozov, 48, wore a special wing suit to BASE jump from the world’s highest peak. Neither of the first ascenders lived to see some of these improbable feats. I wonder what they might make of them.

SONY DSCTributes large and modest were heaped on the pair over the years. We came upon one in the town of Otorohanga on New Zealand’s North Island, en route from Tongariro National Park to Auckland. An alleyway between the main street and a parking lot had been turned into a covered arcade called the Ed Hillary Walkway, lined with photos of Hillary and other Kiwiana behind glass.

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Most Ethical Destinations Cited

 Best practices + superb scenic and cultural attractions = ethical travel destinations

EthicalTraveler-logoEthical Traveler’s annual survey of the world’s most ethical tourism destinations highlights 10 countries  in the developing world that have all demonstrated a clear and continuing commitment to environmental protection, human rights and social welfare. They are places you can visit with a clear conscience that you are supporting destinations that exhibit best practices and also offer great scenery and cultural attractions. This year’s 2013 top ethical destinations, in alphabetical order, are Barbados, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Ghana, Latvia, Lithuania, Mauritius, Palau, Samoa and Uruguay. 

“This year’s winners are doing a great job showing the world that you can have a successful tourism industry along with sustainability and social justice,” said Ethical Traveler Executive Director Jeff Greenwald. “With the number of international arrivals expected to top the 1 billion mark in 2013, travelers have more power than ever. Every dollar we spend is a statement about which countries and governments we choose to support. By visiting the countries on our list, savvy travelers can have great vacations and promote the values we all share.”

Ethical Traveler used publicly available data to evaluate destinations on a broad spectrum of criteria including ecosystem support, natural and cultural attractions, political rights, press freedom, women’s equality, commitment to LGBT rights, and— the survey’s newest indicator— terrestrial and marine area protection.

Among the three examples of best practices: “Ghana maintains a high degree of freedom of the press, has a stable democracy which just re-elected a pro-environment President; about 15 percent of its territory is environmentally protected in some form. Latvia is well-rated for human rights and press freedom; it was also the most-improved country on the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) Environmental Performance Index (EPI). In Uruguay, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and women’s rights are among the best in the region.”

This year’s report also includes a section recognizing “Destinations of Interest” for the coming year.  While not part of the 10 Best Ethical Destinations, Ethical Traveler encourages potential tourists to peer behind the “media curtain” and explore controversial countries like Burma, Cuba and Namibia that are in the midst of dramatic social changes.”

Queenstown Steamer ‘Earnslaw’ at 100

First-hand report on vintage steamship’s 100th anniversary

"Earnslaw" celebrants on Queenstown lakefront.

Cannons fired, vintage steam engines hooted and a huge crowd cheered and waved flags along Queenstown, New Zealand’s picturesque waterfront to welcome the “TSS Earnslaw” as she sailed into the bay to mark her 100th birthday, according to a first-hand report from local tourism spokesfolks. The Lady of the Lake, as this vintage steamship  is  known, marked her official centenary today with a re-enactment of her maiden passenger voyage on Lake Wakatipu from Kingston to Queenstown on October 18, 1912.

The report continued, “Three hundred and fifty guests, dressed in period costume, were on board to make the journey and witness the historic moment when the ‘TSS Earnslaw’ met the vintage ‘Kingston Flyer’ steam train on the wharf at Kingston,  just as the “Flyer” did a century ago when it carried passengers from farther south on the South Island. The ‘TSS Earnslaw’ then headed back into Queenstown Bay with flags flying and whistle blasting, making a victory lap flanked by a flotilla of iconic Queenstown boats which turned out in force to form a guard of honour.”

Not surprisingly, she holds the record as the longest passenger carrying boat built in New Zealand. Following the cutting of the centenary cake a plaque was presented to the “TSS Earnslaw” by the Royal Institute of Naval Architects “to commemorate 100 years of service and recognise the historical significance of the largest steamship built in New Zealand and one of the few remaining coal fired passenger steamers in the world.” Continue reading Queenstown Steamer ‘Earnslaw’ at 100

One Ski Season Ending, Another Promising

Curtain sets on one winter & is ready to rise on another

September — spring in the southern hemisphere, fall in northern. Several of my friends and colleagues have been in Portillo, Chile, I’ve read their Facebook posts and looked at their images of snow-covered mountains, while it was hotter than Hades in these parts. As they began filtering back home, I received this beautiful image of spring skiing at Coronet Peak in New Zealand:

Coronet Peak on New Zealand's South Island after a spring storm. (Photo by Chris Davies, courtesy Ski NZ)

The high peaks of the Rockies — as far south as New Mexico — got their first snow dusting of the coming season. Angel Fire is in the northern part among New Mexico’s highest peaks.

They are still playing golf at Angel Fire, New Mexico, but nearby Wheeler Peak sport its first cap of snow. (Photo courtesy Angel Fire)

Here’s to a great ski season this winter — which will also translate to easing of drought and wildfire danger next summer.

This Rump-Up Picture Caught My Eye

Did she lose an earring? Kick a sandal under the bed? Checking whether the housekeeping is up to her standards? When I saw it, I didn't know, but I could tell that she was photographed in a villa in some wonderful tropical place.

It’s the an image on a website that finds luxurious villas for exotic tropical getaways

The catchy slogan for a long-ago Mounds/Almond Joy commercial was “Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.” I’m that way about travel. Sometimes I want to explore exciting European cities, energetic developing countries somewhere on the planet and put a pack on my back and hike the splendid  Rockies of the U.S. and Canada. And sometimes I just want to stop the clock, jump off the merry-go-round and unwind someplace wonderful with my husband, palm trees, the sound of the sea and soft tropical breezes — and maybe some pampering thrown in.

The image above certainly is an attention-grabber, and I think that next time I want, assuming I could afford, a vacation on this order, my go-to source will be The Villa Guide. I have prowled around this Hong Kong-based booking site, and and like what I see. Their slogan, “We’re renowned for sleeping around,” is as catchy as the photo, but the content is hands-on practical. The site owners do explain,

“The reason being we sleep in over 200 villas a year — trying, testing, sampling and inspecting every square inch, literally. We take our role very seriously and work to exacting standards. We don’t just lie on the bed — we look under it, beside it and even climb above it. We’re thorough, and we need to be, because our review criteria is tough, real tough. That’s why we employ villa aficionados — independent, impartial, insatiable reviewers, who are seasoned villa stayers, and hard to impress.”

I’m hard to impress as well, but The Villa Guide did so. Behind the cute slogan is a well-designed site for a particular special-interest traveler — the type who likes tropics, luxury, service, beauty. Drill down into the site, and find that villas are searchable by country, by awide array of vacation interests and by villa size. Anyone need 10 bedrooms?  The nightly rate range (gulp!) is in big type right on top, and there is an easy click-on page for availability. They also provide with infomation on additional facilities.

The site also scores each villa  against 10 specific criteria listed on a scale of 1 to 10, and they invite readers to do the same.  They total the rating given on each page of the guide, noting that “any villa with a rating above eight is outstanding, and a rating of nine or over  is truly exceptional.” The Villa Guide posts their ratings and also their readers’. To underscore their high standards, they put these numbers side by side. As an example, the guest rating for the Villa Nataraja in Bali’s Sanur Beach ($537-$751 nightly) is 9.1; while the Villa Guide gave it a 7.5. Similarly, the guest rating for Ambalama on the south coast of Sri Lanka (beachfront, 4 bedrooms, $650-$1,200 per night) is 10.0, while The Villa Guide gave it a 7.8.

So if you have an itching for an exotic tropical getaway or just wants to daydream online, check the site out.

Ski Season Starts in New Zealand

With high temperatures and wildfire danger in the US West, the notion of skiing appeals

Reports from New  Zealand are of snow blanketing the South Island’s mountains overnight, a perfect omen for tomorrow’s official start to the 2012 ski season at Coronet Peak, the first of the Queenstown-Wanaka region’s six commercial ski fields to open. “Ski field” is Kiwi for ski area. Coming right up is snow action at Snow Park NZ, which is scheduled to open next Friday (June 15), followed by The Remarkables on June 16, Cardrona Alpine Resort on June 22 and Treble Cone on June 28. I skied them all several years ago, and when the thermometer approaches the triple digits here, I rather wish I were there.

Early snow on the mountains surrounding the sporty lakeside town of Queenstown, New Zealand. (Photo: Destination Queenstown)

The annual American Express Queenstown Winter Festival, dubbed the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest winter party, takes place from June 22 to July 1 and attracts an estimated 45,000 people each year to celebrate the advent of winter in style.  The festival features 10 days of non-stop fun with on-mountain action, fireworks, street parties,

Flights from the US all land in Auckland on the North Island. Air New Zealand and United fly from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Another option is Some are code-share flights. From Auckland, it’s a domestic non-stop to Queenstown on the South Island. Hope for clear skies as you fly over the Southern Alps. Beginning the last week of June, there will be a significant increase in domestic flights with Air New Zealand and Jetstar, plus 32 direct trans-Tasman flights from Australia into Queenstown per week for those who want to visit both countries as long as they are traveling “that far.”

Another transportation option is Air Pacific, the national airline of Fiji. This carrier periodically run specials on Los Angeles-Nadi flights that include free onward service to any other destinations (including both Auckland and Christchurch) when combined with a stopover in Fiji. It’s a great way to combine fabulous skiing with a South Pacific getaway. What could be better?