Brewery tour of Alaska

mimin
March 19, 2016

driving_mainA road trip of Interior and Southcentral Alaska is an excellent approach for discovering the regions’ best sights: the tallest mountain in North America, the largest wild salmon in the world as well as a myriad of adventures. And almost every town from Fairbanks to Homer is home to at least one brewery offering après adventure ales.

Many beers are named after local sights; consider choosing your own adventure by letting beer be your guide.  Following is a framework for a brewery-centered road trip.

Begin north of Fairbanks in Fox at the Silver Gulch brewpub (silvergulch.com) – the northernmost brewery in the United States. Brewed with local spring water, the Silver Gulch’s beers were originally started in five-gallon batches and have now expanded to 750 gallons. Should you be brave enough to visit in winter, warm up with a 40 Below Imperial Stout, follow it with a Northern Light ale and then head outside to watch the aurora borealis dance across the cold night sky.

Drive south along the Parks Highway to Talkeetna, whose brewery celebrates the sky-filling view of

Destination at a glance Falkland Islands

mimin
December 11, 2015

JMfishing Roy Cove_CS_COn a windswept chain of islands 500km off the coast of Argentina, ‘the Falklands’ are a curious slice of Great Britain plonked down in the South Atlantic.

Afternoon tea and cake, English pubs and Anglican steeples remind visitors who is in charge (a detail still disputed by Argentina), while the majority of its tiny population claim British descent. Step outside of Stanley, the capital, however, and another world awaits – one where large herds of sheep roam the rugged countryside, and penguins, seals and sea lions are regularly sighted at chilly beaches across the islands. Despite the isolation, most ‘islanders’ couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

BEST TIME TO VISIT
October to March

TOP THINGS TO SEE

  • Stanley, a colourful seaside town with a ramshackle assemblage of buildings and distinctly English pubs
  • Saunders Island, a birdwatching wonderland, home to five species of penguin, plus black-browed albatross and cormorants
  • The white sands of Bertha’s Beach, to spot dolphins and gentoo penguins
  • Goose Green and nearby Darwin, where some of the fiercest fighting occurred in the Falklands War

TOP THINGS TO DO

  • Hike

Adventures in central Greece

mimin
November 29, 2015

scuba-diving-greeceAs both religious and natural symbols of Greece, Meteora and its monastery-topped pinnacles are high on the list of the country’s most visited sites. Many travellers race through the area – and its six monasteries open to the public – in a day or stay overnight in the villages of Kastraki or Kalambaka.

However, over the last couple of years locals have considerably expanded the adventure offerings in the region. With walking, rock climbing, rafting and cycling opportunities, plus fascinating museums and caves to explore, there’s plenty to keep church-weary visitors busy here for a few blessed days.

Walking the old monks’ trails

A large network of monopatia (old monks’ trails) thread through the region, and you can wander on some of these alone. The most accessible path heads to the beautiful monasteries of Agias Triados and Agiou Stefanou. For those who hoof it alone, a useful booklet is The Footpaths of Meteora by Andonis Kalogirou; alternatively, grab a map (the best is Orama Editions’ 1:8000 Meteora).

For off-piste exploration, Visit Meteora offers some excellent guided half-day or longer walks in the hills, ending up in a couple of the

Where to hit the slopes in California

mimin
March 29, 2016

Famous for its sand and surf, California also has lofty mountains that become blanketed by snow in winter. Swoosh down Olympic-worthy ski trails around Lake Tahoe and Mammoth’s double black-diamond runs, bring the whole family to Big Bear Lake near Los Angeles, careen down the slopes of Mt Shasta by starlight, or lose the crowds altogether in Yosemite National Park. Here are our top picks for wintertime skiing and snowboarding all around the Golden State.

Lake Tahoe

If you ask anyone in California about skiing or snowboarding, chances are they’ll exclaim, ‘Tahoe!’. Over a dozen winter resorts ring this Sierra Nevada gem, where the ski season typically runs from mid-November to mid-April, depending on snowfall. Choose among bunny hills for beginners or pro snowboarders’ terrain parks and black-diamond downhill challenges. Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, while the south shore’s Heavenly resort, sprawling across the California-Nevada state line, thrills with a stomach-crunching vertical drop. For experienced skiers and backcountry enthusiasts, Kirkwood is a more remote resort offering terrain parks and tree skiing. Bonus: the snow often lasts longer there than anywhere else in the Tahoe area. Serious snowboarders get their groove on in the terrain parks and superpipe at Sierra-at-Tahoe.

Sights to make you feel small

mimin
March 20, 2016

Think you’re special? Think again. These sights – towering mountains, vast deserts, endless skies – will put you back in your place.

Mass Games, Pyongyang, North Korea

Scary and spectacular in equal measure, North Korea’s Mass Games personify the country’s totalitarian politics – and serve as a strikingly well-ordered reminder that we are all just one of seven-odd billion souls strutting and fretting on this globe’s stage. Granted, not every earthling is gathered in Pyongyang for this event, but it sometimes seems like it: at the games, ranks of meticulously organised dancers and gymnasts (around 100,000 in all) create a visual display not of personal skill but of perfect synchronicity. This is masses of humanity working together, greater than the sum of its parts.

The Games are held from mid-August to mid-October. September to October is less humid and more pleasant than summer in Korea.

Rub’ al-Khali (Empty Quarter), Oman

If the Inuit really have a blizzard of words for snow, the Bedu of Arabia must have likewise for sand, so utterly is their world consumed and ruled by it. Smothering a fifth of the Arabian peninsula, the Rub’ al-Khali (‘quarter of emptiness’) is the largest sand sea in the world. Its

Off the beaten path in Playa del Carmen

mimin
March 2, 2016

Playa del Carmen prides itself on being the anti-Cancún destination, and it’s true that the Riviera Maya beach town exudes a hipper, more laid-back vibe than gringo-friendly Cancún to the north. But make no mistake: Playa, as locals call it, is big-time touristy all the same.

Having said that, the local experience is there for the taking for anyone who’s willing to veer off the beaten path and embrace the Mexican way of life. How do you accomplish that in a city where tourist traps are lurking around every other corner? Here are some tips.

Biking shall set you free

Gone are the days when Playa, once a small fishing village, could easily be covered on foot. At last count the population had surpassed 150,000 inhabitants, making it the Riviera Maya’s largest and fastest-growing city. As a result of the population boom, city limits are constantly expanding and more folks are turning to bicycles as a mode of transport.

Bike rental shops are everywhere in town and most charge about US$10 a day, including lock and helmet. To get a look at everyday life in Playa’s residential neighborhoods, simply pedal west beyond Highway 307 or head north of Avenida Constituyentes.

South Africa and Swaziland for families

mimin
February 29, 2016

Africa’s iconic animals may be the things of childhood dreams, but taking your youngsters to the continent can be an unnerving prospect.

As travel writer and dad David Else explains, it doesn’t have to be daunting. Follow his family’s recommendations to enjoy a fun mix of activities, stunning scenery and wildlife.

Why South Africa and Swaziland?

South Africa and Swaziland are home to huge national parks and wilderness areas, which satisfied our family’s desire to enjoy the natural sights and sounds of the continent – red earth, yellow acacias, chirping cicadas, grunting hippos. They also have great historical sites, plentiful tourism facilities, easy-to-drive roads and well-stocked shops.

Importantly, we wanted to introduce our children Sarah (age 10) and Michael (age 8) to travelling, and to give them a chance to see a positive side of Africa, one not often portrayed in today’s media. And because it had been 15 years since my wife and I had travelled in Africa ourselves, a road trip was perfect for rekindling old memories.

Touch down

We landed at Johannesburg, picked up a rental car, and our first stop was the Cradle of Humankind, one of the world’s most important regions for hominid fossil discoveries. The

Yosemite without the crowds

mimin
February 20, 2016

You’ve seen the postcards, admired your friends’ vacation photos. Ever wonder why everyone has pictures of the same places from the same angles? The showy celebrity of the US national park system, Yosemite hosts millions of visitors each year, and most flock with camera in hand like paparazzi to the same knockout – though elbow-to-elbow – attractions. If you’re looking for a more secluded outdoor experience, take note of these Yosemite destinations where you won’t be blinded by flashbulbs, jockeying for a clear view or standing in someone else’s camera frame.

Granite domes

After years of dicey human traffic jams backing up on the anxiety-inducing Half Dome cables, the park now requires advance permits for this iconic yet grueling 17-mile hike. But other panoramic granite domes await freewheeling walk-ups. Folks with commensurate stamina can summit neighboring Clouds Rest, which hovers above Half Dome and hosts a fraction of its humanity. From Yosemite Valley, take the Tuolumne Meadows hikers’ bus to high elevation Tioga Road and trek one-way from Tenaya Lake, walking the same distance but sparing yourself a few thousand feet of sweaty ascent from the Valley. Or for a more modest commitment, survey the park’s superstar pinnacles and frothy

Exploring Mauritius

mimin
February 9, 2016

There is no questioning the beauty of Mauritius’ beaches. And the famous powder white sands, which slope gently into sapphire blue waters, have long lured visitors to the island. Yet beyond their achingly picturesque aesthetics lies an island waiting to be discovered: markets hum, gardens bloom, swathes of feather-tipped sugarcane ripple across undulating fields and moss green mountains frame a verdant, compact landscape that spills into the Indian ocean – it is a textbook tropical island paradise.

Go hiking in Black River Gorges

You needn’t look further than Black River Gorges if you are raring to explore. The country’s largest national park covers roughly 2% of the island and is home to waterfalls and a variety of wildlife, including some of Mauritius’ most endangered species. Hikers in the park may be treated to a glimpse of the rare pink pigeon or echo parakeet, as well as deer, wild boar and cheeky macaques. Most trails can be completed in three to four hours – staff at the park’s two visitors centres will be able to advise you on which to choose. Pick up a map or consider hiring a guide for insider tips and tales about the area.

Learn to read palms in

Arizona top 5 scenic drives

mimin
February 2, 2016

Back roads. Byways. Scenic highways. Arizona is chock full of them. Here are five of our favorites.

Route 66: small-town America, with a side of kitsch

‘Get your kitsch on Route 66’ might be a better slogan for Arizona’s scrubby stretch of Mother Road, with its lumbering dinosaurs, a wigwam motel and a prank-filled ice-cream shop.

Western Arizona is home to one of the longest stretches of pure, unadulterated Route 66 – 173 free-range miles that never join the interstate. From Topock, on Arizona’s western border, Route 66 rolls north to Oatman, passing through the town’s craggy hills, begging burros and hokey Old West charms. Then it’s a twisting drive past tumbleweeds and saguaros on the way to the Black Mountains and a final push to Kingman.

North of I-40, vast plains of nothing are linked by tiny villages. First up is Hackberry, with its eclectic general store (toilet seats! in the yard!), then Valentine and Truxton. Next is dusty Peach Springs, tribal capital of the Hualapai Reservation. Kitsch roars its dinosaury head at Grand Canyon Caverns, luring you 21 stories underground for an ubercool cavern tour and even an overnight stay. Burma Shave signs pass the time on the way to Seligman, a

A voyage to another world

mimin
January 29, 2016

An Antarctic expedition cruise isn’t just random bucket list stuff – the White Continent wields a power and singular beauty that linger long after you’ve left its frozen, penguin-dotted expanses behind. Find your place on the planet where nature had its finest moment.

The ‘Drake Shake’

The ship tilts giddily from side to side. Cutlery slides off tables, the odd plate smashes and fellow passengers stagger around as though they’ve been hitting the vodka on board the Akademik Ioffe, an ice-strengthened Russian polar research vessel. This is it, this is the notorious ‘Drake Shake’ we’ve been warned about: a relentless, gut-churning swaying that reveals horizon and ocean on repeat. We’ve bid farewell to Ushuaia, sailed out of the Beagle Channel and now we’ve hit open waters – not just any open waters, but the wave-thrashed, 600-mile-wide Drake Passage, the roughest stretch of water on the planet, where the South Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean collide.

Reaching from the tip of South America to Antarctica, the strait has never been plain sailing. Indeed, it once chilled the hearts of intrepid navigators, with almighty swells and ferocious storms that tossed ships around like paper dolls, preventing them time and again from reaching the continent

Top free things to do in Cape Town

mimin
January 20, 2016

A relatively weak rand makes Cape Town a more affordable destination to visit, and the city certainly provides value for money when it comes to eating and accommodation. However, everyone likes to get something for free, and in this respect the Mother City is overflowing with options.

V&A Waterfront

Attracting 24 million visitors a year – more than Cairo’s pyramids – to its glitzy mix of retail and tourist entertainment, the V&A Waterfront remains a working harbour with much of its historic fabric intact. One of the best ways to get an insight into its past, as well as make sense of this sprawling site, is to follow the self-guided historical walking tour; pick up a free map detailing the route at the visitor information centre on Dock Rd.

Along the way have your photo taken with Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela – larger-than-life statues of both men, designed by Claudette Schreuders, stand in Nobel Square beside those of South Africa’s two other Nobel Prize winners, Nkosi Albert Luthuli and FW de Klerk. At the Nelson Mandela Gateway, departure point for ferries to Robben Island, there’s a good free exhibition about the freedom struggle and life in the prison that is

The best places to swim with whale sharks

mimin
January 9, 2016

Swimming alongside the largest fish in the sea is one of the ultimate bucket-list experiences. Lucky, then, that there are a handful of destinations around the world where in-season sightings of whale sharks are almost guaranteed. Remember to keep a respectful distance from the gentle giants, resisting the urge to touch them or to use flash photography.

Isla Holbox, Mexico

A 25-minute boat ride from the mainland, Quintana Roo’s sleepy northernmost island is the antithesis of crazy Cancun, just 150kms to the south.

  • When to go: tours depart daily from June to September, when the whale sharks arrive to feed and mate. July to August is peak season.
  • Where to stay: some tour companies offer speedboat pick-up from Cancun and Playa del Carmen, but relaxed Holbox is a great alternative to the main tourist centres (and closer to the sharks). Lodging ranges from cheap hostels (try Tribu Hostel) to mid-range guesthouses (Holbox Apartments and Suites) and a smattering of plush hotels (Palapas del Sol; palapasdelsol.com).
  • Operators: Willy’s (holboxwhalesharktours.net) is among the most reputable.

Utila, Honduras

One of the world’s cheapest destinations to get your dive ticket, this backpacker mecca off Honduras’ Caribbean coast also boasts one of the world’s few year-round whale shark research

The allure and attractions of St Helena

mimin
January 2, 2016

It’s hard to think of an isolated speck of land more synonymous with inaccessibility than St Helena. After all, this seemingly lost island in the middle of the South Atlantic was chosen as the place of Napoleon’s final exile. But there is so much more here for the traveller – hike past soaring crags and through alpine meadows, take to the seas by boat, or explore historic villages, chatting with welcoming Saints (locals) at each passing.

Jamestown and its Georgian houses

Jamestown, the capital of St Helena, is neatly wedged between the Atlantic and the steep sides of a narrow ravine. Founded in 1659 by English colonists, and named after James II while he was still the Duke of York, Jamestown is home to several historic sites and numerous handsome Georgian manses. An informative museum contains artefacts and stories from the island’s long history, including the wooden crates that carted Napoleon’s belongings into exile. Behind the museum and past collection of old cannons is Jacob’s Ladder, a lung-busting set of 699 steep steps that precariously climb straight up the ravine to Half Tree Hollow – if not to heaven as their biblical predecessor, then at least to a heavenly view.

Back

A quick guide to visiting the idyllic Papuan archipelago

mimin
December 29, 2015

Picture a tropical archipelago of steep, jungle-covered islands, glittering white-sand beaches, hidden lagoons and luminous turquoise waters. Now throw in pristine coral reefs inhabited by clouds of tie-died fish. Place it in a remote corner of Indonesia largely unknown to foreign tourists, and you end up with the Raja Ampat islands: the ultimate tropical paradise.

Why go?

It’s a big call, but the collection of 1500-odd islands and islets scattered off the northwest tip of Indonesian Papua that comprise Raja Ampat is truly one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful archipelagos. If that isn’t a good enough reason to put Raja Ampat on your must-visit list then consider the diving, which many authorities on the matter claim is among the world’s best.

Little-known outside hardcore off-the-beaten-track travel circles until the last few years, Raja Ampat’s huge, largely pristine coral reef systems and staggering marine diversity are a diver’s dream. Described by scientists as a ‘species factory’, this region nestled in the heart of the Coral Triangle is home to more than 10 times the number of hard coral species found in the Caribbean.

When to go

Raja Ampat is a year-round destination, although many diving outfits cease operations between July and September, when the

10 dos and donts for social media savvy travellers

mimin
December 9, 2015

With an infinite wealth of cat videos, celebrity pouts and awkward status updates at our fingertips, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd on social media.

Luckily, travel is a topic that resonates with even the speediest of scrollers – if you get it right. Avoid the common pitfalls of posting your life online and enthrall your audience with these golden rules.

Do… choose quality over quantity

The rise of social media has all but led to the death of the post-trip debrief between friends. It’s unfortunate, but let’s face it – when you (virtually) check in to every godforsaken airport, chain hotel and restaurant you so much as breeze through, tweeting your every move and Snapchatting every step of the way, by the time you get back everyone is seriously over it. We don’t want to hear about that wild night in Ibiza again – we were practically there with you the first time.

Pro tip: Sharing a few highlights that encapsulate your trip works out better for everyone; you won’t be spamming your friends’ feeds and you’ll still have a few stories up your sleeve upon your return.

Don’t… manipulate the truth

Remember: you’re on holiday, not shooting

Seven perfect bars for sunset watching in Bali

mimin
December 2, 2015

Bali is famous for its kaleidoscopic sunsets which arrive on cue at around 6pm every day of the year. Whether you’d rather laze on the beach with a Bintang or sip a cocktail high above the waves, Indonesia’s most popular holiday island is packed with great spots to kick back and watch the sun sink into the sea with a sundowner in hand. Read on for our favourites.

Rock Bar, Jimbaran

Vibe: seaside sophistication

Built on rocks jutting out of the Indian Ocean, this minimalist open-air bar is arguably the most stylish spot to sink a cocktail on Bali’s Bukit Peninsula. Part of Ayana Resort & Spa, the Japanese-designed space, which often hosts local and international bands and DJs, features a bartop constructed using thousands of layers of recycled glass canes. Adding to the glamour, Rock Bar is accessed via an inclinator that traverses a cliff-face. Expect a bit of a wait to get in (unless you’re a hotel guest, in which case you get queue-jumping rights).

Double-Six Rooftop, Seminyak

Vibe: urban-beach glamour

Bali or Bond film? It’s easy to forget where you are when the elevator doors open into this cavernous lair atop the ultra-chic Double-Six Hotel. Think: fire pits, sharks swimming

Patagonia by sea

mimin
November 19, 2015

A maze of fjords with wild, wind-worn isles, abundant marine life and glaciers that tumble into the Pacific, the singular landscape of Chilean Patagonia is often best admired from the deck of a boat. From the humble ferry to luxury cruises, plenty of options for all budgets ply this spectacular coastline.

The Ruta Bimodal

South of Puerto Montt, the South American continent crumbles into numerous islands scattered from the Andean peaks that fortress the mainland. Roads are no longer a constant. Instead, travel requires routing a course of dirt roads and ferries. The Ruta Bimodal, operated by Naviera Austral (taustral.cl), marks three obligatory ferry crossings between Puerto Montt and Chaitén.

On a sunny summer day, it’s hard to beat the beauty of the Ruta Bimodal, which cruises a narrow corridor between islands and verdant peaks along the coast. Black dolphins cavort in the ship’s wake and passengers swap stories on the deck. The extraordinary Parque Pumalín is the crown jewel on this route, with trails to waterfalls, Valdivian rainforest and the smoking crater of Volcan Chaitén. For a hands-on aquatic adventure, explore coastal Pumalín via a sea kayaking tour (kokayak.cl) through the fjords, stopping in at isolated natural hot springs and sea lion colonies.

At the

Ways to conquer the Carretera Austral

mimin
November 9, 2015

Whether by foot, two wheels, or four-wheel drive, the Carretera Austral is an iconic challenge and a journey through South America’s most sublime end-of-the-world landscapes.

Among the world’s finest road trips, the Carretera Austral – or “Southern Highway” – is a 1240km route through Chile that’s mostly unpaved. Winding through millennia-old forests, it visits dusty Andean hamlets and turquoise rivers spawned from landlocked glaciers.

Discover the path to Patagonian adventure

Colonists first trickled to the area during the early 20th century but the mere idea of a road here came later, a legacy of General Pinochet’s quest to unify Chile throughout its furthest reaches. When completed in 1996, the Carretera Austral was considered little more than a US$300 million highway to nowhere. It had taken over 20 years to build and cost eleven workers their lives.

Today’s Carretera Austral is a conduit to wilderness on a colossal scale, from the world-class whitewater of the Futaleufú River to rugged landscapes prime for trekking, horseback riding or fly-fishing. It’s also an immersion in Patagonian cowboy culture, with open-air pit barbecues, summer rodeos and farmstays. From north to south, iconic parks dot the route, from the lush and volcanically active Parque Pumalín to Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo.

There are also new attractions worth exploring. Valle Exploradores is

Exploring the Small Cyclades

mimin
November 2, 2015

The Greek islands have long been one of Europe’s favourite holiday destinations, and it’s not hard to see why. But what if you’ve ticked off the heavy-hitters? You’ve partied on Mykonos, watched Santorini sunsets, and now you’re looking for something unique? We’ll let you in on a secret: the Small Cyclades. These may just be the best Greek islands you’ve never heard of.

The Small Cyclades (Μικρές Κυκλάδες in Greek) are outposts in the Cyclades island group, which includes such headlining acts as Mykonos, Santorini and Ios. They go by various monikers that riff on their size and relative significance: you may see them referred to as the Small, Little, Minor or Lesser Cyclades. The names may appear dismissive, but these are among Greece’s smallest inhabited islands – their permanent populations number only a couple of hundred.

There are only four inhabited islands in the Small Cyclades. Three are clustered south of Naxos: Iraklia (the largest of the group at 19 sq km), Schinousa and Koufonisia. Koufonisia in fact comprises three islands – the main one, Ano (or Pano) Koufonisi, has a population of 400 and is the largest settlement in the Small Cyclades. The fourth island in the medley, Donousa, sits apart from the rest,