• Luxury travel_pl

    Luksusowe podróże

    Od pobytu w ekskluzywnych resortach na wyspach Pacyfiku do prywatnych przelotów helikopterem na stoki narciarskie w Nowej Zelandii. Jesteśmy specjalistami w organizowaniu unikalnych ekskluzywnych pobytów na Antypodach.

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  • Family holidays_pl

    Wycieczki indywidualne

    Zwiedzajcie Państwo Australię i Nowa Zelandię komfortowo i bez przykrych niespodzianek. Wycieczki rozpoczynają się z lokalnym przewodnikiem, a następnie są realizowane samodzielnie lub pod dalszą opieką doświadczonego przewodnika

  • Adventure and adrenaline_pl

    Przygoda i adrenalina
    Dla miłośników przygód oferujemy wielki wybór atrakcji z najwyższym poziomem adrenaliny, jak skoki spadochronowe, paragliding, zorb czy bungy. Wiele z tych atrakcji i zajęć możemy dołączyć do programu wybranej wycieczki.

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  • Group tours_pl

    Wycieczki grupowe
    Nowa Zelandia zawsze kusi do powrotu. Jest tutaj bowiem tak wiele miejsc do zobaczenia. Zdajemy sobie jednak sprawę, ze nie wszyscy mogą sobie pozwolić na rewizytę.  Dlatego nasza oferta jest najpełniejsza na rynku i daje możliwość wszechstronnego poznania Nowej Zelandii w ciągu jednego wyjazdu.

  • Incentive_pl

    Incentive travel
    Jak dowodzą liczne badania wyjazdy motywacyjne, all inclusive, dla pracowników firm i instytucji, warsztaty szkoleniowe, wykłady specjalistów, czy  zajęcia typu  team building  pomagają  firmom poprawić wyniki produkcji i jakość usług.  Zapraszamy do współpracy w zorganizowaniu kolejnego udanego wyjazdu.

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  • Exotic destinations_pl

    Egzotyczne wyspy pacyfiku
    Na Fidżi i Samoa oferujemy wypoczynek w sprawdzonych resortach.  Wyspy Salomona, Vanuatu, Tonga, Papua Nowa Gwinea czy Samoa to archipelagi , które wymagają kilku dodatkowych dni na przemieszczanie się pomiędzy wyspami.

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Oferty specjalne

Fiji Article

Fiji3Bula Fiji

Behind the reception desk at Crusoe’s Retreat Resort hang clocks showing the time in the main metropolitan centres of the world. One of these clocks however has no hands, and the sign ‘Fiji time’ below it makes you realise that this is one of the few places left on earth where time slows down, and no one is in any serious hurry. You can see this by the way the locals of these far away islands strut around, from to place, slowly yet confidently and with a giant smile. It’s as though they are making a happy occasion out of walking itself.

Somewhere in the Pacific
Many associate the Fijian Islands with warmth, beaches and palm trees and dream of visiting this magical place in the distant Pacific. For New Zealanders and Australians it is the most popular holiday destination, but there are also many Germans, Koreans, Japanese and Americans. Most tourist facilities are found on the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. There is a growing interest in visiting Fiji from other Markets such as South America and Eastern Europe.  
Crusoe’s Retreat is found on the island of Viti Levu halfway between the international airport in Nadi,  and Suva, Fiji’s capital city. To get here you need travel about 100 kilometres down the Queens Highway, the country’s main road. Although not all together comfortable because of the potholes, the drive gives you a glimpse of everyday life in Fiji as you pass through many small villages.

One great advantage this place has is its isolation. It is not a large resort, numbering only 30 bures (bungalows built in the traditional Fijian style), but for those on a more modest budget, this resort will definitely complement your Fijian experience. Each bure has its own bathroom, hotel amenities and a ceiling fan.

Fiji5The friendly locals
Upon arriving at the resort every guest is greeted by a musician, and given a shell necklace as well as a refreshing non-alcoholic tropical cocktail. ‘Bula’, meaning welcome and ‘bula vinaka’ meaning thank you, are words that follow visitors around for the duration of their stay. The local people are sincere, open and friendly, acknowledging everyone they come across with a smile, a wave or a loud “Bula!”.

Fiji can be visited all year round, but the most comfortable and pleasant weather is during the winter months, from May to October. The days are shorter, but the climate is very mild especially for northern hemisphere tourists who are accustomed to temperatures of between 25°C and 30°C. The nights can be cooler, with temperatures sometimes falling to15°C, but the important thing is that this is the least humid period of the year and the ocean temperature stays at between 20°C and 25°C. As is done in the tropics lying lazily at the beach soaking up the sun is a common activity, but there are also other things to do such as getting a relaxing massage – after which you are guaranteed to feel years younger. Lying on the massage table, listening to the sounds of the waves calmly breaking on the sand, one gets an idea of what heaven must feel like. An hour long massage after your arrival in Fiji will go a long way to relax your body and eliminate your jet lag.


A visit to the village
If lazing around in the resort is not for you, why not visit a Fijian village? Close by the resort is the village of Namaqumaqua. Without tourism it is unlikely the village could afford to have its own kindergarten or running water. The kindergarten if surrounded by a wire fence, most probably to stop the children running away to play at the nearby beach during recess. Houses in the village are simple, usually made from concrete blocks and roofed with corrugated iron (it is less and less common to see traditional palm thatched roofs. Inside, the concrete floor is covered with large and intricate hand woven traditional mats.

Many of the villagers work in two of the local resorts. They are the gardeners, receptionists, cleaners, waiters, chefs and drivers. Everyone it seems is also a talented musician or singer, and every evening staff perform traditional Melanesian and Polynesian songs. They are happy that they can be amongst these foreign visitors. Sharing a thing or two about their home surely gives them a sense of pride, and they definitely do not shy away from conversation. Fiji was a British colony, and so your experience will be that much more eaasy because the villagers to this day speak English.   

fIJI1In the Namaqumagua village, which I have visited many times with tour groups, life seems to have a very slow pace. Dogs, accustomed to the sight of tourists don't even lift their heads, and lie lazily in the shade, appearing almost bored. It is the Fijian children, playing and running around the village square that add any sort of commotion to the place. They do not shy away from the tourists either, smiling and waving. The presence of tourists delights not only the children, but also the local shopkeeper, who is more than happy to supply visiting groups with consumables to take back to the resort.

From the porch of a larger house an older man looks our away, he is the chief, the main authority in the village. He is looking after his granddaughter, as during the day her parents are working in the resort. He happily poses for photographs. The chief has the final say on all important issues in the village.

On many porches shell necklaces, wooden masks and coconut shell bowls are displayed for sale. We take a peek inside the Methodist church, which was built with money donated by an older Australian couple. In a village of only 200 people, there are a number of faiths living side by side in harmony. The village is a very close knit community, and everyone goes through both the good and bad times together.

Upon one of my visits to the village, the locals were preparing for a celebration, with the women preparing a giant feast. It was to celebrate the completion of a project to connect the village to the island water mains. The funds for this investment were collected by the resort, which added a FJ$5 gratuity to every visitor’s bill. This gratuity was voluntary, but almost all visitors were happy to pay it.

Fiji7Bula, bula, bula!
What is there to do in FIji? Apart from the standard tourist activities such as snorkelling and kayaking, visitors can take the time to learn how to peel a coconut with a machete, or watch an unforgettable frogs vs. crabs race, as you supportyour chosen animal contestant.  Every evening, there is a fire lighting ceremony during which young Fijian warriors in traditional dress run to the beat of drums with a flaming torch, lighting pole torches throughout the resort. This is the way it has been done for centuries. During dinner, guests are entertained with more traditional Melanesian singing and dancing.

Tourists also have the possibility to try a traditional Fijian drink, called Kava. It has nothing to do with coffee as some may assume. In all honesty it tastes nothing like coffee either.  Native Fijians, as well as some other Melanesian peoples have been drinking Kava for centuries. It is known to be a relaxant, and after a few, one may even experience hallucinogenic effects. It is made from the powdered root of the kava plant, which is placed inside a cloth and soaked in water. Upon squeezing the cloth, the water takes on a light brown colour. This mixture is served in a halved coconut shell, and preferably drunk in one go. The empty coconut shell is returned to the server. Following the drink, one must make three loud claps and shout out the magical words ‘bula, bula, bula’. Not all tourists drink Kava. The sight of Kava, not to mention its preparation using tap water and bare hands, makes some people understandably concerned about poisoning. The resort is adamant that there have been no cases of upset stomachs, and I can attest to this having drank Kava on a number of occasions. Not so long ago I had three in a row, and did not feel the slightest bit uneasy. The locals say that kava calms the senses and weakens inhibitions.

Fiji4Another recommended activity is and trip to Suva, Fiji’s capital city. This city of 250 thousand people is nothing too special. You can visit the markets, where locals will try to entice you to buy their local produce. The Fiji museum, located in the heart of Suva's botanical gardens is worth a visit, and in the city centre there are a number of interesting public buildings, including the government building built out of grey volcanic rock. Not far away is a wooden 19th century building, the Grand Pacific Hotel, for many years under renovation. Many tourists also photograph themselves with soldiers guarding the presidential palace. A walk along Suva’s promenade will also be a great addition to your time there.

Not all people know that Melanesians, the traditional inhabitants of the Fiji Islands are not the only people living here. Out of a population of around 900 thousand people, a significant proportion is comprised of Indians. They number approximately 45% of the population, and were brought to Fiji by the British in the 19th century to work on the sugar cane plantations, producing one of the countries main commodities. These Fijian-Indians are prosperous people, and have a great influence on the politics and economy of the country. In the past there have been tensions between the two ethnic groups, including government coups such as in the year 2000, in which thirty six government officials led by a Fijian-Indian prime minister were held hostage for almost two months.  The instigator of this coup received life in prison after being found guilty of treason. Despite cultural differences, both peoples are trying to live together in harmony, with tourism playing a big part by giving Fijians and Fijian-Indians employment and business opportunities, as well as a sense of national unity and pride.


Tongariro article


Tongariro2a Martian landscape

Despite it being January, which in New Zealand is the middle of summer, the mornings are exceptionally cool in Turangi, a town at the entrance to Tongariro National Park lying on a volcanic plateau in the centre of the North Island. The cold does not deter fishermen who stand around in the icy fast moving waters of the Tongariro River in their rubber waders catching trout. Our group of conditioned hiking enthusiasts begin to chat with these fishermen from the high bank of the river. One of them had apparently been fishing since 5am and caught two fish which he estimated to be at least 6kg each. The Tongariro River is famous for very large trout so who’s to say he was exaggerating. There is a hatchery upriver which releases trout into the river once they reach a certain size.

 Hearing a bus arrive at the hotel reception we abruptly had to end our morning conversation. It is our transfer to the starting point of the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing track. The driver, a friendly local Maori takes us to a carpark in the Maungatepopo river valley. It is here that the 19.5 kilometre track begins. In addition with a change in elevation of 886 metres, it is by no means a walk in the park.  Our group also planned the optional detour of conquering the neighbouring summit of Mt Ngauruhoe standing at 2291 metres above sea level.
The first part of the track is an easy and well prepared gravel path, wooden bridges and steps.  It leads through an area of hardy alpine vegetation including the very tall tussock grasses.

Moving along the Angatepopo stream, some already begin to feel thirsty, however the water in the stream is full of sulphur and is undrinkable. The path is taking us into a volcanic wonderland and only 40 minutes into the hike, the perfect cone shape of Mt Ngauruhoe appears to the right of us. That volcano last erupted in 1975. A wide path of hardened lava is evidence of the unsettled nature of this terrain, and a nearby information sign provides instructions of what hikers must do in the event of a volcanic eruption.
There are underground sensors placed in different parts of the National Park to monitor seismic activity, and in the past tremors have given scientists a few false alarms. But it is when you see large gas clouds hissing from distant and near fumaroles that you get a real sense of how alive this place is.

The summit of Ngauruhoe is not covered in snow at this time of the year, and to our luck the weather is calm, so we proceed with our plan to conquer the impressive volcano. As we near the volcano, we take a short stop at a place called Soda Springs, to collect as much energy as we can before our very steep approach to the South Crater. Another sign warns us that we are in a mountainous area, where the weather can change quickly and unpredictably. Fortunately new wooden steps appear in our way and make our ascent slightly easier. After just 30 minutes we are on the rim of the South Crater, 1660 metres above sea level. The entire group is in good spirits and we decide that we are ready for an assault of the summit. We have 2.5 to 3 hours to ascend 630 metres and return to the track.

Tongariro1We proceed as the sweat begins to pour more and more from our foreheads. At a certain moment we are engulfed by a white cloud as dense as milk, but we soon climb far above it. After over an hour of hard marching we are on the summit, and what a view! In the south we can see the snow covered peak of Mt Ruapehu, the tallest volcano in the country at 2797 metres above sea level. Its sides are scarred after many eruptions that span its relatively short 250,000 year existence. The last two major eruptions of Ruapehu occurred in 1995 and 1996, followed by many years of calm, bar one small eruption in 2007 which caused part of the Crater Lake near its summit to spill down the mountainside releasing an immense volume of mud and water.

To the north looking down we can see Tongariro, the smallest of the three volcanoes in the National Park at 1967 metres above sea level. Much further north we can see Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake at over 610km2. We have been really lucky with the weather, and to the fareast we can see the Kaimanawa ranges, with some of the most inaccessible areas in the North Island. To the west, approximately 150km away we can see yet another volcano, Mt Taranaki (2518m), often referred to as New Zealand’s Mt Fuji, because of the similarity in its shape to the volcano in Japan.
We peer into the throat of the sleeping giant, the crater sides are covered in mixes of reds, oranges, yellows and greys. Scientist have estimated that the volcano erupts every 9 years, meaning that it is many years overdue, so not wanting to disturb its silence, we proceed down its steep slopes. After 40 minutes we are back on track so to speak. The muscles definitely felt that detour, but we cannot give them a break now, as we still have a long way to go. Our contact with craters is also not at an end yet, as during the crossing we see many more of them. The scenery is like being on Mars. At the edge of the red crater, the crossing reaches its highest point at 1886 metres above sea level. From here we descend down loose volcanic gravel in the direction of the beautiful Emerald Lakes. These three lakes are small volcanic craters covered in sulphur rich water, and this is what gives the water its intense emerald colour. We walk through the flat bottom of the Central Crater then have to manoeuvre a steep incline. In the crater in front of us we see the large Blue Lake. After another solid march through this alien landscape, the track begins its winding descent  towards the small Ketetahi Hut, beautifully located amongst tussock grasses.

We come across a stream which flows from hot springs and has a greyish-green colour. The next part of the track crosses traditional Maori Lands. Signs ask hikers to respect this place because it is tapu – meaning sacred in the Maori language. They bathed in the Ketetahi springs as they believed the waters had healing properties.

Tongariro3The track becomes easier, and in the valley we see a forrest towards which the path leads. In the distance we can see Lake Rotorira, and beyond that Turangi, the place our adventure began. Eventually we descend into native New Zealand forest, were we can see many New Zealand tree species including Beech, Totara and Rimu, as well as many other plants including the Kawakawa. We arrive at the car park very much exhausted. A relaxing dip at the local geothermal springs in the evening is a sure way to quickly regenerate our aching muscles and prepare us for the next day.

Tongariro National Park is one of the oldest National Parks in the word. It was established in 1887 when Te Heuheu Tukino IV, great chief of the Ngati Tuwhheretoa tribe, granted this volcanic area to the colonial government. He did this for practical reasons; he did not want European settlers to destroy this sacred area through cattle and sheep farming.

New Zealand director Sir Peter Jackson chose his area to be Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with Mt Ngauruhoe being used for Mount Doom. Film enthusiasts easily recognise the places through which hobbits Frodo and Sam traversed while Golem stalked them so that they could not reach their destination.


Queenstown article

Queenstown A town fit for a Queen
Queenstown2Located in the Southern Alps of New Zealand is Queenstown, a small resort town of roughly 18 thousand people. It is regarded as New Zealand’s winter capital, and it is the most important tourist centre in New Zealand, surpassing even Rotorua in the North Island.

The most accepted story as to how the town got its name is that the surrounding scenery it was so impressing and beautiful, local gold diggers proclaimed that the place was fit for Queen Victoria. She never visited New Zealand, but her heirs and members of the royal family have visited this beautiful place many times. The positioning of Queenstown in a glacial valley on the shores of Lake Wakatipu impresses everyone who arrives here.  At around 300km², Wakatipu is the third largest lake in New Zealand. It also has the longest shoreline of any lake in the country and is one of the deepest at around 400metres. According to the Maori, the valley of the lake was carved out by the body of a giant serpent, and perhaps the distinctive s-shape of the lake explains how this legend came about.  The town and lake are surrounded by high mountain peaks, the highest of which exceed 2300 metres above sea level.  The unique scenery was not lost on the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy Peter Jackson and many takes for the epic movies were filmed in the area. There have been other film and television crews who filmed around Queenstown, with the scenery often being used to imitate Tibet, Korea, Japan, Scotland or Canada for example.  

Queenstown3Artist’s canvas
Tourists visit Queenstown all year round. Although it can get quite cold in the winter months (June-August), it is generally dry, and when the sun is shining the only reminder that it is winter is the snow covered mountains.  It is hard to choose the perfect time to visit. This is the problem faced by many artists, for whom Queenstown is their favourite landscape. In spring rhododendrons, roses and lupins bloom in an incredible assortment of colours.  In autumn the yellowing tree leaves, the blue sky and the dark green waters of the lake with its silver cliffs, give endless sources of inspiration. In winter the town is surrounded by white snow covering the surrounding mountains. It only snows a few times each winter in the town itself, while permanent winter snow is commonly found above 1400metres. Icy roads are an occasional test for both local and visiting drivers. Icy roads in New Zealand are not sprinkled with salt or sand, so in order to avoid the risk of accidents and slips, tyre chains are a necessary accessory to have in every car.

Queenstown4Total tourism
Queenstown has an endless choice of attractions and activities, and with tourists in mind developers are building houses and apartments with stunning views for the lake below. Some of the most expensive real-estate in New Zealand can be found here. It can be said that Queenstown is a place of total tourism; with hundreds of hotels, hostels and motels offering accommodation for all budgets. Visitors have every option from renting a villa with lake views to sharing a simple tent section at a campground. No holiday in New Zealand is complete without visiting Queenstown and even New Zealanders admire the pristine beauty of this place, not to mention Australians, who simply do not have such stunning mountains, lakes, rivers and streams back home. Nor do they have such great ski fields as the ones found in the Southern Alps. For a few years now there have been direct flights to Queenstown from Australian cities such as Melbourne and Sydney, and as a result Queenstown has the fastest growing airport in the country. Queenstown calls itself the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’, and there is a lot of truth to that. Would you like to take a helicopter flight? Easy. What about paragliding? Just call and book. Extreme mountain biking? It’s here as well. Almost any adrenaline filled adventure is just a phone call away, and within walking distance. Do you want to jump out of a plane but have never tried skydiving before? Not a problem. The instructor will jump attached to you, so just sit back and enjoy the view from high in the air. Alternatively, with a parachute on your back you get attached to the back of a jet boat by a rope. When the boat takes off on the water, the parachute takes you up in the air, and you glide behind taking in the unforgettable views around you. If that is not enough adrenaline for you, you can fly in a jet plane, or bungy jump - off a bridge, a platform or even a pod strung 134m above a river.  Queenstown is the place where commercial Bungy Jumping began in the late eighties. It was the vision of a New Zealander called Alan J. Hacket, who patented the idea and did everything to show it was safe.  He even jumped off the Eiffel tower to promote his new venture, and since 1988 it has grown into an international empire. Bungy jumping has become popular all over the world, and yet many are drawn to the historic Kawaru Bridge, because this is where it all began. Those that do not wish to jump can listen to the screams of others, crazy enough to do the 43 meter fall off a bridge with an elastic rope attached to their feet. The oldest person to have done this so far was 94, the youngest 10. For most, one jump is enough, but for others the Kawarau Bridge is just a fore runner to a much more serious event. A few kilometers way, in a canyon, hanging 134 meters above the Nevis River, is a platform. The freefall from this platform itself takes 8.5 seconds, which can feel like an eternity, and the most entertaining part is seeing the faces of the jumpers just as they step out onto the platforms ledge. Another activity popular amongst tourists is jet boating, where fast boats take you on an adrenaline filled ride through canyons of the Kawarau or Shotover River. The jet boat was the creation of a New Zealander, an engineer from Christchurch called William Hamilton. His designed a water jet engine, which instead of using a propeller, created thrust by taking in water, and expelling it under high pressure from behind the boat. The genius of the design allowed a boat to travel at very high speeds on just a few centimeters of water. The idea has gone global, and every day of the year in Queenstown, jet boats wiz through canyons with screaming and adrenaline filled passengers. Other ways to experience the beautiful mountain rivers here include whitewater rafting and white water sledging. Calmer water activities include kayak trips on Lake Wakatipu, and sailing trips on an Americas Cup yacht, which has been added to the wide range of unique activities on offer here.

Queenstown6Gold Rush
Money can disappear very quickly in Queenstown. Some believe that they can make it all back by striking gold. From the 1860s the Central Otago region went through one gold rush after another. Gold diggers arrived from many countries of the world, and although most were Europeans, there was a significant number of Chinese. Remains of their settlements can be seen around Arrowtown and on the way to Cromwell. Both these towns are worth a visit, and a walk through their historic town centres will take you back to the gold rush days. As you walk amongst beautifully restored cottages and stone stores, it feels like a film set for an American Western. To find out more about the history of the region a visit to the Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown is a must. Here you can also rent a gold pan (with a shovel and instructions), walk a few hundred metres along the bank of the Arrow river until you find a nice spot, dig in and start panning. Who knows, maybe that elusive gold nugget is right under your feet.

White Fever
The ski season in Queenstown kicks off with the Winter Festival at the beginning of June. People diving into the bone chilling 8°C waters of Lake Wakatipu is one past time of this festival. Every day snowboarders and skiers board coaches, minibuses and cars fitted with snow chains, and head for one of the two ski fields in the area, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables. A third ski field, Mt Cardrona, is only about an hours drive away. Wealthier tourists take to the ski fields by helicopter. For around $400, experienced and brave skiers can fly to the higher mountain ranges for some extreme skiing, where they go down very steep mountain sides at high speeds. Snow crazy tourists from the northern hemisphere come to Queenstown in June, July and August to get two winters in one year.

Queenstown10At a slower pace
Of course you don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to enjoy your stay in Queenstown. Tourist preferring calm and relaxing activities can take a majestic cruise on Lake Wakatipu. The 100 year old TSS Earnslaw was once used to transport produce and stock to farms on the shores of the lake, today however it is one of the most popular attractions in Queenstown. Built in 1912, it is probably the last remaining coal powered steam ship in the southern hemisphere. During the cruise you can see the historic engine in action with your own eyes. The Earnslaw has become one of Queenstown’s most recognisable icons, and there are sailings departing throughout the day.  During some of these cruises passengers disembark at Walter Peak Station, on the other side of the lake, where they partake in a farm show, go horse riding, and enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner at the station restaurant. Water in the lake cold even in the summer, and rarely goes above 12°C, but this is normal for a deep mountain lake like Wakatipu. There is however a shallow beach at the bottom end of Queenstown Mall, and during a hot summer’s day the water here can get up to 20°C. There is even a floating platform on which swimmers can rest before jumping back into the crystal clear water. Fishing enthusiasts will not be disappointed with Queenstown either as salmon and trout are plentiful in the lakes and rivers.  The area is also a golf hub with around 10 golf courses. One such golf course, owned by the most successful New Zealand jeweller Sir Michael Hill, hosted the New Zealand Golf Open between 2008 and 2010. As in any frontier town, you would expect to find a lot of brothels in Queenstown, but this is not so. I guess that tourists exhausted after a day of adventure and adrenaline have different demands than a frustrated miner ill with gold fever. That is not to say that there are no brothels at all. Every form of adrenaline filled adventure can be found in Queenstown after all.

Queenstown5To Milford
Queenstown is only a two hour drive from one of the largest national parks in the word – Fiordland. Every morning at around 7am, dozens of tourist busses depart Queenstown for an all day trip to Milford Sound, or the less popular but more beautiful Doubtful Sound. The distance from Queenstown to Milford Sound is 300km, and there is only one road leading in and out of the park. It is a drive through one of the most visually pristine areas of the world. Upon arriving in Milford Sound tourists board one of the many ships that take them for a cruise on what is actually a flooded glacial valley. After the cruise, the 300km return journey to Queenstown completes a 12-14 hour day. For those with less time to spare Milford Sound can be reached by plane or helicopter from Queenstown, Glenorchy or Te Anau. Up to 8000mm of rain falls in Fiordland every year, but despite the weather, it is still known as the ‘Walking Capital of the World’ offering hundreds of kilometres of walking tracks. If you were to ask me what the best time to visit Queenstown is, I would say that unlike other resort towns, Queenstown does not close its doors to tourists for the spring and autumn. Most attractions and adventure activities operate throughout the year, but for me the most important element to this place is the beautiful scenery, and for this reason I like Queenstown at any time of day and year.

Uluru article

Silence of the desert

Uluru4Uluru, known also as Ayers Rock, is a huge red sandstone monolith in the very heart of the Australian continent, an icon of the country. Some say it is the very essence of the Australian outback, and e visit to this place at least once in your life is a must. For the aboriginal Australians, it is a sacred mountain, which must be respected, for to do otherwise may bring about bad omens. The large concentration of iron oxide in the sandstone not only creates stunning colour effects, it has the ability to attract atmospheric discharge. Those who have witnessed lightning hitting the rock are left with a long lasting impression of the power of nature. Ironic are those who find themselves in a desert thunder storm whilst attempting to climb Uluru.
U luru-Kata Tjuta National Park according to the locals is a ‘must do’ by every tourist visiting Australia. With tourists in mind, a resort town was built in the shadow of the giant rock. In the relatively expensive hotels, because everything here (water, electricity, transport, food) costs more than in other parts of Australia, you can hear many languages of the world. There are many Japanese (there is even a permanent Japanese resident in the resort), Germans and Americans.  More frequently Portuguese is heard.  In Yulara there are car rental companies, and at the local airport there are helicopters and small planes which for a few hundred dollars, will take you on scenic flights over Ulu¬ru, Kata Tjuta or the dry salty lake bed of lake Amadeus.

Uluru5A parade of colour
The biggest traffic at Ayers rock is before the sunrise and sunset. A National Park entry pass must be purchased, which costs $25 and is valid for 3 days. Even before dawn, tourists depart the resort in busses and cars, and head for the park. On a large platform, not far from the foot of the rock they ready their cameras, waiting for the curtain of darkness to open above Uluru. When the sun rises Uluru emerges from the darkness and begins to change colour. This visual spectacle lasts for a few good minutes, until the rock takes on a bright orange appearance. After the sunrise, tourists continue their exploration of the National Park, with some intent on climbing the rock, despite this being discouraged by the Aborigines.  It is a holy and mysterious mountain full of the spirits of their ancestors. It has been for tens of thousands of years the centre of the Aboriginal world, where their many vast paths intersected. In the rock’s shadow their people found respite from the heat, from its springs they drank fresh water. Most tourists respect this tradition and instead of climbing Uluru, they take a 9.5 kilometre walk around the rock. In the late afternoon, the busses and cars again re-enter the park. The parade of colour is again admired, this time in the opposite order, as the sun sets, Uluru changes from bright orange to dark purple, then it disappears into darkness. It is a spectacle worth seeing.

Civilisation’s victims
Another experience offered to visitors is an exclusive dinner under the stars. This desert restaurant has no walls and the tables stand directly on the red sand. With a glass of champagne or Australian wine, tourists watch from a distance the sunset over Uluru. Occasionally a skinny dingo will wonder close by, but as for kangaroos, they generally avoid humans and seeing a live one cannot be guaranteed during your stay. Kangaroo road kill however is a common site on the road linking Uluru with Alice Springs. Australian motorists know the dangers of hitting a kangaroo at speed, and careful driving is especially required in smaller cars, which will not come out of such an encounter unscathed. Such risks are not relevant of course to drivers of massive trucks, some pulling up to four trailers, transporting everything across the Australian Outback. Dead wildlife on the side of the road is a sad consequence of the progress of civilisation and commercial trade and tourism in the heart of Australia. Other victims include native lizards, snakes and birds, and more frequently camels, which were introduced from the Middle East in the 19th century. Today there are almost one million camels throughout the Australian outback, threatening amongst other things the fragile ecological balance of the desert. 

Uluru6Once higher than the Himalayas
Returning to the restaurant in the desert, looking out to the east from your table, the flat horizon is broken by the peaks of another rock formation – Kata Tjuta also known as the Olgas. In the Anangu language Kata Tjuta means many heads, and it is this rock formation along with Uluru that make up the most important geological attractions of this area.  They are the ruminants of an ancient mountain range that was once higher than the Himalayas. Being around 600 million years old, the European Alps are mere toddlers in comparison. During this almost endless stretch of time Uluru and Kata Tjuta were exposed to wind, rain and ice, and to this day they are slowly being eroded by natural forces. Uluru can be compared to an iceberg, as the visible part of the rock which rises 348 metres from the desert floor (863 metres above sea level) is only 1/3 of its total height. The remainder rests hundreds of metres under the desert sand. The highest summit of Kata Tjuta rises to 500 metres above the desert floor, and 1066 metres above sea level. Climbing the domes of Kata Tjuta is not allowed but instead visitors can take one of the well maintained walking tracks around and through the valleys of this rock formation. The impressive sound of wind rushing through some of the valleys is caused by the difference in air temperature of the surrounding desert and inside the valleys. The hot air picks up speed as it travels through the cooler valleys, creating a ghostly whistling sound.

Uluru2Kangaroos, dragons and demons
Some visitors have been disappointed with their visit to Uluru. Some have complained that they had to cover thousands of kilometres just to see a bunch of rocks. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. More observant visitors will admire the unique flora and fauna found around Uluru and Kata Tjuta. There are 416 plant species including desert oak, cork trees, numerous eucalypts, desert grasses and figs, wild oranges and many others. According to information provided by the park authorities, there are 25 mammal species, 74 reptile species, 178 bird species and 4 frog species. This is a surprisingly large diversity of life for a desert, and some may be asking how frogs can survive in such an environment. Despite the arid and dry climate of the Australian Outback, the rainy season, or ‘the wet’ as it is known locally, brings rains which fill deep crevasses in the rocks, making water accessible in some parts all year long. Lucky are those who have witnessed a flood in Uluru. The red earth takes on an even more intense colour, and the desert plants spring to life. The fauna of the outback also includes large lizards, including the varan parentie (varanus gigan¬teus), second in size only to the Komodo Dragon, and the much smaller thorny devil, so called because of the horns on its head and spikes all over its body.

Uluru3A New Word for the Aborigines
Ownership of the park was returned to the traditional owners, the Anangu tribe in 1985. Their ownership rights were returned after many generations of European mistreatment. After long negotiations the territory on which the National Park stands was returned to the federal government by the Anangu people on a 99 year lease. The agreement is structured in such a way that any new plans for the park must be met with aboriginal consent, and there are aboriginal members in the park’s management structure. For the custodians of this land, it has always been and always will be Nganama Nura, or ‘our place’.  They utilised what the desert gave them, and the desert gave them everything they needed to live here happily and according to their customs and traditions for tens of thousands of years. They did not exploit what nature gave them and hunted and gathered only as much as they needed. Being in Uluru, a visit to the Aboriginal Cultural Centre is a good way to learn about Australia’s first inhabitants, and to see what they have lost as a consequence of European colonisation. They continue to live here to this day, and things must be improving for them. They are regaining their say in the economy of the region, and they protect their land by ensuring damage from tourism is kept to a minimum. They are happy to share their stories with visitors, about their long history, their art and their understanding of nature. For thousands of years they lived differently, but over the last 200 years the encroachment of civilisation may have irreversibly turned their world upside down, forever disturbing the silence of the desert.

Solomon Islands Article

The Solomon Islands

Solomons1an undiscovered Archipelago
These unique Islands were of course discovered by the Spanish explorer and navigator Alvaro Mendaña de Neyra in the 16th century, but as of yet they have not been discovered by the so called mass tourist. Mendaña fund gold here, and believing that it was the gold of the legendary King Solomon, named the islands in his name.
In terms of tourism this country is miles behind the neighbouring archipelagos of Fiji or Vanuatu. The infrastructure is very modest, with only a few hotels and resorts, mainly in Honiara, Malaita and New Georgia. The Solomons are truly beautiful though, with coral islands, golden sand beaches, and jungle covered mountains reaching 2300 metres in height. In addition the Solomon Islands boast a uniquely rich and exotic culture.

Solomons2Problems and hopes
Today, mainly thanks to financial aid from Australia and New Zealand, the Solomon Islands are beginning to catch up to the civilised world. In Honiara, Auki, Munda, Gizo and other important centres, new office buildings and commercial centres are springing up. In the papers, a lot has been written about renewed gold exploration in Guadalcanal, as well as fresh discoveries on the island of Fauro in the Western province. There is also renewed mining of nickel in the Province of Isabel. One thing in need of much improvement here is the healthcare system. Doctors and nurses from many parts of the world come here on international missions. They are fighting, with improving success; against the main scrounge of many tropical islands, malaria, as well as other diseases including HIV. In recent years more emphasis has been placed on developing the local healthcare system. In the press I read that dozens of young Solomon Islanders are studying medicine abroad in Cuba. Emphasis on education is also increasing, and the war against illiteracy has become a priority for the local government.

Solomons7Honiara, the heart of the Solomons
Every visit to these islands must begin in Honiara, as this is the location of the only international airport, built during the Pacific War by the Americans in a place called Henderson Fields. The capital has direct flight connections with Australia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji. The national carrier Solomon Airlines provides transport links between the main islands of the archipelago. Upon arriving in Honiara, the air-conditioned comfort of the jet plane is replaced with the hot equatorial air. The islands lie only a few degrees south of the equator, and as such even in the so called dry season, it is still quite hot and humid. It is no wonder then, that after only a few minutes the shirt on ones back is completely soaked in sweat. The passengers in the nearly full plane, which arrives twice weekly from Brisbane, consist almost evenly of Europeans and Melanesians. The latter were fortunate enough to emigrate to Australia and find employment there. They now come to the Solomons to visit relatives, whom they also support financially.
After a refreshing dip in the swimming pool of the King Solomon Hotel, I head downtown. Honiara is a city of almost 60 thousand people, and is also the largest port in the island nation which is scattered over 1.2million km2 of the Pacific Ocean. The entire Archipelago consists of nearly 1000 islands, of which around 350 are inhabited, while over 600 are fitting for a Robinson Crusoe sequel. I visited Skyline Ridge, a hill upon which the Americans erected a memorial dedicated to the battles for the Pacific during the Second World War. On the marble plaques are engraved the names of war ships, both American and Japanese, which were sunk in the waters around Guadalcanal.

Solomons5A gift from the USA
On a hilltop above Honiara, the parliament building from a distance looks more like a large water tank. The top of the building especially bears a striking similarity to a large corrugated iron water barrel. The circular conference room has excellent acoustics and air conditioning. Being here I thought to myself that in such a hot tropical climate this would be the ideal place to undertake debates by the 50 representatives of the 9 Solomon Island provinces. Built in the 90s, the parliament building was gifted to the island nation by the Americans, who in this way thanked the Solomon Islanders for their support during battles against the Japanese in WWII. These were ferocious battles, and had the Japanese beaten the Americans at Guadalcanal and the rest of the Archipelago, Australia would have been next in line on the Japanese hit list. Evidence of these battles can be found in the form of rusted patrol boats, barges and battle ships lying at the bottom of the ocean surrounding Guadalcanal and other islands in the archipelago. In the dense jungles one can find the wrecks of planes and tanks as well as artillery shells and other military equipment. This chapter in the history of the Solomon islands was documented through James Joneses’ The Thin Red Line’ which was filmed in the late 1990s.
A real Robinson Crusoe?
Reading the Solomon Air in-flight magazine, I came across the name Richard Majchrzak, a photographer and owner of a gallery in the prestigious NPF Plaza in the Centre of Honiara. Richard’s Father was Polish, while Richard himself was born in Germany. In the Solomon Islands he married a beautiful Melanesian girl called Naomi, and has remained here ever since. Together they run their small business selling local crafts and artwork. Richard is also a talented photographer, and his photos are sold in galleries and shops throughout Honiara. He doesn’t speak Polish, but it is evident he is proud of his roots. He introduced me to his wife Naomi, who comes from the province of New Georgia, and together they told me a lot about local customs and traditions. One of the most significant events in the island nation’s post war history was a visit by the late Pope John Paul the second in May 1984. It isn’t hard to imagine that due to the tropical climate, this was probably one of the hardest pilgrimages the Polish Pope undertook. At the post office I bought stamps commemorating this historic visit.

Solomons3Artificial Islands
From Honiara I flew to Auki in the Malaita Provence. The flight was to take just 40 minutes, however it took nearly 2 hours, as the plane diverted to a small village on the other side of the island. There the pilot bravely landed on a not so flat grassy clearing, unloaded a few boxes, then took off again, continuing onto Auki. With near impatience I awaited the next day, when I was to visit the lagoon of Langa Langa. A local tradition here is the building of artificial islands, on which the locals then build their houses, and there are hundreds of these in the area. Every newly married couple literally builds their nest in this way, digging up coral sediment from the lagoon to make their own artificial island, on which to build their family home. My visit was to one such island, belonging to Sara and her husband Gustav, an Australian with German Ancestry. I took some time to talk with Gustav, to understand how a European felt about life in such a unique place. It didn’t take Gustav long to begin talking about his main concern, which was global warming. “Do you see that wooden post there? It is scientific proof that global warming is no joke. That nail there shows the highest point that I have seen the water in the lagoon”. As it turns out, since the year before, Gustav has had to raise that nail by 2 centimetres. In December, when the tides are at their highest, it is more and more common for the water to nearly flood our little island, he told me. “The water is starting to creep into our house, and my vegetable garden is suffering from excessive salinity in the soil”. At present, after raising part of his island by a further metre, Gustav is building a new house. There is only a few months left before December, but he is confident that he will finish the new house in time. Sara and Gustav’s bungalow is of a traditional Melanesian construction, very clean, well maintained, and with mosquito nets above all the beds.

Solomons8Shell money
The Langa Langa region boasts a very original currency, which for centuries has been made from shells. It is used to this day, but of course much less frequently than in times past. The ‘minting’ is the task of the local women, who shape the shells by gently tapping the edges with a hammer against a wooden post. The colour of the shell determines its relative value. As in times past this shell money is also used as a way for young men to ‘buy’ permission of a family to marry their daughter. The locals tell me that till this day it is still possible to buy fruit and vegetables, and even hogs with this shell money.

Solomons6Corals and wrecks
The airport in Munda is a remnant from WWII. The very long and wide runway is in complete contrast to the small building that is the airport’s terminal. The concrete runway was built by the Americans, and was used as an airstrip by their largest and heaviest bombers. Today it is used by small turbine powered planes of the Solomon Airlines. Because of the relatively infrequent air traffic, the runway is also used as a football field. I spent two days in Munda and then Gizo, the capital of the Western Province. Munda lies on the shores of the Roviana lagoon, which during the day bustles with boat and canoe traffic. The lagoon is like a motorway network linking together the many islands of the Western Province, as well as its capital Gizo. I had a chat to a diving instructor from Australia who boasted that the beauty of the underwater life in this region far surpasses that found on the Great Barrier Reef. I also took a boat ride on the lagoon. My guide, Simon showed me submerged holes, caused by exploding bombs dropped from planes during heavy fighting between the Americans and the Japanese. In the dense jungle I also came across the rusted remains of a military barge, as well as a skeleton of a crashed fighter plane. The locals have neither the money nor the technology to dispose of these war relics, and the Americans do not respond to the country’s pleas to have them removed.

Solomons4Crocodiles and…..geography
As our small motorboat whizzed past some mangroves, I asked Simon if there were crocodiles here. He calmly replied yes telling me the story of how not so long ago a five metre croc became the talking point of the region. It came on to the shore close by the Mundia markets every morning for over a week. Local parents became increasingly worried for the safety of their children, who like to play in the waters of the lagoon. The police had no choice but to get rid of the animal, even though officially these animals are under protection. As we arrived at a small sandy island on the lagoon, Simon proposed a refreshing swim, assuring me that there were no crocodiles around this particular island. Let’s just say it was the shortest swim I have ever had. My guide turned out to be a very interesting person. He told me that he didn’t go to any school, but surprised me greatly when he was able to accurately describe the location of various countries in Europe. I promised him that the next time I visited the Solomon Islands, I would bring him an up to date atlas of the world, since the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia no longer existed. I also thought to myself how many Europeans have only a vague idea of the geography and political make up of their own part of the world, let alone the distant, almost undiscovered archipelago of the Solomon Islands.

Practical information

  • Location and people: The Solomon Islands lie in the south western part of the Pacific Ocean, in the region known as Melanesia. The archipelago is made up of almost 1000 islands with an area amounting to around 29,785km2. The population of around 450 thousand is predominantly made up of Melanesians, but the is also a noticeable Chinese population around Honiara, as well as several thousand people of European decent, mainly from Australia and New Zealand. The Solomon Islands are a constitutional monarchy, the head of state being Queen Elizabeth II represented by the Governor General. Parliamentary elections are held every four years.
  • Language: The main language is Pijin English, which is a mixture of local dialects and English. The local Melanesians use 87 different dialects.
  • Currency: Solomon Islands Dollar. One US dollar buys approximately 7 Solomon Islands Dollars. Credit Card facilities are available at better hotels and resorts, however it is a good idea to have cash on hand when browsing the shops and markets.  
  • Visa: 3 month tourist visas are issued upon arrival In the Solomon Islands. Passports need to be valid for at least 6 months from the date of departure, and visitors must show a return ticket as well as sufficient funds for the duration of their stay. The visa costs approximately 40 Solomon Island Dollars.
  • Health: Travelling around the Solomon Islands requires a good state of health due to the difficult tropical climate. Malaria tablets as well as Tetanus shots are a must. A medical consultation is recommended prior to commencing your holiday.
  • Safety: The Islands are generally regarded as safe. Machetes are a common site, but are only used by locals for food gathering and for easier movement through the jungle.

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