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Monday, April 30, 2007

Corporate Affairs: Chartering for a corporate cruise

Chartering a multimillion dollar sports cruiser or motor yacht for your corporation or executives can be a daunting affair, but with a little prior knowledge, it can be easier than you think. Roderick Eime spoke to the experts for their advice.

Imagine this: the call comes through from head office in Geneva. The global CEO and chairman are arriving for a lightning visit and you have two days to organise something. Three hours on the harbour should keep them occupied and out of the office. A nightmare scenario? Perhaps? But one you can deal with.

Chartering a luxury vessel need not be a make-or-break ordeal. Follow our advice and you’ll enjoy a trouble-free experience and keep your job as well.

Locating a Boat

Flip open the yellow pages and you are presented with a bewildering array of vessels: small and large, fast and slow, cheap and nasty. But which is which?

The result of our investigations turned up something that may not surprise you, but even boat owners and skippers recommend using an agency. Why? They do it every day. They know the boats and their capabilities intimately and they follow through. Catering, crewing, itineraries and add-on entertainment can all be handled with a single call. It’s not much cheaper, if at all, than dealing direct and you have the added reassurance of a dedicated person handling your needs. Skippers and boat owners can get distracted and drop the ball. It happens.

But before you call, arm yourself with some basic information to get the process rolling quickly.

• What is the event? Business meeting, dining occasion, party or sightseeing?
• What is your budget? Consider an overall, fully-inclusive budget for boat, catering and entertainment.
• How many passengers? Sounds like a no-brainer, but this is critical.
• Lock dates in early, especially at short notice. Don’t miss out on the best boat because you dilly-dallied.
• Pay your deposit at time of booking. These are usually non-refundable.

Fast facts:

• Most charters are for three of four hours. Three hours is a common minimum.
• 30 to 40 passengers are the most common numbers catered for, but smaller groups are easier still.
• Fully catered charters are typically $150 to $300 per person on quality vessels. However, you’ll be looking at around $1000 per person for elite vessels
• If you’re considering a chef with gourmet catering, discuss this carefully with the agent. Choice of boat is important.

Make Your Job Easier

As a charter client, prepare yourself with these tips from the experts.

• View the vessel beforehand. Sight unseen is inviting trouble, even if your agent believes he or she has the perfect boat for you. Most can be “virtually” inspected on their respective web sites.
• 10 per cent no-show is the norm for groups.
• Don’t over invite. You don’t want to turn people away at the wharf and skippers cannot “just squeeze one more on”. Vessel numbers are strictly limited.
• Check the boat for weather ability. Is there shelter for all guests? It can rain any day of the year.
• Have a ‘Plan B’ for latecomers. Because of demand for berths, skippers cannot return to collect even your VIP guest if late. Water taxi is the easiest solution.

Following this process will quickly cover the most daunting aspects. Once you’ve secured your vessel and dates, you can start looking at the trimmings.

Entertainment and activities

Most people will be happy with the vessel’s own onboard entertainment systems. Don’t be afraid to specify music styles. If the Swiss CEO is a Wagner or yodelling fan, they’ll get it. Check out the large screen TV if you’re watching a televised event. Are there satellite facilities for the New York teleconference?

Catering: The vast majority of regular charter cruises will be by cocktail menu, but your European delegation need not be limited by that. Gourmet finger food is possible, but you’ll probably want to go the extra for Herr Strudelmeister. Consider a buffet for longer (four hour) cruises or even a chef.

Readers of Ocean will certainly have seen our very enticing “Chefs on Board” features. This is a wonderful and very satisfying option, especially for your visiting dignitaries. These events take preparation and not all boats have sufficient galley capacity for such a gala affair. Discuss this carefully with your agent and you’ll find several vessels and talented chefs familiar with this form of exclusive catering.

Beyond the negotiating, eating and drinking, numerous exciting add-ons are available to lighten the mood. Consider these for your charter.

Laser Clay Pigeon Shooting. A great team activity. Competitive, safe and fun. Use real shotguns shooting harmless laser beams at real clays.
Golf. Whack a bucket of floating balls into the harbour.
Jet Boat. Guests can jump aboard any of the exhilarating, high speed jet boats for a half hour heart-starter.
Entertainers. Jugglers, singers, comedians and dancers are all frequently aboard charter boats. Your agent will have a roster. Just consider your audience!
Post cruise relax. You may be in a hurry for the airport or the next meeting, but why not consider a drop off at a local point of interest like Sydney Opera House, Watsons Bay or Rose Bay for a relaxing stroll or coffee.

Overnight Charters

A small percentage of clients enquire about overnight charters and an even smaller percentage proceed.

This option is for your big end of town but holds the greatest potential for disappointment if mishandled. Not every yacht, even a multimillion dollar luxury cruiser, is always a five star hotel. All boats, even the few with active stabilisation, will rock slightly at anchor. Some bathroom facilities can be cramped and there will always be some noise from the generators.

If your international guests have their hearts set on this activity, there is little room for compromise. The ultra-prestige vessels in this category will be harder to arrange on short notice, but coupled with private aircraft transfers, clients can be aboard in the Whitsundays in just a few hours from any eastern seaboard capital city.

The Good The Bad and the Ugly

Sometimes we can have a good laugh afterwards, but our blood runs cold at the thought. Boating in any form is a safety conscious business and all skippers are acutely aware of the dangers to their passengers and vessel. Here are some things to keep in mind.

• High Heels, especially stilettos are not welcome on most boats. They are difficult to walk around in and quickly damage soft wood decks like teak.
• Avoid incendiaries, candles and sparklers. Sure to make your captain bite his nails to the elbow.
• Disabled Access. Most boats can do this, but please give notice beforehand.
• Overdoing it. All professional vessels are bound by liquor laws and captains must stop serving intoxicated persons. It’s the law.

Our suggestions

Here are a few sample ideas put together by the crew here at Ocean. We don’t mess about.

Seafaris – Ocean Safari

In our January edition we featured this brand new supreme luxury vessel based in Far North Queensland, but capable of operating throughout the South Pacific.

This is serious “movie star” luxury. Seafaris is 41 metres of world class maritime indulgence. Whether your passion is for diving, relaxing, adventure or just cruising, Seafaris is designed to meet the expectations of the most discerning client.

Imagine anchoring in crystal clear water above a reef teeming with tropical fish and bursting with brightly coloured coral while enjoying a lunch of almond crusted barramundi fillets served with Tasmanian scallops.

Transport and entertain ten guests in absolute luxury for any custom itinerary in the region.

For further information on Seafaris, call Cameron at Grant Torrens International Marine on 07 5577 2299 or visit www.granttorrensmarine.com.au

Oceanos II

In September last year, Anthony was treated to dinner on board this luxury 84 foot Italian motor cruiser. It was certainly a dinner to remember because it’s not every day you have celebrity chef Serge Dansereau from the acclaimed Bathers Pavilion cook you poached King George whiting with parsnip brandade.

The two year old Oceanos II spends most of her time in and around Sydney Harbour and is one of the few beautifully appointed vessels capable of staging such a feast.

With a little imagination and flair, any dinner occasion can be transformed beyond the ordinary to capitalise on the superb Sydney Harbour.

For further information on Oceanos II, call Mel or Vicky on 02 9555 4599 or visit www.oceanos.com.au

Ocean Dynamics’s Pilatus and Maritimo Escape

If the idea of the exclusive corporate charter plane to a tropical island appeals, then consider climbing aboard Ocean Dynamics’s private Pilatus from Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane and flying to the Great Barrier Reef haven of Hamilton Island. There you can indulge yourself aboard any of Ocean Dynamics three vessels, but you’ll probably want to choose either the superb Riviera 47 Gen 2 or Maritomo 60 for overnight and cruising options.

For further information on Ocean Dynamics vessels or aircraft, call 07 3268 4074 or visit www.oceandynamics.com.au

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Little Luxury Afloat

PDF
for SIA Priority Magazine

– Small Packages, Great Things!


Bigger is better, right? Not necessarily so. As the major players in the cruise industry seem obsessed with building overwhelming mega-vessels, this fixation has driven many to seek an alternative. Roderick Eime examines the growing luxury boutique cruising market.

As I stand watching the thousands of passengers disembark from Cunard’s enormous QE2 and disperse into the shopping and dining districts of Sydney’s The Rocks, I imagine troops disembarking from some distant conflict. Her much larger sibling, the QM2, is too big for the berth in Circular Quay. Instead she’s docked in the naval base normally reserved for visiting aircraft carriers and her passengers are transported by every available bus in Sydney. Despite my unkind comparisons, this form of cruising is growing rapidly. Folks still love these enormous queens of the sea.

But just as committed cruisers are flocking to the new breed of floating city blocks, there is a spirited growth of boutique adventurers who prefer the more intimate alternative offered by much smaller, more versatile vessels often catering to just one hundred or so discerning clients.

Travel marketers and analysts have developed the dual terms, “experiential” and “transformational” to describe the motivation behind this emerging group of travellers who seek, not mass market tourism or trademark locations, but exclusive and privileged transport aboard well appointed vessels whose itineraries might include the remote islands of Papua New Guinea or the rugged, uninhabited coastline of Australia’s Kimberley.

They seek, no demand, to be enriched and uplifted by their travel experiences not herded and corralled into tourist traps and shopping malls.

Some of these vessels are basic and utilitarian in nature, particularly the converted Russian spy fleet of ice class vessels that transport wayfarers into the frozen realms of the arctic and Antarctic. But there are also those built expressly for clients who have earned their luxuries and comforts and wish to explore in style.

Imagine a few dozen enraptured guests visiting a remote Melanesian community and sharing, for a couple of hours, their traditional lifestyle and culture while treated to dance and song in a most authentic fashion. Then, back on the ship, enjoying five star dining and fine wines.

This genuine form of travel is now a highly sought after product with today’s modern achievers. A typical cross section of guests would likely reveal retired executives and academics, younger baby boomers and Gen Xers whose lives and motives are more marked by intangible enrichment than crass acquisition. Many carry expert lecturers and guides who help you appreciate the wonders you’ll encounter.

The ships are typically between 50 and 110 metres in length catering for as few as 30 and, at the most, around 150 clients. In terms of appointments, think luxury beach house or intimate resort with attentive and personal service. Often you are free to sit with the captain in the wheelhouse as the vessel negotiates some spectacular fjord or turquoise lagoon.

Adventure cruising itineraries are always elastic and flexible and dictated by prevailing conditions and opportunities. If you’re after predictability and conformity, then stop reading now.


The Small Luxury Flagships

SeaDream I and II
“It’s Yachting not Cruising”



Awarded “World’s Best Small Passenger Shipping Line” for 2006 by Conde Naste, SeaDream Yacht Club is predominantly Caribbean and Mediterranean based and definitely one of the glamour operators in this genre. Their two vessels are immaculately presented, are shamelessly indulgent and pay a great deal of attention to service and fine dining in a casual atmosphere. You won’t need a tuxedo here. Both vessels are regulars in the best magazines and boast a long list of celebrities and Top 100s on their passenger roll. Their pricing includes, well, everything. Food, drinks, activities, the lot.

Built 1985/86, regularly refitted
Length: 105 metres
Passengers: 110
Crew: 95
Website: www.seadream.com

MV Orion
“It’s in our nature to explore”



Australia’s own small luxury vessel, Orion was built in Germany and launched in 2003. Flagged in the Bahamas, she is leased by a local company and operates itineraries from Papua New Guinea, the Kimberley to Antarctica. Despite her class-leading luxury appointments, Orion is dedicated to expedition cruising and is the undisputed queen of her class in the region. Award winning Sydney chef Serge Dansereau created the truly five star menu.

Built: 2003
Length: 103 metres
Passengers: 106
Crew: up to 80
Website: www.orioncruises.com.au

Oceanic Discoverer
“Dream, Explore, Discover”



Based in tropical Cairns, this dedicated and purpose-built expedition yacht is rarely at home. Instead she can be found cruising the South Pacific, Melanesia, the Kimberley and New Zealand. Perhaps the best true adventure ship in the region, she is superbly equipped for shore excursions and exploring, yet still retains a comfort level that allows her to compete in this lofty arena. Food is superior restaurant or hotel standard and head chef, Brent Nichols, has an impressive hotel pedigree and has been known to produce outstanding meals from almost nothing. Smaller than the queens and without the gold and brass doorknobs, this precocious princess nevertheless delivers the goods.

Built: 2005
Length: 63 metres
Passengers: 72
Crew: 20
Website: www.coralprincesscruises.com

True North II
“Go wild in style”



The baby of the luxury adventure fleet, True North II was introduced in 2005 to replace the smaller True North I and is the acknowledged expert in the Kimberley region. The trophy cabinet is overflowing with awards and she most recently received the ultra-prestigious Australian Best Adventure Tourism award. Based in Broome, this sparkling sprite travels as far as Papua New Guinea and has the added bonus of a full-time helicopter.

Built: 2005
Length: 50 metres
Passengers: 36
Crew: 18
Website: www.northstarcruises.com.au

MV Ammari
“Free your spirit, fill your senses”



Brand new on the Australian scene, MV Ammari is the latest celebrity vessel to ply Australian waters. Unusual in that she is a catamaran, she was built in 2000 by Austal, the same builders as True North and a world acknowledged expert in small ships and ferries. Bought back by Queensland maritime magnate, Hume Campbell, from a French operator to augment his fleet of Fantasea fast ferries and day cruisers in the Whitsundays, MV Ammari will be his own flagship. Without a track record in this region, she is committed to 12 months of cruising in the Whitsundays and out to the adjacent Great Barrier Reef. Expect a softer, more casual experience with an emphasis on “play” more than “explore”.

Built: 2000
Length: 60 metres
Passengers: 68
Crew: 20
Website: www.fantaseaammari.com

Tu Moana & Tia Moana
"Escape in Style for a world of sensuality"



These two superb 70 metre Austal-built luxury cruise yachts operate in Tahiti and carry just 70 passengers each. Introduced 2003, the twins are the epitome of exclusivity and indulgence in a idyllic tropical setting. Decorated with Polynesian art and artifacts, these ships create the total away-from-it-all experience.

Built: 2003
Length: 70 metres
Passengers: 74
Crew: 37
Website: www.boraboracruises.com

Also:

MV Reef Endeavour



Ideally suited to its home ground on the Great Barrier Reef, the MV Reef Endeavour brings a taste of small vessel cruising to those who may not be on the A-list. More reasonably priced, family-friendly and accessible than some of the others, it still delivers that essential escape. The same company also operates a similar, slightly smaller vessel in Fiji, MV Reef Escape.

Built: 1996
Length: 73 metres
Passenegsr: 150
Crew: 35
Website: www.captaincook.com.au

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Whitsunday Dreaming

Article from: escape


MV Ammari

“I see her as a sort of floating beach house, “ says Hume Campbell of his latest vessel, the sleep-aboard MV Ammari, “somewhere where guests can slow down quickly and relax.”

Campbell, the current patriarch of the 80-year-old Brisbane-based family company Riverside Marine Pty Ltd, has seen the firm grow from humble coal barges and tugs to this: luxury leisure cruising.

The laid-back side of this good ol’ fashioned maritime concern is Fantasea Adventure Cruising, purchased mid-2006 by Riverside for a reported $25 million. The 26-year-old company’s current activities include a fleet of air-conditioned, high speed catamaran ferries plying the waters of the Whitsundays and the award-winning tourist attraction, Reefworld, where visitors can actually overnight on the reef. Novel underwater accommodation is also planned.

This latest acquisition, the catamaran MV Ammari began life in the Freemantle yards of Austal Ships in 2000 as “Rivage St Martin”, destined for boutique cruising in the French Caribbean. Austal’s shipbuilding business is designing and constructing some of the most advanced vessels, both civilian and military, to ever come out of Australia.

During the March official launch, the decks were awash with government ministers, tourism heavyweights and local business big hitters. Flash bulbs blazed as the plaque was unveiled and the virtues of the venture extolled by Queensland Tourism Minister, Margaret Keech.

"In the past five years, the cruise shipping industry has surged by more than 600 per cent, producing enormous economic gains for Queensland," Mrs Keech said in a prepared statement.

"The introduction of a new leisure cruise ship opens the Great Barrier Reef and stunning Whitsunday islands up to more visitors, creating opportunities for these destinations to grow even further."

Every year around 2 million visitors travel to the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest living structure. Whilst marvelling at the 2000 species of fish inhabiting its 2000 kilometre long mass, they snorkel, dive and frolic in the crystal clear waters and kick around 6 billion dollars into Australia's economy. Campbell avows support for the Reef’s preservation, and why wouldn’t he? The eco-certified cruise company allocates over $100,000 for monitoring and management of its own activities on the Reef via the Fantasea Foundation.

Those that make their way to the Whitsundays and Hamilton Island, MV Ammari’s home port and base, are largely the hedonistic, escapist holidaymakers drawn by preferred travel agent packages and last minute Internet deals. But the island’s owner and champion yachtsman, Bob Oatley, has well-progressed plans for premium resort developments that will bring the exceedingly well-heeled to Hamilton. But just where the MV Ammari falls into this plan is not immediately clear.

MV Ammari is a modern, well-presented and capable vessel crewed by Australians, but not currently ticketed for international voyages. It’s not in Orion’s class for absolute luxury, nor Oceanic Discoverer’s league for expedition ability, so without further modification and certification, Ammari looks assigned for sedate duty in the Whitsundays and surrounding marine park. The sailing schedule is set until January 2008 at least and, if the marketing is any indication, will be closely aligned with the sales teams at the several nearby island and mainland resorts like Daydream, Lindeman and Hayman.

Straight-talking Campbell is no fly-by-nighter or corner-cutter either. His character is defined by the two generations before him, stamped from the mould of stereotypical hard-working, can-do men of the sea. His first job in the company, he says, was cleaning toilets and making tea. He’s not looking for instant riches or some superficial gratification, Campbell is an empire builder.

With the Australian expedition and soft adventure cruise market still in adolescence, it remains to be seen just how MV Ammari will find its niche in the wider scheme of things. MV Ammari at 60m, joins the likes of Oceanic Discoverer (63m), Reef Endeavour (73m), True North (50m) and the opulent Orion (103m) in a energetic market where the players are in deep.

Will it, as Campbell believes, expand its influence beyond the Whitsundays to the outer islands and beyond or will it consolidate its home turf with its staple three-night, $1500 per person (and up) wine-and-frolic excursions and the occasional incentive group? Only time will tell.



Fact File:

MV Ammari
Length 60m
68 passengers in 32 cabins
Amenties: Kayaks, gym, snorkelling, spa, salon, pool and three bars, one with dance floor.
Tender: Jet powered, high speed, tender/runabout for transfers and excursions.
Website: www.fantaseaammari.com
Phone: 1800 662 786

Cruise details:

MV Fantasea Ammarì offers one cruise a week, departing Hamilton Island and Daydream Island Resort & Spa on Sundays, returning Wednesdays.

Prices for the three night cruise start at $1485 per person, triple share up to $2,394 per person twin share on a premium deck. Sole use is extra.

Both Virgin Blue and Jetstar fly to Hamilton Island.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

West ‘n’ Wild

from



Bleak and bereft to the untrained eye, the wonders of Western Australia’s Coral Coast are now front-and-centre on the world eco-tourism stage. Ocean’s Roderick Eime sails aboard True North for an intimate look at our extraordinary Western shore.

“There she is!” cried Greg our champion fisherman. His trained eyes, aided by Polaroid sunglasses, spotted the telltale wake on the shimmering sea. It was just a ripple at first, but soon looked like a midget submarine just beneath the surface. “She” was a magnificent whale shark, the world’s largest fish, and she was coming straight for us.

This beautiful and serene creature is at least partly responsible for the surge in interest in Western Australia’s Coral Coast. The other significant and established attraction is the wild dolphin viewing at Monkey Mia, but the bounty of activities and sightseeing opportunities on the Coral Coast just begins there.

The Coral Coast starts about 100 kilometres north of Perth and continues its upward sweep beyond the continent’s westernmost extremity at Steep Point, to Exmouth and the famous Ningaloo Reef, a distance of around 1200 kilometres. Its name, as you’ve already deduced, is derived from the rich coral formations along its length, unusual because they exist so far south.

Fed by the warm, southward flowing Leeuwin Current, the water is kept constant at about 20 to 22 degrees allowing the formation of coral and the growth of sea grass. Bright, colourful tropical fish abound in the waters where they really shouldn’t and the clash of northward currents create a rich mix of nutrients that make for great fishing and big lobsters.

This expansive region is itself dived into smaller parcels, popularly known as the Turquoise, Batavia and Outback Coasts.

I set out to explore this region aboard one of the only vessels offering a comprehensive cruise itinerary in the region: North Star Cruises’ smart new 36-passenger expedition yacht, True North II. She travels this route but once a year as she return s to her home port of Broome from Fremantle to begin the busy Kimberley cruise season.

The Turquoise Coast is the first region we encountered and is an easy drive or sail from the city of Perth and dotted with popular weekend attractions for Perth locals looking for a short getaway. The iconic landmark of the region is the famous ‘pinnacles’ in the Nambung National Park, four kilometres inland. Although the pinnacles were not on our itinerary, a previous visit brought home the highly unusual spectacle of these limestone and quartz formations. In the evolutionary scheme of things, these bizarre natural objects are a brief quirk in this slow but dynamic desert landscape.

Other regional highlights include the Jurien Bay colony of noisy Australian Sea Lions and the wild colours of the Yarra Yarra Salt Lakes that create brilliant hues of pink, red and purple in the setting sun.

Our first stop en route north is the unassuming and outwardly unexciting Abrolhus Islands. Located about 60 kilometres offshore from Geraldton, the bleak flat islands were little comfort for the Batavia survivors who endured unimaginable hardships during their months of isolation here in 1629 (see breakout). Authorities believe there are almost twenty wrecks dotted around the islands

Today the islands are decorated with clusters of fishing huts for the itinerant crayfish hunters and recreational fishermen. A memorial and plaque stands testament to its brutal past.

The Batavia Coast is home to several land-based curiosities, including the world famous micronation, Hutt River Province about 30 kilometres inland from Gerladton. Visit Prince Leonard of Hutt and pick up a knighthood while you’re there. HRH celebrates thirty seven years on the throne this year. Onya Leonard!

The regional hub is the town of Geraldton. Rich with maritime history, the town of 30,000 is a thriving business and tourism centre. Windsurfing, fishing, diving, surfing and swimming are all popular watersports here.

Overlooking the city centre is the recently completed HMAS Sydney Memorial which serves as a poignant reminder to another nearby naval tragedy, that of the loss of Australia’s flagship in November 1941 in a battle with the German raider Kormoran (see breakout).

Beyond the Batavia Coast and her many distractions, we venture to the pristine waters of Shark Bay and the namesake marine park that is home to the famous wild dolphins of Monkey Mia and the mysterious whale sharks. Ashore we explore Steep Point, taking delight in the knowledge we are the most westerly humans on the continent for a few moments.

True North lingers in the region, now known as the Outback Coast, long enough for us to explore parts of Dirk Hartog Island, Turtle Bay, Bernier Island, Norwegian Bay and the nominal home of the whale shark, Ningaloo Reef.

Shark Bay is truly an Australian tourism jewel and is now recognised as a World Heritage site by UNESCO for its natural treasures. Access for cruise vessels like True North is limited and we must do the bulk of our exploring in the tenders, such is the determination of WA’s Department of Conservation to protect this region.

The towns of Denham, Carnarvon and Monkey Mia have expanded considerably over the last decade as the reputation of this area has spread. Once a casual and leisurely affair, the iconic wild dolphin-feeding at Monkey Mia is now strictly managed by rangers who are determined to retain the very special experience, but not corrupt the beautiful creatures with over-indulgence. Apart from the celebrity dolphins, mighty manta rays, huge humpback whales, docile dugongs and squadrons of seabirds patrol this ecologically abundant body of water at various times.

Now (April – July) is Whale Shark season. These magnificent creatures, the world’s largest fish, congregate offshore from the Cape Range National Park each year. Around Exmouth and particularly Ningaloo Reef, are the only locations in the world where their presence can be guaranteed and their habits studied by marine scientists. Just where they go in the meantime is still a mystery.

Greg stopped shouting and was just pointing now as the massive aquatic beast neared our little fishing dingy. We’d been busily hauling in a rewarding catch of snapper for tonight’s dinner when the apparition appeared. Just when I thought I’d drop the rod and dive in with the animal, it dived. The four of us scoured the sea for another fifteen minutes and were even joined by another tender also on the lookout, but she’d gone as suddenly and mysteriously as she had arrived.

Swimming with whale sharks, it should be noted, is also now strictly controlled with licenses issued to a limited number of operators, all of whom are based in the village of Coral Bay north of Carnarvon. If a stray animal stumbles on you when you are out fishing, well that’s just good luck. Regardless, swimming with them is governed by laws that forbid you from approaching closer than 3 metres. Boats must maintain a 250 metre distance.

Our 10-day mini-odyssey finishes in Dampier, but not before we explore the remote and forlorn Monte Bello Islands, once the site of British nuclear tests in the 1950s. In one test, a war surplus frigate was vaporised by a 25 kiloton device detonated beneath its hull. Warning signs are still erected on the beach where loggerhead turtles have returned to nest and a rusty jeep lies hidden in the dunes, once too radioactive to recover.

Disguised as rugged and inhospitable, Western Australia’s Coral Coast successfully deterred all but the most determined explorers for hundreds, even thousands of years. Only now is its exquisite and very special natural beauty being fully appreciated by the conservation conscious and eco-tourists in search of new and rewarding destinations.

The Massacre on the Abrolhus



It was the middle of a moonlit night on 4 June 1629 when the brand new Dutch East Indiaman, Batavia, struck Morning Reef in the Abrolhus Islands. This event was the beginning of one of the most horrific tales of human savagery ever.

About half of the 268 survivors, including women and children, were systematically slaughtered by the mutinous and psychopathic Jeronimus Cornelisz who was plotting a career in piracy with the corrupt captain, Ariaen Jacobsz.

Relics of this spine chilling chapter of Australia’s maritime history can still be found on the Abrolhus Islands. Several graves were excavated on Beacon Island and their mutilated remains examined. A cannon still lies in shallow waters were treasure hunters tried in vain to get the heavy souvenir ashore. The hero of the Batavia, Wiebbe Hayes's ‘fort’ still stands on Wallabi Island: Australia’s oldest known European structures.

In 1963 the wreck was located and the fable reignited. Many recovered items are on display in the Maritime Museum in Fremantle and replicas of both the ship and its famous lifeboat have since been built.

Located just off Beacon Island in about five metres of water, what remains of the wreck is a popular dive site.

Website: Western Australian Maritime Museum

The Search for HMAS Sydney

STOP PRESS: HMAS Sydney Found !


About 4pm on 19 November 1941, the lookout on HMAS Sydney reported an unidentified merchant ship near Shark Bay. An exchange of signals aroused the suspicions of Captain Burnett RAN, and he closed in for a closer look at the mysterious 8500 tonne vessel.

When the two ships were less than a kilometre apart, the disguised German raider, Kormoran, dropped its camouflage and let loose with a slavo from six 150mm guns and torpedoes. HMAS Sydney was caught unawares, took the full brunt of the German guns and was immediately set ablaze.

In a desperate act of reply, HMAS Sydney unleashed a return salvo from her remaining gun and struck the raider in the engine room, a blow that would prove fatal for the Germans.

After the short, bloody battle, both ships’ crews were busy fighting their respective fires. HMAS Sydney and her 645 men drifted off to the horizon never to be seen again. Kormoran’s survivors abandoned ship and scuttled her near the site of the battle. Neither wreck has ever been located.

Numerous conspiracy theories have developed since, including a massacre of survivors by the Kormoran and even an intervening Japanese submarine.

In 2005, the Federal Government allocated $1.3 million to help set up a company to search for the wreck and both NSW and WA State Governments have since added funds.

As of March this year, despite extensive sonar soundings, the two wrecks stubbornly remained hidden.

Website: www.findingsydney.com

Dirk Wos Heere



In October 1616, after a long and arduous traverse of the Indian Ocean, a 700 tonne trading ship, Eendracht, of the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) came “unexpectedly” upon some islands. It was not completely unusual for the Dutch to sight Australia if they had been blown off course or had become lost on their crossing of the vast Indian Ocean.

Skipper of the vessel, Theodoric Hertoge (Dirk Hartog) however, came ashore. It has since been established that this was actually the second European landing on the Australian mainland after his countryman, Willem Janszoon, landed near Cape York ten years prior.

Unimpressed and behind schedule, Hartog nailed a pewter plate to a post and set off to his destination of Batavia (now Jakarta). That plate was later rediscovered and replaced and the original transported back to Amsterdam by another Dutch mariner in 1696. It is now a coveted artefact in the Rijksmuseum.

The island that now bears his name forms a natural, 15 kilometre long sea wall that shelters the azure waters of Shark Bay, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In 1969 the island was purchased by Sir Thomas Wardle, an ex-Lord Mayor and one-time grocery millionaire from Perth and is now maintained by his grandson, Kieran, where he operates a successful eco-tourism lodge and fishing retreat.

Website: www.dirkhartogisland.com

Friday, April 06, 2007

Holy Skyscrapers Batman, This Isn’t the Mardi Gras!


Image: Adrian Warren

Everyone loves Melbourne. Everyone in Melbourne anyway. Give me Sydney any day, says Roderick Eime.

In 1996 Melbourne was still under the temporary spell of Jeff Kennett when a motley bunch of liberal powerbrokers and commercial heavyweights wrested the phenomenally popular Australian Formula One Grand Prix from Adelaide. The city of churches had for ten years been the darling of the Formula One circuit when the South Australian capital pulled out all the stops to entertain and impress the world.

Like stealing candy from a contented baby, bully-boy Melbourne snatched just about the only thing Adelaide had going for it on the world sport stage. Smug and satisfied, Kennett and his marauding cronies were busy admiring their prize when F1 team Williams and major sponsor Rothmans decided they would make a television commercial to celebrate the new venue.

Location scouts scoured the austere landscape of Melbourne in search of an iconic setting for their blockbuster production. It took them a while, but in the end, the desired, unmistakable, vista was found: the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

Anybody who has spent time in both cities will nod their head knowingly. Melbourne can brag about their cappuccinos and electric trams, but stack Sydney Harbour up against Port Phillip Bay and the southern example begins to look like a giant settling pond.

Crikey, take the Yarra for example. People think you’re trying to make a joke when you call it the world’s only upside down river. If only they could make their cappuccinos that colour.

And, if you’re traveling to Melbourne, whatever you do, don’t mention the football. Mexicans (Sydney-siders like to call Victorians that on account they are all south of the border) claim to have invented Australia Rules Football (AFL). Well true, they did plagiarise the ancient sport of Gaelic football brought in by the Irish and call it their own, but now it’s more of an embarrassment. In the last ten years, only two Melbourne teams have won the AFL grand final. So each year, tens of thousands of real footy fans from Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide have to hike down to Melbourne to watch their teams win because of some dumb contractual arrangement that still imagines Melbourne as the home of Aussie Rules. In truth most Melbournians just wish the whole thing would go away.

Now don’t start! Sure, Sydney may have staged the greatest Olympics Games since Zeus tossed a discus, but Melbourne did a really fine job of the Commonwealth Games. Honestly, a delightful little event. I hear the city is being considered for an encouragement award. That’s the spirit.

Now Melbournians just love to look down their noses at Sydney, or for that matter, anywhere else in Australia. They gloat endlessly about the shopping, dining and culture but their road system is so bewildering, the city’s tourism motto even says dejectedly: “Lose Yourself in Melbourne”.

Oh yes, poke fun at our world famous Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Will someone tell me what there is to celebrate about a ‘Moomba’? And Sydney is supposed to be somehow ashamed of its convict heritage. At least we weren’t founded by a DC Comics character with silly ears and his underwear on the outside!

Buccaneer and Succour There

Article from: escape




Roderick Eime braves pirates and cyclones for a glimpse of the romantic South Seas life on Vanuatu

Where: Iririki Island Resort and Spa, Port Vila, Vanuatu

“Pull that halyard! Put yer back into it, lad!” hollers Captain Harry, as I heave and sweat on the fat rope that hoists the mainsail. “Now sweat it off like this,” he curses, pulling heavily on the rope and fixing it to the cleat.

I’d made the mistake of voicing a passing interest in sailing and Harry, eager to immerse me in the experience, soon has my flabby arms aching and sore from the exertion.

We’re aboard his classic gaff rigged schooner, Cassiopeia, full rig flying and heading out of Port Vila harbour for an evening sunset cruise. Rum-laden punch is poured generously in true seagoing style and soon the tall tales are flowing.

CassiopeiaHarry is what you’d call a corporate refugee. A US-born architect, he was about to sign the biggest deal of his life, then backed out at the last minute, choosing instead to sail off for the South Seas with his new girl and rescued schooner. His flowing locks of dark hair, mischievous grin and neatly trimmed goatee make him an instant “Jack Sparrow” with a dangerous charm.

Based in Port Vila and still dreaming of the odd swashbuckling adventure, I wonder if he might be pushing the pirate fantasy a little too far, but the short excursion on the thankfully tranquil harbour is a fun and relaxing frolic, complete with eye-patches, cutlasses and muzzle loading pistols.

To the port bow is Iririki Island, “safe haven” in the local language and home to one of Port Vila’s very few luxury resorts, it was once the site of the British High Commissioner’s residence.

Opened 21 years ago, the resort and spa complex has wooed both newlyweds and the newly retired in their quest for the ‘perfect tropical island getaway’. During that time the country has had more than it’s fair share of rough weather, including airline collapses, reschedules, consular warnings and hurricanes. The resort has, astonishingly, continued throughout this turbulence and is now entering a new phase of its life.

I’m here to inspect the latest 61 luxury accommodations opened at Snorkelers Cove on the island where the developers have unveiled plush apartments and penthouses for those wishing to invest in their tropical vision. Now, instead of just staying for a few nights in ‘paradise’, guests can purchase their own apartments or penthouses for private use or investment.

As I stare out across the expanse of Port Vila’s harbour from one of the balconies admiring what is inarguably a million dollar (plus) view, I can see the many attractions of this location. There’s access to (a few) good restaurants, berthing for your luxury yacht, a spacious leisure precinct with huge infinity pool, watersports, gym and conference facilities all secreted into the careful landscaping of the island.

Some aspects however, border on the archetypal Gold Coast development, like the stark tiling and plastering in the new rooms and slightly unimaginative architecture of the apartment block. That said, the location, facilities and dining are hard to match in this remote Pacific republic. For those wishing to stay as guests, there is still a lot of attraction in the traditional fares (bungalows) with their rough wooden floors, slatted windows and old colonial feel.

Dinner at the Watermark Restaurant is a polished affair with fine French wine, delicate seafood and the trademark Santo Island beef eye fillet. The beasts on Santo live a stress free life, up to their rumps in long lush grass 24/7, and produce some of the tenderest, flavoursome steak you’ll find anywhere. Iririki’s other premium restaurant, Michener’s, named after US author James A Michener, of ‘Tales of the South Pacific’ fame, is perched imperiously above the harbour complete with its own bar and horizon pool.

As the guests tuck into their multi-star cuisine and sip French champagne and cocktails, I glance across the table to Captain Harry, still resplendent in his full Jolly Roger regalia. He has captivated two of the female guests with rapturous conversation and it is this innocent seduction that encapsulates the whole Iririki experience; an escape from an existence of mundane social obligation and conformity to the alluring colourful and romantic life of a South Sea’s scallywag. I wonder if he’s hiring.

Fact File

Iririki Island Resort

Port Vila

Vanuatu

www.iririki.com



TREAT YOURSELF TO TWO FREE NIGHTS AT VANUATU’S BEST

Book a week at Vanuatu’s premier private island resort, Iririki Island Resorts and Spa, and Coral Seas Travel will give you the 7-nights for the price of five in a private Garden Bungalow, include return air and taxes from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, Tropical Buffet Breakfasts daily, return airport transfers, and even throw-in a free Port Vila and Environs tour.

This value-packed offer is available for travel from Sydney or Melbourne between October 16 and December 14 this year and from January 17 to February 29 next year, and from Brisbane between October 9 and December 13 this year and January 16 to February 28 next year if booked by April 30.

Prices start from $1519pp twin-share from Brisbane, $1569 Sydney and from $1839pp twin-share form Melbourne; full details from travel agents, phone 1800 641 803 or in Sydney 8236 9900, or visit www.coralseas.com.au

Iririki Island Resorts & Spa is located just 3-minutes by free round-the-clock ferry from Port Vila town centre, the island itself once the site of the British Residence Commissioner’s Residency prior to Independence in 1980, and home to the Queen during her last South Pacific tour.

Facilities include two ‘horizon’ pools – one of them one of the largest in the South Pacific – four restaurants and cafés including Port Vila’s premier Michener’s with million-dollar harbour and town views, a white sand beach and watersports centre, Spa Frangipani for manicures, pedicures, facials, hot rock treatments and other spa indulgences, and a private snorkelling area.

The 70 bungalows are set amid lush tropical gardens or over-water in the child-free zone on the island, while 54 new Deluxe Rooms are designed for family holidaying with such facilities as full kitchens, dining and lounge facilities, and there are also seven tri-level family Penthouses.