Wednesday, April 14, 2010

AUSTRALIA: Two sides of Sydney

Sydney Harbour and Port Jackson displaying Syd...Image via Wikipedia
A sparse land with not big a populace, Australia is a welcome place for a vacation, especially for those whose second nature is nature itself.

Be enthralled. Be amazed. As the TV ads says, "So what are you waiting for?"

Read on...

Two sides of Sydney
Pick a side and be pleasantly surprised

by Mark Malby
The Rocks market
"PLEASE walk on the grass!" invites the park sign, with trademark Aussie affability. "Smell the roses, hug the trees, talk to the birds and picnic on the lawns."

This is the kind of comforting welcome you'll get in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, a 30-hectare swathe of greenery alongside the harbour, bordering both the downtown and the iconic Opera House. As for roses, trees and birds, you'll see plenty. Sometimes, hundreds of white cockatoos fill a single tree.

The Gardens make for that sort of green, quiet respite you may need, given the frantic, fun-loving pace of a city visit Down Under.

For the traveller who has already checked off the trademark tourist tasks: Gawked at the view from atop Sydney Harbour Bridge, snapped requisite shots of the Opera House, stood nose to nose with sharks in the Sydney Aquarium and bared (or ogled) bikinis at Bondi Beach, the time comes to look for other, less well-trodden paths in the city.

The Rocks

Rocks market
Just a short stroll from The Gardens and not far past the Opera House, you'll find The Rocks, a pocket of historic Sydney which narrowly escaped the wrecking ball last century and was gentrified instead. This area of former warehouses and residences is now a vibrant stretch of restaurants, shops and pubs (two with competing claims of being the oldest in Sydney.)

Weekends are good for open-air markets - starting with the Farmer's market on Fridays, where food stalls boast an array of local delicacies, from barbecued salmon to lamb kebabs and paella. On Saturdays and Sundays, more than 200 stalls exhibit everything from housewares and linen to pottery and jewellery, along with plenty of good eats.

Oh yes, and the views of Harbour Bridge are spectacular.

Kings Cross

Sydney Circular Quay
On the other side of The Gardens, just up the hill, you'll find a seamier if no less vivid side of Sydney life. This is King's Cross, the city's de facto Red Light district. It's not for everyone, but most tourists wander through it at some point, if only to see how another side of Sydney lives.

King's Cross is also the centre for budget accommodation in the city. Some sections, like Pott's Point, have gone positively upscale in recent years. Trendy cafes have also sprung up between the naughty bits, attracting a more wholesome sort of clientele. You'll still want to be on your guard, however, and touts outside the adult clubs can be particularly annoying.

Like much of Australia, Sydney has a raw and youthful energy about it. Visitors will find it easy to get caught up in the action on both sides of the park. Just don't forget to stop and smell the roses along the way.

April in Sydney

Sydney Aquarium
Darling Harbour Hoopla, April 2 to 5 (Free)

An open-air showcase of acrobats, jugglers, buskers and comedians performing at Australia's annual circus and street theatre festival.

Winter Fashion Showcase at The Rocks Markets, April 17 and 18 (Free)

Not quite seasonal wear for Singaporeans, but check out the latest avant-garde winter collections on sale at The Rocks.

The Sydney Comedy Festival, April 19 to May 9

A gaggle of international stand-up performances descend on Sydney for a few chortling weeks. Tickets, and myriad other events, available at

Traken from TODAYonline | Travel | Two sides of Sydney
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stay ahead of the game

One of the worries when going on a travel is usually accommodation, a place to stay while in that place of your dreams - lest your vacation turns into a nightmare!

Here's a tip on how to settle all that - before flying off to that distant land of wonders that  mesmerizes, an ethereal place of beauty beyond wonders.

Read on...

It is easier than you think with a number of websites now offering exclusive sales

Banyan Tree Mayakoba
A WATER villa at the Six Senses' Soneva Gili resort in the Maldives, usually US$1,040 ($1,460) a night, reduced to US$840. An ocean-view room at the Gansevoort Turks & Caicos, usually US$460 a night, slashed to US$285.

Luxury hotels have long aimed for an image of exclusivity - setting prices beyond the reach of most travellers, allowing wait lists to build for restaurant reservations and carefully generating buzz with a well-placed celebrity guest in the gossip magazines.

Now, a growing number of websites are offering "private sales" of 20 to 60 per cent off luxury accommodations to select travellers on an invitation-only basis.

In October, the Gilt Groupe, an invitation-only retail site that has been a hit with fashion devotees, spun off, which offers discounts several times a week on yachts, villas and hotels. Soon after,, a booking site for fashionable hotels, started its private sale from Tuesdays to Thursdays or until inventory sells out. So did, the popular meta-search site., another fashion-focused invitation-only site, also has begun to offer hotel sales.

Sale specs

Unlike last-minute sales, which offer deep discounts to travellers who can take off at the spur of the moment, the members-only deals generally offer a longer travel window.

For example, the Gansevoort Turks & Caicos, on the island of Providenciales, was recently offered for US$285 a night (nearly 40 per cent off) on Jetsetter. A booking calendar highlighted the dates for which that rate was available, with options through December, more than 10 months out.

Travellers have only a limited time to book, however, and that creates a sense of urgency and spontaneity around the offers. Members, generally invited to join the group by a current user, can sign up for weekly email alerts about when the bargains will go live. And all sales are upfront and non-refundable.

Fans of private sales say such caveats are a small price to pay for access to exclusive luxury bargains. "There are plenty of discount hotel booking options online, but rarely do they include any true luxury accommodations," said Jason Klein, 31, a Jetsetter member who said he saved an estimated $2,000 on a weekend getaway in February to the Banyan Tree Mayakoba in Mexico.

"It's not as though the prices were cheap by any means," he added, "but relative to standard rates I had seen for these hotels in the past, the discounts were significant."

Hotels like the private sales, too. Because of the membership requirement, such sales generally don't appear in online searches or aggregator sites. This helps maintain the idea of a velvet rope around the deals. The nature of the sales allows hotels to maintain control over inventory, listing only dates for sale when they have empty rooms for a limited booking window.

The sites also do a good job of curating popular hotels, which makes hotels feel like they are part of an elite group and keeps members checking back to see what new hot spot is on sale. Tablet Hotels and Jetsetter hand-select properties featured in their private sales.

"We only want to run sales with things you're going to brag about to your friends when you come home," said Jetsetter chief executive Drew Patterson, reciting some of its recent sales, which included the Hotel Plaza Athé*ée in New York and the Four Seasons Costa Rica. "It's got to be exceptional."

How do you become a member?

It's easier than the sites make it sound. Tablet Hotels, for example, says there are three ways to access the special discounts - book your next stay on the site, be invited by a member or pay US$195 for a Plus Membership, which includes 24-hour advance access to the private sales and other perks such as free room upgrades, airport transfers or breakfast, depending on the hotel. But a Google search for "Tablet Hotels + private sale + invite" in March led me to the site's Facebook page, which offered a limited-time invitation with the code FBNOMAD.

Travellers who want to be invited to Rue La La's private sales can go to the homepage, click on the link "Not a member?" and enter an email address to be notified when space is available. With Kayak, it's as easy as registering an email address.

How good are the deals?

In a far-from-scientific check of several private sales, the sites beat the hotel's website and other travel booking sites such as and nearly every time, often by a significant discount.

Still, travellers should make their own comparisons before they buy to be sure the deal is their best option.

For example, a king room at the Sunset Tower Hotel, popular with the Hollywood crowd, was recently offered in a private sale on Kayak for US$221 a night (non-refundable), down from US$295. But a queen room could be had for US$245 on the hotel's site without the strict cancellation policy. The New York Times

From TODAY, Travel - Thursday, 25-March-2010

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SOUTHER PORTUGAL: Ambling through the Algarve

Southern Portugal offers an abundance of sunshine, storks, and ... human skulls

by Mark Malby

Algarve marina. PHOTO BY MARK MALBY
Even from the airport at Faro, the Algarve region of Portugal's south unfolds like a visual poem, sitting at the base of the Iberian Peninsula as complete and austere as a Hemingway short story. Imagine a pastoral land of rolling hills, olive and orange groves, quiet coastlines and ancient towns - and that's the Algarve.

The blue-green waters of the mid-Atlantic nuzzle its shores. Africa, incidentally, is just a stone's throw away, and the clear waters between them teem with seafood. Long beaches stretch, nearly empty in winter, and the region is backwater enough to have missed the unsightly building boom (and subsequent bust) that characterised southern Spain during the last decade.

The Algarve, in short, has plenty of space to sit back with a glass of wine, or retreat into nature.

A region steeped in history

Chapel of Bones PHOTO MARK MALBY
A short walk through Faro's Old Town makes you quickly aware that this is a timeworn place, full of picturesque churches and narrow, cobblestone streets that would challenge even a mid-sized Mercedes. Visitors have been coming here since before Plato's time.

The Phoenicians built their trading outposts around 1000BC, followed by waves of Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, until it joined the Kingdom of Portugal in the 13th century.

Most of the buildings standing today, however, date from the 1750s, following an earthquake that ransacked the region. Still, it's picturesque and romantic, and pleasant to lose yourself for hours in the winding streets.

Never mind that the ground floors of some venerable buildings now house Mango, Zara, or McDonald's.

One of the more startling elements of Faro's religious past is Capela dos Ossos, which literally means "Chapel of Bones". This sits behind the venerable Igreja do Carmo church in the central town. It's not easy to find, but the price of admission - ?1 ($1.90) per soul - more than covers the effort.

Standing in the twilight of that room, layered wall-to-ceiling with human bones and skulls, it's hard not to feel solemn.

Apparently, it was built with the remains of more that 1,200 monks from the church's cemetery. And yet, there's a gruesome beauty to its symmetry as well. Not without reason does the inscription above the wall translate as "Stop here and think of the fate that will befall you."

Desert Islands and bird-life galore

Faro night streets. PHOTO MARK MALBY
Another selling point of the Algarve is its proximity to nature, though in Faro you don't have to wade into the wilderness to find it.

Nature comes right to your doorstep, or at least to the local roof-top. Massive stork nests crown the top of every church, lamp post, and tiled rooftop. It's like something straight from a child's story-book.

Nesting storks are just the precursor to what you find on the wetlands of Ria Formosa just south of town. In winter, these tidal flats which swathe the coastline all the way to Spain become a haven for migratory birds. Many come to escape the cold of northern Europe and Asia, while others fly north from Africa, attracted by the rich marine life and safe nesting grounds.

Similarly, bird-watchers make their way to Faro to spot scarce or first-time species. Birds are "big business" here, from vast flocks of African flamingoes and egrets, to exotic white spoonbills and shorebirds.

Many boating companies will take you through the wetlands, though Animaris offers the best package. For ?20, you'll get a three-hour guided boat trip through the wetlands, and the option of an afternoon stroll on the dunes and scrublands of Ilha Deserta - an uninhabited island which also contains the southernmost point of Portugal.

Eating and drinking under the Algarve sun

Storks on church top. PHOTO MARK MALBY
In most major cities, Portuguese restaurants tend to get eclipsed by the sexier nuances of French, Italian, or Spanish fare. That's a pity, because it's a hearty, piquant cuisine - specialising in seafood. In the Algarve, most is caught in the clear local waters. Roasted sardines and monkfish are specialities, and don't miss the bacalhau - salted codfish usually mixed with cabbage, potatoes, and olive oil. The region is also known for its sheep cheese, its olives, and those inimitable, crispy bread-rolls.

Then there's the wine. Port wines (named for Portugal, of course) are a must-try. Ports tend to be sweet and heady, designed to be sipped as an after-dinner drink. For something lighter with your meal, try the Vinho Verde (literally "green wine") from the north of Portugal, or rosé wines in their distinctive round bottles.

For escaping workaday life or the chill of winter, there are few better remedies than southern Portugal. Sitting out under the warm Algarve sun, dining al fresco in some ancient city square and washing down your meal with sweet Portuguese rosé wine - it's just what the doctor ordered.

From TODAY, Travel - Thursday, 25-March-2010; find the source article here.

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SPAIN: Olive country life Trip notes

Jamón serrano, Barcelona, SpainImage via Wikipedia
Olive country life Trip notes

Hippies as well as villagers live as one in Spain's deep south

by Nellie Huang

A KIND of Shangri-La lies tucked in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, deep in the heart of Andalucia.

The Alpujarra region is one of the most fertile areas in Spain. Water from the mountains and Mediterranean sunshine feed fruit orchards while the dry air helps cure that Spanish staple, serrano ham.

The scenery, too, is pretty. White-washed villages, remnants of Muslim communities, cling onto the slopes.

While the Alpujarras is off the tourist trail in the way that cities such as Madrid and Barcelona are its stars, the region's bucolic way of life tends to attract travellers who want to stay.

My partner and I took a tour into the mountains to see this bohemian enclave for ourselves.

Olive groves

As we drove to the peaks, we watched brown, rugged landscapes give way to silvery olive groves, as the smell of pine and citrus permeated the air.

Our tour guide, Roberto, an olive cultivator in his 50s, told us what he loved about life in the Alpujarras: "Nothing thrills me more than reaping the fruits of my labour. Every season, I go out into the fields to collect the olives when they're ripe. That is the best part of my job."

Natural springs and holistic centres
A view of Bubion from above.

The pastoral life he described is an enticing one. In his 1957 book South of Granada, British writer Gerald Brenan detailed his seven-year stay in this area in the 1920s. Since then, it has become a veritable destination for hippies, and now, New Age practitioners.

The gateway to the Alpujarras, the town of Lanjaron, is home to a Buddhist meditation centre, yoga halls and holistic stores. It reverberates with spiritual energy, drawing artists and writers from all over the world.

We drove on to Cortijo Amapolis, a retreat in the shape of a Mongolian yurt hidden in the valleys. The retreat programme combines meditation, yoga and massages.

One of the guests, Ruben, a Brazilian dancer, said: "Waking up to the mountain air, meditating in the tranquillity and being surrounded by fellow artists - that's what makes me feel alive. I've been here for only a month, but I know this is now my home."

Organic living
Landscape of the Alpujarra.

We left the hippie trail behind us, with the slopes carpeted by meadows of wildflowers. Mushrooms and herbs found in the wild are used in local cuisine and what people can't pick, they grow in their backyard - one reason why Alpujarran cuisine is gaining fame for its organic origins.

Farmhouses, or cortijos, abound, serving food in its purest form. We stopped at Cortijo Garin to sample a typical item, the Plato Alpujarreno - a mixture of jamon (cured ham), morcilla (congealed cow's blood) and patatas a lo pobre (pan-fried potato), tossed in locally produced olive oil and condiments. Naturally, the ingredients came from the restaurant's own farm.

Casa rural
Traditional white-washed houses used as holiday homes.

Twelve kilometres away lies the Poquiera valley, the backdrop to the famous trio: Pampaneira, Capileira and Bubion. The three are reportedly the most stunning of the Alpujarras' white-washed villages. Each is a phalanx of twisting mule tracks, steep cobbled paths and wooden balconies draped with bright red peppers that invites hours of exploration.

We pushed further to the other end of the highlands, 20km away, to get to Pitres. The town has a bundle of rustic holiday homes, or casas rurales. Poised on the slopes, these guesthouses have an unobstructed view of the gorge and outdoor terraces to while away the time.

As the sun set, we settled into La Oveja Verde, a traditional country-style guesthouse, to enjoy a glass of wine.

The beauty of the place inspired a fellow guest, a middle-aged British writer, to use Pitres as the setting for his next novel. "I want to use the romance of the Alpujarras in my novel," he said. "A place like this is rare these days."

Go: The nearest airports are in Malaga and Granada. Lufthansa and British Airways fly to both airports for about $1,500. For optimum mobility, rent a car at the airport. The rate is about ?50 ($94) a day. Road signs are in Spanish but it is easy to find your way with a map. Most locals speak only Spanish, so learn some words before you go. The other option to book a tour. Olive Oil Tours ( depart from Granada. A six-hour excursion including lunch costs ?55.

When to go: The best time to visit is in spring (April to June) when the climate is pleasant and flowers are in bloom. Temperatures can drop drastically at night, even in summer. Winter is best avoided as roads might be closed due to snow.

Eat and stay:

Taken from; see the source article here: TODAYonline | Travel | Olive country lifeTrip notes

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Monday, April 12, 2010

BAHAMAS: Island wonderland

Island wonderland
The Bahamas could be the place where fairytales come true. Just mind the sharks
by Wu Shangyuan

One of the country's most popular attractions, the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island.
THE Bahamas, in many ways, will remind you of scenes straight out of a fairytale.

Its capital, Nassau, has main streets lined with buildings painted pink; its most famous themed hotel, the Atlantis, reminds you of a castle in the clouds; and the private islands and beaches that make up this Caribbean nation are perfect for quiet romantic getaways.

Indeed, the Bahamas can take any traveller into a realm of make-believe.

Pirate haven to souvenir paradise

Made up of 29 islands and 661 cays (sandy islands formed on top of coral reefs), one's journey into the Bahamas will often start from Nassau.

First impressions: It is a capital city made for tourists. You know this because its main Bay Street is packed with branded stores and souvenir shops, and the many colonial buildings are painted a strangely artificial shade of pastel.
Luring the sharks in with fish bait at Ship Channel Cay.

The good news is that the locals, so used to shiploads of tourists, are happy to approach lost travellers to offer help.

More inquisitive travellers, however, can gain a more enlightened experience of Nassau if they make an attempt to seek out what lies beneath the city's sugar-coated offerings.

Looking beyond the popular tourist attractions such as Fort Fincastle, the Water Tower and the Straw Market for souvenirs, my friend and I ventured to the Pompey Museum Of Slavery And Emancipation, which tells the heartwrenching tales of the slave trade that thrived in the Bahamas in the 18th and 19th centuries; and the Pirates Of Nassau Museum, which showcases the country's tumultuous past as a haven for pirates.

But the Bahamas does not impose its turbulent past on travellers who do not seek it out. The country attracts hordes of tourists every year because of its ability to deliver a delightful, stress-free vacation, complete with shopping, sight-seeing, lazy afternoons on the beach and fascinating island adventures.
The Water Tower, the highest point in Nassau at 38 metres.

We used Nassau as a base for a week-long holiday in the Bahamas, allocating a few days to explore the cays and islands nearby, and a full day for the country's famous Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island.

Of dragons, sharks and Atlantis

Like how hotels in Las Vegas have become tourist attractions in themselves, so has the US$800-million ($1.1-billion) Atlantis, the most extravagant themed hotel in the Bahamas. For US$35, visitors can sign up for a tour of the hotel grounds, meticulously decorated to reflect the story of the mythical lost city of Atlantis.

Complete with private beaches and pools, a massive shopping mall and a casino, and an indoor maze of aquariums and themed chambers filled with artificial ancient ruins to jog one's imagination of Atlantis, it's no wonder that the most expensive hotel suite in Atlantis costs a whopping US$25,000 per night, making it one of the most expensive in the world.

Outside of the Atlantis, you will find adventures that are more palpable and less make-believe. We signed up for a high-speed powerboat ride to the famous Exuma Cays, a string of islands located 55 minutes away from Nassau.

As we pulled up at our first stop, a small, secluded beach on Allen's Cay, we noticed cautious movement on the sand. Lizard-like creatures were moving slowly towards our boat.
Pristine beaches on Harbour Island.

Also known as Bahamian Dragons, the endangered rock iguanas are Allen Cay's most famous inhabitants. These creature can grow up to 1.5 metres in length. The island was teeming with some 130 of them, all unafraid of humans, advancing towards us from every direction.

Our guide handed us grapes and told us to feed them to the iguanas generously. Not willing to lose any fingers, we used twigs to hold out the grapes and the iguanas, as if on cue, scampered towards us and claimed the food with one swift bite.

At our next stop, Ship Channel Cay, we were greeted by hungry creatures of a different kind. Alighting from our boat at a private beach, we were told to stand in a line in the water as our guides brought out buckets of chopped-up fish and announced that it was feeding time. For the stingrays.

About half a dozen shadows - broadwinged and graceful - glided towards us. We were encouraged to reach out and touch them as their wings flapped against our legs in the water, their skin like soft rubber to the touch.
Upclose and personal with the stingrays at Ship Channel Cay.

To add to the surrealism of the situation, we were urged to stay put in the water as the bloody fish bait attracted hungry sharks to our group.

Grey fins glided stealthily towards us, coming at the bait fast and furious as our guide tried to pull back the bait in an acrobatic tug-of-war.

Indeed, the Bahamas makes for an intriguing holiday of make-believe, filled with experiences in the most surreal of settings. This country in the Caribbean may just be the place where fairytales come true.

Things to know

Budget: Accommodation and day trips out to the islands and cays are typically a traveller's largest expense. As for food, an average main course at a restaurant will cost about US$10 to US$20.
An endangered rock iguana, also known as a Bahamian Dragon.

Accommodation: Many all-inclusive packages covering hotel stays, three buffet meals a day and flights from Miami, Florida, cost just about US$100 per day. Other options would be to suss out budget hotels in Nassau, with double rooms costing about US$35 per night. The Towne Hotel, located just off the main street of Nassau, is a good option.

Getting around: Public buses in Nassau run from downtown to the main beaches and tourist attractions for about US$1 per ride. To get to the islands, buy tickets from the Bahamas Ferries terminal, which may cost about US$60 for more popular destinations such as Harbour Island. Excursions to the cays via powerboats cost about US$200 for a day trip.

Taken from; source article is TODAYonline | Travel | Island wonderland
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Travel planner

Have you been setting your itinerary lately? Here is a suggestion from

Destination: Macau, China. Chanthaburi, Thailand. Shanghai, China. Seoul, South Korea.

What's on in April and May
by Mark Malby

Dancing between the slots

What: Macau Salsa Festival

Macau celebrates its Latin roots with its second annual Salsa Festival, held in the sumptuous locale of the Venetian hotel. Take a break from the city's slots and sightseeing with a full-on weekend of dance action. The festival programme consists of workshops by day and parties by night, with plenty of food and drink. There's even a "blind date" dance competition. Put your good shoes on. A full pass to all events over the three days will cost about $250, but you can always win it back at the baccarat table afterwards.

Where: Macau, China

When: April 23 to April 25

Ticketing and details:

Dining with the king of fruits

What: World Durian Festival

Thailand's eastern provinces have been named "the fruit bowl of Thailand", and it's not hard to see why - particular during Chanthaburi's annual World Durian Festival. Chanthaburi alone produces more than half of Thailand's entire durian crop, and is reputed by those in the know to have the creamiest, most succulent fruit of all. This colourful, month-long event, which coincides with the peak of the harvest season, is also a showcase for humbler favourites such as rambutans and pomelos. Gorge to your heart's content.

Where: Chanthaburi, Thailand

When: May 1 to May 31


Tea in Shanghai

What: Shanghai International Tea Culture Festival

If a World Expo isn't enough to draw you to Shanghai this spring, then maybe a cup of tea will. Once again this year, thousands of tea lovers will descend upon the Paris Of The East to learn the fine art of the Chinese tea ceremony. Attend workshops, visit elegant teahouses around the city, and learn to distinguish your oolong from your Pu'er. There are also exhibitions of dance, poetry and calligraphy - all dedicated to the fragrant brew.

Where: Shanghai, China

When: May 21 to May 24

Official website:

Seoul springs to life

What: Hi Seoul Spring Festival

The streets of Seoul spring to life next month as the city welcomes the return of warm weather. The Hi Seoul festival, running since 2003, is an all-round celebration of Korean culture that includes displays of martial arts, calligraphy, and truckloads of tasty local foods. By night, the skies explode with fireworks. By day, colourful parades fill the streets. The action centres on the Han River region downtown, but events are held in most parts of the city. Prominent venues include Seoul's five palaces, which showcase dance performances, music and reenactments of royal historical events.

Where: Seoul, South Korea

When: May 1 to May 9

Official website:

Read the source article below.
TODAYonline | Travel | Travel planner

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AUSTRALIA: Into the wild

Jim Jim Falls Kakadu National ParkImage via Wikipedia
Australia is one of those travel destinations that offer more of the natural world's unspoiled wonders compared to others. May this news article bring out that traveller's desire in you to go and venture out!

Into the wild
Australia's Northern Territory is an adventure wonderland for the anti-spa traveller

BUSH-walking in Australia's back country, in true Crocodile Dundee style, had always been on my bucket list. I was drawn to the country's wilderness, to the idea of traipsing through its scrubland and climbing its rocky terrain, discovering pockets of Aboriginal rock art along the way.

When budget airline JetStar introduced direct flights from Singapore to Darwin, I snagged tickets immediately. Four-and-a-half hours after boarding the plane, my partner and I arrived in Northern Territory's capital, hungry for an adventure.

Day 1

Our guide Alicia welcomed us in a 4x4 packed with all the necessities for a three-day hiking trip in Kakadu National Park, 120km from Darwin.

Covering more than 19,000 sq km, Kakadu is Australia's largest national park, famed for the sprawling Arnhem Land Escarpment, sweeping landscapes and over 5,000 Aboriginal art sites, not to mention thousands of plant species, birds and freshwater crocodiles.

The tour started off easy. Our first stop was Adelaide River, where from a boat, we watched a croc expert lure the massive reptiles into leaping sky high from the murky waters.

Then, it was off to Ubirr Rock. According to Alicia, this is the best Aboriginal rock art site in Kakadu, with most of the paintings dating back two millennia.

The half-hour climb up the rocky slope to the top of Ubirr Rock gave us a spectacular 360-degree view of the lush floodplains and the rocky plateau of Arnhem Land Escarpment in the distance. Alicia pointed out that a scene from the movie Crocodile Dundee was filmed right at this spot.

Day 2

After a peaceful night, we awoke to the sight of a wild horse loitering outside our tent at Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park. It marked the start of a journey into an Edenesque landscape.

Gubara is a 6km-walk past sandstone cliffs and thick bushes to shady forest pools and small cascades. Taking the "Castle" route, we clambered up boulders to reach a lookout point that offered a view of the rainforest below.

Nestled within it was the paradise of Wallaby Falls. There, freshwater pools had waterbeds laced with tree branches and roots, giving them a land-before-time feel.

We had the entire place to ourselves. As if that was not enough to evoke Eden, there was nook called Garden Of Eden behind Wallaby Falls. We floated in the pools, a delicious respite from the heat of the day, then slept soundly in our two-men tent under a blanket of stars.

Day 3

En route to our final hike in the southern end of Kakadu, we drove by towers of termite mounds. Some reached heights of 5m - amazing considering they were created by such tiny creatures.

Geared for our 13km-trek, we pushed through thick spear grass, crossing a flimsy hanging bridge and increasingly steeper slopes to get to a constellation of obscure waterfalls. At Motor Car Creek, water surged from a height of 25m, tumbling into a magnificently clear rock pool.

Despite coming here during the wet season, we had not experienced a single day of rain. We had been lucky, as Alicia pointed out, but we already knew that, having seen Kakadu at its lush best.


Getting there: Jetstar flies to Darwin from Singapore for about $500. Other airlines include Qantas, British Airways and Singapore Airlines.

When to go: There are two main seasons in Kakadu: Dry (April to October) and wet (November to March). Both seasons offer different landscapes and plant life, although the dry season means there is less water in the falls while the wet season might mean flooded roads. The best time to visit is during the transitional periods (April, May, September and October) when temperatures are not extreme, and the crowds are thinner.


- We went on a tour by Wilderness Adventures ( Prices depend on the season. During the wet season, a two-day tour costs A$350 ($453); three-day, A$495. Dry season rates are A$415 and A$525, respectively.

- Adventure Tours Australia ( is reputed for quality service. Tours range from a day trip to a 24-day overland trip to Perth.

- Top End Explorer Tours ( caters to travellers looking for comfort with its charter excursions.

- Kakadu Dreams ( is popular with backpackers.

Self-drive tours are feasible. Roads in Kakadu National Park are easy to navigate. For 4x4 and 4WD campervan rentals, check out Prices start from A$50 a day.

From; see the source article below:
TODAYonline | Travel | Into the wild

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