Articles

  • My First Great Migration in Africa

    The Great Migration in Africa will give you goosebumps. Millions of animals moving clockwise, following the rain and the promise of food and water. The Great Migration is an ancient practice and to see it is to see the circle of life unfold right before your very eyes. In Kenya, that is precisely what I saw.

    The Great Migration Begins

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    I raised my camera when I saw them all begin to move toward the river. We had stood for hours in the back of open roofed truck observing the great herd, watching them wade through the oceans of Kenyan tallgrass. It was in those hours of anticipation of the Great Migration—and instinctual practice of these animals that was as old as time itself–that I developed a bond with the herd. And then the migration began. It happened all around us.

    Into the River

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The herd streamed past the vehicle and I felt wonder as I watched the primal practice play out before my very eyes. The wildebeest and zebra leapt into the river and water lapped across the banks in torrents. I trained my camera and snapped as many photos as I could. But my eye was drawn to something moving along the water’s edge on the other side of the river. Crocodiles were gathering, massive but quiet. Excitement faded to concern but they stayed still. This too was part of the Great Migration experience.

    The Circle of Life

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    It was not until the tail end of the herd entered the river that the crocodiles slid into the murky water. The zebra and wildebeest at the rear—the weakest of the herd—struggled across the river. There was an eruption of muddy water and crocodile clamped its jaw shut on one of the herd and disappeared back below the water line with the animal struggling in its teeth. This was that great circle of life playing before me, one that was raw and without reservation. One that was undeniably brutal and beautiful at the same time.

    The Great Migration is life at its most visceral and raw. This struggle for survival breeds violence and beauty that you can not only see but can feel. My first Great Migration was a humbling and life-affirming experience that allowed me to see something I will never forget. I look forward to my second migation soon.

    January 15, 2020 • Africa, Articles, Destinations, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 1051

  • Australian Bushfires – How You Can Help

    How To Help Combat The Worst Bushfires In Australia History

    Bushfires have been devastating Australia for months. Towns, rural communities and wildlife have been destroyed on a massive scale. We have reached out to partners, colleagues, family and friends in Australia for their guidance – asking what can we do about Australia bushfires. Below, we have put together a starting list of ways individuals outside of Australia can support Australia. We are all one people.

    Please copy and share any bits of this content that you feel strongly towards and push them out to help our brothers and sisters in Australia.

    Importantly, continue to push travel to this amazing country. Tourism to Australia will play a massive role in their long term recovery. There are many beautiful areas unimpacted that showcase Australia.

    Wildlife

    Bangalow Koalas – An organization that has been a champion in Koala conservation since 2016. Bangalow Koalas long-term goal it to create a Koala wildlife corridor, forming a linkage of habitat from Byron Bay/Bangalow heading westwards towards Tenterfield and south towards Grafton, allowing koalas to move safely across the local landscape. Read more on how to support Bangalow Koalas here.

    WIRES – NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue And Education Service Inc – WIRES has been rescuing and caring for native animals for over 30 years. They have over 2500 volunteers in 28 branches involved in the rescue and care of wildlife and have a dedicated Rescue Office that operates 365 days a year assisting the community to help native animals in distress. WIRES helps tens of thousands of animals every year, receiving up to 95,000 requests for rescue advice and assistance every 12 months.

    Animal Welfare League – Animal Welfare League NSW (AWL NSW) is a registered charity that has been operating for over 60 years. They provide expert care to surrendered, neglected and abandoned companion animals across New South Wales. Animal Welfare League’s Inspectors have been assisting in towns affected by bushfires on the mid-north coast of NSW.

    Front Line Services

    NSW Rural Fire Service In New South Wales – The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) is the lead combat agency for bush fires in NSW. For over 100 years we have been a significant part of the history and landscape of NSW. Working closely with other agencies we respond to a range of emergencies including structure fires, motor vehicle accidents and storms that occur within rural fire districts.

    Country Fire Authority In Victoria – CFA (Country Fire Authority) is a volunteer and community-based fire and emergency services organization. They help protect 3.3 million Victorians, and more than one million homes and properties across the state.

    CFS Foundation In South Australia – The CFS provides immediate financial assistance and care to CFS volunteer fire-fighters and their families to offset suffering and distress caused in the line of active duty.

    Families and Victims Support

    Foodbank – Foodbank is Australia’s largest food relief organisation, operating on a scale that makes it crucial to the work of the front line charities that are feeding vulnerable Australians. Foodbank provides 77 million meals a year (210,000 meals a day) to more than 2,600 charities around the country, accounting for 79% of all food received by charities from food rescue organisations.

    St Vincent de Paul Society – Vinnies is on the ground helping people as they deal with the immediate aftermath of fires, and we will continue to be there as they rebuild their lives in the long term.

    Environment

    South Australia Disaster Relief – The Marshall Liberal Government has established a new emergency relief fund to help people directly affected by the devastating Cudlee Creek bushfire – pledging $1 million to kick-start the donation drive.

    Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund – The Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund (GERF) is a registered charity that was established in 1978 to provide immediate short-term funds to Gippslanders affected by natural disaster events. It is completely funded by donations from businesses, community groups and individuals. Run by volunteers, all donations are returned to the community.

    January 7, 2020 • Articles, Australia • Views: 395

  • Winter Blues? No Worries! Here Are Our Top Five Island Getaways

    The great comedian and actor Carl Reiner once said, “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” With old man Winter just now settling in, many will come to echo the sentiments of Mr. Reiner. Shorter days, colder temperatures, and those pesky snow storms will have us clamoring for the return of Spring. Fortunately, you need not wait for the flowers to bloom to beat those winter blues. Here is a list of our top five island getaways for those who would rather wear trunks and shades to hats and gloves.

    Lizard Island: Winter Blues Prohibited

    Lizard Island Resort | Photo Credit: Lizard Island Resort

    Lizard Island Resort | Photo Credit: Lizard Island Resort

    Who needs snow drifts when you have 24 private beaches to choose from? The answer? No one. What’s more, the good folks at Lizard Island Resort provide complimentary boat transfers to each of those beaches so that you can visit as many as you want. Secluded and exclusive, the resort is Australia’s northernmost island-beach getaway that will have you staying right on the Great Barrier Reef. This means snorkeling, paddle boarding, and diving, as well as exposure to some incredible marine wildlife. Lizard Island Resort simply delivers.

     

    Fiji: Paradise As You Pictured It

    Kokomo Island Resort | Photo Credit: Kokomo Island Resort

    Kokomo Island Resort | Photo Credit: Kokomo Island Resort

    Is there a more fabled island destination than this chain of South Pacific islands? Islands covered with forests, the sun setting into the Pacific, and cocktails adorned with umbrellas. This is represented no better than at Kokomo Island Resort, a private island upon which there are no winter blues to be found. The Beachfront Villas are just that: beautiful villas equipped with private pools and set amid palm trees on the beach. Additionally, many of our travelers opt for a relaxing stopover in Fiji on the backend of an adventure-laden trip in New Zealand. There is no better place to unwind and reflect than Fiji. You will not be disappointed.

    Bali: Winter Blues Banished

    Ayana Resort | Photo Credit: Ayana Resort

    Ayana Resort | Photo Credit: Ayana Resort

    In Bali, the mountains are not covered with snow but instead with volcanic forests and rice paddies. This Indonesian island is perfect for sweating out those winter blues, whether it be on the beach or as a result of some delightfully spicy cuisine. Should you want to stay in the tropical forest, look no further than The Samaya Ubud. Set in the jungle, the accommodations are stunning and the nature trekking is unforgettable. Or opt for the beach and stay at Ayana Resort. Immerse yourself in culture whether it be through their rice planting program or a traditional Balinese cooking class. Exotic and warm, you may never want to leave.

     

    Koh Samui: A Cure for the Cold

    Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui | Photo Credit: Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui

    Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui | Photo Credit: Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui

    Seeing a monkey scale a tree and snap up a ripe coconut will melt those pesky winter blues. In Koh Samui, it’s difficult to feel anything but wonder amid the palm-fringed beaches and coconut plantations. It is that idyllic paradise that you daydream about as you scrape ice from your windshield and, once there, reality exceeds the dream. A stay at the Four Seasons Resort, with its gorgeous tropical views and private plunge pools confirms this notion. Or lodge at the Six Senses and feast your eyes on panoramas of the Gulf of Thailand and its turquoise waters in a setting inspired by a traditional Thai fishing village. Regardless, the only frozen water you will encounter will be the ice in your cocktails.

     

    Lord Howe: The Hot, Hidden Gem

    Capella Lodge | Photo Credit: Capella Lodge

    Capella Lodge | Photo Credit: Capella Lodge

    Lose those winter blues on a hike through this green gem of an island. Iconic and World Heritage-listed, Lord Howe Island is less than a two hour flight from Sydney and is a gateway to a tropical haven. The land is lush with greenery and coral reefs line the sea floor that surrounds the island. And, in the center of it all sits Capella Lodge, the island’s premium boutique accommodation. Offering breathtaking views of both the ocean and the mountains, Capella Lodge offers a quintessential island experience. Feed fish at Ned’s beach, learn to surf at Blinky’s Beach, or go on the ridge walk to Kim’s Lookout. The options are many and the days are memorable.

    These five island getaways represent some of the best we have to offer. Sun, sand, and jungle, but most importantly, all lacking dark evenings and winter chill. So stop dreaming about an island getaway while you spread salt on your sidewalk or layer on your third jacket. Instead, escape the dreary winter with one of our Team’s favorite exotic getaways to an island paradise. You will not regret it.

    December 13, 2019 • Asia, Max Wasserman, South Pacific Islands, Uncategorized • Views: 1628

  • Honeymoon on Safari

    When it came time to plan a honeymoon, the choice was easy. Africa. Most honeymooners crave a respite after the madness of their wedding day, opting for a relaxing beach vacation. While a few days on the beach did seem appealing, we instead chose a safari-infused excursion into the African bush. Here is why we will never regret our honeymoon on safari.

    Why Africa?

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    My husband and I were drawn for many reasons. First, we have the good fortune of having friends who immigrated from Africa and, with the way they speak of their former home, it’s impossible to not want to visit. Second, my husband and I wanted a cultural experience. We wanted to learn about this stunning land and the its wonderful people. We’ve always preferred to be on the move during our travels which is why safaris and game drives appealed to us more than beach days. Undoubtedly, the wildlife was the biggest denominator in deciding to take a honeymoon on safari. We pined to see the iconic African wildlife. We grew up seeing elephants, lions, and, giraffes only in zoos, so when the opportunity to see them in the wild presented itself we jumped at the chance.

    The Honeymoon Moments

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    What makes a honeymoon moment in Africa? Well for one, it is the lodges. We received incredibly warm welcomes wherever we stayed and the realtionships we developed with our hosts made leaving so very difficult. Bottles of champagne awaited us in our accommodations and we were treated like long lost friends. What’s more, at Singita we were surprised with a sundowner honeymoon meal. The manager of the property arranged for us to eat dinner alfresco while watching the sun set into the African plains. Having paid attention to our preferences during our stay, our favorite dishes and drinks were provided to us. Sharing a silent sunset with my husband made our honeymoon on safari unforgettable.

    A Safari and a Cruise

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    On our first safari, we set out to find six-week-old lion cubs that had just been born from two lionesses of the main pride. However, our plans changed when we came upon a wandering elephant. Our guide stopped our safari vehicle and the elephant slowly approached. The elephant, a young male, turned and locked eyes with every person in the safari vehicle. This was the moment that changed me. There was something so overwhelming about being so close to these gentle creatures that I, along with the rest of the guests, teared up. It felt as though the elephant stared into the soul of each of us and touched us. It was a feeling that I still think about now and one that will never leave me.

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    In Africa, everything and everyone feels connected. Animals and peoples are integrated in a way that is remarkable. People are a part of the natural world instead of being apart from it and that is what made my honeymoon on safari special. To look out over the plains and simply be present along with my husband, away from wifi, emails, and stress. Africa is a different world and we cannot wait to return.

     

    November 18, 2019 • Africa, Jacqui McDonald, Travels • Views: 541

  • African Proposal: My Trip to Eastern Africa

    In Africa you can disconnect from the world at large and enjoy what is right in front of you. It is this quality of simply “being” that drew me to the continent. It is also why, on my most recent trip to the continent, that I decided to propose to my partner. Here is how my African proposal went.

    A Sobering Start to the African Proposal

    Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The trip began with gorilla trekking in Rwanda at the gorgeous Volcanoes National Park. We hiked through a volcanic forest and then came upon a family of gorillas. I froze. First, the majestic creatures gazed at us and then, finally, they approached us. One of little ones actually reached out and touched me. It was a sobering experience. These creatures, facing the threat of extinction, are not that much different than us. Moreover, gorilla trekking is an activity that directly benefits the conservation of both the species and the natural habitat. And, to be able to share this life-affirming experience with my partner made it all the more special.

    The Great Migration

    Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    You never feel more alive than when you are reminded that life is always in question. In Kenya, the Great Migration is a testament to this question and to see it answered live gave me goosebumps. Every year, millions of zebra, wildebeest, and gazelle migrate across Tanzania and Kenya in search of food and water. The river crossings are treacherous, the water teeming with crocodiles and the banks patrolled by lions, and to see a crossing is to be reminded of the great circle of life. In the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, we sat transfixed by the sight. Loud, violent, intense, and transfixing to see, the experience served as a reminder that life is thrilling but unpredicable. A rollercoaster ride that we have little control over, I took solace in hoping that by the end of this African proposal trip that I would never again have to face it alone.

    The African Proposal

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    We ventured out to the bush to a small community of family homes. The families greeted us warmly and showed us the fences they tended to which kept out wildlife. After a nice dance off with some of the family members, our guide and driver took us on a “private tour.” This was part of the proposal that the guide and driver had helped me plan. I trusted them and they came through, picking out a gorgeous overlook that provided a perfect backdrop for the proposal. Champagne was set out on a table. All that remained was for me to take a knee and ask the question that had brought us to Africa. I asked and she said yes.

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    My African proposal trip is one that I will never forget. While I was able to disconnect from the world at large, I was able to connect with my partner forever. For that, I will always be grateful to this continent where the next chapter of my life began.

    November 18, 2019 • Africa, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 1256

  • Indian Fabrics: Silks and Spectacles

    Indian fabrics are a feast for the senses. The vegetable dye hues form an unmatched combination of style and texture that I find magnetic. With this in mind, I set out to the center of Indian handloom weaving, Maheshwar. There, I learned that these fabrics are not only beautiful but also cultural touchstones.

    Indore Today, Indian Fabrics Tomorrow

    Ahilya Fort | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Ahilya Fort | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Indore netted the countrywide award for the “Cleanest City” for three consecutive years and its reputation is well-earned. I spent the night at the beautiful Radisson Blue hotel before my journey to Maheshwar the next day. In the afternoon, I visited the Lal Baag Palace which belongs to the Holkar royal family. Built in the 1920s, the home is elegant, complete with lavish interior and beautiful gardens. A statue of Queen Victoria sits in the gardens, a nod to Indian history. Afterward, I toured the night market of Sarafa Bazaar. The Bazaar is a haven for adventurous foodies like myself and I sampled the local delicacies of poha, jalebi, dahi vada and malpuas. Sarafa served as a fitting appetizer for the journey to Maheshwar, the capital of Indian fabrics, the next day.

    A Stop in Mandu

    Mandu | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Mandu | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    After a delicious buffet breakfast at Radisson Blue, I departed to Mandu where I met my guide, Pervez. Together we visited Jahaz Mahal, the Ship Palace. Vast and well-planned, Jahaz Mahal is a sight to behold, sitting like a magnificient ship between two lakes. Additionaly, I also saw my favorite sight in all of Mandu, the Roopmati pavilion. The pavilion provides spectacular views that overlook the Narmada valley and is in close proximity to Baz Bahadur’s Palace and Rewa Kund. Built in the 16th century, both sites feature big courtyards, high terraces, and a reservoir that supplies water to Roopmati’s Pavilion. Before hitting the road, we ate lunch at a local restaurant and reflected on Mandu and its gems.

    Maheshwar, Capital of Indian Fabrics

    Prince Richard Holkar | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Prince Richard Holkar | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    The striking Ahilya Fort greeted us when we made our way into Maheshwar. It was around 5pm and the Fort stood engulfed in evening light;  an unforgettable sight. Our rousing introduction continued when we were warmly welcomed to Fort by our hosts, the Holkars. Our hosts greeted us with garlands and we were given a tour of the grounds before settling into our rooms. Afterward, we joined Prince Richard Holkar and some other guests for a drink and watched a spectacular sunset over the river. The Ahilya Fort is 250 years and I can confidently say that it provides an experience like no other. Prince Richard is so warm and inviting, always sitting and chatting with guests. He made us feel like we belonged there which is the highest compliment that I can pay to any host.

    Indian Fabric Market By Day

    Narmada River | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Narmada River | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    After breakfast on the terrace, we made our way into the city to watch local weavers create beautiful fabrics. Visits at the Rehwa Society and then the outlets at Women Weave at Gudi Mudi were vivid windows into the weaving of Indian fabrics. The weavers use beautiful silks and cottons and I bought a Maheshwari sari for myself. I wore it as we walked the small lanes of Maheshwar with its cloth handlooms, art workshops and hotels. The locals were so friendly and greeted us with warm smiles. After lunch, we took a boat ride on the Narmada river to enjoy the sunset with hot tea and fresh biscuits. Dinner was an Indian thali set up at the courtyard with flowing red flowers and beautiful lit clay oil Indian lamps called diyas. It was the perfect way to end the trip.

    I traveled back home attired in my beautiful Maheshwar fabrics and saris. They serve as reminders of my time in India; a fulfilling and wondrous time.

    Sunset over Narmada River | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Sunset over Narmada River | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    November 18, 2019 • Bela Banker, India, Travels • Views: 641

  • Japanese Quintessential

    Full of fantastic sights and cultural experiences, Japan overwhelms the visitor with its volume of offerings. With this in mind, I journeyed to the “The Land of the Rising Sun” to determine what constitutes a Japanese quintessential. Here are the must-sees and dos that I found.

    Kanazawa: Japanese Quintessential

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    From the moment I read about Kanazawa in college, I was fascinated by the historical samurai town. My day started on foot, touring the classic neighborhood of Nagamachi. I explored Nomura Samurai House, a home that belonged to a wealthy samurai family. The home featured traditional tatami rooms, a family shrine, and a full suit of armor on display. The yard out back was no different, housing both a beautiful garden and a koi pond. Afterward, I visited the  centerpiece of any trip to Kanazawa: Kenrokuen Garden. Spacious, classic, and secluded, the garden is one of the most beautiful in the country. The water features, bridges, teahouses, trees, flowers, and stones make the Garden a Japanese quintessential.

    Miyagawa Market and Shirakawago: Japanese Quintessential

    Miyagawa Market | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Miyagawa Market | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    My next stop? Miyagawa morning market! Stocked with impressive wood sculptures and intricate pottery, Miyagawa is also an excellent place for snacks. The sesame crackers and taiyakai, a sweet cream-filled cake, were delicious. Once through, I walked the streets of Old Town and took in the charming old-style houses and sake breweries. A wealthy merchant district dating back to the 1600s, Old Town was traditional Japan at its most beautiful. Next, my journey continued to UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Shirakawago. Most famous for its Gassho-style farmhouses, Shirakawago homes are built without nails. The roofs, thatched and steeply sloped, look like hands at prayer.

    Forest of Wisdom: Japanese Quintessential

    The Forest Wisdom | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    The Forest Wisdom | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    My first stop was the small, seven family town of Hiyou. I was there to see the Forest of Wisdom, a project that aims to preserve the cedar trees, moss, and natural resources of the area. Moss is a symbol of Japanese culture and it was magical to see them cultivating and growing endangered varieties of moss in the Forest. After a tasty lunch, I walked to the spectacular Kakusenkei Gorge and soaked in the views. Afterward, I grabbed a snack at teahouse perched alongside the river and then made my way back on the interesting bridges of the gorge. At each end of the gorge is a bridge, one traditional wooden bridge and one modern steel bridge which made for an intriguing visual of Japanese history and modernity working together. The Forest and the gorge were a respite from a few busy days of touring and a Japanese quintessential.

    Maiko Dinner and Show: My Favorite

    Maiko Dinner | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Maiko Dinner | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    My favorite stop in Nara was Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Set in the forest, I felt a calm wash over me as soon as I entered the Shrine. Kasuga is most known for the hundreds of bronze lanterns that adorn temple buildings and the stone lanterns that line the pathways of temple hall. I could have spent hours looking at the lanterns. The older ones were covered in a shiny green moss while the brighter, new ones showed newly painted instructions. In Kyoto, I participated in my favorite experience on the trip: a Maiko Dinner and Show at Gion Hatanaka. While I enjoyed a traditional seven-course Kyoto Kaiseki dinner, both maiko and geiko (Kyoto dialect for Geisha) performed traditional songs and dances. During a brief break in the performances the ladies came to each table and answered diners’ questions. I ended my evening and trip with some fun party games.

    These sights and experiences represent the history, culture, and essence of Japan. In short, quintessential Japan, where every day is a new adventure and every interaction a learning experience.

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    November 18, 2019 • Asia, Donna Van Buren, Travels • Views: 1059

  • The Sacred Journey

    I went on a sacred journey across Asia and visited some of the its oldest temples. Beyond bricks and mortar, what I experienced when I entered these incredible shrines was special. Let me explain why.

    Bali

    Nusa Penida, Bali | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Nusa Penida, Bali | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Beginning in Indonesia, my sacred journey led me first to the island province of Bali. World renowned for its beaches, Bali crackles with an energy reflective of its people. Its cuisine is no different. I took a cooking class and learned how to make traditional Indonesian curries, sambals, and other traditional dishes. Afterward, I set out to see some Bali’s fantastic sights. I explored Nusa Penida, an island community known for its world class diving locations and panoramas of the Badung Strait. Finally, I saw the spectacular Tanah Lot Temple. One of seven sea temples set off the Balinese coast, Tanah Lot is a breathtaking representation of historic Balinese culture.

    Komodo Island

    Komodo Island | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Komodo Island | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Named for its most famous inhabitants, Komodo Island is home to the Komodo Dragon. Weighing up to 200 pounds and measuring out at nearly eight and half feet in length, these lizards are modern day dinosaurs. Yet, the natural landscape of Komodo Island is just as striking as its residents. The island is 240 miles of lush greenery, rugged terrain, and picturesque beaches. Komodo Island also features a pink sand beach, one of only seven that exist in the entire world. After snapping some pictures with some new friends, I ate lunch on the pink beach and listened to the sea.

    Yogyakarta and Borobudur

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    After my adventure in Komodo Island, the sacred journey took me next to the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. I visited the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site Prambanan Temple, the largest Hindu temple in all of Indonesia. Next was the Taman Sari, a renowned water castle that was built in the mid-18th century. The next morning, I left the hotel at 4:30am to watch the sunrise at the Borobudur. Another UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, the Borobudur is a ninth-century Buddhist Temple that is also the world’s largest. Watching the sun rise over the spires and arches was magical and a sight that I will never forget.

    Singapore

    Gardens by the Bay, Singapore | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Gardens by the Bay, Singapore | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    The last stop of my sacred journey brought me to the beautiful country of Singapore. I went on the Heritage Foodalicious Tour, tasted some samples, and learned about a family-run soy sauce business. After, I visited the Gardens by the Bay, a stunning nature park that runs adjacent to the marina resevoir. I ended my trip and my night with a laser light show under the “trees” in the park. Colorful, electric, and beautiful, it was a fitting end to the trip.

    Southeast Asia evokes wonder because it is a world unto itself. From the sea temples of Bali to the Komodo Dragons of Komodo Island, Southeast Asia is a wonder land worth visiting more than once.

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    November 14, 2019 • Asia, Travels • Views: 636

  • Australian Fall: Cool, Colorful, and Unique

    Although Australia conjures summer images of sand and surf, there is no more unique time to visit than fall.

    Blue Mountains National Park | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    Blue Mountains National Park | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    March, April, May, and June offer many advantages and markedly fewer drawbacks when traveling to the Land Down Under. And, while the temperature does dip, fall ushers in a rendering of the country that few international travelers see. Here are some reasons why you should look to book a trip during Australian fall.

    Money and Availability

    Devil's Corner Cellar Door | Photo Credit: Tourism Tasmania

    Devil’s Corner Cellar Door | Photo Credit: Tourism Tasmania

    Busiest in its summer months, travel to Australia drops as soon as March rolls around. From a practical standpoint, this means a respite from the crowds of tourists that can be overwhelming at times. For instance, making the sacred journey to view one of our planet’s natural wonders, Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), is all the more inspiring without the crowds of the busy season. The same is true of Kangaroo Island, where you can see wildlife in their most natural state, including nesting penguins. Australian fall also affords you to visit while staying at the mindfully appointed Longitude 131 at a fraction of the busy season’s cost. It’s also much easier to get to taste world-class, locally sourced cuisine at one of Australia’s Chef-hat rated restaurants such as Joy in Brisbane and Quay in Sydney. Fall also represents the best time to explore Tasmania, an eclectic region teeming with fascinating wildlife and beautiful vineyards. Throw on some waders and delight in the freshness of Tassie’s oysters that the cold water brings or cuddle up with a warm blanket and a loved one as you taste your way around Australia’s most southerly wine region.

    Weather and Environment

    South Australia | Photo Credit: South Australia Tourism Commission

    South Australia | Photo Credit: South Australia Tourism Commission

    While chilly temperatures are common in Australia March through June, that is not the case for the entire country. Comfortable temperatures in places like Queensland and the Northern Territory mean that nothing is off the table in terms of excursions. An Australian fall night spent stargazing in Northern Territory’s Red Centre is an awe-inspiring experience. The sky is pitch black and without light pollution. The stars are bright and infinite and seemingly belong to just you and a handful of others. It will change your perception of the night sky. Autumn in Queensland provides experiences that are similarly extraordinary. Whale watching season is in full swing and the waters over the Great Barrier Reef are clearer. Stay at Lizard Island, the secluded and northern most luxury lodge on the Great Barrier Reef. The lodge provides the perfect launch point to explore this natural wonder.

    Events

    Vivid Sydney | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    Vivid Sydney | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    From March to June, Australia is brimming with seasonal events that offer engaging experiences to travelers and locals alike. Adventure into Sydney during the annual light festival, Vivid Sydney. The entire city is lit up during this  celebration of “Light, Music and Ideas.” Art exhibits and three dimensional projections turn many of Sydney’s iconic sights into a citywide, light-art gallery. Meanwhile, in Victoria autumn brings the opportunity to see the top of the Aurora Australis, the indelible natural wonder better known as the Southern Lights. And, in South Australia it’s wine harvest season. Seppeltsfield offers visitors an opportunity to taste wine from their birth years and at McLaren Vale you can create your very own wine blend!

    While not the most popular time to travel to Australia, March through June may very well be the best time. It’s more affordable, less crowded, alive with the splendor of fall and full of events that are uniquely Australian. See it for yourself!

    October 9, 2019 • Australia, Travels • Views: 508

  • The Jackalope in Mornington Peninsula

    We traveled to the Jackalope in the rolling hills of the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria to see if the hotel lived up to its mythical namesake. We were not disappointed.
    Jackalope Vineyard | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Jackalope Vineyard | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Jackalope Hotel

    Appropriately, a large sculpture of the part-hare, part-deer mythical creature greeted my wife Linda and I when we arrived at the Jackalope Hotel. The property, set amid a lush vineyard and green hills, is where such a creature would thrive. The views from the pool and bar are breathtaking. Linda and I lingered there, enjoying bar service and watching the sunset. We headed back to our room where the views were just as remarkable. Be sure to book one of the rooms overlooking the vineyard or consider one their larger “Lair” suites.

    Rare Hare | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Rare Hare | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    There are are two outstanding restaurants to choose from; the Doot, Doot, Doot and the Rare Hare. The Doot, Doot, Doot, which means a herd of Jackalopes, offers a 5 course tasting menu featuring local produce and wines. The Rare Hare provides casual fare in a relaxed atmosphere. We chose Doot, Doot, Doot for our first night and sipped on some cocktails at the elaborately decked out bar.
    Mornington Peninsula | Photo Credit: Visit Victoria

    Mornington Peninsula | Photo Credit: Visit Victoria

    Mornington Peninsula

    The next morning, we left with our guide from Melbourne Private Tours to enjoy a Foodies Journey through the Mornington Peninsula. Starting at the Green Olive, we met with the chef/owners Greg and Sue. They walked us around the property as we picked the ingredients for our lunch. And then it was back to the kitchen to find a bottle of wine from local labels the Old Apple Shed and Ten Minutes by Tractor. We rolled out dough and made some fantastic pizzas that were absolutely delicious. After, we hit the road for two more wine tastings and some dramatic views of Port Phillip Bay.

    We concluded our stay at the Jackalope with a meal at the Rare Hare the following night. Large communal benches comprise the seating at the Rare Hare which makes conversation easy. We enjoyed our small, casual dishes and chatted with some new acquaintances. In the end, we were sad to bid farewell to our friendly Jackalope before we headed into town.

    Jackalope | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Jackalope | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Want to experience the Jackalope for yourself? Check out these itineraries featuring the hotel.

    October 3, 2019 • Australia, Ian Swain Sr, Property Highlights, Travels • Views: 758

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