Saturday, March 31, 2007

Take Your Chances


Take Your Chances

When it comes to fatalities on the roads and in the air, no traveller wants to become a statistic. So before you grab your passport and risk winging it out the door, here are some numbers that might help you answer the big question: Why are you tripping?

Friday, March 30, 2007

In Pursuit of Adventure

Adventure cruising, and its almost seamlessly interchangeable appellation, “expedition cruising”, has its roots deep in the human psyche. It stems from our innate desire to inquire, explore and expand the boundaries of our environment whilst deriving intellectual rewards from the experience. Expanding on this, one could name great navigators like Magellan, Cook, La Perouse and Pytheas as some of the best known “adventure cruisers”. Often travelling under the veil of commerce, military expansionism, geography or science, these iconic sailors were driven by a desire to expand their own personal knowledge quite apart from obligations to their respective bankrolling empires.

The 21st Century adventure cruiser is transported in vastly different vessels. Complete with state-of-the-art satellite navigation, first rate medical facilities, gourmet cuisine and comfy bunks, gone are the days of deprivation, scurvy and mythical sea monsters.

Just as cruise travel is enjoying a very healthy resurgence despite the woes of the planet, adventure cruising, as a significant sub-set of the segment, is booming. This assertion is backed up by figures and concurs with findings from studies such as the Cendant Corporation's 'The World of Travel in 2020' where their findings indicate travellers are more and more in search of "experience-driven travel".

But how do you tell an adventure or expedition cruise from the regular fun-afloat type?

That which separates adventure cruising from the regular, big ship, variety is a number of factors, namely;

  • Flexible and adjustable itineraries to take account of changing conditions and opportunities.
  • Products driven by destination and experience rather than the allure or cachet of a particular vessel.
  • Destinations often have little or no tourism infrastructure and focus on natural, cultural and ecological attractions.
  • Smaller, more manoeuvrable vessels able to navigate narrow and shallow waterways inaccessible to regular cruise ships.
  • Fewer passengers, enabling operators to better deliver a more personal and fulfilling experience. Typically less than 500, but often as few as just a dozen or so.
  • Extensive shore excursion programme, often with several disembarkations per day.
  • Cruise staff includes lecturers drawn from academia and science able to impart enriching interpretation during a voyage or shore time.
  • Premium pricing.

Products Close to Home

Here is a selection of vessels and itineraries within easy reach of Australia or New Zealand, often by simple domestic airline link.

Orion Expedition Cruises

Orion burst onto the domestic cruise scene amid great fanfare in late 2003. Founder and managing director, Sarina Bratton, brought with her many years of top level cruise industry experience and Orion is an amalgamation of her vision for “people who seek the mental stimulation of new experiences, places and discovery, whilst enjoying the comfort of luxurious surroundings.”

By all accounts, MV Orion is a magnificent vessel, crewed by expert mariners and delivering large ship opulence in a gleaming, compact package. Luxury staterooms, fine dining and extensive onboard facilities like sauna, spa, gymnasium and beauty salon set her distinctly apart from others vying for the “expedition” market.

Whilst extolling the “luxury” aspects of this vessel, some criticism has been heard of Orion’s “delivery” of the shore component. This seems to be confined to earlier, or first time cruises to new destinations, and it appears that aspect of the product is improving dramatically.

Many experienced observers of the cruise industry see Orion as something of a “crossover” product, retaining the glamour and facilities of a big ship whilst pursuing itineraries and destinations usually reserved for smaller, more spartan vessels.

Coral Princess Cruises

Coral Princess Cruises bill themselves as pioneers of Australian expedition cruising, beginning in 1984 with an ex-WWII submarine chaser. Currently the company operates three vessels, with the two year old, full SOLAS Oceanic Princess their flagship.

While the two smaller vessels, Coral Princess I & II stay close to home, operating primarily from the company’s base in Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef, Cape York and to the Kimberley, Oceanic Princess ventures much further afield. Since her launch in early 2004, she has circumnavigated New Zealand and Tasmania, visited Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, the Solomons and spearheaded itineraries in the Kimberley.

While she will never hold a candle to Orion for luxury appointments, she nevertheless acquits herself superbly for the intended purpose, namely close-to-shore expeditions and secluded waterways. Without a stabilisation system, she won’t be offering open sea itineraries.

Her all-Australian crew are an asset and are easily amongst the best of the local operators and the specially designed, purpose-built excursion vessel is launched from a raised platform ensuring all passengers embark and disembark from a stationery position.

North Star Cruises

Western Australia’s own North Star Cruises operate the acclaimed and multi-award-winning True North, launched in just 2005. Replacing the company’s older, smaller vessel, the new, sleek vessel now carries 36 passengers in 18 cabins in three classes and an 18-member, all-Australian crew.

A bit of a slow starter in the market, North Star is now truly hitting its straps, regularly pulling off awards for their signature Kimberley cruises, where their March-September voyages are the benchmark product.

The dynamic young company now offers itineraries in Papua New Guinea in November and December and is considering expanding their operations farther into the South Pacific.

World Heritage Cruises

Based in the idyllic former logging port of Strahan on Tasmania’s rugged west coast, this small ship company is best known for their relaxed buffet day cruises along Macquarie Harbour into the pristine Gordon River. Branching out with a new luxury vessel, MV Discovery in 2005, the century-old family company now offers overnight cruises further up the Gordon River (Wilderness Escape Cruise), 5-day expeditions to remote Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour and, during the harsh Tasmanian winter whilst based in Queensland, to Hervey Bay and Fraser Island with a new 3-night product.

Chosen by Princess Mary and Prince Frederick for R&R after her hectic Australian tour, the MV Discovery aims squarely for high yield mainland and in-bound clients and carries just 24 passengers in 12 single class cabins. Equipped with zodiacs for shore excursions, the company also makes a fuss of their premium dining experience.

To the Four Corners

Lindblad Expeditions

No coverage of expedition cruising would be complete without mention of this truly pioneering company. Spawned from his father, Lars-Eric Lindblad’s ground-breaking company Lindblad Travel, young Sven-Olaf Lindblad launched Lindblad Expeditions in 1979.

The New York based company operates a fleet of vessels of which the 3100 ton, 110 passenger National Geographic Endeavour is perhaps the best known. She travels, quite literally to all corners of the globe including the South Pacific, Antarctica and the British Isles

Quark Expeditions

Arguably the pre-eminent expedition cruising company in the world, Quark transport passengers to truly iconic destinations like the deepest Antarctic, the Canadian High Arctic, Siberia and even the North Pole. Using a fleet of seven, predominantly Russian vessels including the world record holding icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov and the world’s most powerful icebreaker, Yamal, Quark was founded in 1991 and immediately began breaking records and setting new benchmarks in adventure travel.


This Galapagos specialist operates four vessels, each accommodating just 20 passengers or less. Recently self-accredited as “carbon neutral”, Florida-based ecoventura (aka Galapagos Network) claim to offset their vessels’ carbon output with a variety of projects including reforestation and methane recapture.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stop the World I Want to Get Off

As published in

When Australia’s Baby Boomers want to get away from it all, they head to Byron Bay. But they don’t leave their hard-earned integrity, status and comforts behind.

Words and pictures by Roderick Eime. Additional photography courtesy the Byron at Byron.

“No one lives for the moment anymore,” laments Lyn Parché, manager of the once controversial Byron at Byron Resort and Spa, “people are just consumed with business and materialism these days.”

John and Lyn ParcheLyn and husband John have spent thirty years in the hospitality business, but their youthful exuberance and enthusiasm belies their extensive international experience. Classic ‘Baby Boomers’, John and Lyn were snared by ‘early boomer’ and entrepreneur, Gerry Harvey, to manage his $45 million resort complex in the eclectic seaside town of Byron Bay on the New South Wales North Coast.

With a higher proportion of the post-war offspring than any town in Australia, Byron Bay is a whacky mix of spaced out surfer types, retirees, holidaymakers, affluent mid-lifers and plain old bums. Despite this seemingly unmanageable demographic concoction, Byron Bay has developed a world famous reputation as a delightful alternative seaside village that has ferociously resisted the tide of development and commercialism.

“When we first opened in 2004, elements of the community were very suspicious,” confides Lyn, “here’s one of Australia’s most successful businessmen bringing tens of millions of dollars into this sleepy little hippy town. Folks were scared we were bringing the Gold Coast to Byron. That was understandable.”

Now, three years on, the dramas are all water under the bridge. Condé Naste and just about every other magazine has been through the resort and declared it one of the country’s gems. Awards and accolades have flowed like Bollinger and The Byron is the toast of the town.

“It wasn’t easy,“ continues Lyn, “but we’ve earned their trust and demonstrated our intentions were honorable and responsible. We employ almost 100 locals and bring a lot of business to Byron that is showing up down the street. Hundreds and hundreds of residents signed a petition in support of us when we wanted to expand our restaurant. That was a touching expression and really appreciated it.”

Byron Shire Mayor, Councillor Jan Barham echoes the community’s sentiments: ”The Byron at Byron provides a quality 5 star tourism opportunity for the region and makes a considerable positive impact through employment, care of the environment and contribution to community organizations.”

The Byron at Byron have now added a further 32 luxury, apartment-style suites, bringing their total inventory to 92.

Lyn, a self-confessed tree-hugger, has been obsessive in maintaining the low impact of the resort on the environment. When Harvey bought the land in 2002, he could see the immense potential and undaunted, pursued his vision of an environmentally harmonious resort that offered a haven of relaxation and therapy to his time-poor and over-stressed generation.

Following lavish praise in the world’s luxury travel media, the cavalcade of celebrities ultimately followed. Names such as Tara Reid, Barry Humphries, Fred Schepsi, Allan Lamb, Brian Wilson, Lavinia Nixon and Moby have all appeared in the register, some more than once! Clearly it’s not just the individual and free spirited, Baby Boomers who flock to the Byron. The independent and entrepreneurial Generation X seems to approve too.

“The resort is a paradise for relaxation where I can recover my spirits with a variety of spa treatments, enjoy the warmth of not only the weather but of the fabulous staff and enjoy the food, comfort and ambience of this luxurious haven,” says Barry Humphries, “When I visited recently, I bumped into an old friend from Melbourne, the highly regarded Dame Edna Everage from Moonee Ponds, who just adores The Byron. For the first time in history, we were in cordial agreement!"

The latest news from the Byron is the successful extension of the award-winning restaurant’s trading license. Previously just servicing in-house guests, ‘The Restaurant at The Byron’ now serves the general public both lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Head Chef Gavin Hughes has been with the resort since the opening. Hughes’s impressive background includes the Aqua Luna (with Darren Simpson), The Bathers Pavilion (with Serge Dansereau) and Aqua Dining (with Jeff Turnbull) in Sydney. Prior to moving to Australia Hughes trained and worked in his homeland of Scotland’s finest restaurants. These include the Michelin starred and AA awarded Inverlochy Castle Hotel, 1 Devonshire Gardens and The Airds Hotel.

“Our menu uses the freshest local ingredients and is lovingly planned and prepared,” says Gavin. “The food is light Mediterranean style and based around the best of what’s available locally. And we use Bangalow Sweet Pork, Alstonville chicken, Yamba prawns, Hervey Bay sea scallops and the fish we get is second to none. Right now I’m making a fresh local snapper, pan roasted with yellow zucchini, gazpatcho vinaigrette and vine ripened cherry tomatoes. My other little love is zucchini flowers filled with ricotta and spinach, served with a basil mayonnaise, rocket salad and lemon.”

Clearly the resort has now melded successfully with the unusual community of Byron Bay. Lyn, John and Gerry’s lofty vision and expert execution was obviously grossly underestimated by the detractors. Instead of bleached concrete towers and painful glitz, the Byron is a shining, if somewhat camouflaged example of how modern architecture, big business and a loving vision can create a retreat from the pressures of the modern world in a delicate and protective community.

About The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa

The Byron at Byron Resort was designed to blend effortlessly with the majestic rainforest which surrounds it. The open plan construction and the wide covered verandahs, furnished with oversized cane lounges and slow turning ceiling fans, evoke a feeling of instant serenity and harmony with the environment.

Tranquil water features throughout the resort create ripples of peaceful sound, while lush gardens and rich timbers have the effect of nurturing the soul and delighting the senses. The apartment style rooms are a triumph of modern Australian architecture and include every luxury imaginable, from a king sized bed with choice of feather or foam pillows, to a free-standing bathtub big enough for two.

Located five minutes from the heart of Byron Bay and a ten minute walk along the rainforest boardwalk to unspoiled Tallow Beach, The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa also features a 25m heated pool, a sumptuous restaurant operated by award winning chef, Matthew Wild, a lobby shop and tour desk and day spa.

For further information on The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa, telephone 1300 554 362, or visit