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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Where To See Polar Bears in The Wild

Listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), polar bears face an uncertain future. But there is hope. In September 2015, the five states whose territories cover this spectacular animal’s range – Canada, Kingdom of Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the US – signed the Circumpolar Action Plan, a 10-year global conservation strategy to secure the long-term survival of polar bears, which number between 22,000 and 31,000 in the wild according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). While it’s too soon to measure its success, this joint commitment nonetheless offers some reassurance that these nations are dedicated to the species’ preservation.

Most people who have been lucky enough to eyeball a wild polar bear would agree it’s one of the most thrilling wildlife-viewing experiences on Earth. Still a relatively young industry, polar bear tourism is not without its challenges. An increase in human-polar bear contact in Norway, for example, has resulted in more bears being shot.

It can also be argued that the carbon emissions generated by tourists travelling to the Arctic to spot bears is counterproductive to the marine mammals’ survival. On the other hand, well-managed polar bear tourism is credited with inspiring visitors to see the necessity of safeguarding their fragile environment. If it’s a trip you dream of taking one day, read on for the best places to ogle these majestic beasts in their Arctic playground.

Canada: Churchill, Manitoba

They don’t call Churchill the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ for nothing. Every autumn, hundreds of polar bears gather on the shores of Hudson Bay near the town of Churchill to wait for the sea ice to refreeze so they can return to hunting seals. The world’s most accessible (and cheapest) polar bear viewing destination, Churchill has a well-established tourism industry. Tours are typically conducted in custom-made tundra buggies with indoor/outdoor viewing areas. These vehicles can get close to the bears without jeopardising human or bear safety, though the elevation of the viewing platforms can present challenges for photographers.

When to go: October and November is peak viewing season in Churchill, but some operators offer packages at their remote lodges in March, when mother bears emerge from their dens with their cubs. Bear watching is combined with beluga whale watching in July and August.

United States: Kaktovik, Alaska

While polar bear populations in the Bering Sea are thought to be decreasing, bears have become such a common fixture on Alaska’s Arctic coast in summer that a tourism industry has developed around their presence in two Inupiat Eskimo villages: Barrow and Kaktovik. Located on Barter Island, just off the coast, Kaktovik is the best place to spot them – lured by the opportunity to feast on the carcasses of bowhead whales that the community are permitted to harvest, polar bears can be spotted by the dozen hanging out on the sand islands that fringe the town. Visitors arrive via small plane from Fairbanks for three- to four-hour viewing tours conducted in small boats equipped for six guests.

When to go: Boat tours run from mid-August until late September/early October.

Norway: Spitsbergen, Svalbard

Halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the Svalbardarchipelago harbours a rich array of wildlife among its stunning glaciers and dramatic fjords – including several thousand polar bears. Viewing tours take two forms: in winter, full-day snowmobile tours depart the capital Longyearbyen, on the main island of Spitsbergen, for polar bear territory in the island’s east, where bears can (sometimes) be viewed from a distance. It’s a long, cold day out, but it’s cheaper than summertime expedition cruises that ply the west and north coasts of Spitsbergen. Cruises, however, offer much higher chances of seeing bears.

When to go: February to May for snowmobiling tours; June to August for expedition cruises.

Where Our Globetrotters Want To Go Next

Fin McCarthy – Global News Editor

Wants to visit: Musées Yves Saint Laurent Paris and Marrakesh, France and Morocco

Two museums dedicated to the iconic French designer are opening in Paris and Marrakesh.

When a trip involves Marrakesh or Paris, two of my favourite cities, I’m always excited. But add Yves St Laurent to the mix – the man who introduced ‘le tuxedo’ for women and whose influence on the catwalk today is still undeniable – and I’m storming the departure gates. This year two new museums are opening, celebrating the designer’s incredible legacy. His former Paris atelier, which is being refurbished to its former glory, allows visitors the opportunity to get a sense of his work process, while also immersing themselves in the city of haute couture. Or take a trip to Morocco to drink in the electric blue of the designer’s Jardin Majorelle, which he bequeathed to Marrakesh, and where the new museum will display his work. But why not make both pilgrimages? I know I will.

Alex Butler – Global News Reporter

Wants to visit: New Holland Island, St Petersburg

The historic island has been transformed into a vibrant public space.

So much of St Petersburg’s allure lies in its wealth of history. But for me,New Holland Island, with its focus on public space and the arts, is a perfect addition to Russia’s cultural capital. The project seems poised to bring a burst of modernity to the historic city, providing a place for locals and travellers to go skating, visit food carts or even see a concert – the perfect way to kick back after a long visit to the Hermitage. Strolling onto the formerly restricted naval island will not only provide an interesting insight into the city’s past, but also a glimpse of its future.

James Martin – Global News Reporter

Wants to visit: Prince’s Paisley Park

An incredibly intimate look at the life and work of Prince.

As I’m a devoted follower of Prince’s music, the opening of hisMinnesota estate Paisley Park is one of the most exciting new developments in travel for 2017. Fans of the iconic performer will no doubt be aware of the unique spirit and impressive output of His Royal Purpleness, who used the 65,000 square-foot complex as his creative sanctuary. From recording a string of hit records and feature films to the manufacturing of clothing for upcoming tours, everything was done on site either personally or under the watchful eye of the industrious perfectionist. Following his death, Paisley Park has grown to represent sheer creativity and artistic opportunity. The idea of getting a first-hand look at the inner sanctum of one of music’s most enigmatic characters will no doubt excite and inspire many travellers and music fans alike.

AnneMarie McCarthy – Social News Coordinator

Wants to visit: Art 42, Paris

An eclectic collection of art salvaged from the streets and created especially for the space.

I know the idea of street art being displayed in a museum seems contradictory and, on many levels, it is. Yes, the joy of street art lies in the serendipitous discovery, but the museum’s careful curation reflects this feeling of surprise. While there is a beauty in the temporary, fleeting nature of the pieces, bad weather, officials or taggers soon make their unwelcome mark on it. Many of these artworks have been taken from the streets with the aim of preserving them, while some have been created specifically for the museum. They brighten up the space of this non-profit school where students pay no tuition and, most importantly, remain free to see to anyone with an interest in one of the world’s most exciting art forms.

Megan Eaves – Destination Editor for North Asia

Wants to visit: Shanghai Tower

The world’s second tallest building and the highest observation deck on earth.

There is nothing quite like seeing Shanghai from above, and the city keeps on giving with towers that soar higher and higher. Shanghai Tower takes this to the next level – being able to look down on the 101-storey Shanghai World Financial Center will be a breathtaking moment.  Even from Shanghai’s smaller skyscrapers, there is something peaceful about seeing the Pudong River like a tiny slip of water winding its way through a forest of apartment blocks and high rises. And from the Tower’s observation deck on the 118th floor (the world’s highest!), they will appear like a million tiny pins. For a moment, the chaos of the world, and Shanghai’s frenetic pace, will seem like another planet.

7 Travel Resolutions and How to Keep Them

Pack lighter

Next time you’re stuffing a pair of impractical shoes and a bumper-size shampoo into your bag, stop to consider the feelings of future you: the one sporting a sweaty back patch and a face riddled with regret. The ‘I’ll manage’ attitude dissipates in a flurry of expletives as you drag your luggage up a broken escalator, straining your bicep and stubbing a toe in the process. Worth it? Not so much.

Stick to it: Downsize: restricting suitcase volume soon hinders overpackers. Prioritise: it’s OK to take three paperbacks if you’re willing to forgo the laptop. Enlist a ruthless packing buddy who won’t give in to the words ‘but I neeeeeed it!’.

Take better pictures

Sick of returning home from a trip with thousands of hastily snapped images that you’ll never have the time to sift through and edit, let alone share? Whether you’re shooting for social media, an online portfolio or the family album, investing a little time and effort can take your creations from amateur to incredible.

Stick to it: Read up on how to take a decent smartphone snap; enrol on a photography course; join a photographer’s meetup while you’re on the road; or take a tour that combines travel and tuition.

Stop putting it off

Family, finances, your career… even fear. There are plenty of factors that prevent people from travelling – but when valid reasons become comfortable alternatives to taking a risk, it’s time for a reality check. You have one life on this planet. Stop making excuses and start making plans.

Stick to it: Whether you long for a round-the-world extravaganza or simply a weekend away, it’s not going to land on your lap. Identify your true barriers to travel and tackle them head on. Strapped for cash? Start saving. Option paralysis? Consult the experts. Worried what your boss will think? Propose a trip that will boost your résumé.

Learn to unplug

See it, share it. Try it, tweet it. The impulse to reach for your smartphone can be near impossible to resist, even on the road – but just as technology seems to have rewired our brains to crave constant connection, travel can be the ultimate antidote.

Stick to it: Can’t go cold turkey? Minimise distractions by deleting email apps and disabling social media notifications. Rediscover the joy of writing postcards. Keep a travel journal. Go for a walk without the safety net of Google Maps… and see where you end up.

Travel responsibly

As global tourist numbers continue to increase (1.2 billion international arrivals recorded in 2015 and counting, according to the UN), understanding the impact our travel choices have on the planet has never been more important. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to go green.

Stick to it: You know the drill: steer clear of plastic bottles; take public and overland transport where possible; choose ethical tour operators who respect wildlife and give back to local communities; reduce or offset your carbon emissions (calculate your footprint atcarbonindependent.org).

Use your time off wisely

It’s easy to fritter away precious paid leave on family events and close-to-home happenings, leaving little time for escapism. But this makes it tough to return to work feeling refreshed – and worse still, you’re no closer to seeing the world than you were last year.

Stick to it: Make no mistake: you earned your days off, so take them – every last one. Plan in advance; if you prefer regular short trips, get them booked in early. Capitalise on national holidays, adding a day or two either side for extra-long breaks. Alternatively, have that chat with your manager about using your leave in bulk for that three-week trip toSoutheast Asia…

Engage with the locals

The dream: gaining true insight into ‘real’ local culture. The reality: befriending an international crew of fellow travellers on Facebook and coming home with an ‘authentic’ souvenir made in China.

Stick to it: Let’s face it: it can take years to unravel the complexities of foreign cultures. But there are ways to increase your chances of having a meaningful encounter. Brush up on your language skills; you’d be surprised how far ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can take you. With the sharing economy showing no signs of slowing down, it’s easier than ever to find homestays, cooking classes and local tour guides.

How to get to Middle-earth

The Hobbiton set is the country’s best-known attraction today with close to half a million visitors a year, but there is of course a wealth of film locations far beyond ‘the Shire’. You can always discover New Zealand’s dramatic film locations (over 150 were used during filming) for yourself, starting with this handy guide, or you can head to this remote country on a tour.

We’ve rounded up a few of the many operators running Tolkien tours of New Zealand in 2017, each for a different type of travellers. One thing they all seem to have in common is the desire to meld real life with fantasy worlds while exploring one of the world’s most beautiful countries.

Be a Middle-earth explorer

You can follow in the footsteps of Frodo and Bilbo with Round the World Experts (roundtheworldexperts.co.uk) on a 17-day tour of all things Lord of the Rings. As well as the obligatory visit to Hobbiton, the tour takes you to Wellington to go behind the scenes at the interactive Weta Cave workshops, learning how Lord of the Rings was brought to life with props, costumes, models and special effects. Next it’s on to filming locations in the South Island, with highlights including exploring Aoraki (Mount Cook), New Zealand’s highest mountain peak, discovering Queenstown, and experiencing the silence of Middle-earth on an overnight Milford Sound cruise

Wander windswept beaches

A 21-day tour with Discover the World (discover-the-world.co.uk) takes diehard fans through Lord of the Rings film locations with the national carrier, Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.com). The itinerary starts with a visit to Hobbiton in the rolling hills of Matamata, then hits all the visual splendour of the films, including the stunning beaches at the top of the South Island as well as the dramatic mountains and fjords of theFiordland & Southland. There are several guided location tours included, as well as an overnight cruise on the spectacular Doubtful Sound.

 Join the fellowship

Silverfern (silverfernholidays.com) does a 16-day journey travelling through New Zealand’s magnificent landscapes from Auckland down toQueenstown. The tour includes film locations across the country, with a few surprises like dinner at the Green Dragon Inn in Hobbiton; and a hike to Pinnacle Ridge in the heights of Mount Ruapehu, which stands in for Mordor.