Monthly Archives: September 2016

Special Safari For Nature Lover

Spotting some of the world’s most charismatic animals on a traditional African safari is surely one of travel’s greatest pleasures. But there’s so much more to wildlife and nature tourism than seeing a lion, elephant or leopard from your seat in a convoy of four-wheel drives.

From tracking down tigers to watching wrestling dinosaurs (okay, not quite – but close), here are a handful of alternative ways for travellers to admire the unparalleled spectacle of the natural world.
Looking for tigers in northern India

Tiger numbers have crept up in recent years according to official statistics from the Indian government: in 2016, India was estimated to be home to 2500 of them – 70 percent of the global population. But in a country this vast, it’s still hard to see one. With accredited naturalists working as guides, Himalayan Footsteps (himalayanfootsteps.com) offers a 13-day trip taking in the Bandhavgarh and Kanha national parks. Sightings are by no means guaranteed, although it’s said the best time of year to see tigers is between February and April, so it’s smart to plan ahead. If you don’t spot one, you’ll stand a better chance of seeing sloth bears, jackals and grey mongoose. Bandhavgarh is also home to 250 species of birds, so make sure you pack your binoculars.
Birdwatching in Peru’s Islas Ballestas

Don’t listen to anyone who dismisses Peru’s Islas Ballestas as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’; these uninhabited islands might not have inspired Darwin when HMS Beagle passed this way in the 1830s, but they are home to a huge seabird colony, as well as sea lions and fur seals. Due to the fragile nature of the islands, visitors can’t make landfall, but boats can be chartered along with dedicated guides from nearby Paracas. Peruvian pelicans and Humboldt penguins vie for real estate on these rocky outcrops, sea lions howl above the din of crashing waves, while blue-footed boobies, related to the gannet, dive-bomb the surrounding waters in a desperate search for fish.
Komodo dragons and orangutans in Indonesia

Indonesia is home to many natural wonders, but few spectacles compare with the sight of two Komodo dragons locked in claw-to-claw combat. A visit to the eponymous island home of the world’s largest lizard – the next best thing to a dinosaur, basically – is a highlight of Responsible Travel’s 13-day trip (responsibletravel.com) through the archipelago. Another major stop on the itinerary is Borneo, one of the last redoubts of the beautiful, endangered orangutan, who share their home with proboscis monkeys, gibbons and macaques, to name but three of the rare creatures sheltering in the rainforest.
Northern lights ‘safari’ in Nellim, Finland

Three hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and just 9km from Finland’s border with Russia, Nellim is one of the best places in Scandinavia to see the aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights. The light pollution is negligible, but due to temperamental weather staying in a single spot slashes your chances of seeing the sky lit up. The Aurora Zone runs ‘safaris’ in conjunction with the Nellim Wilderness Lodge (theaurorazone.com), chasing the lights after dark. Wrap up warm and be patient: you can drive as much as 250km in a single night if it’s cloudy. Daytime brings the chance to see herds of reindeer roaming the boreal forest from dirt tracks that surround the village. Lucky visitors may even catch a glimpse of brown bears or wolves.
Orca watching in Orkney, UK

Ninety percent of orca sightings in the UK occur off of the coast of the Shetland Isles and Orkney. The latter’s wild shores and turbulent waters are the best place to see these beautiful creatures. While most pods of orca are small, it’s been known for a group of 150 to appear east of the main island. You don’t need your sea legs to see them either, with the high clifftops on the island of Hoy affording superb views during the summer months. Cannock Head and the Old Man of Hoy are both recommended by local whale watchers. If you’re lucky, you might also see pilot whales, minke whales and bottlenose dolphins. Keen twitchers should also keep an ear out for corncrakes, a rarely seen bird with a distinctive call that’s native to these Scottish islands.
Horseback safari in Laikipia, Kenya

The Laikipia Plateau, which sits across the equator, is one of the ultimate places to see the traditional ‘Big Five’ (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) in Kenya. Unlike popular parks across eastern and southern Africa, however, trips here cross private land, meaning tourist numbers are low and the chance to see Africa’s big beasts away from the crowds is much higher. The best way to do so is on horseback. Offbeat Safaris (offbeatsafaris.com) offers an epic 10-day ride crossing the savannah and climbing the Loldaiga Hills, with fully accredited guides who know the area intimately. A long way from bumper-to-bumper drives, this is African safari at is wildest and most wonderful.

Best Adventure Destinations to Go In March

Zip lines: check. Whitewater rafting: check. Skiing: check. Subterranean trampolines: check! It’s safe to say, March is a dream month for thrill-seekers.
And with destinations ranging from classics like Costa Rica and New Zealand to rising stars such as North Wales, your perfect high-octane escape awaits..
For outdoor activities among daffodils and spring lambs head to North Wales

Springtime in Wales: lambs gambol on hillsides sprinkled with clusters of butter-yellow daffodils. For once, reality matches cliché – though sunshine is never guaranteed here, the Welsh countryside is glorious in March, which is a great time to dust off wintry cobwebs and explore some of the UK’s less-visited countryside.
The Dee Valley is a year-round destination for active adventures – the River Dee being one of the few that offers great whitewater year-round, with rafting, kayaking, bodyboating, even stand-up paddleboarding provide adrenaline highs. This region, including the Clwydian Range to the north, is packed with attractions and activities – hikes to ruined Castell Dinas Brân and Thomas Telford’s Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a ride on the steam-drawn Llangollen Railway, and zip lines, cave trampolines and an artificial surf wavegarden in Snowdonia just to the west.
Trip plan: Llangollen makes a great base for an active break in the Dee Valley and Clwydian Range; Snowdonia is 20 miles (32 km) west.
Need to know: There’s no train station at Llangollen – the nearest railway stop is 6 miles (10km) away at Chirk.
Other months: Mar-Oct – spring to autumn, driest, warmest; Nov-Feb – cold, short days.

For late-season skiing, Tyrol in Austria, is one of the top spots

Spring doesn’t have to signal the end of skiing – at least in the high resorts of the Austrian Tyrol region. The valleys south and west of Innsbruck – the Stubaital, Ötztal, Tuxertal and Paznauntal, in particular – are blessed with glaciers and high, north-facing slopes that hold the snow well into March and beyond. There’s variety here, too: the pretty, traditional village of Obergurgl has pistes suitable for beginners and intermediates, while nearby Sölden has more challenging runs and two glaciers, guaranteeing skiing into May; high-level Ischgl is known for its great terrain park and lively aprés-ski, while the slopes of the Stubaital include good off-piste options as well as traditional groomed runs. Oh, and the food and drink is high-calibre, too.
Trip plan: The international airport at Innsbruck, capital of the Tyrol, is well served by flights from across Europe, with good transport links to the resorts.
Need to know: If you absolutely, positively have to ski all year, Hintertux is the place to head – skiing on the glacier is possible 365 days.
Other months: Dec-Apr – ski season (some ski areas open to May); Jun-Sep – great hiking; May & Oct-Nov – cooler.
Enjoy late-summer kayaking, swimming and sailing action in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands
Flecked with 144 jade outcrops, the stretch of water embraced by Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula is a marine playground. And March is a great month in which to roam its coves and inlets, without the crowds of high summer but still in long, warm days. However well you think you know New Zealand’s history, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds just north of Paihia, where Queen Victoria’s representative signed the important (and controversial) agreement with 43 Māori chiefs, are a fascinating place to visit.
But get out on the water to get the most from your trip: kayak on calm waters, sail among the islands on the tall ship R Tucker Thompson, or take a dip with the dolphins – the bottlenose and common varieties are year-round residents of the bay, while orca and various whales visit at various times.
Trip plan: Paihia is the base for exploring the bay, with ample accommodation, eating and drinking options and activities providers, all close to the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds. It’s a three-hour drive north of Auckland.
Need to know: Swimming with dolphins isn’t permitted when a pod has young calves – which can be at any time of year.
Other months: Dec-Mar – crowded; Apr-May – also pleasant; Jun-Aug – winter; Sep-Nov – weather unpredictable.
Woman solo rider on ‘zipline’ cable above forest canopy in Monteverde region.
A tiny country with a huge range of landscapes and wildlife, Costa Rica also has plenty of weather – hence the lush rainforests. Come in March to hit the dry(er) season on both Pacific and Caribbean coasts and in the highlands (though showers are always likely). It’s also after the peak US holiday period, so crowds are thinner.
The biggest challenge is deciding what to do first: climb up and then zip line down the slopes of Arenal Volcano? Spot dazzling birdlife at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve? Watch monkeys, sloths and iguanas in Manuel Antonio National Park, or caimans and manatees from a boat in Tortuguero National Park? Raft the whitewaters of the Pacuare River or surf the breaks? Tour a coffee plantation or just loll on a Caribbean beach?
Trip plan: Road distances between attractions are usually short in this compact country – a loop from capital San José, taking in Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio is comfortable in a week or so. Add more time to visit the Caribbean coast.
Need to know: Come prepared with insect repellent, heavy-duty sunscreen and an awareness of challenging driving conditions.
Other months: Dec-Apr – driest; May-Nov – wet, with regional variations, cheapest (Jun-Jul: slight lull in rain).

Amazing Harry Potter’s Destination

It’s hard to believe the boy wizard is no longer young, but it’s 20 years since the publication of the first in JK Rowling’s beloved series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Over 500 million book sales and a record-breaking film franchise later, and Pottermania is a world-wide phenomenon, driven by fans eager to connect with the wizard’s wonderful world.

In 2017 the UK is celebrating in style, with recreations, readings, exhibitions and homages galore. That’s on top of permanent attractions including Oxford colleges, Victorian shopping arcades and a Highland viaduct.
See artworks, props and plays in the West End

A free exhibition at the House of MinaLima (store.minalima.com) in London’s Soho is showcasing the fantastical designs of the creative duo responsible for the artwork in the Potter films: Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima. Get to this free exhibition before it closes (4 February 2017) to see original artworks and props including issues of the Daily Prophet, a Hogwarts Express ticket, wanted posters and Harry’s original acceptance letter from Hogwarts.

The nearby Palace Theatre is the venue for the wildly-popular Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II, which takes up the wizard’s later life as an ‘overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children’. Tickets aren’t easy to come by but it’s worth checking the website (harrypottertheplay.com) for future releases, and returned and cancelled tickets also frequently come back up for sale.

Exploring the Potterverse with Bloomsbury

Rowling’s publishers Bloomsbury is celebrating with several epic events. First up is the ‘Harry Potter Book Night’ (2 February 2017), in which fan-run quizzes, treasure hunts, recreations and events kick off across the length and breadth of the UK. Fans can visit harrypotter.bloomsbury.com to register their events, download kits and quizzes and see a map of the hundreds of activities planned across the nation and beyond.
Not to be missed is a special exhibition at London’s British Library, running from 20 October 2017 to 28 February 2018. Exploring the Potterverse from many angles – from medieval manuscripts on griffins and manticores to rare treatises on wizardry and treasures straight from JK Rowling’s own archive ­­– this is sure to be huge. Tickets go on sale in spring 2017 (watch bl.uk/harry-potter for exact dates).

Hunting out Hogwarts in London

The King’s Cross area alone boasts two mandatory stops on any Potter pilgrimage. King’s Cross Station, an atmospheric wrought-iron grand dame of Victorian architecture, is the site of platform 9¾, mythical departure point of the Hogwart’s Express. A luggage trolley ‘disappearing’ into the brick wall beneath the platform sign makes for perfect photo opportunities. Be warned, the queue to take this shot can be long: things are quieter later in the evening. And there’s no need to bring your own wand or Gryffindor house scarf, the adjacent Harry Potter Shop – a wood-panelled cornucopia of wizarding necessities modelled on Ollivander’s Wand Emporium – has you covered.
Step out from King’s Cross onto Euston Rd, walk a few steps west, look up and you’ll find yourself gawping at the looming Neo-Gothic façade of St Pancras International Station, another Victorian masterpiece, and the immediately-recognisable exterior of ‘King’s Cross’ in the film versions of The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. A hotel (the St Pancras Renaissance) now occupies the front of the station, but you’ll probably spot some Potterheads trying to get selfies against the ornate red-brick backdrop, or find the exact spot Harry and Ron parked their Ford Anglia in The Chamber of Secrets.

Where the magic comes to life

Every Harry Potter film was shot at Warner Bros’ vast Leavesden studio complex, which sits on a former airfield near Watford – accessible by train from Euston, a short walk from St Pancras. In 2012, part of the complex was turned into The Making of Harry Potter, five warehouses packed with sets and props used in the making of the films, and one of the UK’s biggest attractions.
You’ll find everything from the Great Hall to Dumbledore’s office here, alongside Dobby, sickly-sweet butterbeer and a gasp-inducing scale model of Hogwarts that was used for exterior shots. Unsurprisingly, it’s regularly booked out for weeks in advance so plan your dates early.

A wizarding bank and a secret well

The grand Edwardian interior of Australia House on the Strand is equally recognisable as the interior of the goblin-run Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Adding real interest to the site was the discovery of a 900-year old sacred well in the basement, still drawing potable water from an underground river. As it’s the office of the Australian High Commission in the UK, you’re more likely to find no-nonsense security guards than goblins attending to your needs, but you can duck your head in during business hours if you have identification on you.

Diagon Alley and Leadenhall Market
Like most London Potter locations, Diagon Alley is a composite: while its fictional location is off Charing Cross Rd, the filmic equivalent is set in the elaborate wrought-iron interior of Leadenhall Market, a covered Victorian market towards the eastern end of the City, London’s historic heart and now its financial district. Once inside, hunt for the blue door in Bull’s Head Passage, used in the films as the entrance to wizards’ watering hole The Leaky Cauldron.

The best of the rest in London

A number of other London landmarks feature in the films, including Tower Bridge, Lambeth Bridge and Westminster Station in The Order of the Phoenix. The Millennium Bridge was destroyed by Fenrir Greyback and a group of Death Eaters in The Half-Blood Prince, while Piccadilly Circus can be seen in The Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
These are easy to take in if you’re doing a bit of sightseeing already, but if you’re keen to dig deeper it’s worth checking out walking tours such as the popular Tour for Muggles (tourformuggles.com) and the Brit Movie Tours Harry Potter Walk (britmovietours.com). You can also download a free pdf (the-magician.co.uk) to follow a route written up by Londoner Richard Jones.
Another spot for a classic Potter fan shot is the reptile house at London Zoo, the world’s oldest scientific zoo (founded in 1828). Sprawling across the northern end of lovely Regent’s Park, it’s here that Harry first discovers his talents as a ‘Parselmouth’, when a python strikes up a conversation with him.
Books, ferrets and 13 prime ministers in Oxford

Centred on one of the world’s oldest universities and studded with historical and architectural riches, gorgeous Oxford is also rich with Potter locations.

Perhaps the one most appreciated by Potterheads is venerable Christ Church college, founded in the time of Henry VIII and alma mater to no fewer than 13 British Prime Ministers. The college’s grand staircase features in both The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, while its cloisters also pop up in The Philosopher’s Stone, and the magnificent Great Hall directly inspired the Great Hall of Hogwarts.
More rich associations can be found in the 17th-century Bodleian Library, home to the second-largest book collection in the country (after the British Library). The delicately-vaulted interior of its Divinity School, the oldest extant teaching room in the world, crops up as the Hogwarts infirmary in four separate films, while Duke Humfrey’s Library proved the ideal double for the School of Wizardry’s own library in The Philosopher’s Stone.
Lastly, there are the Cloisters of New College, where ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret in The Goblet of Fire. Its name is misleading – it was founded in 1379.
Visiting the real Hogwarts

But no single place can so proudly claim to ‘be’ Hogwarts as Alnwick Castle, in the Northumbrian town of the same name. This splendid and much-filmed pile first dates from the late 11th century and has been repeatedly extended over the years. The ancestral home of the dukes of Northumberland, it plays a starring role in both The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.

Knowledgeable Potterheads can point out the place where Harry took his first Quidditch lesson, or where he and Ron crash-landed their flying Ford Anglia. Alnwick makes much of its credentials, with behind-the-scenes tours, Potter-inspired characters in full costume and broom-flying lessons, as well as occasional special events that you can plan your visit around.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct

Further north, the last place on a truly dedicated fan’s UK itinerary should be the splendid railway viaduct at Glenfinnan, near Loch Shiel in Scotland. Part of the iconic West Highland line, this impossibly photogenic late-Victorian viaduct forms a towering curve above the River Finnan, and has been used in no fewer than four Potter films. It also overlooks the place where, in 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard in defiance of the British crown, and the Jacobite Rising began.