Monthly Archives: April 2017

From painted forests to pink lakes

Confident that you’ve ticked most, if not all, of the planet’s extraordinary sights off your bucket list? Then it’s time to think again.

Look beyond the Grand Canyon, Eiffel Tower and Angkor Wat and you’ll find a shadow world of marvels that you never knew existed. Some of them are astounding natural phenomenon; others are man-made yet no less magical for that; and all of them are under the radar.

In this excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Secret Marvels of the World, we take a whistle-stop tour of some of the most mysterious, mesmerising and downright bizarre places on Earth.

 

Rainbow eucalyptus trees, Hawaii, USA

The road to Hana is one of the most incredible drives anywhere on the planet, featuring an overwhelming abundance of sights, sounds and colours as the road winds its way down to the sleepy town nestled in the fragrant bosom of Maui’s rainforest.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing you’ll see on this journey is the ‘painted forest’ of rainbow eucalyptus trees: a quirk of nature producing trees that literally look like frozen rainbows. The reds, purples and greens are particularly vivid within these spectacular oddities of evolution, thanks to sections of bark shedding at different times during the year. The real beauty of this phenomenon, however, is that the process is ongoing, so the multicoloured streaks continuously evolve, forming a grove of living kaleidoscopes.

The rainbow eucalyptus grove can be found at mile marker 7 on Maui’s Hana Highway in Hawaii. You can also see some of the trees at the nearby Keʼanae Arboretum.

 

Zhāngyē Dānxiá National Geopark, China

Bands of colour from vermilion to pale green cover a mountainous 500 sq km site in Gansu province, where more than 20 million years of geological movement have pressed the sandstone into a multicoloured layer cake. Over centuries, the sandstone was weathered into pillars, while extreme desert temperatures split the rock to form creeks and cliff faces hundreds of metres high.

Adventure in Icelands Westfjords

‘Oh, it looks like there has been a small avalanche here.’ Óli, our guide, peers out of the bus window. ‘Yes, just a few hours ago.’ We’re in remote northwestern Iceland, driving to Dynjandi waterfall via Rte 60, a rutted road that winds around the Westfjords’ highest mountain, Kaldbakur (998m). Nature is calling the shots.

Burly and bright-blue-eyed with a matching bandana wrapped around his head, Óli is also a local physio, firefighter and paramedic. Despite the adrenaline rush, I’ve never felt safer. The Westfjords is the least-visited part of Iceland, wonderfully wild, largely uninhabited and relatively inaccessible, and the exhilarating rush of stepping outside your comfort zone cannot be underestimated.

Óli alights from the bus into a wind that blows the elastic band right out of my hair. We’re on our way from the fishing village of Suðureyri, and the stretch we’re on has recently re-opened; it’s closed for six to eight months of the year. After assessing the road, our snow whisperer gives us the all-clear to continue: ‘I will call my colleague. He will clear the road for us on our way back.’ I remember my heart pounding on this precarious yet stunning route on my first visit to Iceland in 2009. ‘Driving around the Westfjords is not for the faint-hearted’ began my travel diary from that trip, one that I’ve recommended to everyone since.

An hour or so of riveting road trip later – the bus twists and turns up and down the soaring mountains, round and round paintbox-blue fjords – we arrive at Dynjandisvogur. The wind abruptly vanishes and as we take the 15-minute walk from the car park up to the mighty Dynjandiwaterfall, I’m torn between which is the better view: the falls themselves or the perspective back down the 100m rocky escarpment to the bright blue waters of the bay below. Encouraged by Óli (‘this is solid rock, it’s safe, it does not move’), my dilemma is solved: I let him hold me at the waterfall’s edge while I take a photo of the falls cascading down to the sea.

Explore a more accessible Caribbean

Imagine dipping your feet into crystal clear waters along miles of golden sands, hearing your own breathing as you scuba dive, and seeing the sparkle of gold, silver, and gems in quaint shops. These alluring Caribbean travel experiences have historically not been accessible to wheelchair users, but fortunately that is changing.

Traveling internationally has always posed huge challenges for people with mobility impairments, and the nature of most Caribbean destinations – old buildings, cobblestone streets, and deep sand – has kept many seniors and wheelchair users away. However, more and more islands are now filled with experiences accessible to everyone.

 

The larger islands: Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Barbados

The Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas is an enormous Caribbean playground that provides excellent access for wheelchair users and others with mobility impairments. The resort provides guests with disabilities a detailed access guide with information about accessible rooms, attractions, and more. Atlantis is one of the many Caribbean resorts where people with impaired mobility can enjoy many refreshing zero-entry (sloped) pools. All that being said, the property covers an area a mile long, and the resort shuttles are not accessible. Manual wheelchair users would be wise to seek assistance, or rent an electric scooter for their stay.

Many of the major sights in Puerto Rico are at least partly accessible, like the majestic El Morro fortress and the Bacardí distillery in San Juan. Luquillo Beach, about 45 minutes outside of San Juan, has an accessible area for mobility-impaired visitors. Puerto Rico also offers some options for wheelchair-friendly tours using vans with lifts, like Rico Sun Tours. This is often the best way to see Old San Juan, which is riddled with cobblestones and very steep streets. It’s bad enough to spill your rum; you don’t want to spill out of your wheelchair.

The island country of Barbados can be circumnavigated by car in just four hours, but offers numerous accessible attractions. Visitors can hire local transportation company Blessed Rentals for a visit to Harrison’s Cave, which takes guests through stunning caverns in a tram—with a wheelchair accessible car. Beware the hair! The caverns are a full-frizz zone; it “rains” inside.

World Heritage anniversary

In the early 20th century, Shell’s oil refinery opened and workers poured in from the Windward Caribbean islands. The packed inner city was already in disrepair. Stichting Monumentenzorg, Curaçao’s oldest running Monuments Foundation, was formed and began restoration work, but it was too great for a single body. In addition, on May 30, 1969, several buildings in the heart of Punda and Otrobanda went up in flames during the major oil worker revolt.

Willemstad’s neglected state finally attracted help in the 1980s, thanks to a combination of government funds from Holland and private projects. Massive building restoration took place, and more organizations formed to help with funding and oversight. It took ten years to restore nearly 200 buildings, and a Monuments Plan was put in place in 1990. The idea then came to apply for the World Heritage designation. The Kingdom of Netherlands submitted the application – Curaçao was then under Dutch rule – and it was approved on December 4, 1997.

Twenty years in, Willemstad remains firm on the UNESCO list, with a whopping 750 protected buildings across four distinct colonial districts.

Here’s how to celebrate now and enjoy one of the Caribbean’s most well-preserved heritage cities.

Explore on foot with Dushi Walks CuraçaoA Dutch transplant with Indonesian roots, Shirley Bal’s love for her island home shines as she takes you on a two-hour neighborhood walking tour of Otrobanda or Scharloo with her company Dushi Walks Curaçao. You’ll explore the main avenues, but also go off-the-beaten track into side alleys, along the most local parts of these vibrant colonial districts.

In Otrobanda, you’ll learn about the neighborhood’s architecture and history, meet locals, and hear about the area’s socioeconomic struggles. You’ll walk past colonial buildings in ruins – like Willemstad’s former fashion district – as well as elaborate facades, and enter Curaçao’s oldest Catholic church. Street art is revealed along the way, showcasing artist initiatives to engage communities in preserving their neighborhoods.

In Scharloo, you’ll explore the architecture of elaborate mansions built by Jewish merchants, and tour the new life-sized murals that are reviving the district. You’ll even stop in at a local’s home, and get a personal tour of his 19th century abode.

The icing on the cake: Dushi Walks Curaçao uses over 50% of tour fees to support the local communities visited, and you can see the donations posted on Facebook.

 

Shop local art on Middenstraat

Beyond architecture, Willemstad’s culture-filled spirit is also reflected in its art. Shopping for locally sourced handicrafts is part of the experience, and the options are becoming more plentiful. Around the bend from the well-known Serena’s Art Factory and Nena Sanchez gallery, is a narrow street – Middenstraat – home to newcomer SilvanyRoss.

The artist cooperative store stocks one-of-a-kind items made by local entrepreneurs, from a set of wooden coasters carved with local phrases, to hand-woven purses, and island-inspired paintings on slabs of wood.