Australia's vast and wild Northern Territory holds a number of wonders for visitors to discover, not the least of which is Kakadu National Park. Spread out across more than 7600 square miles, the park is the true embodiment of the Outback with a rugged and unforgiving landscape that includes some of the most breathtaking scenery that can be found anywhere on the entire continent. But Kakadu is more than just pretty scenery as it also holds important keys to understanding Australia's past in the form of Aboriginal art that is scrawled across rock faces throughout the region. That artwork offers important insights into the history of the indigenous people who have inhabited Australia for more than 40,000 years and continue to have a lasting impact on the country.
Tucked away in a remote corner of Australia's Northern Territory – known as the "Top End" in the local vernacular – sits the bustling and vibrant city of Darwin. A bit of a hidden gem for travelers, Darwin boasts warm, tropical weather all year long, not to mention some of the most spectacular sunsets that you could ever hope to see. Visitors can elect to relax on a tranquil beach, sail the open waters of the Timor Sea or venture deep into the vast and wild Outback in search of crocodiles and wallabies.
Deftly blending that famous Aussie-hospitality with a laid back vibe that is all its own, the city has a unique feel to it that is unlike any other you'll find on the continent. While Darwin is a growing city that is likely to play a vital role in Australia's economic future, its inhabitants certainly know how to leave work behind and have a good time. Nowhere is that more evident than the Darwin Lion's Beer Can Regatta, an annual event that is equal parts beer bash and charity fund raiser, with a hefty dose of nautical mayhem mixed in for good measure.
As the name implies, this regatta features boats made almost entirely out of beer cans, which the owner and his friends have no doubt put a lot of effort into emptying. Those cans are then combined with a variety of other materials - such as PVC pipe, plastic water jugs and whatever other buoyant items they can find – to create a mostly-seaworthy vessel that is capable of competing against other entrants both in aesthetic value and speed out on the water.
A good pair of headphones seems to have become mandatory equipment when traveling these days. Smartphones, tablets and MP3 players have put a host of entertainment options at our fingertips and the headphones we carry with us have an impact on the overall experience. But choosing which models to spend your money on can be a challenge as there are now more options available than ever before. Here are three excellent choices, each in a different price category, that you'll appreciate having in your carry-on the next time you hit the road.
Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000 ($299.95)
The UltraFocus 8000 headphones from Polk Audio sit squarely at the high end of the portable audio market. They carry a price tag of $300 but deliver numerous features and an incredibly high level of performance that will leave budding audiophiles very happy. These headphones feature active noise cancellation, built-in controls and a microphone for Apple devices, numerous audio adapters and much more.
While visiting Tanzania earlier this week President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to helping end illegal wildlife trafficking in Africa. The President indicated that he was ready to get serious about stopping poachers by announcing the formation of a special task force charged with investigating the subject and by pledging $10 million to assist in training local military and law enforcement on methods to deal with the threat.
The Obama Administration first indicated it had an interest in joining the fight against poaching last November when the illegal activity was deemed a threat to U.S. security. Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time, promised that the U.S. intelligence community would lend some of its considerable resources to combating the problem and she announced that $100,000 would be used to help launch new law enforcement efforts. Those funds were just the start, however, as the new $10 million aid package should have a deeper and more lasting impact.
Perhaps an even bigger indication that the President is getting serious about wildlife trafficking is the formation of a new Presidential Task Force on the topic. The task force will feature representatives from the Interior, State and Justice Departments who will be given six months to develop a strategy on how the U.S. can assist in the fight against poaching. The results of their investigation could have lasting repercussions with how the U.S. interacts with African nations for years to come.
While numerous species are targeted by poachers the two most common animals that are hunted and killed illegally are the elephant and the rhino. The elephant is prized for its large ivory tusks, which are sold on the black market and used to make luxury items that are seen as a sign of wealth and prosperity in certain areas of the world. The rhino is hunted for its horn, which is commonly used in traditional medicines throughout Asia. The horn is said to be useful in treating fevers, rheumatism, gout and other ailments. Many believe that it can assist with male virility too, although there has been no scientific evidence to support the rhino horn having any medicinal properties at all.
Sadly, illegal wildlife trafficking has pushed rhinos and elephants to the brink of extinction in certain parts of Africa. If the U.S. can play a role in helping to end the practice of slaughtering these animals, it would certainly be a worthy cause to take on.
One of the most iconic symbols of American freedom is set to reopen just in time to celebrate the nation's birthday. The Statue of Liberty, which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy on October 29 of last year, will welcome visitors for the first time since that day with the arrival of a morning ferry at 8:45 a.m.
When Sandy made landfall in New York City last fall, the storm surge hit Liberty Island. While the statue itself weathered the storm quite nicely, its surrounding support structures were not so lucky. Docks leading to the island were severely damaged, as were the electrical and phone systems. Several of the walkways had to be repaired and the entire site was littered with debris. Fortunately, none of the historical areas were affected by the storm, which made it easier to conduct repairs.
In the aftermath of the storm both Liberty Island and Ellis Island closed to visitors. After both sites were assessed for damage the repair crews set a goal of having the Statue of Liberty reopened by the Fourth of July. They were able to achieve that goal, although Ellis Island remains closed.
The National Park Service says pre-sales for the reopening have been brisk, so visitors should expect large crowds and delays.
Welcome back Lady Liberty. We're glad you could make the celebration.
The Gondogoro La trekking route, located in a remote region of Pakistan, is considered one of the most demanding and beautiful hikes in the entire world. The path often draws adventure travelers from across the globe, most of whom come for its legendary mountain views that are amongst the most spectacular on the planet. But in May the route was suddenly shutdown by the Pakistani government without explanation, preventing travelers from visiting the region and putting the fragile local economy in a bind.
The trek traditionally begins in the village of Askole and winds its way up the Baltoro Glacier before crossing over the Gondogoro La Pass into the almost completely uninhabited Hushe Valley in northern Pakistan. The route rises to a height of 19,488 feet and offers stunning views of the Karakoram Range that at one point includes four peaks of more than 8000 meters in height. Those mountains include Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and II, and the second tallest mountain in the world – K2.
While not as crowded or well known as the trek to Everest Base Camp or a climb up Kilimanjaro, the Gondogoro La route is nonetheless quite popular with hikers and climbers visiting Pakistan. The trail is well known for being technically challenging and can require more than three weeks to complete, depending on pace, weather conditions and the experience levels of the hikers.
It is not unusual for the route to be closed as avalanches have sealed off the path in the past. But this time the Pakistani government has simply stopped issuing permits for the trek on May 23 and hasn't been particularly forthcoming as to why. The route does wander close to the border with both India and China, although the mountains make it nearly impossible for someone to cross into one of those countries from Gondogoro La. There is some speculation that the move was made for security purposes, although there have not been any indications of what security threat may exist in the area.
Many adventure tour companies in Pakistan rely on regular hikes along the Gondogoro La trail for steady income, as do the small villages that fall upon the route. With the path closed off there is very little income, even now at the height of the tourism season in Pakistan. Tour operators are increasingly frustrated by the lack of information about why the trail was closed and how long it will remain that way. Many of the guides and porters that traditionally work the route are now unemployed, while small inns and teahouses remain empty.
The closing of this route predates the shutdown of Nanga Parbat, the mountain where militants killed 10 foreign climbers recently. Whether or not a similar faction is operating in the Gondogoro La region is unknown, but it is possible that the government has ceased to issue permits in an effort to keep travelers safe. This part of Pakistan has a history of being peaceful and receptive to visitors, so hopefully this closure is only temporary and adventurous trekkers can return soon.
The thousand-year-old tomb is located approximately 185 miles north of Lima, not far from a dig that revealed two similar finds back in 2010. The burial chamber is located two meters below the Earth and was buried beneath 33 tons of gravel. It is believed to be the final resting place of three Wari princesses and the first undisturbed royal tomb from the Wari civilization. Because of the wealth that was contained within, the archaeologists who discovered the site toiled in secrecy for months fearing that if word got out about their discovery tomb raiders would surely strip it clean.
When they opened the tomb, the Peruvian and Polish archaeologists found 60 mummies sealed inside. The majority of those mummies were women and had been buried standing up, which belies their royal stature. Many of the mummies were wearing jewelry made of precious metals while well-preserved vases and wicker baskets filled with other treasures littered the floor at their feet. All told, more than 1200 silver, gold and ceramic objects were uncovered inside the royal tomb, which also contained pots, ceremonial knives and other more mundane objects that remain priceless in terms of cultural value.
The Wari people were a prosperous and powerful group of coastal dwellers who rose to power in northern Peru around 500 A.D. Internal strife seems to have taken its toll on the civilization, however, and by 800 A.D. they were already in decline. By 1000 A.D. the Wari were merely a shadow of their former self and shortly thereafter they all but disappeared from the region. Archaeological finds like this tomb are helping researchers to piece together more information about Wari culture, however, giving us a clearer vision of what life was like in Peru more than a thousand years ago.
A few weeks back we reviewed the Props Power case for the iPad, which features a built-in battery that can greatly extend the life of your tablet while on the road. At the time, I thought that it was a unique product that delivered on its promise with the trade-off of also adding a considerable amount of thickness and weight. It turns out that case wasn't quite as unique as I had originally thought, as there is another option available that offers similar performance in a slightly less bulky package and at a considerable savings. Two things that are difficult to argue against.
The Justin Case Rechargeable Power Case from Innovative Technology is designed to fit the iPad 2 and the iPad with Retina Display. It holds the tablet snugly while providing very good protection from accidental drops or the usual wear and tear that comes along with travel. Made from soft faux leather, the case has a nice feel to it, although no one is likely to ever mistake it for real leather. As you would expect, when seated properly inside the case, the iPad's various buttons and cameras are unobstructed, allowing full access to all of the tablet's features. A durable flap covers the screen and is cleverly held in place by a pair of strategically placed magnets. This is a nice touch that provides a little extra protection to the fragile display. A fold out stand on the back of the case also allows you to prop up your device, which comes in very handy when watching videos or making a Facetime call.
One of my main knocks against the Props Power case was that it added a lot of thickness to the otherwise thin and sleek iPad. That is somewhat unavoidable for any case that has a bulky battery built into its form factor and this model is no different. I will say, however, that the Justin Case is thinner than the competition; this makes it a bit easier to compromise portability for extended battery life. This isn't a product that would ever be described as thin and light, but considering the fact that its target audience is likely to know this ahead of time, I'd say it does a fine job of balancing expectations on all fronts.
When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision that ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) a few days back it was met with jubilation across the country. The ruling is seen as a dramatic advancement of gay rights while also providing for the equal treatment of same-sex marriages moving forward. The 5-4 decision has such far-reaching consequences in fact that even our friends Down Under have joined the celebration. The qualia Resort on Australia's Hamilton Island have announced a couple's retreat package that is open to any couple regardless of genders.
Australia's qualia, which was voted the Best Resort in the World by "Conde Nast Traveler" readers in November of 2012, features 60 spectacular one-bedroom pavilions and a single luxurious beach house. The resort is located at the north-end of Hamilton Island, which is itself part of the spectacular Whitsunday Islands. Surrounded on all sides by the Great Barrier Reef, soft white sand beaches and some of the clearest ocean waters you could ever hope to see, it is an idyllic escape into paradise.
Cycling fans across the globe are celebrating today as the 2013 Tour de France gets underway for the first time from the Isle of Corsica. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the race and to commemorate the occasion Tour organizers have put together a course that is designed to create drama and test the skill and endurance of the riders. For the next three weeks they will be battling it out on the roads of France, with the winner ultimately being decided on the slopes of the Pyrenees and the Alps.
Typically the first day of the Tour is a short prologue that is over quickly and helps to determine the initial positioning heading into the first real days of racing. That won't be the case this year, however, as the riders hit the road in Corsica this morning for a 213-kilometer (132-mile) ride from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia. The course won't feature any massive climbs just yet, but it will undulate through the hills, nonetheless. It does include some relatively flat portions, particularly near the end, that will allow the sprinters in the field to stretch their legs and show off their early form.
Last year's Tour winner Bradley Wiggins is out of this year's Tour while he nurses an injury to his knee. That means the race is wide open, although the odds on favorites heading in are Wiggins' teammate Chris Froome of the U.K. and Spanish cycling legend Alberto Contador who returns to competition after sitting out much of last year for a failed drug test. Contador is one of the best riders of his generation and he has won the Tour on three separate occasions, although one of those was stripped due to the aforementioned doping violation. The Spaniard is riding well this year, however, and he seems as determined as ever to win the race.