As part of our on-going partnership with luxury jewellery brand, Monica Vinader, we speak to the Founder and CEO herself on the travel destinations that most inspire her collections.
Monica Vinader, CEO and Founder
1.Which destinations have you travelled to recently that have inspired collections?
Mexico and India are two of the destinations from which I get the most inspiration. They both have a vibrancy and energy that I love and never tire of. Mexico provided the inspiration for my Esencia Collection launched this summer in collaboration with Gemfields, the world’s leading producer of ethically sourced natural precious coloured gemstones, and the forthcoming Esencia Friendship Collection for Spring 2014. I visit India regularly to source my stones and get them cut, polished, faceted and set. Every time I visit, I get an exhilarating feeling from just seeing people and places, and absorbing the colour, the noise and the smells of this buzzing country.
2. You often travel to Jaipur in India, what is your relationship with the country?
Jaipur is one of my favourite destinations in India – I especially love the combination of rich architecture reflecting the time of the Maharajas rule, as well as the extraordinary craftsmanship that is still very much a focal point in Jaipur today. Jaipur is also where I source rough stones, and cut all the colour gemstones that feature so prominently in my designs. I have been working with skilled craftsmen there for many years, as it takes a long time to successfully cut my bespoke designs.
Gemstones journey from sketchbook to sourcing from rough, and production to polishing through the hands of numerous talented artisans at Monica Vinader’s Jaipur workshops
3. How would you spend 24 hours in Jaipur?
I would spend the early morning in Japiur’s shops and bazaars along the famous Ajmer Road, shopping for antique pots, boxes and architectural pieces at Manglam and beautiful printed bedspreads and large embroidered suzanis and throws at Ridhi Sidhi Textiles.
Following time at workshops, spent working on my new collections, my pick for lunch would be the Anokhi Café, perfect for delicious, home-grown organic produce from the surrounding Anokhi farms.
In the afternoon, I would visit the Jantar Mantar Observatory, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located next to the City Palace. I love looking at the huge stone and marble constructions, the famous sundial, and taking in the amazing views of the surrounding hills and countryside. I also like visiting the workshops within the City Palace to see the work of different artists.
Jal Mahal Palace on Man Sagar Lake is a real treat to visit – Jal Mahal, meaning ‘water place’ looks like it floats on the lake and can only be accessed by wooden boats. The lake has been thoroughly transformed in recent years, resulting in clean and clear waters and a variety of local vegetation, fish and birds. The arched passages and towers of the palace itself provide welcome shade from the afternoon sun.
Discovering beautiful bedspreads and suzanis in Jaipur’s shops and bazaars
4. Where would you recommend staying whilst in the country?
My pick for accommodation has to be the oasis that is the Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur, a haven of relaxation just outside the city. Built in Rajasthani fort style, it is surrounded by over 32 acres of idyllic gardens and countryside. I’d unwind with a traditional Ayurvedic massage in the spa and then relax on the terrace with my favourite cocktail, the Aquarius, a non-alcoholic mix of lemon soda, ginger and mint.
For me, the hotel is the ideal retreat after a busy day of working, shopping or sightseeing.
Gardens of The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur
5. Are there any experiences or hidden treasures in Rajasthan that you would recommend to a Scott Dunn guest?
Panna Meena Ka Kund is an ‘off the beaten track’ treasure and perfect for a little quiet time away from the crowds. Surrounded by temples, it is home to a fascinating ‘step well’ with interlocking stairs leading down to the water. The Anokhi Museum is located nearby and well worth a visit for its permanent collections of tools and textiles used in block printing, plus temporary exhibitions of the hand printing craft. This is a great place to learn more about the hand printing process, and the company’s ethical and environmental focus, while trying your hand at the craft too!
I always try to fit in a visit to Shammi Sharma, whom I rate as the best contemporary artist for miniature paintings. He uses pigments from semi-precious stones to create paintings using techniques that have now been passed down through seven generations. I love the fact these traditional processes are still here today and that Shammi’s work is linked to gemstones such as lapis, which features regularly in our collections.
Panna Meena Ka Kund - the incredible step well
For your chance to win the ultimate trip to India, don’t forget to enter our competition in partnership with Monica Vinader. The first prize winner will experience the fascinating city of Jaipur as well as New Delhi and Agra, and win £3000 to spend on Monica Vinader jewellery. The competition closes on 17th December 2013. Visit http://www.monicavinader.com/competition to enter now!
If you want to find out more on India visit http://www.scottdunn.com/luxury-holidays/asia/indian-subcontinent/india
I used to hear the words ‘road trip’ and a slight shiver went down my spine. Back in the mid-80s, family road trips comprised of my father driving a hulking grey Volvo while my mother tried to decipher French roads signs which seemed to send us in endless circles. The Provençal furnace of summer was only momentarily abated through the joys of a semi damp wet wipe. Ultimately great times - but never to be repeated, thank you!
Then, a few years ago I had the chance to spend a month in New Zealand and I cautiously opted for a car journey with friends as this offered the chance to discover the charms of this magnificent country at our own pace. An hour in and I was sold. So finding myself in Victoria, Australia, and with one of the world’s most iconic road journeys on the doorstep (The Great Ocean Road), I simply had to get behind the wheel.
The view from The Great Ocean Road
My journey started on the outskirts of Melbourne, on a highway which led me south to Geelong, (Victoria’s second-largest city) and then to the pretty town of Queenscliff, dotted with historic fishermen’s cottages and lighthouses. Rushing into view, a great swathe of golden beach lay ahead, a few brave surfers appearing as tiny dark specs amongst the great foaming, crashing waves. The road then took a more gentle approach, winding along the coastline towards Apollo Bay, a town on the edge of the Otway Ranges well worth spending a night at.
VW Camper Van on the side of the road
The road now took a dramatic approach, tightly hugging the steep cliffs. On one side a classic VW camper van was pulled up against the side of the road, a waterfall cascading beside it. On the other side the road plunged away in a sheer drop to the ocean below. Rounding a tight hairpin I spotted a spout of white out to sea. Whales migrate along this part of the coastline from winter through to spring and this was the tell-tale sign of a pod of southern right whales. The back of my neck prickled with excitement, how lucky I was to have witnessed this! As twilight approached a magical golden sheen was cast across the ocean and through this ethereal light I could just make out the shape of The Great Ocean Road’s most renowned site, the ancient stack formations of the Twelve Apostles. The wind, towering cliffs and jagged rocks around this part of the coast have been the final resting place for more than 160 ships, giving rise to the name Shipwreck Coast, and I could now see why.
Further down the Shipwreck Coast I found Oscars Waterfront Hotel in the historic coastal town of Port Fairy, one of Victoria’s earliest settled coastal villages. I received a thoroughly warm welcome and was escorted to my riverfront room. In the morning I woke to perfect blue skies and pretty views over the Moyne River. I headed down to the riverfront terrace where the breakfast was delicious and I watched the locals preparing their boats amongst the moorings.
Revitalised, I drove north of Port Fairy, turning away from the coast and towards the looming Grampians mountain range. As I approached the hamlet of Dunkeld, ancient gum trees with shimmering silver bark stood sentry to the town. Stopping here on the edge of the Grampians I took in some of the most spectacular scenery in Australia, Mount Abrupt, the highest peak in the southern Grampians towered over the town and I’d heard the perfect place to enjoy the spectacular view was from the The Old Bakery. This institution has been serving the locals since 1887, so I decided to join them and pulled up a chair outside to enjoy a hearty plate of local meats and cheese with a generous serving of freshly baked sourdough bread.
Another shot of the Grampians
The drive from Dunkeld to Halls gap was exhilarating. Crossing over the boulder strewn escarpments of the Grampian mountain range felt like a million miles from Melbourne’s towering sky scrapers. The twists, hairpin turns, pinnacles and bluffs were almost prehistoric. Then I descended dramatically into the natural amphitheatre of Wartook Valley with its rambling farms, rolling pasture, mountain views and mobs of kangaroos.
My home for tonight was lovely Meringa Springs. With just ten guests staying at any one time, this is very much like staying with family. There is no degustation menu, just good home cooked food - locally sourced. A homely dining room provided spectacular views over the property’s wildflower meadows. As evening approached I headed out for a stroll and was soon surrounded by countless grazing kangaroos and cockatoos which had flown down from the mountains to roost in the ancient gums.
A kangaroo in the grounds of Meringa Springs
Suitably restored by a delicious breakfast I started out on my journey from Wartook to Daylesford. Iconic yellow signs with black kangaroos signalled that this part of Victoria is teeming with wildlife. Five minutes into my journey I spied something ahead in the road - black, spiky and with legs. An echidna! What a treat, I’d never seen one in the wild before. As I approached he dashed into a huge hollow log and curled up in a protective ball, his tiny legs dangling in mid-air. The road ahead was deserted, just me and a friendly wallaby grazing by the side of the road.
Close up of the echidna!
In the town of Great Western, I found some of Victoria’s best wineries. The original Seppelt vineyard was established in 1865, and in the last century more than three kilometres of underground tunnels were dug by miners for sparkling wine maturation. At the tiny historic Best’s winery the same family have been running operations since 1866, making it one of Australia’s oldest family-owned wineries – a time machine to the settler era.
For lunch the owners of Best’s recommended stopping for lunch at The Three Troupers pantry in Beaufort - just thirty minutes down the road. This microbrewery was a real find, a country style café. Deer antlers decorated the walls and comfy sofas were scattered around on which to indulge in homemade pork pies and scones with clotted cream.
Arriving into Daylesford in the heart of Victoria’s spa country, I found an old gold rush town that has morphed into an eclectic mix of artists’ studios, cafes, boutique day spas and holistic healing centres. Lake House, the town’s most luxurious hotel and my accommodation for the night, was founded in the 1980s and is still run by the same family. The grounds were scattered with fruits trees and edible gardens whose wild damsons, Winter Nealis pears, quinces and yellow crab apples feature in the restaurants fabulous desserts. Larrisa, daughter of the owner, introduced me to one of the resident kookaburras who seemed absolutely delighted to be hand fed a couple of cashews from the bar. Through decades of hard work Lake House now boasts one of Australia’s top restaurants with Two Chefs hats and has a New York Wine Spectator award winning wine list of some 10,000 bottles, as well as being renowned as a destination spa.
A room at the Lake House hotel
With such a melting pot of artistic and culinary talent, I drew my road trip to an end the next morning by exploring the Dalysfords delicious attractions. First on the list was the sublime Convent Gallery which overlooks the town and is a three level haven of the regions fine art which spills out through a historic 19th century mansion.
Just up from the gallery on the side of an ancient, extinct volcano and now the town’s botanical garden, I discovered marvellous Wombat Hill House Café, a mecca for simple, locally-sourced food. Here cornflower blue shelves are laden with an assortment of homemade chutneys, jams, olive oil, as well as freshly baked cakes and pastries – all enjoyed on a comfy sofa next to a roaring fire.
Wombat Hill House Café
Driving out of Daylesford I found the pretty gold rush town of Tretham on the edge of the Wombat Forest. Larrisa had told me about a specialist historic bakery called Red Beard Bakery. Their potato bread was absolutely divine and was washed down with some freshly ground coffee. I just wish I had the time to take part in one of their sourdough baking courses but unfortunately for me the city was calling. I filled up the car’s tank one more time and headed off for a new adventure, this time on the metropolitan streets of Melbourne.
Antigua is located in the Leeward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean and is surrounded by numerous smaller islands, one of which is Long Island and home to Jumby Bay Resort. After a busy five days exploring every corner of Antigua, I was rewarded with a two night stay at Jumby.
I was greeted with a refreshing cold towel and delicious home-made lemonade, and after a bite to eat for lunch, was whisked away for a circumnavigation cruise of the island, from where I could view the 40 room Rosewood resort, and many of the private homes and villas that are scattered around the rest of the island’s coastline. The trip is offered as part of the all-inclusive weekly programme, and one that I would definitely recommend. From the sea you can get a real appreciation of the contrasting calm Caribbean and the more rugged Atlantic sides of the Island, see some magnificent homes, as well as some great wildlife; we saw several blue pelican’s fishing for their lunch, as well as a whole host of flying fish.
Jumby Bay from the pristine sea
After the round-island trip my room was ready, so I settled in before heading to the beach to enjoy the sunset. My room was one of the Courtyard Suites, located conveniently close by the Pool Grill restaurant. The standard of the rooms at Jumby is exceptional. The Courtyard Suites have an open plan bedroom and living space, offering a bright and airy feel to the room which is further enhanced by the vaulted ceiling. Off the bedroom, I found my spacious bathroom, featuring a large shower, and then beyond that, a door leading to my outdoor bathtub and an additional shower. Off the main room was a roomy terrace with a wonderful view of Jumby Beach and Antigua, and an ideal spot from which to enjoy the sunset. I waited patiently for the sunset and wasn’t disappointed, the uncharacteristically cloudy afternoons gave way to some stunning sunsets.
Sunset from the Courtyard Suite
The following morning was my opportunity to view the island up close. First off was the chance to take a peek behind the doors of the most exclusive properties on the island, the private homes. Each of the homes is privately owned and unique in its own right, and I was lucky enough to see five of them. There really is a home to suit everybody, from smaller properties with just one or two bedrooms in the main house, right up to vast mansions, so whether you are a honeymooning couple looking for an exclusive hideaway, or a large family wanting to celebrate a special occasion, the homes, complete with their butlers and chefs, provide the ideal venue. Of them all, my favourite was the modest, but family-friendly Frangipani Point.
The most recent addition to the estate homes - the impressive Lazy Lizard
After a thorough nose around the island, today’s lunch was at the Pool Grill where the fish tacos had been recommended. The fish changes each day depending on the day’s catch, and I had marlin. Out of all of the amazing food I enjoyed whist in Antigua, this humble street-style food was my pick for the week – absolutely delicious.
That afternoon was spent relaxing in one of the Pool Suites with a colleague. These are just the same as my Courtyard Suite, except the lounge is separate from the bedroom, and as the name suggests, there is a pool on the terrace. I was initially baffled by the peculiar crocodile head floating around in all of the swimming pools, until I found out that they are to deter the many sparrow-like birds that are common-place.
Early evening came, and it was time for a cookery class hosted by Chef Christopher. On the menu was salmon tartar which although very simple to make, was an impressive dish and delicious. It is firmly at the top of my list for a future dinner party menu.
Dinner was at the Verandah, where on the beach was the weekly “white party” with guests dressed all in white and enjoying the steel band, fire breathing and limbo dancing.
The following morning, was my favourite activity of the week. I rose early, determined to make the most of my last day on the island before returning home. I took my bike, and went off to explore the island. I was early enough to see the island come to life. I ventured over to the secluded Pasture Beach, which I had entirely to myself except for several starfish, a hermit crab, hundreds of lizards, and a turtle nest!
There is an annual turtle project on the island where areas are set aside for the turtles to come ashore and nest. Each turtle that hatches and ventures out to sea is tagged, and recently, they have had the exciting news that one of the original turtles has returned to the beach to nest. Guests who are keen to find out more can sign up to Turtle Watch, and staff will call you any time of night to see the turtles hatching.
I ventured onwards, taking in the grounds of the resort and enjoying the scent of the freshly cut grass as the grounds keepers went about their mowing.
Exploring the island
After a leisurely breakfast, I headed over to the water sports centre for my last activity before lunch and the boat trip back to the airport; paddle boarding. My husband has two boards, and I have always refused to have a go in the chilly Solent. Being in the Caribbean, I had run out of excuses! Off I went having gone for one of the larger boards on the premise that it would be easier - I picked the wrong day! There was a strong breeze that day, and despite paddling as hard as I could, I made little progress! After what felt like an eternity, I made it to a sand bar, where I walked the board into the shore and called for help! Elvis arrived in a buggy and returned me back to the water sports centre! I’ve decided that paddle boarding isn’t for me, but at least I tried, although you’ll have to take my word for it as I don’t have any photographic evidence!
On the way back to the water sports centre, Elvis asked me if I liked the Island. “What’s not to like?” was my reply, to which he uttered the wise words…….. “True ‘dat!”
It’s an iconic place, as iconic in America as Disneyland and sweet apple pie. Yellowstone is a rite of passage for many American families and one for the bucket-list for any wildlife enthused traveller. In the midst of Wyoming you’ll find 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone National Park, an additional 310,000 in the magnificent Grand Tetons and endless National Forest, yet statistics show that most will speed through the area in a day or two. Wildlife is so abundant they still manage to spot bison, elk, pronghorn and the occasional black bear and that is without leaving their SUV. However, unbuckle your seat-belts and get off-the-beaten path and the rewards are endless. With only 3% of the park developed, it’s the back-country where the bounty of wildlife is hiding.
Flying into Jackson Hole to stay at the sublime Amangani, I met with the experienced guide and founder of Jackson Wildlife Safaris, Jason Williams, to discuss how guests can optimise their time in the Greater Yellowstone area and to find out what exciting programs we could put together for Scott Dunn guests. In general, spring and fall are the best times for viewing as animals hide from the heat of summer; they have thick coats, and the sun shines off them attracting predators. Yet this is the most popular time to visit. Greater Yellowstone gets 3 million visitors a year, with 2 million arriving June to August. In these months, hiring a guide with knowledge of the behaviour and habitats of the wildlife is vital. There are over 1,000 miles of trails to explore, and the guides know the back-country even by plush SUV and can get you off the main roads quickly. They know the patterns and share recent sightings of the big animals – namely bears, wolves and water-loving moose.
Four-thirty in the afternoon my Amangani guide arrives for a sunset wildlife safari in the Tetons. My guide is a biologist come expert on animal behaviour - a treasure-trove of facts on evolution. It’s September and the park’s bears are in a feeding frenzy in preparation for hibernation. Feeding becomes a full time occupation and therefore if you know the feeding grounds, you find the bears. We set off in the swish SUV complete with binoculars and tripods for viewing. My guide had seen bear earlier in the day, and so we set off to their feeding ground. We walk and then we wait, and wait, but this isn’t a zoo and the bears remain elusive.
There is stormy weather coming north from Colorado - over the mountain tops lightening illuminates the sky adding to the dramatic scenery of Teton peaks. My guide asks me what I want to see, I start with a heard of bison, we drive off road into the back-country and we’re surrounded. Then over the scented sage bush a male pronghorn antelope bounces, soon followed by his harem. It’s thrilling, like watching Impala run on an African game drive.
It’s this time of day that Moose come out of their wallowing in the willow bush - temperatures cool and their shiny coats are less obvious to predators. Off the aptly named Moose Junction there are some impressive camera’s set-up on tripods. Jackson is a mecca for wildlife photographers and artists with the impressive National Wildlife Museum located overlooking the Elk Refuge on the outskirts of town. Photographers come from all over the world to get the perfect shot. We stop and a magnificent male bull and his female graze on the willow bush.
My guide’s been away hunting for a couple of weeks and he knows the location of a wolf den up on the mountainside. To see wolves in Yellowstone you need a combination of information and luck. As the sun sets, we hike up the hill to set up the tri-pod. As the heavens open I am sure that a black coated wolf pup darts through the willow bush across the valley but we have to retreat to the shade of a tree while the rain passes. To see wolves, you need to be focussed and dedicate a few days to the pursuit. To spot them close up, a guide in the Lamar Valley known as the ‘Serengeti of North America’ is a must and Scott Dunn are working with a superb wildlife company to offer our guests a 3-day programme dedicated to spotting wolves and grizzlies in this area.
Another day and another adventure in Jackson Hole as I head north into Yellowstone National Park, this time with a guide from Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris. Jenny is a bubbly former Bear Manager Ranger in Teton National Park, and a trained Naturalist. Our aim is to see the highlights of Yellowstone in a day – from bubbling mud pools and roaring steam vents, to the azure waters of the Norris Basin to the famous cone geyser, Old Faithful’s, impressive show, although far longer in the park is recommended to experience its wildlife, hiking and geological wonders.
Old Faithful is a must-see for any Yellowstone first timer and Jenny timed our visit perfectly with her insider ranger knowledge. After Old Faithful blasts off to his crowd of admirers, we drive up to the Yellowstone River and Falls which have to be one the most magical parts of the park – especially when a rainbow arches over the canyon making the rock shine gold.
Yellowstone River with a magical rainbow
Old Faithful cone geyser
Next, it’s the Hayden Valley, a mecca for bison and grazing herds of longhorn antelope. For the wolves and the grizzlies, you need to spend more time further north in the park in the Lamar Valley where you’ll reap the benefits of patience to see the big ones. Driving back south through the park the earth is alive with bubbling sulphur caldrons and hot springs. We continually stop to admire the earth’s activity - there’s a true sense of being a top a super volcano.
Despite this excitement, I did feel that my trip to Yellowstone would not be complete without seeing an elusive Yogi Bear. We drive back through the park to Jackson Hole, light fading to dusk but Jenny still encourages me to keep my eyes peeled in search of movement among the forest that might indicate a bear. The car comes to a sudden halt. ‘Oh this might be a bear jam’ Jenny says. ‘What’s a bear Jam?’ It’s one of these – we follow a steady stream of SUVs, slowly passing a handsome black bear gently picking huckleberries on the side of the road. The bear causes traffic to slow to a near on halt to admire and photograph him - the rangers wave us on to keep the traffic moving and to remind passers-by that this black bear is probably not as friendly as Yogi or Boo-Boo bear.
The not quite-so-Yogi bear!
We were already half way through our week and so spoilt with the continuous view of beach and aquamarine waters which both the Gansevoort and Grace Bay Club guarantee from every room and suite. Having popped over to the Grace Bay Club for a cocktail at their incredible long bar (the longest in the Caribbean) we were looking forward to seeing the daylight version. Whereas the Gansevoort is all cool turquoise and white by their pool, the Grace Bay Club signature colour is their scarlet and black which is dramatic and works incredibly well with the manicured lawns, emerald green palms and the longest expanse of beach ever which is why like the Gansevoort, every suite or villa has an ocean view.
The Beach at Grace Bay Club
The Grace Bay rooms are beautifully presented and overlook the three different pools, one section is for adults only, one is the child friendly and family oriented section and one is the exclusive gated Estates pool and three bedroom residences but all share the same magnificent expanse of beach. Three restaurants, all different, are scattered through the grounds which also house the original Grace Bay Club with its 22 suites which is where the soul of the resort started and grew from. A wonderful spa and every water-sport under the sun await the more adventurous, a sun lounger by the beach or pool for those who wish to simply sit and dream by the sea.
Pool with Ocean View – Grace Bay Club
We thought we had now sampled a taste for everyone when suddenly out of the blue we discovered yet another totally different delight at the Regent Palms which is yet again a gem of a hotel. Designed along the lines of the great house in the old plantations, this gracious property with antiques, contemporary but very French/English colonial style painted furniture, murals, frescoes, four poster beds and a panelled bar and cigar room from a bygone age was charming and perfect if you eschew modern chic and long for the style of a colonial era now long gone. Vast suites with one, two or three bedrooms look out to sea overlooking courtyards, gardens, two pools and a board walk down to a powdery beach. Bright turquoise loungers with covers line the beach and cool teak beds line the board walk decking which sits up beside the pool overlooking the sea. The chef inspired us with beautifully presented plates of the freshest ingredients which you can savour in their funky dining room overlooking the gardens or the beach restaurant by the pool. Their Spa has consistently won best Spa award and walking through pools and shadows, palms and courtyards you felt as if you were in a Moroccan or Indian palace with beautiful water features and a Zen like aurora. This was somewhere to relax and unwind in an oasis of peace.
Regent Palms Spa
View of their beach from the Presidential Suite Regent Palms
Lunch at Regent Palms
But before we gently wind through the island to the hidden secret of Amanyara we had a taste of the islands and their culture on a wonderful day of adventure.
Tracy spirited us away into the hands of Big Blue Unlimited who will fulfil any desire you may have to dive, explore, take a day trip around the islands or explore Middle Caicos and North Caicos by bike, boat, kayak or foot. They took us to the amazing beaches at Mudjin Harbour where you sit perched in the Mudjin Bar and Grill dining on fresh conch and lobster overlooking a perfect cove. Their tailor made tours and adventures are personal and for groups of 4 - 8 guests and it is a fantastic way to learn a little more of the history surrounding these islands, their pirate and colonial ancestors.
All the hotels welcome children and provide abundant activities to keep them happy which vary from hotel to hotel and depending on children’s ages, some are more suited to children than others.
The Old Slave Quarters at Wade’s Green Plantation and Cardinal.
Cardinal has every story to tell of the island and was a wonderful guide, driver and fun guy to hang out with!
Finally as all good things must end we turned our backs once again on the fun and funky vibe of Grace Bay and Provo and having been picked up by a fleet of immaculate white land rovers all bearing the license plate of Amanyara, we arrived shortly before sunset at what seemed the tip of the world but was in fact a short 20 minute drive from civilisation. Nestled in an 18,000 acre nature preserve the resort stretches along a kilometre of soft powdery beach, tiny hidden sandy coves where the iron shore changes the landscape before finishing again on an endless beach. Amanyara means ‘peaceful place’ and not only is the architecture a work of art but the location is sensational. Private pools, dramatic ocean views, tranquil pond pavilions, soaring ceilings, teak decks that stretch to eternity, cathedral buildings of timber and glass seem suspended in space as the light disappears at dusk and the Aman world is illuminated by candles and illusion. 40 Resort Pavilions and 20 Private villas are all crafted from the finest materials, some with private black volcanic pools and others with tranquil pond views or dramatic seascape back drops. The service is unparalleled whether you have a personal butler or the delightful staff to look after your every whim.
The Bar and best sunset spot at Amanyara
Aman elves are there around every corner, you feel them; they know when you want something as if by osmosis but then disappear before you can even remember they have been there at all. We had a magnificent dinner in our villa with our personal chef Bar B Qing every conceivable delicacy one could dream off, twinned with a fusion of Asian inspired salads, and freshly grilled Mediterranean vegetables and delicious fruits. Whether you ate in your villa, dined in the glorious restaurant overlooking the sea side by side with the most dramatic bar or sipping ice cold rose and choosing a fresh pizza cooked in their pizza oven to order in the casual beach bar and grill - there is something to enchant everyone.
The Beach Club at Amanyara
Their beach, water based activities and snorkelling which we did each day was a treat, the Spa somewhere to lose yourself and never leave and should you simply wish to sit by their magnificent pool on the teak deck overlooking the ocean you could die a happy man. If you wish to have your own pavilion or villa with a pool they are there for the taking but should you choose a water or sea view without private pool their beach and resort pool with timber sun-deck will not disappoint.
Amanyara is an experience and this was simply sublime. The million dollar question is which one is for you as they are all totally different, but each property a rich and wonderful experience and that is the joy of the Turks & Caicos islands. Hidden away from much of the commercialism of the Caribbean, this was a discovery I am not sure I want to share.
View from the Dining Room deck and Bar Amanyara
For the first part of this blog, click here
I had been to the Caribbean islands and the more well-known haunts of St Lucia, Antigua, Barbados and even the smaller more intimate islands like Nevis which have kept so much of their island charm, but nothing had prepared me for the sensuality, beauty and individualism of the Turks & Caicos Islands.
Called Turks and Caicos, the name Turks is derived after the indigenous Turk’s Head ‘fez’ cactus, and the name Caicos is a Lucayan term ‘caya hico’, meaning string of islands. While there are some 40 plus cays that make up the Turks & Caicos Islands, only eight of them are inhabited by people. The Turks & Caicos natives are called “Belongers” or “Turks Islanders” and are either descendant from African slaves who were originally brought over to grow cotton on the island of Providenciales or have emigrated here from the Bahamas back in the salt raking days. The local population mixes harmoniously with a large expatriate community of British, American, French, Canadian, Haitians, Dominicans and Scandinavians, giving the islands an international influence and unique culture. The people here – both Expats and Belongers – are relaxed and friendly and generally operate on “island” time, resulting in a low-key, slow-paced environment.
Stepping off the BA flight from London which had touched down briefly in Nassau, giving us a glimpse whilst skimming over turquoise waters and white sandy crescents of what was to come, we breathed in the evening air and scent of frangipani. Whisked through a tiny airport with a modicum of fuss our bags were spirited away, we were transferred to the dock where the Parrot Cay launch awaited us to take us to our final destination. Half an hour later after slicing through water drenched in the hues of a magnificent sunset, I was introduced to my butler Jonson who within a short three days of my life changed my eating habits, overall picture of life and simply became the magic elf that made the sun shine each day that much brighter.
Arriving at Parrot Cay
Comprising of 40 islands and cays, the Turks & Caicos Islands offer many different experiences and in the week we were there I was to savour the charm of Parrot Cay, the vibrant hotels of the famous Grace Bay and the hidden gem Amanyara tucked away overlooking the pristine reefs of the Northwest Point Marine National Park.
Parrot Cay by Como is wrapped in swathes of white powdery sand, waters that alternate from turquoise, aquamarine, azure to cobalt blue - gin clear water that laps the beach by day and lulls you to sleep at night. It was incredible to think there were over 1,000 unspoiled acres of wetlands and a mile long powdered beach which wraps around the property stretching from the magnificent private residences and villas down to the last remaining beach house at the other end of the property. Our home was the most heavenly white washed beach house with romantic four posters with billowing white ‘nets’, a cathedral vaulted living room in cool white washed teak which opened onto a warm teak deck yards from our private pool and the exquisite colours of the sea beyond. Waking up in the morning to that view and the privacy the two bedroom beach house offered was to be Robinson Crusoe - but with Jonson providing the elf like touches that only princesses dream of.
Two Bedroom Beach House Parrot Cay
Our breakfasts of fresh fruit and any other delectation Jonson could dream up started a perfect day - as I completed my early morning dip to sit and savour the delicious food that Parrot Cay is renowned for. Had you wished to have saluted the sun yourself, there are yoga classes, endless trails you can walk or bike through manicured gardens, beautiful shrubs and flowers with always a glimpse of the ocean close by.
I cannot remember how the days passed but they slipped by in a blur of smiling faces, delicious and healthy food, fresh grilled lobster one night with a private BBQ in our glorious beach house, cool Mojitos in the bar as Caribbean music gently competed with the background sound of the waves. I was lucky enough to experience the total out of body experiences at the hands of Mara in the Como Shambhala Retreat. The Como Shambhala facial took years off my face or perhaps that was the dreamless sleep I fell into having sat as long as I could by my pool staring at millions of stars strewn across a black velvet sky.
Lunch was taken by the endless shimmer of blue in the hotel’s main pool reflecting prisms of light as you ate deliciously prepared lunches in ‘Lotus’ surrounded by emerald palms. Whether you chose to eat in your own villa or beach house, in the ‘Terrace’ Mediterranean style restaurant or in ‘Lotus’ by the pool, the food is a wonderful concoction of simple dishes offering an explosion of taste and freshness. Whether your taste is for the best Wagyu beef, local fish, fresh lobster or a salad so colourful it seems a shame to eat - Parrot Cay can offer it all. Barefoot chic and days of long lazy rhythm is what Parrot Cay is all about. If you want the bright lights and bustle then our second stop in Grace Bay would be for you.
Saying our tearful goodbyes to Jonson and our happy team we slowly let the island disappear as the boat propelled us back to civilization, cars, people and real life! Grace Bay is famous for its Grace Bay Beach which stretches as a white crescent of sand for miles and is home to the Gansevoort where we stayed for two nights, the Grace Bay Club and Estates and the colonial charm of the Regent Palms. Every one of them completely different and therefore each one tailored to offer a totally different experience depending on what the guest is looking for.
We were welcomed into the Gansevoort with their signature cocktail and warm smiles, the huge entrance looks onto a deep turquoise pool and the sea in the distance framed by gently swaying palms. Cool sophistication, chic, sleek and vibrant is how they describe themselves and it sums them up perfectly. Cool music plays around their 7,000 square foot signature pool with lounging islands floating in the water and smiling beach staff at hand for your slightest whim. Overlooking this is Stelle where we had breakfast by day and which transformed itself into a collection of tiny lights, candles and romantic corners by night with a bar that even the staff on Parrot Cay journey over to! Walk down the boardwalk to their stretch of powder white sand disappearing into warm turquoise waters and grab a cocktail at the Beach Bar & Grill as sunset approaches.
Pool and Bedroom Wings Gansevoort
Beach bonfire Gansevoort
We would have loved to have sat at the Beach Bar and Grill the next night but we had been promised that the ‘Fish Fry’ was one of the highlights of Thursday nights in Provo so we walked a few metres down the beach under the stars and entered another world. Island Fish Fry - Island Fish Fry is a local cultural explosion that takes place weekly. A number of local restaurants and vendors participate and entertainment is provided by local bands. There is a Junkanoo Rush as well as cultural performances. Bustling stalls, locals dressed in their finery out to party, live music from the stage, people laughing, dancing, drinking rum punches and tasting delicious titbits from the myriad of stalls all hosted by the local restaurants. Our favourite was ‘Smokey’ whose restaurant claims fame from near and far. Picking out fresh lobsters he had collected from the fishermen that morning he grilled them perfectly over the sizzling coals along with the freshest of corn on the cob coated in some magical mixture only known to him. Eating perched on the side of the fishing boats, looking at the stars sipping on heady rum punch whilst licking lobster and butter drenched fingers as the music rolled around was simply sublime. Beach, music, rum, lobster, flares, island music and dancing our little socks (or serious lack of socks!) off was one of the best nights on the island.
Competitors in the island dance competition – Fish Fry is Thursday night on the island!
Tracy who was our guide and is ‘Mrs’ Turks & Caicos from the Tourist Authority was to show us endless sides of this magical set of islands, each one an experience we will remember forever. The juxtaposition of a perfect hotel with an experience or two that is unique to the place surely has to be the best combination for any holiday!
Click here to read Part 2 of Jules’ time in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Rankin Family spent their 2 week summer holiday travelling California in style. Howard very kindly sent us this blog accompanied by some inspirational photography!
My wife, daughters and I enjoyed a wonderful holiday in California in August – all thanks to the insight, patience and thoroughness of the lovely Maudie Tomlinson of Scott Dunn.
We have been lucky enough to experience amazing service from the Ladies of Scott Dunn before (step forward Louisa Verney, Olivia Cryer and Juliet Morris) and Maudie lives up to those very high standards! Much planning, thought and attention to detail went into our itinerary and it certainly showed.
After a rather splendid BA flight we spent just a couple of nights in San Francisco (we had visited before) to settle ourselves into California. Maudie had picked the boutique Hotel Vitale, at the end of Mission St on the waterfront close to the Bay Bridge. Great position for strolling the pierfront, and easy to get a tram up to the shopping district. Comfortable modern décor and we had a lovely semi circular panoramic window view of the Bay. Our first night’s dinner at The Boulevard – right opposite - was excellent.
The view from Hotel Vitale
Car hire was all pre-arranged and we took a leisurely drive over the Golden Gate Bridge up to Yountville in Napa. Maudie recommended the wonderful Bardesono Hotel – a very stylish eco-friendly low rise property, beautiful rooms (Georgia and Katie had a King And a queen sized bed in their room), outdoor showers, private suntrap patios, and the rooftop pool was bliss, especially in the perfect 28-29 degree sunshine. The little town was charm and style itself. While here for three days we took a dawn balloon flight, the girls went cycling while we shopped and…for the highlight, Maudie had somehow managed to get us a table for dinner at the world famous French Laundry Restaurant, which was literally a 5 minute stroll from Bardesono…this was a culinary experience never to be forgotten!
Flying high above the Napa Valley
Napa Valley vineyards
Reluctant as we were to leave Napa, it was northwards next up into the mountains for a 3.5 hour drive to Lake Tahoe. A ski destination in the winter, by summer a beautiful Lakeland beach resort. Our base here was The Hyatt which is a big family hotel but we stayed in the wooden cabin style accommodation just back from the beach. After the fine dining of Yountville the food here was probably a little more basic but no less welcome and enjoyable. The private beach area is a little crowded perhaps but there is so much to do here. White water rafting, hiking and lots of water sports. We went horse riding in the mountains above the Lake and also took a terrific three hour speedboat trip - thank you Cap’n Jimmy - over the Lake with a bit of sight seeing and rather bracing tubing in the freezing water! This is a photographers paradise too – I spent an afternoon with a local professional who showed me some great views.
Fun on the lake
Riding the trails
From here we chose to take a short flight from Reno to our next port of call – LA! Here Maudie was very keen that we should stay at Hotel Bel-Air and how right she was…..A simply outstanding property of low rise Roman Villa style, beautiful rooms set in a tree and palm lined oasis. The service here was exceptional – class and care but all in a warm non-stuffy genuine manner. The Concierge and Front desk were amazing. We dined here too – the meal at Wolfgang Puck was immaculately served and absolutely delicious – vying with the French Laundry for the best meal of the trip – and one of the best ever.
The pool at Bel-Air
LA of course is packed with opportunities and for this trip Maudie booked us VIP passes to Universal Studios – what a difference that made – a personal guide between a group of 10 of us – no queues, backstage area access (including the amazing costume and prop warehouse) and some terrific rides and shows. The inclusive lunch was pretty decent too.
Water World - Universal Studios
I absolutely loved The Bel Air, so while my ladies went shopping on Rodeo Drive – dropped off by the hotels own sleek Mercedes - I couldn’t resist soaking up the morning rays by the pool. … some beautiful people and me.
One thing to be of aware of for first timers in LA is the traffic - everyone drives everywhere! We chose to use cabs but either way make sure you allow yourself plenty of time.
Santa Monica Boardwalk
From Bel Air it was a short cab ride to Santa Monica and Shutters on the Beach. This was our second stay at this hotel and it lived up to our memories. A cool but buzzy hotel, and undoubtedly THE place to stay on Santa Monica beach. We met our lovely friends here and spent much of the next 2 days in their company. Cycling down to cosmopolitan Venice Beach to watch the Musclemen and Basketballers, a spot of shopping and cinema for the ladies and a huge lobster supper for the lads.
We then picked up another hire car down South to Laguna . On our last trip to this area we stayed at Pelican Hill - an amazing property in the hills a little way back from the sea, great for golfers. This time it was Montage, which I would describe as a luxury family resort, in a wonderful position on the cliffs right above a most beautiful sandy beach. This was our longest stay - 5 days of “R n R” in wonderful 28 degree sun, really blissful after a lot of travelling and activities. The hotel had private sunbeds on the beach fully attended and we spent many a happy hour basking upon them.
Laguna Beach at sunset
Laguna is an arty community with some decent shopping and lots of restaurants. Speaking of food, everywhere we stayed in California the breakfasts were heavenly - Montage very much included. Lots of choice.
Laguna Beach by day
And the very last morning I managed to grab the last place on a whale watching trip (strongly recommend Captain Dave’s catamaran trip from Dana Point) and was rewarded with an incredible six Blue Whale sightings including one 75ft beauty who flipped his tail out in farewell. Never to be forgotten … and the perfect way to end a most wonderful holiday.
The 75ft beauty
We cannot thank Maudie and Scott Dunn enough. The care and judgement that went into creating our holiday was evident throughout. The trip was just about perfect, and it was comforting to know that if I had any problems Maudie and team were still on hand to sort anything out.
We have already booked our next Scott Dunn holiday, but I just know we will have to return to the West Coast soon……and it will definitely be with Maudie (who already has plenty of great new ideas!)
See Maudie’s profile page here http://bit.ly/1ig7xAY
And find out more on California here http://bit.ly/16j3JIQ
Anna Northeast from our Americas team recently got lost in the vast expanses of Yukon, Canada, from dusty highways leading to no-where to finding gold in Dawson City…
Since I first began exploring Canada 14 years ago, the Yukon has been a mystical magical place that I have desperately wanted to explore. Far beyond the cities of the East, the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Ocean playgrounds, this often undiscovered North Western corner, with Alaska on one side and the Arctic to the North, was the stuff of dreams for me and finally my dream came true… I was somewhat trepidatious as we boarded the plane in Vancouver for Whitehorse. Would this vast territory with its big skies and towering mountain ranges disappoint? Would my dreams be dashed? I needn’t have worried, the answer to that question was clear when two hours later we were greeted by the most vivid beautiful pink and red sunset which beautifully framed the mountain backdrop as we landed into Whitehorse. The airport is small, everyone seems to know everyone, we’re definitely in small town Canada and the feel of friendliness is already apparent, yes, I’m going to like it here. We arrive as darkness falls, our first view of the city comes the next morning, it’s not the prettiest place in the world, it’s practical and a little sprawling but that is what is needed and Yukon isn’t about the cities, it’s about getting out of the cities…
Dempster Highway - road to no-where
We hired Chevrolet Suburbans. Good hardy but very comfortable vehicles that can handle the long drives and more than occasional dirt roads. As I already knew, this is driving country, nothing is close by (residents of Haines Junction have to make a 100 mile round trip for groceries) but that’s its beauty. If ever there was a place made for a road trip, Yukon is that place. Our first drive today is a long one but relatively easy. We’re driving 530 kilometres to the Klondike gold rush town of Dawson City. So it’s time to ensure supplies of snacks are on board, stock up the CDs (radio signal here is intermittent) and hit the road. As we reach the city limits the beauty begins, the road leads us into the wilderness with the changing colours of autumn laid out before us, mountain peaks and crystal clear lakes appear in the distance. There’s little traffic, the odd truck here or there, occasional car or RV (recreational vehicle, a firm favourite for travelling up here) may pass us with a friendly nod or wave but otherwise we are on our own. There are no motorway services en route, toilet stops are somewhat al fresco or in one of the occasional “long drop” outhouses if you’re brave enough. At lunch time we reach a small town consisting of basically two buildings, two residents and a couple of dogs too. Lunch is surprisingly good, wholesome home cooked food and a rather nice pecan type pie. On we travel, I get a little excited when, just south of Dawson City, we pass signs for the “Dempster Highway” this is the road I want to travel, a dirt road, sometimes challenging, always incredible, stretching over 700kms North, into the Arctic Circle to Inuvik. Sadly we are not going to go that far on this trip but we will be returning to the Dempster tomorrow. After seven relatively easy hours on the road we reach Dawson City. It is like stepping back in time into some wild west town at the turn of the last century. Dusty streets house an eclectic mix of colourful wooden houses and cabins, boardwalks swagger along outside fascinatingly named restaurants such as Klondike Kates. We drive past “Diamond Tooth Gerties” the most famous place in town, with its cancan dancers and gaming hall it’s the essence of Dawson life and certainly an experience all visitors must have. We’re staying overnight at the Aurora Inn, a sweet little hotel just a hop skip and a jump from everything in Dawson. Accommodations are fairly simple but very comfortable and we have everything we need and very hospitable hosts. Tonight we experience the Downtown Hotel’s (and Dawson’s) most fascinating and somewhat “icky” experience. The “Sour Toe Cocktail” is, sadly, exactly what it sounds like. One mummified toe, one 40% proof shot, put them together, drink it down (not the toe, there’s a fine for that) and you go home with a certificate to say you survived. Did I partake? Not a chance, but two of the party I was with did, and lived to tell the tale… Tonight we are on Northern Lights watch and one of our group, an Aurora connoisseur, gently knocks on my door at 2.30am, the lights are out and I climb hurriedly into coat and shoes and rush outside. A white stripe is apparent across the sky and a gentle slight whisp of green is at the far end. We watch in awe, it’s not the most vibrant display but it’s certainly exciting for a first view. Alas it doesn’t last long and doesn’t reappear that night, I climb back into bed happy though…
Dawson City - old gold planning sign
Next morning we rise to an early autumn frost, evidence that we are indeed far North and before long the dusty streets will be enveloped in a six month long snow fall. With a chill in the air we head to one of the old gold mines. This is where Dawson City came from, gold! Even now there are still gold mines in operation and whilst the heady days of inch size nuggets are long gone, money can still be made and this mine is still in action during the summer months. We learn about the perils of “permafrost” (which I won’t go in to for fear of boring you senseless) and how the harsh environment made prospecting here so challenging, then wade in to the river with our bowl of gravel in hand to make our own fortune. After 15 minutes I spy the merest glint of gold at the bottom of my pan and as all the gravel disappears back to the river I have 3 specs of gold which I triumphantly have put into a tiny vile to take home and keep. Gold adventures over we hit the road again and this time we’re heading for the Dempster. I insist on taking the wheel as the tarmac turns to dirt road and we wind our way North along the highway. We’re heading into Tombstone Territorial Park. With towering jagged peaks and huge valleys this it is an awe inspiring site as we get closer. The skies are so big here too, the awareness of freedom and space is palpable, it’s amazing, it’s invigorating. We are here in autumn and are treated to the most beautiful colours, pinks and reds adorn the slopes and brush around us, we’re all keen to get out of the cars and head into this wilderness and after a quick stop for lunch, a scrummy cheese fondue created by our French guide, Gerard, we head for the hills for a gentle romp up to a spectacular viewpoint. We are on a gentle stroll compared to many of the intrepid hikers of this area. There are hut-to-hut hikes of 4 or 5 days that take the more adventurous high up into the park for the most enviable viewpoints of the valley and the most isolated spots. This is real wilderness country and it’s vastness and our vulnerability to it’s elements is humbling.
A view from Dempster Highway
Back to Dawson for one final night and we all sleep well after the fresh air and adventures of the day. We wake early and after a brief explore of the visitor centre and a little more Klondike history we continue our road trip. Today is once again all about the driving and will take us high up along the “Top of the World” highway. Not for the faint hearted, there are a fair few hair raising drops in places so careful driving is a must. Today there is no civilisation for hundreds of kilometres, in fact nothing at all in Canada. We must cross the border into Alaska today at surely the most remote border crossing in North America. After a bit of friendly banter, the crossing officials soon warm to us and wish us a great journey as we continue on our way. We will be in Alaska for only a few hours but it spices up the day and we head for our lunch stop, the sprawling metropolis of Chicken. So called as the prospectors that once lived here wanted to name it Ptarmigan after the feathered creatures that wondered around them there, but couldn’t spell it so settled for Chicken instead. Consisting of a gift shop, pub and small café, it’s a brief stop for heart fare and hilariously inspired gift opportunities before we head off again. One more border crossing and we’re back in Canada once again, heading for Beaver Creek for the night. Weary but enthused from the day’s drive, we head to bed early, there’s not a lot here, our beds are calling.
Metropolis of Chicken
The next day takes us South once again. Today we’re heading for the Kluane National Park. Home to some of the tallest peaks in North America we are soon treated to snow capped mountains and the deepest turquoise lakes. A screeching halt by our second vehicle alerts us to the possibility of a wildlife spotting. Indeed, there is a moose grazing by the edge of the lake. He is far away but fascinating to watch as he ponders the water ahead of him then turns and gracefully heads back into the bush. We continue on to Kluane, planes await us to soar us high above the mountain tops and into the park for the most awesome icefield views. I say we, although I must admit at this point that I did not take to the skies myself, being a somewhat nervous flyer, the thought of being in a small plane soaring toward the mountains was a little too much and I watched as my compatriots climbed aboard and disappeared into the air. An hour or so later they were back, buzzing with stories of ice fields, bright blue glaciers and staggering mountain peaks. It sounded amazing, I was a bit sad for not going but happy that they had such a great experience.
After a night in Kluane it was time to head back to civilisation. After 5 days in the veritable wilderness I’m surprised how little I feel the need to be back in town, I could stay here amongst the fresh air, open spaces and fascinating locals. I’m in no hurry to go back to reality. But return we must, with a little side trip along the way. We’re heading to Muktuk kennels, a working sled dog kennel about 20 minutes outside of Whitehorse. Home to over 120 working dogs, it’s a pretty noisy place with all the dogs enthusiastically greeting our arrival with a rowdy barking frenzy. During the summer months they are rested so daily exercise involves a run down to the river for a splash about with guests visiting. Around 15 dogs are selected for each run with guests and we watch them bounding ahead of us excitedly as their keepers tell us all about the kennels and the dogs. It’s a fascinating talk, they are passionate about the dogs and know them all individually, we’re encouraged to fuss and get to know the dogs ourselves and find them to be a really friendly affectionate bunch. We learn all about the dog mushing experiences in the winter and how the kennels have been involved in the “Yukon Quest” a gruelling 1000 mile dog sledding challenge from Haines Junction in Alaska to Whitehorse which takes place in February next year. These dogs are truly amazing and I’m tempted to give up my day job and move out here full time to become a dog musher myself! I wouldn’t be the first, there’s something amazingly captivating about them.
Anna with a dog from Muktuk Kennels
Alas our adventure is drawing to a close, we return to what now seems to be the metropolis of Whitehorse. What seemed a quaint country town less than a week ago now seems big and noisy and overwhelming… take me back to the wilderness, back to the parks, back to the big skies, don’t make me go home!!!
Find out more here http://www.scottdunn.com/luxury-tours/yukon-spectacular
Olivia in our Asia Pacific team “goes troppo” on Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef…
Image: Lizard Island
I have had a love affair with the ocean since I was old enough to don a snorkel and mask and accompany my marine biologist father to discover the magic of the underwater world. As such, Lizard Island has always been on my travel bucket list and whispers of the magic of this place pervade many conversations with industry colleagues, my guests and friends who have visited. I was counting down the days until my arrival…
Flying low over endless expanses of cerulean ocean, dotted with colourful reefs and tiny islands is something few can even dream of and this was simply the prelude to the incredible experience I was about to have. The fact that it is an hour’s flight from Cairns really shouldn’t put anyone off visiting Lizard, the flight itself is spectacular, giving you a bird’s eye view of the reef and the stunning ocean below.
Image: Flight into Lizard Island
Landing at the heart of the island, which is only 10km2, we were met by the delightful team and whisked straight to the main lodge (all of 90 seconds away) to be met by champagne and afternoon tea and for our first glimpse of the spectacular surroundings. Lizard really is all about the views; be it the spectacular ocean panoramas or the rugged island landscape viewed from “Cooks Look”, so named from when the famous Captain dropped anchor here on the 12th August 1770.
As soon as you set foot inside the main lodge, you realise that Lizard Island is an exercise in totally relaxed sophistication. It feels inimitably Australian, with friendly greetings of “g’day” a regular occurrence and whilst this laid back attitude is totally disarming, the team seem to couple it with a fearsome attention to detail. The main lodge looks out over Anchor Bay, with its calm waters and pristine white sands, home to the water sports centre which is the main hive of activity when it comes to exploring the island.
Image: View over Anchor Bay
I was shown to my beautiful Anchor Bay Suite, with views down to the water. Rooms are simply decorated, with classic Aussie styling, splashes of colour and lots of white wood, letting the views really take centre stage. Aesop products feature in the bathrooms and whilst there are no baths here, powerful showers are perfect for washing off the salt after a day out at sea.
Dining is very special too, be it a fine dining extravaganza or a delicious seafood bbq, it is served with flair and aplomb, alongside matching wines in the main lodge, with the lapping waves as the soundtrack to your meal. But I would highly recommend popping down the beach to the Marlin Bar, open to visiting yachties, staff and guests alike, for a relaxed drink as the sun sets and a great little location to meet fellow travellers and hear about their secret spots and great finds on the island.
Image: Marlin Bar
The water sports centre takes care of all ocean-bound activities. It was my first stop to have my snorkel, mask and fins fitted (they are yours for the duration of your stay) and the passionate team here can tell you the best spot to see turtles (we saw 6 in the space of 20 minutes!) or give you directions to the Giant Clam Gardens. The outer reef is easily accessible from Lizard for really keen divers and snorkelers and the famous “Cod Hole” is visited on their reef charters. For big game fishing enthusiasts, Marlin and Sail Fish frequent these waters during the season, but Giant Trevally and other pelagic species are here year round. However, the highlight for me was taking out a motorised dinghy for the day, complete with a gourmet picnic lunch. We hopped around the island stopping at various deserted beaches and coves, swimming with turtles and exploring the reefs in total solitude – it really was a day I will never forget!
Image: Motorised dinghy
Image: Picnic lunch
Lizard Island is the perfect haven for those looking to kick off their shoes, escape from the crowds and vanish, without sacrificing on comfort. Quintessentially Australian, with charming staff and a location that I can’t provide enough superlatives for, Lizard is now a firm favourite and somewhere I hope to return to one day soon.
Invitations don’t get better than this: the chance to explore the Hawaiian islands courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Europe. Ashamedly I have to admit that pre-trip my knowledge of Hawaii was limited to a few surfing movies & the original Hawaii-5-0, a limited understanding of the significance of the WW2 events in Pearl Harbor and loud shirts and Mai Tai cocktails.
So armed with a box set of Winds of War to gen up on my Pearl Harbor history and while away the 22 hour journey, I flew to Honolulu via New York with the group invited by Hawaiian Tourism Europe. Many hours later we exited the open-sided terminal to soft tropical breezes and a dramatic background of concertina- mountains and palm trees and drove through Honolulu City, the capital of Oahu Island to our hotel on Waikiki Beach. On reflection the most similar place I can equate to Waikiki would be Copacabana Beach in Rio: both are buzzing cities with infamous beaches lined with high-rise hotels and mountain backdrops, however Waikiki comes with late-night designer shopping and less of a language barrier.
The following morning, with body clock out of sync, a stroll along Waikiki was in order – I wasn’t the only one up early, there were the ubiquitous surfers congregating off-shore and families taking their first dip of the day.
We headed off to historic downtown Honolulu, which has a gentle colonial air to learn about the history of the islands and their creation of the monarchy in the early 1800s – essentially King Kamehameha the best warrior won. We visited Queen Emma’s Summer Palace and then continued to the scene of a great battle, the Nu’ana Pali lookout with its towering cliffs and spectacular views over the North Shore of Oahu.
Nu’ana Pali lookout and views over the North Shore of Oahu
Once through the tunnel, the island took on an entirely different character: The North Shore is less developed and rural, mountains omnipresent, simple beach houses, shrimp trucks, pineapple plantations, tropical beaches and lush forests. This is the setting of countless movies including Jurassic Park. However there was one notable thing missing: surfers. During the summer months the water is eerily calm, and it was hard to imagine the thundering crash of waves that return to the islands in November, calming down again in April.
We visited the Polynesian Cultural Center which takes visitors on a tour through Polynesia, from Easter Island to Tonga with the highlight being the incredible 3D movie of the Hawaiian islands complete with water effects which gave us a taster of what else was to come. We returned for a delightful dinner at Morimoto at the Modern Hotel, the first of many superb meals including one the following night at Azure at the Royal Hawaiian using the bountiful seafood from the pacific.
My history lesson continued the following day with a visit to Pearl Harbor - an absolute must-do on any visit to Oahu. Operated by the Pacific National Parks, the site comprises four different exhibits: The USS Arizona Memorial is the most popular, but there is also the USS Bowfin Submarine, the USS Missouri Battleship and the Pacific Aviation Museum and I could easily have spent the day exploring them all. I was staggered by the destruction that the Japanese reeked on that fateful day in December 1941 but also how the US Navy managed to resurrect all but two of the 22 warships that had been so severely damaged.
Pacific Aviation Museum
From Honolulu it was a 45 minute flight to Maui. As we drove through sugar cane plantations, with mountains on both sides and arrived at the golden sands of the coast, sun setting we all noticeably relaxed, slowed our pace and felt in a holiday mood. I swam the following morning in the gin clear ocean feeling a little bit smug.
Crystal clear water at Maui
I hired a car to head to Wailea on the South-Western coast of Maui where the most exclusive hotels are located such as the beachfront Four Seasons Maui and Fairmont Kea Lani and the lovely boutique Hotel Wailea in the hills above. The road hugging the coastline was excellent albeit slow and the scenery was a distraction with mountains to one side and tantalising glimpses of white beaches and gentle surf through the trees to the other. Maui is a great place to learn to surf and to pack a picnic and explore, but away from the main resorts don’t expect beach service, sun loungers and restaurants.
While I took to the road some of the group took to the skies by helicopter to explore the dramatic landscape of the neighbouring island Moloka’i. Photos revealed jaw-dropping images of towering cliffs dropping into the ocean, majestic waterfalls and deep green valleys. In the evening we attended a Lua – a folklore show and dinner which I would recommend for a hula fix .
Our pace diminished further with a day trip by ferry to Lana’i which departed from the quaint colonial harbour of Lahaina. 45 minutes later we docked with fellow day trippers: golfers, sport-fisherman and hunters and headed for the Four Seasons at Manele Bay. We were rewarded with the site of hundreds of dolphins who come to the calm waters to sleep.
Four Seasons at Manele Bay
The hotel is beautiful: 22 gardeners tend to the stunning tropical gardens, there is an outpost of Nobu, two golf courses, beautiful pool & spa and gentle walk down to the beach. Lana’i gives you a glimpse into the Hawaii of yesteryear, rural and undeveloped: current population 3000. In its heyday it was one of the world’s biggest producers of pineapple but that demised thanks to high transport costs.
The island was recently bought by Larry Ellison of Oracle and plans are afoot to improve the islands infrastructure and make It self-sufficient. One of my favourite moments was sitting on the deck of the only coffee shop in Lana’i City (a somewhat ironic name) supping a delicious cup of Kona’s finest watching the community come and go.
Katie in Lana’i City
Dis N Dat Shop
In contrast to its sleepy exterior, Lana’i offers a wide choice of activities: from the aforementioned golf and sport fishing, to snorkelling and diving, horseback riding, tours of the island by ATV (all-terrain vehicles) and clay pigeon shooting and archery.
Aside from the two Four Seasons hotels, there is also a charming plantation inn, the Hotel Lana’i which has been tastefully restored, has a delicious restaurant and cosy rooms offering a taste of old Hawaii.
For the return journey to Maui, we joined one of the huge Trilogy catamarans and after a severe buffeting tucked into soothing cocktails and sunset from the rooftop restaurant of the Lahaina Fish Co. Lahaina itself was a fun little town, many of the frontier-style buildings dating from the early 1900s when whaling was the islands main source of income have been transformed into boutiques, surf clothing shops and casual restaurants.
The huge Trilogy catamarans
A day of adventure. A quick 30 minute flight into Hilo on the East Coast of Hawaii’s Big island then before we knew it, we were being guided towards open-sided helicopters for our flight with Paradise helicopters over the world’s most active volcano Kilauea.
Not being either the best flier nor good with heights, the first 10 minutes or so were spent in a mild state of panic, but the sheer beauty of the landscape below was a brilliant distraction and it literally flew by too quickly. The initial journey is over the rainforest which covers much of the east of Hawaii, and then there is nothing but black lava, punctuated by patches of trees, roads and even remains of houses that hadn’t been destroyed by the last big flow in 1983. Our pilot was determined for us to feel the heat, and swooped down to look for areas of molten lava. We returned to Hilo via the Rainbow Falls National Park, a series of waterfalls tumbling down through the rainforest, not realising that we would be flying over them again later that day.
Once on terra firma we were whisked off by Kopohokine Adventures through Macadamia nut plantations to their zip-line course. Having been pretty terrified by the 100% Adrenalina course in Costa Rica, my fears were challenged for the second time that day, but the team were brilliant, equipment was top-notch and being able to fly by with a friend on the line beside was a bonus and brought out the competitive side in everyone. The scenery was gobsmacking and the highlight was zipping at 30mph on the minute-long line over the same series of waterfalls that we’d seen from the helicopter.
Zip-line through Macadamia nut plantations
After lunch, we drove across the island to be rewarded with more scenic surprises. The road gradually rises over the high mid-point of the island, the saddle between the Maunaloa & Maunakea Volcanoes to an altitude of over 2000m. The scenery was desolate, windswept and beautiful and reminded me of the Atacama Desert in Chile. It then gave way to black lava-fields all the way down the coast. Big Island can justifiable boast being an island of contrasts.
Between the Maunaloa & Maunakea Volcanoes
I took to the road again to have a look around the stylish Mauna Kea hotel which boasts one of the island’s best beaches and then to the Four Seasons Hualalai: its lush tropical gardens and golf course an oasis in the middle of the dramatic black lava fields. The Four Seasons has an exceptional range of facilities and would be brilliant for couples and families seeing a luxury retreat.
Four Seasons Hualalai
In the evening we donned shorty wet-suits and boarded the Fair Wind catamaran for the short sail around the coast to an area just offshore where Manta Rays come to feed. Getting into dark water illuminated by a few floodlights and clinging onto the floating raft was eerie in itself and then out of nowhere appeared the enormous shadows of the Mantas! Over the next hour they mesmerized with their underwater dances, performing somersaults inches away from us - a really humbling experience.
Swimming with the Mantas
The following morning a drive past beautiful ocean homes took us to Kailua Village a relaxed seaside town which was once the home of the Hawaiian royalty and now famous for being the start point for the world’s most competitive Iron Man competition. Today it was the location for the Queen Lili’oukalani Long distance outrigger canoe races with boats from all around the world competing.
Queen Lili’oukalani long distance outrigger canoe
We visited the Kona brewery where to sample their excellent range of craft beers such as Longboard Island lager and Pipeline Porter and then onto the historic Kona Coffee Farm, a living museum where they produce some rather delicious beans.
Longboard Island lager and Pipeline Porter
The island seemed to give us the perfect send-off with a spectacular sunset accompanied by a final Mai Tai at the stylish Rays on the Bay at the Sheraton Kona.