Monthly Archives: March 2017

Things to do on O ahu

Whoever said nothing in life comes free has obviously never experienced the numerous (and thrifty) thrills that the island of Oʻahu offers. From paradisaical public parks and dazzling firework displays to an open-air cinema under the stars, enjoying your time on Oʻahu doesn’t have to break your budget, and in these Hawaiian havens, you really don’t have to pay to play.

 

Cost-efficient community yoga

Break a sweat – not your budget – under the sun at Courtyard Yoga. Hosted by Honolulu’s Ward Village, taking advantage of this free community yoga class will give you the chance to reset your mind, restore your spirit, and most importantly, retain the green that’s in your wallet. Think of it as economical enlightenment for the cost-effective inclined.

 

Budget-friendly beacons of light

Next up, take a hike, literally. The Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trailepitomizes the perfect marriage of great views and fresh air, but without all the mud, dirt, and 4-wheel driving that comes with most Hawaii hikes. Located just a hop, skip and a jump from Honolulu, the trail is a roughly 2-mile, smoothly paved nature path accessible for all, including parents with stroller-cruising kiddos. And the best part? Waiting at the top of the steady ascent is Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse, one of Hawaii’s most familiar landmarks, along with a million-dollar view that doesn’t cost a dime.

 

Windward botanical gardens

Oʻahu’s east side boasts one of the most beautiful tropical oases in the entire Aloha State, Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kaneʻohe. Here, amid 400 acres of lush verdant land, native Hawaiian plants flourish, and the glimmering waters of a 32-acre lake sets a stunning scene. With no entry fee, numerous nature trails, camping on the weekends and an educational visitor center, this public property is a proverbial Hawaiian playground. Set aside a day and bring the whole family, and if you and the keiki (children) love fishing, come on a weekend, when the Gardens hosts a catch-and-release program, providing bamboo poles with barbless hooks – all you have to do is bring the bait.

A small town for big appetites

There are many things for which the state of Maine has long been famous: low-tide beaches, lighthouses, lobstermen. But in recent years its capital, Portland, has become the East Coast’s must-visit foodie city, with a farm-to-fork philosophy that’s the envy of New England. Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes of this growing gourmet destination.

‘Rails opened, lines dropped, davit poised – and the trap is hooked!’ declares Captain Brian Rapp, as he hauls up a mottled green rope to reveal a wire-mesh cage, once 29 feet deep, now packed with glossy orange- and black-speckled lobsters. He takes stock of the crustaceans, gauging their size for harvest, and a smile cracks across the lobsterman’s bearded face. A bumper payday.

In Portland, those in the know call it lobstah, not lobster. That’s the first thing you need to learn before boarding the Lucky Catch trawler, a fishing boat that casts off each morning across the grey waters of Casco Bay from the quays on Commercial Street. At the wharf where the boat often rests at anchor, a concrete plaque is inscribed with a nautical blessing: ‘May you have fair winds and following seas.’ But the way things are going in Portland these days, they should add the pleasure of having a lobster roll in your stomach to the benediction.

Though many have long thought of Portland as a place steeped in little more than coastal fog and shuttered World War II canneries, today this small city can hold its own with any of the foodie capitals in North America. You could call it a Napa Valley with bivalves – a mix of kindred-spirit seafood restaurants, organic food champions and, the most prevalent of all, lobster shacks.

 

Lobsterpalooza and American pies

Above everything, Portland is a seafood valhalla. More lobster is caught and sold off Maine’s ragged coastline than in any other state in the United States, and it has such a mad crush on lobster rolls, it harvests 130 million pounds of the meat each year.

But the city is much more than that. Portland can do lip-smacking blueberry pies (out of every 100 US lowbush berries, 99 come from Maine). It invented the ‘healthy’ Holy Donut (made of more nutritious potato flour, but still gilded with frosting). It was ahead of the craft beer bell-curve in New England: the state’s pioneer, D.L. Geary, began brewing in 1983 as the first post-prohibition brewery east of the Mississippi, and opened their first brewpub in 1986. And its food heroes are permanently conscious of shrinking the distance between product and plate.

‘Portland is hands-down the foodiest small town in North America,’ says Maine Foodie Tours guide Mike Liff, a Californian drawn to the city by his stomach. ‘It’s not just the restaurants or the street food. It’s everything from the local produce to the maverick attitudes. People here don’t do chain restaurants. Instead of Dunkin’ Donuts, we choose local fair-trade independent micro-roasters like Coffee by Design or Arabica. And don’t get me started on the cheese. It’s so good here, it’s hard not to bust past the deli counter.’

Australian Outback adventure

Taking its complete circuit-of-the-country, Highway 1, in its Great Northern Highway guise, skirts along the southern boundary of the Kimberley region. Between Derby and Kununurra the road runs through Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, but if you want to really get to grips with what is arguably the country’s most authentically ‘Australian’ region then you have to abandon that comfortably smooth thoroughfare and tackle the Gibb River Road.

It runs through the heart of the Kimberley and is 125 miles (200km) shorter, but way slower. It can be a car-breaker. Tackle the Gibb River Road in wet conditions and you can be stuck there waiting for a river to subside. Tackle it in the dry after a long spell without a grader coming through and the notorious corrugations can shake the fillings out of your teeth and rattle your car down to its component parts.

Assorted early explorers touched on the convoluted, inlet-cut, island-dotted coastline of the Kimberley, and today a convoy of adventure travel boats shuttle along this spectacular shoreline. Inland, the Kimberley is something of an open-air gallery of amazing Aboriginal rock art, whether it’s the comparatively recent Wandjina paintings or the much older and still puzzling Bradshaw works. The English name comes from Joseph Bradshaw, a late-1800s pastoralist turned rock-art hunter who first categorised and labelled the paintings.

Today they’re called Gwion Gwion paintings, but it’s uncertain how old they are or even who did them – today’s Aboriginals sometimes comment that they’re ‘not by our mob’. Bradshaw paintings are usually in ‘galleries’, often rock faces protected by overhangs, while the Wandjina works may be in everyday living areas. The later Wandjina figures are more varied in their subject matter, their design and their colours, but lack the subdued, calm elegance of the Bradshaw figures.

The secret of a successful foray along the Gibb River Road is to take your time, not to hurry. Drive too fast and those corrugations, loose stones, unexpected potholes and sharp edges can shred a tyre in seconds. This is a route where a second spare can be a very good idea. It’s not just travelling slowly that can stretch the time, lots of the Gibb River Road attractions are excursions off the main route. You can add days to the trip if you plan to turn off south to the Mornington Camp, or if you head north up the road towards Kalumburu and then decide to divert to the Mitchell Falls.

Close to the Kununurra end of the road is El Questro, with its magnificent gorges and places to stay that range all the way from budget campsites to the luxurious Homestead, which is dramatically perched on a cliff edge above the Chamberlain Gorge. El Questro started out as a Kimberley cattle station and although today it’s the best example of combining four-legged and two-legged business, for a number of the Gibb River Road cattle stations tourists are today just as important as ‘beasts’.