Instagram Dog Shows Off Queensland, Australia

Queensland Instagram dog
Instagram Jester Gull/Queensland

Lest you think that cat pictures dominate the internet, this week the Queensland, Australia Instagram account is being managed by a dog. Jester is a six-month old Weimaraner from Hamilton island (close to the Great Barrier Reef), and he is kicking off a new campaign to show Queensland from a local’s perspective. Jester will be snapping photos until September 15, but you can also follow him @jestergull after his week is up. Each week the photo stream will be managed by a local in a different region, look out for photographer Nathan White on the Capricorn coast, and Moreton Island park ranger Keiran Lusk in the coming weeks.

Follow Jester and other Queenslanders on Instagram @Queensland.

This isn’t Queensland’s first creative way of reaching potential visitors — they held the famous Best Job in the World contest in 2009, now spun off into multiple jobs around Australia.

UNESCO Considering Adding Great Barrier Reef To List Of Endangered Sites

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia
Richard Ling via WikiMedia

This past Sunday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) kicked off its annual conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Over the next ten days, the 1300 delegates in attendance will discuss which new locations from around the globe deserve possible inclusion on its exclusive list of World Heritage Sites. Some of the candidates include Japan’s Mt. Fuji, the Namib Desert in southern Africa and a series of wooden Orthodox churches located in the Carpathian mountains of Poland and the Ukraine.

Attendees at the conference will also consider adding the Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of Australia, to its list of endangered places. The organization routinely reviews the World Heritage Sites and will sometimes call attention to those that it sees as being under threat. This is done in an effort to raise awareness of the possible issues facing those place in the hopes that something will be done to preserve the site before it suffer irreparable damage. Studies have shown that tropical storms, climate change and increased shipping traffic have all had an impact on the health of the reef, bring its future into question. UNESCO is hoping that their discussion of those threats will send a message to Australians that they need to take action to preserve this amazing place.Having visited the GBR myself a few years back, I can tell you that it lives up to is reputation as a spectacular ocean setting. It is amongst the most beautiful places that I have ever seen and the snorkeling and scuba diving there are second to none. During my time there, it was clear that Australians understood that it is a very special place and that they are taking steps to ensure that it stays protected, healthy and vibrant for future generations to enjoy as well. That was something that was underscored in the recent “Reef Live” event, which took place in celebration of World Oceans Day. During that event, thousands of people from around the globe were able to catch a glimpse of the reef through a live tour that was broadcast over the Internet.

Immediately following “Reef Live,” Qantas Airlines announced discounted airfares to Queensland, making it more affordable than ever to head Down Under. Additionally, About Australia is offering some excellent discounted adventure travel package for those looking to visit Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef region. For instance, they are currently offering a seven-day/five-night package that includes airfare from Lost Angles and accommodations at the Pacific International Hotel for just $2145/person. Amongst the included activities are a cruise on the GBR, snorkeling tours, a visit to the nearby rainforest and much more. They even have some great opportunities for scuba divers too. These discounted tours are available for travel in November of this year and February of next. Booking must be made by June 24 to take advantage of these savings.

This is an opportunity to visit one of the most spectacular places on the planet at an unbelievable savings. The Great Barrier Reef is a destination that all travelers should have on their list with the understanding that travel there is handled safely and sustainably so as to protect this fragile, yet incredibly beautiful ecosystem.

Celebrate World Oceans Day With A Live Tour Of The Great Barrier Reef

Celebrate World Oceans Day with Live Reef
Kraig Becker

This coming Saturday, June 8, is World Oceans Day, a global event designed to celebrate the important role that the oceans play in keeping our planet a vibrant place for us to live. Throughout the day there will be hundreds of events taking place across the globe that will help educate us on the importance of keeping our oceans healthy, while raising awareness of the challenges they face in the 21st century. One such event is an ambitious 12-hour live tour of the Great Barrier Reef that will give us a very personal look at one of the most important and beautiful marine ecosystems on Earth.

Stretching for more than 1600 miles along the coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is home to a dizzying array of species including sea turtles, dolphins, whales and countless smaller fish. Massive in size, the reef covers more than 133,000 square miles and is large enough to be visible from space. It also attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors on an annual basis, many who come to snorkel or dive the GBR’s breathtakingly clear waters.

Beginning at 10 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time on Friday, June 7, a team of marine biologists will launch a live event that will stream to the Internet via Google Hangouts. They’re calling this event “Reef Live” and throughout the 12 hours that follow, they’ll be broadcasting from their floating “Sea Studio.” While the event is ongoing, divers will share live images from the reef, while taking us on a guided tour of this very special place both above and below the ocean’s surface.
The event won’t be just about streaming pretty pictures from the waters off the Australian coast, however. Anyone who attends the Google Hangout will be able to ask the team questions about what they are seeing on their screens at any given time, while also interacting with a group of expert panelists who will be in attendance as well. This will give us unprecedented access to marine biologists and reef experts who will be able to provide the insight and knowledge that will make this event a unique and special one.

Reef Live is melding technology, the Internet and social media in new ways to deliver a live event that just wouldn’t have been possible a few short years ago. Streaming real-time video across the Internet while millions look on and have the opportunity to directly participate is a fantastic idea. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together in a few days time. If you want watch the live broadcast and participate in the event, there is a handy countdown clock available on the Reef Live site that will help you determine when the project has officially started. Find it by clicking here.

Great ‘Cultural’ Spa Experiences From Around The World

spasEven if you’re not a spa junkie, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a great massage or other self-indulgent treatment. I’m actually a massage school graduate, and although I ultimately decided not to pursue that career path, I’ve parlayed my experience into doing the odd spa writing assignment. Not surprisingly, I’m a tough judge when it comes to practitioners, facilities and treatments. I also don’t have any interest in generic treatments. What I love is a spa and menu that captures the essence of a place, through both ingredients and technique.

Many spas around the world now try to incorporate some localized or cultural element into their spa programs. It’s not just a smart marketing tool, but a way to educate clients and hotel guests, employ local people skilled in indigenous therapeutic practices, or sell branded spa products made from ingredients grown on site, or cultivated or foraged by local tribes or farmers.

Sometimes, it’s not a hotel or high-end day spa that’s memorable, but a traditional bathhouse used by locals (such as a Moroccan hammam) that’s special. The low cost of such places is an added bonus: think Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, and parts of the Middle East.

Over the years, I’ve visited a number of spas and bathhouses that have made a big impression on my aching body or abused skin, as well as my innate traveler’s curiosity. After the jump, my favorite spa experiences from around the world.

ninh van baySix Senses Ninh Van Bay: Vietnam
Located on an isolated peninsula accessible only by boat, Six Senses (near the beach resort of Nha Trang) is a seriously sexy property. Private villas nestle in the hillsides and perch above the water, but the spa and restaurants are the big draw here, as many of their ingredients are sourced from the property’s extensive organic gardens.

The “Locally Inspired” section of the spa menu features treatments like the Vietnamese Well-being Journey: three-and-a-half hours of pure hedonism. A scrub with com xanh (Vietnamese green rice) is followed by a bath in “herbs and oils from the indigenous Hmong and Dao hill tribes of the Sa Pa Valley,” and a traditional massage using bamboo, suction cups and warm poultices filled with native herbs.

On my visit, I opted for a refreshing “Vietnamese Fruit Body Smoother” made with ingredients just harvested from the garden: papaya, pineapple and aloe vera. Other body treatments include applications of Vietnamese green coffee concentrate and a green tea scrub.

Foot reflexology: Hong Kong
Foot reflexologists and massage parlors are ubiquitous throughout Asia, and in my experience, it’s hard to find a bad one. That said, one of the best massages I’ve ever had was an hour-long foot reflexology session in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong. It cost me all of ten dollars, and interestingly enough, it also proved eerily accurate about a long-term GI problem I’d been having that had defied Western diagnosis.

My bliss was momentarily interrupted when my therapist pressed a particular spot on the ball of my foot, causing me to nearly leap out of my skin. He informed me that my gallbladder was inflamed, information I processed but soon forgot. I’d already been tested for gallstones with negative results – twice. A year later, I had an emergency cholecsytectomy to remove my severely diseased gallbladder. A trip to Honinh van bayng Kong for a foot massage would ultimately have been cheaper and far more enjoyable than three years of worthless diagnostics.

Verana: Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico
One of my favorite places on earth is Verana, an intimate, eight-guesthouse hilltop retreat located in Yelapa, a fishing village one hour from Puerto Vallarta by water taxi. Husband and wife team Heinz Legler and Veronique Lievre designed the hotel and spa and built it entirely by hand, using local, natural materials.

Although the spa doesn’t focus on traditional Mayan or Aztec technique, Verana grows or forages all of the raw ingredients for its treatments (the gardens also supply the property’s outstanding restaurant), including banana, coconut, lemon, pineapple, papaya and herbs. Try an outdoor massage, followed by a dip in the watsu tub, or an edible-sounding body scrub made with cane sugar and coffee or hibiscus-papaya.

Morocco: hammams
A staple of Moroccan life (as well as other parts of North Africa and the Middle East), hammam refers to segregated public bathhouses that are a weekly ritual for many. A “soap” made from crushed whole olives and natural clay is applied all over the body with an exfoliating mitt. Buckets of hot water are then used to rinse.

Although many hotels in the big cities offer luxury hammam treatments tailored for Western guests, if you want the real deal, go for a public bathhouse. While in Morocco, I got to experience three types of hammam: the hotel variety, a rural DIY hammam at the spectacular yelapaKasbah du Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains, and one at a public bathhouse.

In most public hammams, you’ll strip down in a massive, steam-filled, tiled room. Request an attendant (rather than DIY), who will then scrub the life out of you, flipping you around like a rag-doll. Massages are often offered as part of the service or for an additional fee.

Yes, it’s intimidating and unnerving to be the only naked Westerner in a giant room of naked Muslim men or women, all of who are staring at you and giggling. Once you get over being the odd man (or woman, in my case) out, it’s fascinating to have such an, uh, intimate glimpse into an everyday activity very few travelers experience. The payoff is the softest, cleanest, most glowing skin imaginable.

At hammans that accept Westerners, the vibe is friendly and welcoming, and it’s a way to mingle with locals and participate in an ancient, sacred ritual without causing offense. Do enquire, via sign language or in French, if you should remove all of your clothing, or leave your skivvies on. I failed to do this at the public bathhouse, and increased the staring situation a thousand-fold, because at that particular hammam (unlike the Kasbah), the women kept their underwear on. Oops.

Three highly recommended, traditional, wood-fired Marrakech hammams are Bain Marjorelle (large, modern multi-roomed), Hammam Polo (small, basic, one room), and Hammam el Basha (large, older, multi-roomed). Expect to pay approximately $10 for an attendant (including tip, sometimes massage). Independent travelers can easily find a hamman if they look for people of their own gender carrying buckets, towels and rolled-up mats near a mosque. To ensure you visit a Western-friendly hammam, it’s best to ask hotel or riad staff or taxi drivers for recommendations, and enquire about male/female hours.

Daintree EcoLodge & Spa: Daintree, Queensland, Australia
The Daintree Rainforest, located near Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland, is over 135 million years old. It’s home to some of the rarest and most primitive flora on earth, muchalto atacama of it traditionally used by the local Aboriginal people for medicinal purposes.

The Daintree Wellness Spa at the low-key, family-owned and-operated EcoLodge has received international accolades for both its work with the local Kuku Yajani people, and its luxe treatments. The spa relies on ochre (a skin purifier) harvested from beneath the property’s waterfall, as well as indigenous “bush” ingredients from the Daintree such as rosella, avocado, native mint, wild ginger, bush honey, quandong, tea tree and spring water. The spa also produces its own line of products, Daintree Essentials (available online).

All treatments integrate traditional Kuku Yalanji modalities and spiritual beliefs, and have received approval from the local elders. I opted for the Ngujajura (Dreamtime) package, which includes a full body and foot massage, Walu BalBal facial and rain therapy treatment (a specialty at Daintree, consisting of an oil and sea salt exfoliation, ochre mud wrap and spring water shower administered tableside … trust me, it’s revelatory). An added bonus: the lodge offers Aboriginal cultural classes that include jungle walks, medicinal plants and bush foods (try eating green ants, a surprisingly tasty source of vitamin C).

Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
This absolutely enchanting adobe property on the outskirts of the village of San Pedro is a slice of heaven, even if you skip its Puri Spa. But that would be a mistake, because then you wouldn’t be able to succumb to treatments and ingredients adapted from what’s been traditionally used by the local Atacameño people for thousands of years.

Atacama is the driest desert on earth, so on my visit, I chose the “Royal Quinoa Face Mask,” made with locally sourced quinoa (for its exfoliating and regenerative properties) mixed with local honey and yogurt. I left the treatment room looking considerably less desiccated.

The real splurge is the Sabay Massage, which uses pindas, or cloth pouches, filled with rice (used here as an exfoliant), rica rica (an herbal digestive aid also used in aromatherapy) and chañar berries (medicinally used as an expectorant and to stimulate circulation, as well as a food source) collected from around the property, which has extensive native gardens designed by a reknown Chilean ethno-botanist. You’ll emerge silky-skinned and tension-free. Dulces Sueños.

[Photo credits: Massage, Flickr user thomaswanhoff; Six Senses, Laurel Miller; Verana, Flickr user dmealiffe]

Video: Albino Humpback Whale Off Australia’s East Coast

Since 1991, Australian researchers have been aware of Migaloo, a rare albino whale and the only documented adult albino humpback in existence. Now in his 20s, Migaloo makes yearly appearances along Australia’s East Coast during the humpback migration from Antarctica to the tropical waters off the Great Barrier Reef. His appearance still causes a stir, however. He even has his own website.

According to CNN, Migaloo is currently in Cape Byron, the easternmost point in Australia, where he may spend a few days cruising for a girlfriend. For a look at Migaloo, check out the video. Ahab, be damned.