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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Diving Undersea Shipwrecks And More in Bali

For the first-time diver

With a variety of top-notch dive shops, professionally certified instructors and beginner-friendly conditions, Bali is a great place to learn how to dive. Remember to pack a few extra items to ensure your experience goes smoothly. Make sure you’ve signed up for a course from a reputable PADI, NAUI, SSI operator (ask to see certification if unsure). Bring your textbook, a pencil and a notebook.

For the marine biologist

Bali is home to 952 species of reef fish, such as eels, triggerfish and neon-bright damselfish. Elsewhere, divers can swim with eye-popping pelagics like the 1000kg sunfish or the graceful manta ray. Most dive shops sell waterproof fish identification charts that you can attach to your buoyancy control device (BCD) for underwater spotting. A writing slate is useful for recording the animals you see. An extra logbook at the surface can also help keep a long-term record of the animals spotted.

For the archaeologist

Home to the popular USAT Liberty wreck dive, Bali is great for underwater archaeologists. Bring along a compass, underwater map and dive light to aid in navigation. A marker buoy can be used to flag the start of a wreck dive, and an extra dive knife or scissors can help in emergencies. Remember, though, you’re not an underwater Indiana Jones: don’t take anything from these sites.

For the photographer

With visibility ranging from 10 to 50 meters, Bali is a great place to record your underwater experiences. Dive camera equipment can exceed thous ands of dollars with lights, underwater housings and lenses, or they can be as cheap as a few hundred bucks.

Dive sites near Tulamben, Amed and Pemuteran are also well-known for muck diving. A muck site accumulates sediment rich in nutrients, making a perfect habitat for a variety of photographic stars like nudibranchs, seahorses and mantis shrimps. A macro lens is essential for getting a shot of these tiny creatures. Be sure to pack extra batteries, a lens cleaning kit and extra memory cards.

How to pack dive gear

Dive gear bags come in all variety of sizes and colors, but at minimum you’ll need it to fit the length of your fins, plus the width of your other gear. Delicate equipment like a dive computer, regulator, and camera equipment should go in your carry-on. A soft-sided duffel bag is common as carry-on because it can fit well underneath seats or in the overhead compartment.

When packing your checked bag, start with your BCD because it usually takes up the most space. Make sure all the air is let out, fold the sides together and place it on the bottom of the bag so it provides cushioning. Slide your fins into the side of the bag. Keep your mask in its protective case while travelling. Don’t fold your wetsuit too many times or it’ll just become bulkier – one or two folds should be enough.

Leave tanks and weights at home. Operators include them in the price of a dive trip, and you’ll need those precious luggage kilos for other essential items.

What to bring on the boat

Any seasoned diver will tell you: the slightest equipment malfunction can ruin a trip. For that reason, all divers should have a ‘save a dive kit’, which contains an assortment of necessary replacements items such as o-rings (for ensuring an airtight seal), mask straps, mouthpieces, a multitool, mask defog liquid and extra batteries.

Protection from that strong, equatorial Bali sun can also mean the difference between a successful trip and joining the ranks of those pink tourists waddling between bars in Kuta. High-SPF sunscreen is essential, but make sure it’s coral safe – chemicals contained in most sunscreens are harmful to delicate coral reef systems. Sunglasses are always the first thing to get lost or squashed under a rolling air tank, so make sure it’s a pair you don’t mind parting with.

If you’re heading out to Nusa Penida or even further afield to the Gili Isl ands, the boat ride can be long. Bring an extra change of clothes for the ride back, and keep some motion-sickness medication h andy in case you start to feel queasy.

List of essentials

Although most dive shops offer complete rental equipment, experienced divers know the value of diving with your own gear for reasons like familiarity, safety and comfort. Here’s a checklist of dive essentials you’ll need for a Bali dive trip:

Mask – an adequate fit is key; the mask should comfortably stay on your face while inhaling through your nose.

Fins – from split fin to blade fin, or open heel to full foot, your choices here depend on personal preference.

Snorkel – necessary to conserve precious air while at the surface.

Regulator – attaches to the tank and reduces the air pressure to a breathable rate.

Buoyancy control device (BCD) – an inflatable vest that aids in buoyancy.

Dive computer – essential for monitoring things like depth and maximum dive time.

Wetsuit – water temperatures in Bali average around 25°C, so you’ll probably want a 3mm ‘shorty’ wetsuit.

Dive insurance – covers the cost of emergency evacuation or hyperbaric chamber treatments; some policies offer additional benefits like gear protection and travel insurance.

7 Great Ways to Explore Colombo for Free

Snake charmers charm at Viharamahadevi Park

Colombo is spoilt for choice when it comes to places to chill out, but beautifully maintained Viharamahadevi Park is a city favourite. The parades of palms and fig trees are spectacular, the lawns are dotted with statues and fountains, there are views of Colombo’s colonial-era Town Hall, and there’s always the chance of catching the odd snake charmer in action. Find a shady spot and you can people-watch for hours.

Join the locals on Colombo’s favourite promenade

Whilst it might not be quite as green as it once was, Galle Face Green is still frequented by locals in search of some relaxing downtime. There’s a tacky but loveable charm to this seafront park, which is animated by bubble-blowers, bouncing beach balls and vibrant kites swooping across the sky. It’s also a great spot for a snack – street food traders congregate on the waterfront at sunset, serving delicious Sri Lankan treats, including crispy egg hoppers and the island’s signature kottu, a griddle fry-up of chopped noodles, eggs and spices.

Dive into an open-air gallery at Kala Pola Art Market

On any non-rainy day of the week, you can catch a cohort of talented local artists as they transform the streets of Nelum Pokuna into an open-air gallery with their latest creations. The Kala Pola Art Market is the oldest art market in town, and traders have been holding court here for over a century. Some of the work on display is touristy and generic, but there are some gems to be unearthed here if you look beyond the clichéd depictions of elephants and tigers. If you feel like investing, paintings are usually on canvas and can be rolled up to carry away.

Engage with Sri Lankan contemporary art at Paradise Road Gallery

The Paradise Road Gallery (paradiseroad.lk) is a piece of art in itself. This upscale gallery is a beautiful space that exhibits contemporary Sri Lankan artists of high renown and is considered one of the most important art spaces in the country. The general ambience, decadent aesthetic and renowned Gallery Café add to its charm. With monthly rotating exhibitions, it’s definitely worth popping back again for a second visit before leaving the island.

Zen out and meditate at Bellanwila Temple

It’s a pretty tough job finding a temple in Colombo that doesn’t charge tourists nowadays, but for anyone venturing down south to Mount Lavinia, the Bellanwila Temple is a top detour. This is a real locals’ temple, where visitors can experience the authenticity of the Buddhist tradition without having to share it with camera-toting crowds. Unsurprisingly, it’s a great spot for meditation. The temple is famed for its bright and bold Buddhist statues and its revered bodhi-tree – one of thirty-two saplings taken from the sacred bodhi in Anuradhapura

Love the sunset on Mount Lavinia Beach

Just a forty-minute bus ride from the centre, Mount Lavinia beach is the perfect refuge for travellers wanting to escape the city hustle. Whilst the main drag of Mount Lavinia beach is often dotted with litter, there are plenty of tucked away spots that remain unspoiled and the sunsets here are simply spectacular. As you make your way onto the golden sands, watch for locals taking the back route, walking fearlessly along the coastal railway tracks.

Graffiti in 3D at Diyatha Uyana

Colombo’s most happening public park, Diyatha Uyana, has become an outdoor hub of cultural activity. Created by unknown local artists, trompe l’oeil graffiti artworks that seem to burst into 3D are the latest addition to the park’s artistic legacy, creating dizzying optical illusions in front of the beautiful view over Lake Batturumullam. Make a day of it and explore the serene grounds, scan the vegetation for tropical birds or check out the Good Market held on Thursdays, selling healthy snacks and Sri Lankan crafts.

A regional guide to Europe’s

Italy

Few countries can rival Italy’s wealth of riches. Its historic cities boast iconic monuments and masterpieces at every turn, its food is imitated the world over and its landscape is a majestic patchwork of snowcapped peaks, plunging coastlines, lakes and remote valleys. And with many thrilling roads to explore, it offers plenty of epic driving.

Recommended trip: World Heritage wonders – 14 days, 870 km/540 miles

Start – Rome; finish – Venice

From Rome to Venice, this tour of Unesco World Heritage Sites takes in some of Italy’s greatest hits, including the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and some lesser-known treasures.

France

Iconic monuments, fabulous food, world-class wines – there are so many reasons to plan your very own French voyage. Whether you’re planning on cruising the corniches of the French Riviera, getting lost among the snowcapped mountains or tasting your way aroundChampagne’s hallowed vineyards, this is a nation that’s full of unforgettable routes that will plunge you straight into France’s heart and soul. There’s a trip for everyone here: family travellers, history buffs, culinary connoisseurs and outdoors adventurers. Buckle up and bon voyage – you’re in for quite a ride.

Recommended trip: Champagne taster – 3 days, 85 km/53 miles

Start – Reims; finish – Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

From musty cellars to vine-striped hillsides, this Champagne adventure whisks you through the heart of the region to explore the world’s favourite celebratory tipple. It’s time to quaff!

Great Britain

Great Britain overflows with unforgettable experiences and spectacular sights. There’s the grandeur of Scotland’s mountains, England’s quaint villages and country lanes, and the haunting beauty of the Welsh coast. You’ll also find wild northern moors, the exquisite university colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and a string of vibrant cities boasting everything from Georgian architecture to 21st-century art.

Recommended trip: The best of Britain – 21 days, 1128 miles/1815 km

Start and finish – London (via Edinburgh and Cardiff)

Swing through three countries and several millennia of history as you take in a greatest hits parade of Britain’s chart-topping sights.

Ireland

Your main reason for visiting? To experience the Ireland of the postcard  – captivating peninsulas, dramatic wildness and undulating hills. Scenery, history, culture, bustling cosmopolitanism and the stillness of village life – you’ll visit blockbuster attractions and replicate famous photo ops. But there are plenty of surprises too – and they’re all within easy reach of each other.

Recommended trip: the long way round – 14 days, 1300 km/807 miles

Start – Dublin; finish – Ardmore

Why go in a straight line when you can perambulate at leisure? This trip explores Ireland’s jagged, scenic and spectacular edges; a captivating loop that takes in the whole island.

Spain

Spectacular beaches, mountaintop castles, medieval villages, stunning architecture and some of the most celebrated restaurants on the planet – Spain has an allure that few destinations can match. There’s much to see and do amid the enchanting landscapes that inspired Picasso and Velàzquez.

You can spend your days feasting on seafood in coastal Galician towns, feel the heartbeat of Spain at soul-stirring flamenco shows or hike across the flower-strewn meadows of the mountains. The journeys in this region offer something for everyone: beach lovers, outdoor adventurers, family travellers, music fiends, foodies and those simply wanting to delve into Spain’s rich art and history.

Recommended trip: Northern Spain pilgrimage – 5-7 days, 678 km/423 miles

Start – Roncesvalles; finish – Santiago de Compostela

Travel in the footprints of thousands of pilgrims past and present as you journey along the highroads and backroads of the legendary Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.

Portugal

Portugal’s mix of the medieval and the maritime makes it a superb place to visit. A turbulent history involving the Moors, Spain and Napoleon has left the interior scattered with walled medieval towns topped by castles, while the pounding Atlantic has sculpted a coast of glorious sand beaches. The nation’s days of exploration and seafaring have created an introspective yet open culture with wide-ranging artistic influences.

The eating and drinking scene here is a highlight, with several wine regions, and restaurants that are redolent with aromas of grilling pork or the freshest of fish. Comparatively short distances mean that you get full value for road trips here: less time behind the wheel means you can take more time to absorb the atmosphere.

Recommended trip: Douro Valley vineyard trails – 5-7 days, 358 km/222 miles

Start – Porto; finish – Miranda do Douro

The Douro is a little drop of heaven. Uncork this region on Porto’s doorstep and you’ll soon fall head over heels in love with its terraced vineyards, wine estates and soul-stirring vistas.

Germany

Grandiose cities, storybook villages, vine-stitched valleys and bucolic landscapes that beg you to toot your horn, leap out of the car and jump for joy – road-tripping in Germany is a mesmerising kaleidoscope of brilliant landscapes and experiences.

Recommended trip: the Romantic Road – 10 days, 350 km/218 miles

Start – Würzburg; finish – Neuschwanstein & Hohenschwangau Castles

On this trip you’ll experience the Germany of the bedtime storybook – medieval walled towns, gabled townhouses, cobbled squares and crooked streets, all preserved as if time has come to a standstill.

Switzerland

A place of heart-stopping natural beauty and head-spinning efficiency,Switzerland lies in the centre of Europe yet exhibits a unique blend of cultures. Dazzling outdoor scenery, such as the ever-admired Alps, pristine lakes, lush meadows and chocolate-box chalets, combines with local traditions, cosmopolitan cities and smooth infrastructure.

In short, Switzerland makes it easy for you to dive deep into its heart: distances are manageable and variety is within easy reach. You can be perusing a farmers’ market for picnic provisions in the morning, then feasting on them on a mountaintop come lunchtime. At nightfall, try gazing at stars in the night sky from cosy digs or revelling in the cultural offerings of one of Switzerland’s urbane cities.

Recommended trip: the Swiss Alps – 7 days, 612 km/382 miles

Start – Arosa; finish – Zermatt

From Arosa to Zermatt, this zigzagging trip is the A to Z of Switzerland’s astounding Alpine scenery, with majestic peaks, formidable panoramas, cable-car rides and local charm.

Find The Best Beach in Sydney

Secluded spots

Sydney is famous for its surf beaches but there are many secluded hideaway beaches dotted all around the harbour. Some are more popular than others, depending on their accessibility, but our top tips are the diminutive Lady Martins Beach at Point Piper, not far from central Sydney and tucked between the salubrious suburbs of Double Bay and Rose Bay.

On the northern side of city, head for Balmoral Beach near Mosman. It is an excellent beach for families, with a netted enclosed swimming area and large shady Moreton Bay fig trees to escape the heat. Lastly, look for Collins Beach at Manly, a long circuitous walk from the Manly ferry pier, where you may well find yourself alone for a good part of the day.

Autumn sun

This may surprise many first-time travellers to Sydney, but autumn (March to May) is a perhaps the best time to hit the beach. Sydney is blessed with a fairly temperate climate so it can stay sunny and reasonably warm right into late May (the beginning of the Australian winter). It takes some months for the ocean to cool down to the same temperature as the land which means the sea can still be surprisingly warm even if days are not baking hot.

Rise and shine

You can beat the heat, and the summer hordes, by heading down to the Sydney’s most iconic surf spot, Bondi Beach, early in the morning. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the ocean, and you’ll be sharing the experience with locals surfing, running, and doing their early morning sun salutations. Bondi gets busier as the day wears on – by midday traffic can clog the main routes down to the shoreline. Book an early lunch at Icebergs, which overlooks the iconic ocean pool, then make your escape.

Go south

If you do hit Bondi in peak hour, you can also head south to Bronte andCoogee via a cliff-side walking path (unfortunately you won’t be the only one doing this walk!). Beyond Bondi there are further ocean pools for the less confident swimmers to take a paddle where you’re protected from sharks as well as the swell. You’ll still be swimming with the same breath-taking views of sandstone headlands, sea birds and the occasional band of whales ploughing their migration routes along the Pacific.