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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cruise Weekly Comment: Helicopter Crash

Cruise Weekly – Comment by Roderick Eime

I must admit that news of a second helicopter crash in the Kimberley inside two weeks has given me some goose bumps. I flew with Slingair, the first to lose their machine in a quadruple fatality over the Bungle Bungles, on a fixed wing charter after a week aboard True North where I made numerous flights in their now sunken Bell 407.

True North's machine was like brand new to me and flew faultlessly throughout the cruise. All passengers wore automatically-inflating life jackets and the great big doors were easy to get in and out of. Thankfully, no one lost their lives in what must have been a hair-raising event. There is some mystery however, as to why the flotation devices attached to the landing gear did not activate and an investigation is now under way.

So what does this mean for the many expedition vessels that employ helicopters either onboard or as optional flight-seeing tours? Helicopters add an extra dimension to any cruise experience and are invaluable on many polar itineraries.

There is a degree of risk assessment in any form of travel and helicopters are nowhere near the top of any 'most dangerous transport' list. Statistics are traditionally dominated by the rattly minibus and motorcycle, even crossing the road rates way up there, especially in SE Asia, Africa and the sub-continent. I, for one, will continue to fly in helicopters and light aircraft knowing that the taxi ride to the airport will constitute the single highest risk factor on any given trip.

No matter where you are or what you're doing, assess the risk, enjoy yourself and travel safely.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cruise Weekly Comment: PNG

Cruise Weekly – Comment by Roderick Eime

If ever there was a destination perfect for adventure and expedition cruising, it would have to be Papua New Guinea.

I'm about to set sail for PNG again next week and this will be my fourth visit. I can't imagine getting tired of visiting this wild and colourful country so close at hand.

Australians still need to overcome reservations generated by decades of bad PR. True, some places you just want to stay clear of, Port Moresby for one. But in the Solomon and Bismark Seas to the north and northwest, up the mighty Sepik River and over to the Louisiades, there is a Papua New Guinea seldom seen by mass tourists.

Compact, low-impact expedition vessels like Orion, Oceanic Discoverer and True North are now regularly plying the friendly waters, stopping at tiny islands with villages of just a few hundred inhabitants and absolutely no tourism infrastructure at all. No touts, trashy nick-nacks or wharf urchins to upset your experience, just a pure and unadulterated cultural encounter.

Just as expedition cruising is not for everyone, neither is PNG. Passengers need to be open-minded, intellectually self-sufficient and prepared to embrace the experience as it is presented. The modern vessels offer plenty of comfort and even luxury for softies like me, so it's not all hard going.

There's great diving and snorkeling, fishing, brilliant tribal art, raw dance and rituals to make your eyes pop and anthropological and wartime history in abundance.

Most itineraries take place after the Kimberley season closes in September and each operator usually only conducts two or three voyages each season of between seven and 14 days. Website:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cruise Weekly Comment: Kimberley

Cruise Weekly – Comment by Roderick Eime

I'm almost embarrassed to say it has taken me this long to get to the Kimberley.

Such is the demand for Australia's premier adventure cruise destination that passengers are having to book many months, sometimes years ahead.

I've just spent six days aboard the multi-award-winning, True North, an acknowledged Kimberley expert. We're all aware of the other acclaimed itineraries by Orion, Coral Princess and Kimberley Quest, but with twenty-plus years of intimate experience, knowledge of the uncharted river systems, off-the-radar rock art sites and an onboard helicopter, the North Star Cruises product is hard to beat.

I wish they wouldn't use the term ?finest of fine dining?, because bare feet and t-shirts sort of precludes that experience. The food, however, is beyond reproach. Ex-Cable Beach Club chef, Ian ?Irish? Prendergast received a standing ovation on the last day as a fitting tribute to his efforts. The wine list, with many beautiful Margaret River vintages, will please finicky tipplers too.

Days were jam-packed with activities including fishing, light trekking, freshwater swimming in gorgeous hidden spring-fed water holes, usually with a sublime waterfall under which to rinse off and, of course, the breathtaking helicopter flight-seeing.

Premium cabins are equivalent to better 4-star hotel rooms and everything is meticulously maintained by an all-Australian crew. Just three years old, it still feels brand new.

I just had time to chat to luxury doyenne, Claudia Rossi-Hudson, as she embarked for the next six night instalment. We may be seeing much more of North Star Cruises.

Web site: Ph: 08 9192 1829