New sailing expeditions launches in the Kimberley onboard iconic yacht

PONANT is once again pushing the boundaries of expedition travel, showcasing the immense beauty of the Kimberley onboard the 32-passenger luxury sailing yacht.

Article by T Australia

Le Ponant. Photography by Nathalie Michel.Le Ponant. Photography by Nathalie Michel.

PONANT is set to take luxury expeditions at sea to another level next year, recently announcing the iconic 32 guest, three-masted sailing yacht Le Ponant for the 2023 Kimberley season. Since 1988, PONANT has created a new style of cruising, through a unique blend of pioneering spirit, French-inspired hospitality, and a commitment to promoting sustainable and responsible tourism. Commencing operations in April 2023, Le Ponant will join the company’s two other small luxury expedition ships Le Lapérouse and Le Soléal, already present in the region.

The Le Ponant sailing experience has been meticulously crafted in an extensive and exclusive partnership with Australia’s prestigious Paspaley Group. Led by PONANT’s world-renowned expedition and destination experts, guests will be able to experience a breathtaking sailing environment as well as shore landings on state-of-the-art Zodiac boats. To add to the unique experience, an exclusive and private scenic flight onboard one of Paspaley’s vintage Grumman Mallard flying boats will take guests from or to their embarkation point, as well as private access to Paspaley’s pearl operations in Kuri Bay.

The Kimberley region. Photography by Nick Rains.
The Kimberley region. Photography by Nick Rains.
A Paspaley Pearl and a Pinctada Maxima Oyster. Photography courtesy Paspaley.
A Paspaley Pearl and a Pinctada Maxima Oyster. Photography courtesy Paspaley.

Having been entirely renovated with a sleek, sophisticated design by Jean-Philippe Nuel Studio, Le Ponant provides guests with an intimate setting – there are only 16 staterooms for a maximum of 32 guests. The yacht offers an invitation to sail and experience the wonders of the world on a journey that combines voyage and eco-responsibility.

Le Ponant reflects PONANT’s ongoing commitment to responsible tourism. Now fitted with the latest technical innovations, the ambition to reduce Le Ponant’s emissions is more relevant than ever. Every element has been thoroughly thought through with meticulous attention to detail and a strong emphasis on tailoring the experience to the destination and focusing on local heritage. Everything has been designed with environmental and cultural protection in mind.

The new itineraries onboard Le Ponant will be available for booking later in May 2022, along with a selection of pre- and post-land arrangements, including El Questro, Berkeley River Lodge and Broome accommodation. These will be combined with 7-14 night luxury sailing experiences from April to October 2023 in the Northern and Southern Kimberley regions.

Near Japan’s Mount Asama, a Wine Bar Floats Among the Trees

A series of Japanese hotels, hidden away in the forest, are retreats full of art, food and the natural world.

Article by Gisela Williams

An exterior view of the guest lounge in Shishi-Iwa House No. 1 at twilight. Photography by Jonathan Leijonhufvud.An exterior view of the guest lounge in Shishi-Iwa House No. 1 at twilight. Photography by Jonathan Leijonhufvud.

Before the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed the first Shishi-Iwa House — an 11-room hotel located in Karuizawa, a town in the leafy foothills of Mount Asama two hours northwest of Tokyo — which opened in 2018, he commissioned a map of the trees on the property. The elegant two-storey building he came up with winds around them like a river. The idea was to create an escape where architecture disrupts the natural world as little as possible.

This May, a new property, Shishi-Iwa House No. 2, will open nearby; it will include a 30-seat restaurant whose seasonal menu will feature local ingredients, as well as a wine and whiskey bar on the second floor, where views from the monumental windows will make you feel as if you’re floating in the forest canopy.

Both retreats have impressive art collections: House No. 1 has paintings by artists from the Japanese avant-garde Gutai movement; House No. 2 will be hung with old masters and works by contemporary photographers. A third Shishi-Iwa House — a modern take on a traditional sukiya teahouse designed by the architect Ryue Nishizawa — will open in Karuizawa next spring, and a fourth, designed by the architect Kazuyo Sejima, is forthcoming in 2024 in Hakone, a hot springs town near Tokyo with views of Mount Fuji.

The way travel changes us

In her latest column for T Australia, the writer and activist Bri Lee reflects on a trip that challenged and changed her — and helped her find her place in the world.

Article by Bri Lee

Bri Lee TravelA traveller visits a Masai village in Kenya. Photography courtesy Adobe.

As soon as I turned 18, I went on my first solo overseas adventure. Destination: East Africa. The sales pitch — first from the travel companies to me, then from me to my concerned parents — included whitewater rafting and bungee jumping in Uganda, climbing into the highlands of Rwanda to see silverbacks and following migrating wildebeest in a hot air balloon from the Masai Mara in Tanzania to the Serengeti in Kenya. I’d been waitressing and saving for two years.

I remember my mother asking, “Can’t you go somewhere a little less dangerous?” No, I could not, would not. I had lived a very loved and sheltered middle-class life in Brisbane and there was a whole world waiting out there — known unknowns and the much more frightening and exciting unknown unknowns.

The touristy highlights are what I have photos of and they’re the stories I tell at parties, but they’re not what challenged and changed me. What profoundly impacted me was witnessing mission schools, which offered children food and lessons in exchange for control of the community and the small matter of the children’s undying souls. There was also a sobering lesson from park rangers — that it is not only poaching that puts animals at risk, but also the underregulated explosion in tourism that is degrading their habitats.

Most notably, my guides spoke about the ongoing devastation wrought by colonisation. In 1885, when the European powers carved out new nations for allotment among themselves, they didn’t follow existing social or environmental lines. I learnt that, in 1919, the British mandated that Kenyan men wear a kipande (identification document) around their neck. The things I learnt about colonial rule in Africa are lessons I should have learnt about colonial rule in Australia while I was at school. I was asking questions over there that I needed to be asking here.

When I finally returned home, I was so changed that my best friend and housemate at the time referred to me as “Bri 2.0”. An improvement, she assured me. I had taken the first step towards gaining some perspective and was beginning to shrug off the annoying, nervous energy of an insecure person. I was also hooked. I went on to spend a year in China, visit North Korea, ramble around Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, and travel up and down the east coast of America. Finally, in the years before the lockdowns began, I did some of the “easy” stuff, like England and France.

Every time I travel to a new city or country, I find myself relearning the same lesson: the importance of leaving presumptions at home. Every place has a history to learn; cuisines deserve respect and customs must be followed. There’s a reason American tourists have such a terrible reputation overseas, and it’s not just because they’re loud. It’s something British and Australian travellers often do, too: we expect people to speak English. There is nothing more excruciating than hearing a tourist repeat themselves in English — extra loud and extra slow — to someone who speaks the local language (and often more than one) fluently.

When I was a teenager, I worked for hundreds of hours to save money for my airfare and accommodation, but it never occurred to me to spend even a dozen hours with a phrasebook. I didn’t appreciate the incredible value of language: it gives you a chance to engage with your surroundings and the people you meet so that you might appear a little less blundering, a little less imperial. As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”

In the documentary “Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain” (2021), we see how travel profoundly changed the late American chef and writer. Bourdain, who had seen little of the world before he was catapulted to fame with his book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” (2000), went on to embrace travel, averaging about 200 days away each year, and he didn’t stop until his death in 2018. The documentary is deeply flawed in the way it tries to understand and explain Bourdain’s suicide, but it does offer an incredible insight into how a person can be changed by a place. Or, in Bourdain’s case, by hundreds of places, visited over almost two decades.

After a while, Bourdain grew uncomfortable with how much his television programs were about him. He spoke of an ideal version of his show “Parts Unknown”, one that would not have him in it. In the documentary, there are painful scenes that show the chef and his production crew inserting themselves into tense environments marked by poverty and violence and, in doing so, making things worse for the locals.

We may never get another Bourdain-like figure and that may be a good thing. The world appears finally ready for people to tell the stories of their own countries and cuisines. We’d rather our guides to these “parts unknown” be actual locals.

But what Bourdain understood is that travel changes us most wonderfully when it simultaneously increases our capacity for understanding while minimising our ego. It makes us bigger and smaller at the same time. This is true of all types of learning, especially languages, but travel is special because it makes us aware that we’re more than just brains floating in jars — we have a body and it is connected to our mind, tastebuds and eardrums. Engagement of the senses, sometimes to the point of overload, is such a rare and special thing. It gets the heart pumping and reminds us we’re alive.

Travelling across space also does something to us. While I’m sure nobody missed sitting in commuter traffic during the lockdowns, I did hear plenty of people talk about how impossible it was to switch off at the end of the workday. We move our bodies to separate work from home. We get in a car or hop on a train as wife, mother, daughter and we get to the other side as doctor, chef or manager. For the same reason, we often mark milestones — graduations, weddings, retirement — with trips away; we intuitively know that when we return there may be something new and different waiting for us, or inside us.

The proof of this change is in its opposition. Take, for example, the way we revert to a previous version of ourself when we return to the family home. That thing you do when you hear yourself saying words you used to say and behaving like a kid again? It’s referred to in family systems theory, which highlights the “equilibrium” family members fall into. Psychologists say these deeply ingrained behavioural patterns can be very difficult to break out of. For most of us, that feeling is compounded by location. Going back to one’s hometown is almost like travelling back in time. According to experts, specific settings, like a family dinner table, can exacerbate the regression.

Over the past two years, lockdowns have kept many of us within the borders of our home state or stuck in a five-kilometre bubble. Never have I had itchier feet. Never had I realised how much I had taken travel for granted, for how it allowed me to reset, refresh my inspirations and reflect on life. When Sydney’s lockdown finally lifted last October, I immediately booked a Taste of Afghanistan and Syria tour — no airfare required. Run by Taste Cultural Food Tours, a not-for-profit that supports migrants and refugees, the tour gives Sydneysiders a chance to eat their way around Merrylands in the city’s west, home to some of the best Afghan and Syrian food you’ll find anywhere.

The beauty of this globalised world is that with just a half-hour drive from Sydney’s CBD you can have a culinary and cultural adventure that could once only be experienced with a long-haul flight. If I learnt one lesson from the last lockdown, it’s that the transformative power of travel can be found closer to home, if you know where to look.

When I was that 18-year-old setting off for the first time, I dreamed of eventually ticking off every continent. Now it is the journey itself I long for. The rarest thing in a privileged life is to be truly surprised. Travelling keeps me humble; it reminds me of how small I am in the face of history and geography, yet it also shows me what a difference I can make — for better or worse — with the resources I have. My compass is set to “curious” and I am forever seeking that ultimate delicacy: the unknown unknown. May we all grow bigger and smaller in the right ways.

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health struggles, seek support from an organisation such as Beyondblue (beyondblue. org.au) or Lifeline (lifeline.org.au).

A version of this article appears in print in our fifth edition, Page 32 of T Australia with the headline:
“The Great Unknown”
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Going Wild, The Luxurious Tiwi Island Retreat

A luxury that is defined by the remoteness of an ancient land and the simplicity of being in such a wild paradise.

Article by Georgia Hopkins

Tiwi Island Retreat.The pool is the epicentre of the resort due the fact that the ocean is the domain of the local crocodiles. Courtesy of The Tiwi Island Resort.

Halfway between Australia and East Timor, and just a short (but spectacular) 30-minute flight from Darwin in a tiny four-seater plane, lies beautifully remote Tiwi Island Retreat, perched on the south-western side of Bathurst Island.

Once a barramundi fishing lodge, the Tiwi Island Retreat was taken over by wildlife personality Matt Wright (of National Geographic’s Outback Wrangler) a few years ago. You would be hard pressed find an accommodation more remote than this.

The beauty of the retreat lies in its simplicity, the pristine nature of its setting and the quietness of the surrounding wilderness. This really is remote luxury at its finest. The retreat has 18 basic but stylish rooms, including nine queens, five twin-share and three family rooms because, unlike some island resorts, children are welcomed here.

All rooms have been recently refurbished but the ones to book are the Retreat Pool View Queen Rooms that overlook the 12-metre pool. While only small, it’s perfect for a dip given the sea is definitely out of bounds due to the local crocodiles. Bathrooms are a short walk away and are shared (there is only one each for women and one each for men). Short showers are encouraged among guests, as are refillable drink bottles (no single use plastic is permitted).

The food on offer is freshly cooked and unsurprisingly, local fish is a staple dish. Courtesy of The Tiwi Island Resort.

The staff at the retreat are one of the highlights of the experience. Laid-back and super friendly, it’s really like staying with mates. On arrival, “Robbo” met us at the tiny red dirt runway as our little plane touched down. Barefoot and super relaxed, he grabbed our bags and took us and them down to a little narrow jetty and on to a tinny. This little tin boat was our ride to the retreat through croc-infested mangroves.

As we pulled up to the retreat, it was “Claudia”, the resident crocodile, who was the first to greet us, before the very chatty and friendly “Siggy” met us on the beach with a buggy to collect our bags. He ran us through some of the safety precautions for the island (mainly, croc safety and falling coconuts), and then talked us through the menu for dinner that night. A super relaxed yet unforgettable way to arrive.

For somewhere as remote as this, the freshly cooked meals are surprisingly good. They are served in an air-conditioned dining area with communal tables and there is a distinct island vibe. Breakfasts are generally a mix of cold continental dishes, and for lunch and dinner, you can choose from a number of firm favourites (with fish being a big feature, of course).

If you have any luck fishing or mud crabbing during the day, you can choose to eat your catch for dinner that night. The food is simple but impressive given the retreat’s remoteness and the challenges faced in getting fresh food on to the island (food deliveries only come via plane a few times a week). Ice cold beers are served at the little “Great Northern Bar”, a covered deck bar next to the dining area overlooking the sea.

A sunset bonfire is a popular choice among guests. Courtesy of The Tiwi Island Resort.

Recommended excursions include visiting Tiwi Designs (one of Australia’s oldest and most diverse art centres), via a small plane to the other side of the island. There you’ll see ochre paintings on canvas and bark, ironwood carvings, screen-printed fabrics, ceramics and bronze and glass sculptures. Also on offer is a day out fishing with Robbo where you’ll learn all his secret fishing spots to find barramundi and mud crabs.

In the evening, the sunset beach buggy cruise (again with Robbo) will take you along an empty stretch of 4 Mile Beach passing casuarina trees, paperbark trees, turtle tracks, crocodile tracks, and lots of wildlife. There you’ll find a set-up picnic with a bulging cheese platter and chilled champagne, and a huge bonfire on the beach. With such stark beauty on offer, it’s clear that spending time on this island is not only a luxury, it is a privilege.

 

All packages for The Tiwi Island Retreat include flights from Darwin, boat transfers, all meals, buggy picnic and two three-hour fishing and mud-crabbing excursions.
Author, Georgia Hopkins, is the founder of travel platform, It’s Beautiful Here; she stayed at Five Acres as a guest of the hosts.

The Raw, Alien Beauty of Dirk Hartog Island

Known by the local Malgana people as Wirruwana, this rugged island off Western Australia is being regenerated to its pre-1616 condition, before European settlement.

Article by Belinda Luksic

A boat making its way through the sand dunes on Dirk Hartog Island. Photography courtesy of Island Life Adventures.

We bounce over sand dunes in our dusty 4WD and through a pincushion terrain of yellow wattle, grevillea and the pale orange Tamala roses unique to Dirk Hartog Island/Wirruwana and the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. A final, stomach-fluttering dune lands us high above them in an apocalyptic, rubble-strewn sandscape tinged red. 

I half expect to see a robot wheel into view declaring, “Danger, Will Robinson”, and not surprisingly, scenes from the Marvel blockbuster “Thor: Ragnarok” were filmed here. Car commercials too, says Holly, a marine biologist and our guide on this Island Life Adventures 4WD tour, part of a new day trip from Denham giving travellers without a 4WD or boat the chance to explore Western Australia’s largest island. 

The Blowholes are far below, a clamorous swirl of foamy, white-capped aquamarines and teals that shoot rainbow-splashed spray high into the air. It’s as if heavy machinery is running the show; massive cogs in need of a good oil groan below the waves. It’s hypnotic viewing, this ribbon of towering cliffs and roiling, tempestuous sea. The sun feels warm despite the whipping wind. 

Dirk Hartog Island is bigger, wilder and more sun-leached than I’d imagined. This is the place known by the local Malgana people as Wirruwana, alternatively named after the Dutch explorer who came ashore in 1616 — the second European landing on “Terra Australis”. Today, a successful regeneration program is underway to return it to 1616, before settlers and sheep grazing. “The feral cats and sheep have gone, and most of the goats. So much of the vegetation is coming back. I hope you find it as beautiful as I do,” says Holly.

This small island is the most westerly point of Australia and a World Heritage listed site. Photography courtesy of Island Life Adventures.

It’s a short drive from the Blowholes to Surf Point, a marine sanctuary with perfect breaks and views across to Steep Point, mainland Australia’s most westerly spot. Giant crabs side-shuffle across wind-ravaged rocks, landing in rock pools that mirror the blue sky and clouds. A grumpy-faced purple crab raises its oversized claw at me like an old man yelling at clouds.

Holly leads us to a sea cave where the ocean courses in and slow-moving crabs crawl across the ceiling. Next to it, a natural rock window frames the turbulent surf, a mesmerising Omo-wash of white and blue. The air is invigorating, rich in brine. 

It’s a tamer scene in Shark Bay marine sanctuary. A short walk across a sandy rise and we come upon a crescent moon bay with still blue waters. “This is where baby sharks seek refuge from bigger sharks like tigers and great whites,” says Holly. We walk along the shoreline, spotting the tiny fins of baby wobbegongs and other Nervous sharks feeding in the bay. It’s like another world.

 The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism WA and Australia’s Coral Coast.