Nature

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Bali’s Cascading Beauties

If Bali has only been a quick getaway vacation spot during a long weekend, it might be time to book another flight to explore the island beyond the comforts of your resort. The Indonesian island may be famous for its majestic sea temples, like Uluwatu Temple and Tanah Lot, as well as its rice paddy fields but an oft-overlooked attraction are its waterfalls.

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Uluwatu Temple

There are numerous gorgeous waterfalls in Bali, especially in the central-northern highlands. Most tourists tend to stay away from waterfalls due to their hard-to-access nature but each and every trip is worth the effort to come face to face with one of the most stunning phenomena of nature.

The easiest to access and the most visited is Gitgit, twin waterfalls accessible from the main roads of Bedugul to Singaraja. Getting to Gitgit from the main road just requires a comfortable 20-minute walk through a shady forest on a wooden boardwalk.

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Gitgit Waterfall

What greets you at the end of the path is rushing waters cascading from a height of 40 metres into a rocky pool. Cool off from the heat and humidity of Bali by taking a dip and then continue the trek to the falls of Mekalongan, a continuation of Gitgit’s watercourse.

Another waterfall to check out is Sekumpul Waterfall. It takes a three-hour trek that requires crossing over streams and hiking up about 100 steps.

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Sekumpul Falls

Sekumpul Waterfall is actually a cluster of a few narrow cascades centred in a lush bamboo valley. The best views are accessible through durian and coffee plantations for a vantage point that gives you a full view of the 80-metre high falls.

There are many other falls to look into during a weekend trip to Bali. Lake Tamblingan has two: Munduk Waterfall and Melanting Waterfall, set between orange groves, coffee plantations and fields of hydrangea and bougainvillea. Then there’re the twin falls of Banyumala that flow into clear, shallow soaking pool and are surrounded by some exotic birds. Also not to be missed is Blahmantung Waterfall, located near the farming village of Pupuan. In the rainy season, the waters gush from a drop of 100 metres, making it Bali’s highest and most impressive waterfall.

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Blahmantung Cascade

MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • National carrier, Garuda Indonesia, flies from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Bali’s Denpasar Airport multiple times a week. If staying at a hotel or resort, make prior arrangements with the concierge for an airport pick up.

  • For a comprehensive tour of Bali’s waterfalls and other places of interest, book a tour with InterContinental Bali Resort. Their ‘In the Know’ insider guide customises personal tours centred on visitors’ interest to the Indonesian island. Prices vary per tour.

  • Stay at InterContinental Bali Resort, which is located on a sandy stretch of Jimbaran Bay. The 417-room hotel caters to couples, families and large groups on its expansive tropical land filled with six swimming pools, a children’s resort, and other recreational activities (from US$258 per night for Resort Classic Room).

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    InterContinental Bali Resort – Bali, Malaysia

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Nature Perfected – Lancelot “Capability” Brown

Born 300 years ago this summer, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was England’s greatest gardener, and his visionary landscapes changed the face of the British countryside.

At the peak of this career in the1750s, Lancelot Brown was the toast of the aristocracy. Acknowledged as the greatest landscape gardener of his generation, he was in huge demand, repeatedly crossing and re-crossing the country on horseback, visiting some of England’s richest and most powerful people to check progress on dozens of ambitious landscaping projects.

Poet William Cowper wrote in mock awe:

The omnipotent magician,

Brown, appears.

He speaks. The lake in front becomes

a lawn,

Woods vanish, hills subside,

and valleys rise.

 So popular was Brown, and so widespread the impact of his work, that author Richard Owen Cambridge is said to have professed his desire to die before Brown–so that he could “see Heaven before it was ‘improved’”.

Brown’s rise was particularly spectacular, given his relatively humble origins. He began life in Kirkharle, Northumberland, the son of a land agent and a chambermaid. During his teens he worked as a gardener for Sir William Loraine’s estate, of which his father was steward.

Yet these formative years laid the ground for Brown’s future success. Soon he had learned the basic skills of building and land management, proving himself highly competent. Showing an unusual combination of creative vision, practicality and organizational skills, he could both design and project-manage. Just as significantly, Brown could think quickly, turning out new designs fast, and on a grand scale. Soon he began consulting on other estates nearby.

Natural Talent

When Brown moved south in 1741, his work was noticed by Lord Cobham at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, one of the most famous gardens in England. He joined Cobham’s staff and soon became head gardener, tasked with implementing the earlier designs of the landscape gardener William Kent and architect James Gibbs, and he rapidly absorbed their ideas.

Lord Cobham loaned Brown’s landscaping talents to close friends, and his reputation burgeoned. In 1750 he began working independently, eventually lending his talents to more than 170 gardens across Britain.

Brown’s first major parkland commission came in 1751, when the fashionable 6th Earl of Coventry, who had inherited his estate aged 28, asked him to redesign both the landscape and house at Worcestershire’s Croome Court. Coventry wanted the new-look estate to be at the forefront of contemporary design; so Brown swept away the formal garden and drained the surrounding marshy parkland.

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Worcestershire’s Croome Court

He channeled the water into a new meander off into the distance (actually, it came to an abrupt halt behind a perfectly placed clump of trees). He planted a shrubbery walk punctuated by follies and temples, and even moved and rebuilt a village to enhance a view.

There was also an impressive tree collection, said to be second only to Kew’s. Many of the trees he planted have survived, though many are now over-mature. Over the past decade, the lake and a river that appeared to National Trust, custodian of Croome, has planted 10,000 trees there, often using GPS to ensure they are planted according to his 18th-century plan.

In 1754 Brown began another triumphant transformation: creating a masterplan to improve the house and grounds for the 9th Earl of Exeterat Burghley in Lincolnshire, which took more than 25 years to complete. Brown dammed a stream to form a lake, and added several new buildings. One of only two portraits of Brown hangs in the Pagoda room.

Three years later he started work at Longleat. Soon the formal garden had disappeared, while the garden, terrace park and lakes were modified and extensive plantations added – 91,000 trees were planted during one winter.

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Dolphin Dive – Little Bahama Banks, Bahamas

Enchanting Creatures, Face-to-Face

There’s a magical place northeast of Grand Bahama Island where a pod of wild spotted dolphins congregates regularly—without the enticement of food or reward—to play and swim and interact with people, apparently more charmed by their human playmates than fearful.

There’s no way to predict exactly when or where they’ll show up, so you’ll have to team up with a reputable operator who’s familiar with the dolphins, their habitat, and their habits. Captain Scott of Dream Team is the most expe­rienced, having photographed, identified, and named more than a hundred dolphins.

They’re not sideshow performers or pets, yet Scott seems to have an uncanny intuition for finding them, and treats them like old friends. His 65-foot live-aboard, the Dream Too, scores an 85 percent success rate, sometimes with several encounters a day, lasting from a few emotional moments to a couple of adrenaline-packed hours.

The water over the Little Bahama Banks—shallow, calm, and with excellent visibility—is perfect for non­diving snorkelers and swimmers, who can enjoy themselves here even after the dolphins get bored and disappear.

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Trekking the High Atlas – Morocco

Cultures and Vistas Untouched by Time

The Moroccans believe that the High Atlas Mountains are as close as you can get to heaven without leaving earth. This majestic, often snowcapped mountain range can be glimpsed from different vantage points in and around Marrakech, and its beauty is arresting whether seen from a distance or up close.

It was here that John Huston shot the breath­taking ‘Tibetan” sequences of The Man Who Would Be King. Reasonably flat terrain can be alternated with a more challenging trek at heights averaging 13,000 feet, determined by individuals or Berber-guided groups that join up with U.S.-run Sarah Tours, Owned by a Moroccan-born native of the Atlas Mountains who is a twenty-year veteran of Moroccan expedi­tions, Sarah Tours knows their turf: “from the lofty crags and screes of the Toubkal, to the cedar forests of Michlefen and the plunging gorges and karsts of the Mgoun Valley.”

Amid the highest Atlas peaks, move through vast panoramas untouched by modern times. The promise of contact with the unchanged Berber and Moorish mountain people—shepherds, nomads, remote villagers—only enhances the expedition.

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New South Wales, Australia

The Blue Mountains and Lilianfels

Microscopic droplets of oil from the leaves of dense eucalyptus forests hang in the air, refracting the sunlight to create the misty blue haze that gave this park its name. Just ninety minutes from Sydney, the Blue Mountains are a glorious playground of twenty-six small townships that offer every­thing from antiques shopping to bushwalking.

The mountains are not even really mountains but a vast sandstone tableland whose dra­matic eroded scenery is best enjoyed from lookouts like Govett’s Leap. Echo Point is the best place to view the park’s famous sandstone pillars, the Three Sisters.

Just west of here are two of the park’s highlights: The Scenic Skyway, Australia’s only gondola ride, travels 1,000 feet above the canyon, and the Katoomba Scenic Railway, an open-sided cog­rail incline, descends at 52 degrees but feels twice as steep. If they’re not hairy’ enough for you, there’s still the Zig-Zag railway near the town of Lithgow, an engineering marvel of switchbacks and bridges built in the 1860s.

You can catch a highlight or two on a day trip from Sydney, but the area really deserves a longer stay, and for that, the 19th-century Lilianfels hotel is hard to beat. It’s one of Australia’s best getaway destinations, with a fantastic setting, magnificent panoramas, and Darley’s, a smart, award-winning restaurant where the ingredients of your traditional meal come from the surrounding country.

Looking every bit like a gracious European home, the hotel is perched 3,300 feet above sea level, almost at the edge of the cliff at Echo Point, with the canyons and ravines of the Jamison Valley below. After all the outdoor adventure, you can sit by one of the hotel’s inviting fire­places (even on summer evenings the air is crisp), or enjoy a proper afternoon tea served on a veranda overlooking acres of English gar­dens and the misty eucalyptus forests. Full spa facilities further tempt one to cocoon.

Arnhem Land Australia

Arnhem Land – Northern Territory, Australia

Guests in an Ancient Land

A vast area five times the size of Great Britain, Arnhem Land is a special place of pristine bush, eucalyptus forests, coastal wilderness, and abun­dant wildlife, owned and managed by the Gummulkbun Aboriginal people, whose home it has been for 65,000 years.

It is one of Australia’s most restricted areas, only recently opened to tourism (via Aboriginal-owned and -operated tour agencies). Cultural safaris allow small groups of visitors to share the wonders of the rich indigenous heritage, and to understand the meanings and mythology behind the ancient rock art that adorns the walls and ceilings of the caves and rock shelters throughout the area.

Your hosts are Brian Rooke, an Aborigine from the Bass Strait Islands, and his wife, Phyllis. He has lived in the Arnhem Land region for twenty-five years and has an intimate knowledge of the country and culture. Home is a traditional safari-style tent deep in the Mudjeegarrdart bush, a quarter of a million acres that belongs to Phyllis’s tribal family.

The seasons and guests’ interests determine your activities, whether it’s a day trip or an extended camping tour. Identify traditional foods and medicines, visit the sites of cave paintings, explore the abundant bird life, cool off with a swim in a billibong (a natural water hole), or go fishing or crab spearing and have your catch prepared for dinner.

The operative word is “tradition,” which you will observe and appreciate in the company of local guides with a natural affinity for their ancestral homeland and its people.

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Ayers Rock and the Olgas – Northern Territory, Australia

Spiritual Shrines of the Aborigines

Never mind how many times it’s appeared in movies or on postcards, the great red monolith of Ayers Rock, the world’s largest, still stirs the spirits of those who visit it. Revered as a spiritual center of power by the Aborigines, whose ancestors are believed to have lived here as much as 20,000 years ago, Ayers Rock constantly changes color, and at sunrise and sunset becomes such an amazing visual experience that you’ll soon understand why a world of mythology has been woven around it.

Otherwise known by its Aboriginal name Uluru, “Giant Pebble,” the rock rises 1,142 feet above the featureless plain and has a circumference of about 5 miles. Rich deposits of iron are the source of its orange-red color—Ayers Rock actually rusts when it rains.

Climbing it is not prohibited, although because of its religious significance it is qui­etly discouraged by the Aborigines, who have managed the surrounding 511-square-mile national park since 1985. The strenuous one-hour trek up a single path is not for the faint of heart nor weak of knee. Many prefer the walk around it, at the base.

About 30 miles west of Ayers Rock are the Olgas, thirty-six gigantic rock domes, some reaching 1,800 feet, separated by chasms and valleys and spread out over an area of 15 square miles. Even more significant to today’s Aborigines than Uluru, the area’s name in their language is Kata Tjuta, or Many Heads. Public access is limited to the “Valley of the Winds” walk, a 4-mile loop best experienced in the absence of afternoon tour-bus caravans.

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Seven Spirit Bay – Cobourg Peninsula, Northern Territory, Australia

A Top-End Juxtaposition of Wilderness and Luxury

With thousands of acres of untouched bush, mangrove, and jungle behind it and gorgeous waters and deserted beaches in front, this exceptional wilderness habitat is located in northern Australia’s “lop End” within the 50,000-year-old homeland of some of the last Aboriginal tribes still leading a tradi­tional life.

Vast tracts of their land have been leased to the state to be managed as Gurig National Park, except for this resort and the land that surrounds it on the tip of the Coburg Peninsula, a finger of land pointing north toward Indonesia.

Accessible only by air, this remote pocket of comfort and civilization demon­strates an environmental sensitivity everywhere—the simple buildings, for example, are made of natural materials. Resident guides take guests fishing, and on bush walks and coastal tours. Or take a predawn hike to celebrate something as simple and magical as a sunrise.

Seven Spirit Bay takes its name from the cycle of seven seasons in northern Australian Aboriginal tra­dition: lightning, thundering, rainmaking, greening, wind storming, fire raging, and cloudless blue. If you’re lucky, every day will be cloudless blue.

Kakadu National Park Australia

Kakadu National Park – Northern Territory, Australia

Over the Top Down Under

On the world radar of superior wilderness areas, the 8,000-square-mile Kakadu National Park is a small but significant blip, still remote and little known despite its use as the outback location for Crocodile Dundee.

For now, its frontier freshness remains intact, and the resident population of 15-foot “saltie” and “freshie” crocodiles (the latter unique to these parts) still laze undisturbed in the shal­lows of the pristine river and marshland ecosystem.

In 1981 Kakadu received the rare double honor of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural wonders as well as for the 5,000 rock paintings that grace its sandstone caves—“the greatest body of rock art in the world,” according to the local museum.

The paintings can be classified into three distinct periods of Aboriginal history, and date back from 30 to more than 25,000 years. Ubirr, 27 miles north of park headquar­ters, is one of the most visited outcrops; in its cavelike “galleries,” images record life from the Stone Age to the 20th century.

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Cape Tribulation – Queensland, Australia

Where the Oldest Living Rain Forest on Earth Meets the Great Barrier Reef

Two of Australia’s World Heritage sites, the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, come together at Cape Tribulation, so named in 1770 by a peeved Captain James Cook “because here began all my troubles” when his ship hit a coral bed.

Protected within the Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Parks and believed to have been the evolu­tionary cradle for much of Australia’s unique wildlife, the cape’s rain forest contains trees that are 3000 years old, and many can be traced back over 120 million years. Dinosaurs have disappeared, but little else seems to have changed.

To immerse yourself entirely in this jungle exotica, choose from two outstanding eco-tourism properties that comfortably coexist within miles of each other. Progressive fore­runners in the design of environmental lodges, both Silky Oaks and Coconut Beach Lodge are swathed in their own private jungle. Naturalists on staff will point out the unique ecology’, and a concentration of flora and fauna species that has no parallel on earth.