WHY NOT TAKE A TRIP TO THE FRAGRANT HARBOUR, HONG KONG?

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Hong Kong
Hong Kong

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If New York is the Big Apple, surely London must be the Big Plum a la Little Jack Horner, Tokyo the Saucy Strawberry for the Japanese sure can be kinky but fortunately they keep it to themselves, and so it follows that Hong Kong would have to be the Big Fruit Platter of ripe and juicy dragon-fruit, star fruit, mangoes and other exotic treats. For the tourist, traveller and expat worker, Hong Kong has so much to offer with its wide variety of delectable choices.

For many, Hong Kong conjures up images of cheap clothing apparel, cramped market stalls selling food, clothes, jewellery, trinkets and all manner of things – cameras, electrical equipment, high-end duty free clothing from the top Japanese and European fashion houses, and watches of every shape, size and description, with prices ranging from a peppercorn to sky-high generational investments in Swiss chronometers that only need their first service 100 years from the time of purchase. And the range of wallets, shoes, belts, bags, hats, walking sticks, ties, crystal and sterling silver tableware is enough to make even the Great Gatsby shake in his shoes. Let’s not go into the cornucopia of international and traditional Chinese cuisines that exist here where restaurants are legendary for their seasonal offerings.

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But this is only what the visitor spending a day or two in Hong Kong sees. The land mass itself and its vast geographical features are a treat for sore eyes. While it has a total land area of 1104 km2 and shares its northern border with the Guangdong Province of mainland China, a huge proportion of Hong Kong is inaccessible mountains, valleys, plains, forested coves, cliff faces, an amazing assortment of pristine beaches and mud flats that attract birdlife that feed in this special area during their seasonal migrations. Almost half of Hong Kong is reserved as country parks and nature reserves while less than 25% is developed land leaving another 25% as open land and rural farming areas where no development can take place.

Hong Kong’s striking geography and natural abundance of flora and fauna exist side by side with the population of 7.5 million who live in one of the most populated places on the planet. Mong Kok on the Kowloon side, and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, pretty much run an equal first as being the most densely populated places on earth.

Kowloon and the New Territories make up the bulk of Hong Kong’s landmass. Hong Kong Island, and the financial heart of Central, is only five minutes away on a ride on the famous Star Ferry. The Star Ferry, a classic reminder of Hong Kong’s British colonial days, is a typical old steamer-style open-sided double decker ferry. It’s obligatory for visitors to Hong Kong to take a night time crossing on the Star Ferry to witness the brilliant neon skyline on both sides of Victoria Harbour, one of the world’s few natural deep water harbours that is open to the sea at both the east and west, allowing a constant flow of shipping from workhorse marine vessels, yachts, pleasure crafts, fishing boats and ferries right up to giant cruise ships coming in to dock their passengers in the heart of a shopping and entertainment paradise. A ferry ride across the harbour offers expansive views of Hong Kong’s skyline and mountainous surrounds.

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Victoria Peak, the highest point on the island, is where the multi-millionaires live in their colonial mansions and spacious, ultra-modern designer homes, along with their livery of Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porches. The Peak offers commanding views of Hong Kong and its outlying islands.

The lookout also houses Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, restaurants and various other attractions including the famous Peak Tram. The Peak Tram is a curious contraption indeed, as it was designed simply to get people from sea level to the various stations on the way up until it reaches The Peak, and performing this task in a straight line up a rock face with an acute incline. In fact it is two trams, one at each end of a thick electrically driven steel cable: when one tram is at the top, the other is at the bottom station, and while the rail track is single, half way up the mountain it splits into two tracks to enable the trams to pass each another, then it immediately returns to being a single track.

Another of Hong Kong’s secrets is its 200 islands, most of which are not inhabited, but are easily accessible for picnics and hiking. Lantau Island, where the new airport is located, is the largest and contains several built-up areas including Tung Chung, Discovery Bay, Mui Wo and other smaller villages, plus Disneyland. The airport is on flat land reclaimed from the sea at its north-western tip, but Lantau Island itself is ruggedly mountainous and heavily forested. Buffalo freely walk the roads and roam through the towns and villages. Discovery Bay is an up-market development with top restaurants, bars and other forms of entertainment. It’s where many pilots and airline industry people live due its close proximity to the airport – and the family-friendly lifestyle. Mui Wo is a more traditional village with an abundance of market style seafood restaurants and stunning beaches. Further south are other village areas plus some great beachside restaurants and eateries.

Lamma Island, the second largest outlying island after Lantau, is home to the village of Yung Shu Wan, which has great bars, restaurants and all kinds of crafty shops. The natural environment is again mountainous and forested with great walking and mountain biking trails. A popular walk follows the coast to Sok Kwu Wan, a smaller fishing village with great seafood restaurants. Lamma is only a 30-minute ferry ride to Central, but it’s a world away from the high-rise glass and chrome of the city. And travelling to work by ferry sure beats getting stuck in traffic jams! Other islands include Cheng Chau, Peng Chau and Park Island and all are accessible by ferry from the central piers. The local population tend to flock to these outlying islands on weekends and public holidays.

As a former British colony, Hong Kong has developed into a vibrant cosmopolitan city with traders and businesses from all over the world. A rich and diverse culture has flourished in music, art, theatre, crafts and international sporting events. Hong Kong boasts a range of great galleries and music auditoriums, along with a wide range of musical entertainment in hotels, restaurants, bars, festivals and at outdoor events. Traditional Chinese culture is well preserved in the various festivals like Chinese New Year, the Autumn Moon Festival and many others throughout the year. Due to the mixture of Western holidays like Christmas and Easter, Hong Kong has more public holidays than Australia!

REVIEW OF QUO VADIS HOLIDAYS EUROPEAN APERITIF

Travel Review by Lisa Romeo

Having just completed a 21 day tour of Europe I have the desire to share my experience and give praise, where praise is due. My tour was run by Quo Vadis Holidays, a company founded by Director Tim Kozma, a Port Melbourne based young gentleman with great passion for his vocation. (For a fascinating background on Tim’s career please see link below Profile of Director and founder of Quo Vadis Holidays).

With Tim Kozma’s experience and passion in the travel industry comes great perception. Tim found where the travel market lacked; basically for the late 20s to early 50s age group, (his website does say for 30s and 40s something? But there is give or take at either end of the spectrum). When I decided to travel I did a little research and found I had two choices; to tour with the youth groups, who generally drink and party their way around the world, stopping only for a scenic photo to post on social media in between pub stops? Not for me, after all, my intention was to celebrate my 50th birthday in Europe on July 14th 2014. Then there was the option to travel with the slow going tours that cater for the retirees? I don’t think so, not for this young and energetic 49.9 year old who will never retire!!!

Neither group appealed and many friends did advise me to stay away from an organised tour, they are what is known as ‘tour snobs’ and I did tend to agree that I did not fit any of the criteria of tours on offer, until I learnt about Quo Vadis Holidays (QV).

I don’t know how many tour companies cater for that in between age range and after searching the internet for months I did not find anything quite like what QV had to offer. I made enquiries and after some close investigation I was convinced that Tims company was exactly what I was searching for.

Four star comfort, so no trekking or camping involved; there is a time and place for camping, but it’s not the way I wanted to explore Europe for the first time! Tim offered late starts to the day and lots of free time to do as you please, shorter coach drives and longer stops, only one hotel out of nine was for one night only, perfect. There are many inclusion dinners/lunches and all breakfasts, and many optional excursions, so you are not obligated to join the group on every night of the tour, which suits me perfectly, I don’t like being around people every hour of the day and night. I liked the sound of this tour immensely.

My plan was to travel with a girlfriend and neither of us are willing to lay the money down until 1001 questions are answered to our satisfaction. Living in Melbourne Tim was so obliging, happy to meet with us on a number of occasions, at our choice of venue, whenever we requested and he provided all the information we wanted. I did hear from those on tour outside of Melbourne that Tim communicated and responded promptly via email or phone whenever a query was asked of him too. Tim is a true professional and a genuinely friendly and warm person. So it was a YES from us.

The tour begins in Paris and our group consisted of 6 people plus Tim, where mostly he is fully booked with up to 20 guests or more. Tim did not cancel due to the small number of people, which again is very professional of him and it turned out to be very fortunate for us, quite the exclusive, boutique tour it was indeed. We got to know each other very well, we were all from different states of Australia, and the youngest amongst us was 38yo whilst the oldest, being myself at 49.9yo, (50 by the middle of the tour).

Destinations included the usual tourist spots of course, these are places we all want to see I would imagine; The Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, Academia Museum and St Peter’s Basilica, to name a few, yes, but QV offers so many other unique destinations, all of which are based on Tim’s personal knowledge of hidden gems, totally off the tourist routes.

We traveled from place to place mainly by luxury coach, for our small group it was a 20 seater, which meant we could drive as close to the tourist points as possible, as opposed to the giant coaches that struggle to find parking and manoeuvre their way through tight alleyways of Rome and Paris. Tim had us traveling in boats; we also used fast trains, local metro trains, cable cars, plus a 121 year old Monte San Salvatore funicular to reach the top of some of the highest mountains in the world, quite a Special package indeed.

What was interesting was the stay in Switzerland. Yes, normally you do Europe and expect to see France and Italy. But Tim detours through to Switzerland. It was probably a choice I would not have thought of if I planned a trip on my own, but I loved the diversity: France, Italy and as a bonus Switzerland an amazing part of the world, to reach the top of the summit and see snow and have the option to ski was superb. In total we experienced thunder and rain, 35 degree heat, swimming in the Mediterranean sea and snow in the Alps all in 21 days.

There are too many highlights to mention them all; islands with vintage chateaus, to which you could only get to by boat, medieval towns, butcher shops in Italy that want to serve you wine and lunch, wine tasting in the most exclusive Dom Perignon cellars and Chianti vineyards in the thick of Tuscan villages. As is Europe, there is art in abundance, the work of many Masters that influenced the world, there is history, architecture, there is shopping, lots of great wine, (so for non-drinkers this may not be suitable for you), gastronomic delights, beautiful people, everything you can imagine, and with Quo Vadis Holidays this was definitely an experience of a lifetime.

Oh and I mentioned my 50th iconic birthday? I’d like to thank Tim and my lovely tour companions for helping to make my birthday a very Special one. In summary my day started off saying good bye to the beach side St Margherita and onto the town of Pisa with its Leaning Tower and the Field of Miracles, and then onto Lucca, with its squares and palazzo perfectly preserved, here we had a few hours to wonder and have lunch. Then it was onto beautiful Renaissance Florence, our lovely hotel was right in the heart of this outstanding, grand city. I was greeted with a chilled bottle of champagne on arrival, which was shared before our visit to a 13th Century Tuscan Monastery and then a unique Tuscan dinner in a local restaurant with abundance of food and beverage. Not too bad for a 50th celebration, one I will never forget. So it’s an Excellent rating from me, and as the French would say it, Fameux and the Italians, Eccelelente, the Aussies  Good onya Tim!!

For all the details of Quo Vadis Holidays 21 Day Itinerary: http://www.quovadisholidays.com/