Lonely Planet Pathfinder Jessica Palmer of travelwithjess.com recently spent three weeks exploring the Cook Islands with her young family, feeling the sand between their toes and soaking up the wild, windswept surroundings.
I set out to explore not only the two most visited islands in the Cooks – Rarotonga and Aitutaki, but also two of the most easily accessible but lesser-known islands, Atiu and Ma'uke. In my never-ending quest to find the perfect beach, I was particularly interested in exploring and comparing the coastlines across the different islands.
Along the way, I was fascinated by the geography, intrigued by the lush and totally wild island landscapes, and welcomed by strangers everywhere I went. Here are some of my highlights.
Fossilised coral coastlines
The island of Atiu’s coastline couldn’t be more different to its more visited counterparts if it tried. The difference is in the geographical landscape. Whilst Rarotonga is characterised by a lush, green mountainous centre, Atiu is fairly flat, and boasts a fossilised coral cliff (makatea) coastline as its distinguishing feature. Hidden within this rugged coastline are between 20-30 unspoiled sandy bays, just like this one, that are easily accessible by scooter and completely deserted.
The MV Te Kou Maru II, a former cargo vessel, became wrecked on the coastline of Ma'uke in 2010. Despite concerns over the rusting metal adversely affecting the marine life, the ship still remains to this day. Finding this wreck was a bucket list item for me, so it was quite exciting to spot its hulking frame through the coconut trees and overgrown greenery when driving along the circle island track.
Hermit crabs galore
The one thing that doesn’t change across the Cook Islands’ coastlines are the hermit crabs. We spotted this one on the island of Aitutaki, which seems to be home to particularly large ones. They vary in size from teeny-tiny, to big enough to read the Lonely Planet guide! Racing them is popular with kids here (including mine), and we quickly learned that the bigger the hermit crab, the slower he is!
Uncrowded tropical dreams
The main island of Rarotonga (where the international flights land) has a much gentler coastline than the islands characterised by makatea cliffs. There are plenty of idyllic beaches that aren’t fronted by resorts, and with no buildings allowed to be taller than the largest coconut tree, there are splendid views of the island's lush, green, mountainous landscape, no matter which stretch of white sand you choose to sprawl yourself on for the day.
The humbling force of nature
Unlike Rarotonga and Aitutaki, the islands of Atiu and Ma'uke have reef breaks fairly close to shore. It’s a humbling experience sitting in the calm waters on the shoreline, when less than 50 metres away the force of the ocean crashes against the island's reef. I hovered our drone 30 metres above the edge of the reef to take this shot. A wave had just curled over and crashed with momentous force. It was just about to recede back, exposing the coral yet again in preparation for its next assault. Mother Nature really has a way of bringing us back to reality sometimes!
The harbour on the island of Ma'uke is now officially my favourite harbour in the world! This small harbour has a concrete wall placed into a deep natural break in the reef. This creates a sheltered passage for the incoming and outgoing boats. The harbour forms a kind of natural aquarium, and is a popular swimming spot with the local kids after school and on weekends. I can personally confirm that jumping off the concrete wall into the deep water is just as fun for adults!
Do you love to write about your travels? Or perhaps Instagram is your thing? Find out more about our Pathfinders programme and how you can contribute.
The latest US edition of Lonely Planet Magazine has hit the shelves, so here's a behind-the-scenes look at some of its contents!
We chatted to magazine illustrator Ferran Capo about how he turned funny anecdotes about solo travel fails from Lonely Planet staff into striking illustrations for a magazine feature.
Tell us about the brief
I was supplied with four short stories on solo travel fails, all of which featured a low point followed by a happy ending. My task was to try and sum up this low point in a humorous drawing!
How did you make a start?
I always start sketching with pencil and paper; sometimes I introduce colour at this stage to add a new dynamic. I had a bit of a different approach for each drawing, as two of them are quite static and two feature movement so I tried to get an almost cinematographic feeling. I then redraw the images until I am happy with the balance and the composition stands for itself with or without colour. This is when I begin to add colour digitally, adding a lot of layers with textures and fine-tuning the illustrations.
Were there any challenges?
Getting the angle and framing of the scenes right was quite tricky. I made some minor adjustments on colour palettes after some initial feedback but in general, I had a lot of freedom in my proposal, which allowed me to be even more creative!
What’s the one item in your studio you can’t live without?
I guess my computer – but even that I could get rid of if I'm being really strict... Perhaps sunlight? I don't know! But I have lots of plants and I have a Bengal cat called Google which keep me happy in my little space.
How did you get into illustration?
I studied graphic and product design when I was younger, and then I pestered people until someone let me illustrate something! I now work in several disciplines, both directing video and illustrating for magazines.
See more behind-the-scenes sketches from our pool of creative talent: In the studio with James Provost, illustrator for How to Pack For Any Trip.
Angela Tinson, Associate Product Director in Lonely Planet’s Dublin office, recently returned from a trip to Nepal.
Tell us more… Two friends and I recently hiked the Manaslu Circuit in the Nepal Himalaya. It’s a teahouse trek, meaning you mostly hike from village to village, staying in (very basic) guesthouses and cabins. The trail reaches an altitude of 5135m. We completed the hike over 13 days, including an acclimatisation/rest day in Samagaon. We followed the hike with some recovery time in beautiful lakeside Pokhara and vibrant Kathmandu.
In a nutshell… Hiking from the foothills of the Himalaya up over Larkya La (this pass is the highest point of the circuit), you traverse an astounding range of landscapes – from lush farmland and forests to stark, rocky plateaus surrounded by enormous snow-capped peaks (Manaslu I is the eighth-highest peak in the world, at 8156m). The weather also varies from sun-blazing 30 degrees Celsius in the valleys, to below zero as you head higher up; we were lucky enough to have only a couple of days of rain and no snow.
You walk on the same paths that villagers and kids use to get to market and school every day, alongside an amazing array of pack animals, including yaks, mules, water buffalo and dzo (a yak/cow hybrid). Every child you pass greets you with an enthusiastic ‘namaste!’. It’s a special way to see the cultural diversity of Nepal, as you travel from Hindu villages in the middle hills to Buddhist areas up near the Tibetan border, passing mani stone walls (intricate structures made using stones inscribed with Buddhist prayers), stupas featuring Buddha eyes and colourful prayer flags.
Serious hikers only? Not at all! Don’t get me wrong, every day was tiring and some days were particularly physically and mentally challenging (especially the Larkya La crossing, where the altitude saps all of your energy), but with a reasonable level of fitness (plus good boots and appropriate clothing!) it’s an achievable trek. It’s illegal to hike in parts of this area without a local guide, so we had a Sherpa guide and two porters looking after us: guiding us, negotiating our food and accommodation and carrying the majority of our belongings.
Good grub? Not so much (at least while trekking)! To be fair, I was expecting nothing but dal bhat (lentils and rice) for every meal, so we were pleasantly surprised to see that the teahouses did have more extensive menus. But after two carb-heavy weeks we were overjoyed to see Pokhara’s international selection of bars and restaurants. Top tip: you can never pack too many Snickers bars for hiking!
Recovery treats? After the hike we spent three days in Pokhara, where I had a massage, attended a singing bowl meditation class and drank lassis to my heart’s content. Then we moved on to Kathmandu; we did some shopping (my top picks were singing bowls and cashmere scarves), visited Swayambhunath (the monkey temple; so called for the hundreds of monkeys living around the stupa) and relaxed in the Garden of Dreams (a neo-classical garden built by Field Marshal Kaiser Sumsher Rana in 1920).
The entire trip was amazing and I highly recommend it!
Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Find out what Destination Editor Tom Stainer got up to on his recent trip to Bahrain.
Every month, we curate the best blog posts, Instagrams and videos from our Lonely Planet Pathfinders.
This month’s video feature is from videographer Nick Adams, who leads us along narrow stone corridors, through grand architectural archways and bustling marketplaces to give us a unique perspective of Morocco.
‘Morocco is a country full of diverse sights, sounds and smells. In my latest video, I wanted viewers to experience a snapshot of Moroccan culture, taking you from grand mosques to the bustling labyrinths of the souks.’
Morocco: gateway to Africa - Mark Adams
Why we like it: Using a mixture of first-person footage to give a sense of perspective and close up shots to capture the smaller details, Mark has painted a vivid picture of Morocco here and highlighted its dizzying diversity. We really enjoy the creative transitions which transport us from the heart of one experience to another - we certainly feel as though Morocco has bumped its way up our travel list!
Keep your eyes peeled on our Thorn Tree forum where we’ll post the next submission call-out. Find out what else our Lonely Planet Pathfinders are up to by checking out the Pathfinders video playlist and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Last month, our Pathfinders community treated us to an eclectic selection of travel yarns that have left us itching to get away. From camel riding in the Sahara to running up – yes, up – a ski jump, these are our favourite Pathfinder blog posts from May.
There’s a certain romance in strolling the streets of a new city and imagining how it looked in some long-forgotten age, and Córdoba, in southern Spain, is the perfect place to indulge in this pastime. In this post, Mark and Paul delve into the rich, surprising history of this Spanish city – which, for a short time, stood as one of the centres of the Islamic world – while discussing its present-day sights, creating a piece that stokes wanderlust and intrigue in equal measure.
Mark and Paul quit their London-based jobs to travel full-time, recording stories of people, cultures and landscapes. Find out more at anywhereweroam.com.
Overcoming my fear in the Sahara Desert – Cory Lee
Despite being a popular tourist experience, the thought of riding a camel fills many travellers with a sense of apprehension, but for Cory, who travels the world in his wheelchair, the activity appeared as almost terrifying. On the surface, Cory’s post highlights the work of Moroccan Accessible Travel Consultants, as he embarks on an accessible camel ride across the Sahara, but more universally it is a post about the challenge of facing your fears on the road, whatever they may be.
Cory is something of an ambassador for accessible travel, sharing his experiences around the world to inspire and inform others. Keep up with his travels at curbfreewithcorylee.com.
Beautiful Greek islands for your bucket list – Clare Thomson
The Greek islands; there’s a lot of them, each seemingly beautiful with turquoise-ribboned shores and an alluring, laid-back attitude to life. All this makes choosing one for a holiday a devilishly tricky task. Cue Clare’s post, which employs the clever device of asking fellow travel bloggers to pick their favourite Greek island with reasons justifying their choice. The result is an insightful and visually appealing post that may not dictate your next Greek holiday, but will certainly provide food for thought.
Clare’s family travel blog aims to show fellow explorers that travel is more fun when you take things slowly. Find out more at suitcasesandsandcastles.com.
What’s it like to do the Red Bull ski jump run? – Julie Sykes
Running up a ski jump is an odd way to spend a holiday, but each year hundreds of people sign up to do precisely that as part of the Red Bull 400, including Julie, who travels to Finland to take part in a race and relays her experience in this post. A fun concept recounted in fizzing prose makes this a very entertaining read, while the practical information regarding the logistics of taking part offers a useful resource for those who may wish to get involved – though, we’re not all that tempted...
Julie is a UK-based travel blogger and ‘comfort-zone pusher’ who aims to inspire readers to experience something unique during their holidays. Learn more at thegapyearedit.com.
Mundo Perdido: an attempted hike to the top of East Timor’s ‘Lost World’ – Richard Collett
Describing an intrepid journey to a peak dubbed ‘Lost World’ that resides in a little-visited corner of Southeast Asia, Richard’s post has all the makings of a classic adventure travel yarn. Chock-full of guerilla fighters, remote villages, impending storms and a perilous mountain ascent (which ultimately ends in failure), Richard’s narrative style makes for exhilarating reading and brings to life the people and landscapes of East Timor, which, for most mainstream tourists, remains something of a ‘lost world’.
Richard is an adventure traveller and photographer who is addicted to getting off the beaten track. Read more of his stories at travel-tramp.com.
- Giving thanks to Pachamama: a glimpse into a pre-Inca shamanic ritual – Jessica Vincent
- Galapagos on a backpacker budget – Liam Doherty
- These colourful poles are an underestimated landmark of Venice – Katia Waegemans
Find out what else the Lonely Planet Pathfinders are up to by checking out the Pathfinders forum on Thorn Tree.
A posh travel company claims to have found an antidote to the post-trip blues: a ‘welcome home' hamper full of gourmet goodies. Although gobbling cheese bombs, chocolate clusters and duck rillette appeals to my inner glutton, I sincerely doubt that it represents the most effective way to treat this complaint.
Post-trip blues strike me as an unofficial cousin of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a well-documented form of depression which settles over some people like a damp, smothering blanket at certain times of the year; like SAD, the blues disrupt emotional weather patterns, causing a drop in mental millibars and the spread of a cold front over our internal landscapes.
Time out of joint
A friend of mine recently returned from a four-month trip through Central America. When asked to define her state of mind, she used the words ‘detached’ and ‘unsettled’, said once familiar surroundings had acquired a hint of the surreal and felt as if the journey was still unfolding on some abstract level; although the adventure was over, she had yet to return home.
Personally, I think competing perceptions of time befog a traveller’s brain after a trip. When your days brim with adventure, as so many travellers’ do, time slows down in a psychological sense, if not an absolute one; back home, meanwhile, everyone else’s life proceeds (or, at least, appears to proceed) on a parallel track, telescoping days into weeks, weeks into months, months into years.
At some point during the process of readjustment, the traveller switches from one track to the other. And as they settle back into a routine, it can sometimes feel as if the adventure didn’t really happen at all; as if, in fact, it were nothing but an intense daydream, an elaborate fantasy, from which they have just awoken with a jolt at their old desk. (Thankfully, there is evidence with which to dispel any sense of self-doubt; photos, videos, scribblings of any form or – best of all – shared stories.)
CBT for travel addicts
I suspect that other treatments – if not exactly cures – for the post-trip blues are likely to give much more lasting relief than the 'welcome home' hamper’s jar of artisan chutney, however flavoursome that might be. Broadly speaking, these treatments, or more accurately techniques, involve reframing life from a fresh perspective; in other words, seeing the familiar in a new light. Think of them as cognitive behavioural therapy for those who can't live without the thrill of travel.
Our writers – for whom the blues are an occupational hazard – suggest many such techniques, from using the throw of a dice to discover new parts of your hometown to redesigning your commute as an action-packed itinerary. Approached with an open mind (remember, as Mark Twain said, that travel is fatal to narrow-mindedness), these ideas can inject a sense of adventure into the everyday.
Searching for the positives, my recently returned friend made this observation: there is something to be said for routine, despite its unsexy reputation, as it spares us from devoting too much brain power to questions that might otherwise consume a traveller’s time, such as how to get from A to B? Liberated from such mundane problems, we can instead use the extra bandwidth to reflect on what happened during the trip, savour it for a second time and examine our experiences for fresh meaning. And, of course, start to plot the next one.
This month we turn the spotlight on Pathfinder Charlotte Kona from bluetrainertravels.com. Not only is Charlotte an excellent writer and storyteller, but we love the way she uses travel and her blog as a way to face her fears (tackling heights and swimming challenges) and to inspire others.
Tell us about your blog!
Blue Trainer Travels started as a travel diary whilst I was finishing my university degree. It was my companion on my solo travels and a way to share my adventures with my family and friends. As I have continued travelling, mostly with my partner, the main purpose of my blog has not changed: to tell stories, and to inspire those that come across it to go and encounter the same.
Who's behind your blog?
A social butterfly who can’t stop talking or taking pictures! I’m qualified as a Network Engineer and that’s what I spend most of my time doing, supporting my company and our clients to ensure that our services are available. It can get stressful, but I love it because there’s always something different that’s happening so I’m never bored.
Tell us about your most unforgettable travel memory...
It has to be Venice in 2016. I had just been walking around, sulking over a failed relationship when I decided to sit down by the steps of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. At that moment, as I looked out to this beautiful city before me, I realised that it didn’t matter that the relationship didn’t work out. What mattered is that I loved myself and loved myself fully. Just from that little truth that I spoke to myself, I felt a lot lighter and allowed myself to enjoy my time away. That moment stayed with me because it made me realise that travelling does have the power to change us as individuals for the better. It also made me realise that when it comes to romance, Venice wins over Paris for me.
Describe your travel style in three words.
Open, experiential, genuine.
Which destinations are on your travel list for 2018?
I’m about to head to Croatia for a two-week trip that I have been looking forward to for the better part of the year. I also get to call Zimbabwe home, and will be heading there for a few weeks. I hope to go to either Cape Town or Victoria Falls whilst I am there. My boyfriend is going to be doing the Half Iron Man in Austria so that’s another place on the cards. I would also love to go to Strasbourg to experience the Christmas magic that I’ve heard so much about.
Why do you love travel blogging?
I love writing about my travels because it gives me an opportunity to share the stories from the places I've been. Instead of focusing on travel tips, lists or that Instagram-worthy picture, I focus on enjoying what places really have to offer – joining museum tours, going for glass-making workshops or even pesto cooking classes – and learning other people’s stories.
That’s what I love about blogging: being able to go out, have all these experiences, then come back and share it all. Most importantly, I have an outlet to show that when you travel, while your fears don't just miraculously disappear, it provides you with opportunities to challenge yourself so that you can try and face them.
If you’re a member of our Pathfinders community and would like to share your story, keep your eye on the Lonely Planet Pathfinders forum for our monthly spotlight call-out.
Windswept cliffs, mist-shrouded castles and star-spangled ruins all feature in our latest Pathfinders Instagram round-up. Whether at the crack of dawn or the dead of night, our savvy snappers managed to capture some stunning scenes in the month of May – here are the images that left us full of wanderlust.
‘One of my favourite things about travelling through Europe is the architecture. The Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal has to be one of the most memorable spots I’ve ever seen. Doesn’t it look like it’s straight out of a fairytale?’ – Kimberly, @stuffedsuitcase
Why we like it: Beautifully shot and expertly framed, Kimberly’s capture of Sintra’s Quinta da Regaleira is a real feast for the eyes. The image conveys a sense of time having passed, and the palace slowly being overgrown and overtaken by the natural world, with its delicate spires surrounded by wispy clouds and foliage. From the varied green hues to the piercing blue sky, the honey shades of the palace to the splash of pale lilac in the bottom right corner, there’s an entire palette of colour in one frame.
San Francisco, USA
‘A shot from my first time visiting the USA – Chinatown in San Francisco. I loved the colours and sights there, as well as all the history. I'm from Liverpool and work in Manchester, so I am familiar with two of the best Chinatowns in the UK, but this one really took it to another level!’ – Caroline, @packthesuitcases
Why we like it: Sometimes, all you need to do to find a unique perspective on a famous destination is look up… Some of San Francisco’s most iconic architecture is given a fresh framing in Caroline’s image, enhanced by the glowing lanterns in the foreground, which fade from focus as they draw the eye deeper into the image. This is a dynamic, colourful depiction of a locale just bursting with life.
'I took a trip down to the southern corner of Armenia to ride the Wings of Tatev (the longest reversible aerial tramway in the world), up to the secluded Tatev Monastery. A short walk along a dirt road took me away from the crowds to an excellent vantage point. It was the perfect spot to linger.' – Nathan, @openroadb4me
Why we like it: From the stormy clouds collecting, to the sweeping pathway that runs from the focal point of the monastery into the hills behind, this is one atmospheric image. Nathan has managed to achieve the near impossible in travel Instagramming – dodging the crowds to picture a scene as if completely untouched, and the result is truly compelling.
Why we like it: There’s nothing like a starry sky to provide the ultimate photography challenge, and Matthew has risen to it like a pro. The central focus of an almost silhouetted Barafundle Bay against the inky blues of a star-specked backdrop creates the ultimate, drama-filled frame.
‘Dover's White Cliffs are its most renowned feature, stood overlooking the ocean. On a clear day you can see the edge of France from this vantage point. I hiked for 5km (three hours!) to get to this stunning viewpoint, and while taking a breath of fresh air I also took a few moments to capture my surroundings. This photograph is my favourite from this trip for sure!’ – Romi, @rominicoles
Why we like it: Romi’s image is beautifully simple – its two most prominent textures are naturally divided by the jagged cliff edge, which also draws the eye into the centre, eventually landing on the misty ocean. Adding the finishing touch is that solitary figure gazing out across the horizon, perfectly demonstrating the scale and power of one of England’s most famous landmarks.
Follow @lonelyplanet for more Instagram inspiration.
How far do British workers apparently need to travel to completely switch off from work? And did one Kenyan hotel really charge guests $10,000 to watch the royal wedding on television? Test your knowledge of the latest happenings in the travelsphere with our travel news quiz, featuring some of this month’s most intriguing news stories.
Take the quiz
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Ethiopia has a rich and vibrant culinary heritage. Unlike other parts of Africa, where meat is scarce and variety is limited, in Ethiopia I feasted on delicious curries and diverse cuisine every day.
Furthermore, Ethiopia also has a rich history, and is home to plenty of historic monuments and buildings that have withstood the test of time. The country's culture is quite unlike anywhere else on the continent, and its climate stands in stark opposition to the surrounding deserts. During my visit, I could see that the country is still facing its fair share of struggles, but famine certainly is not one of them.
The Ethiopian Highlands form the largest continuous area of their altitude in Africa, covering most of central and northern Ethiopia. From Addis Ababa, we found ourselves travelling up and down treacherous mountain roads to reach the Guassa Conservation Area in the Highlands. The local community has protected this 98km² area since the 17th century. It’s an excellent area to spot endemic wildlife like the gelada baboons and the Ethiopian wolf, as well as to explore remote local villages that always offer a warm welcome.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. In the 10th century, the country's nomadic mountain people were the first to recognise coffee's stimulating effect. Today, it continues to be a prominent national beverage and an important part of the country’s commerce. You’ll find people in the middle of a traditional coffee ceremony everywhere you go in Ethiopia, including in small rural villages – this ceremony centres on the traditional serving of coffee, usually after a big meal. It often involves the use of a jebena, a clay pot used for heating coffee.
The Holy Land
Perched at an altitude of 2630m, the hilly town of Lalibela is home to a cluster of 13 medieval, rock-hewn churches, featuring some incredibly impressive architecture. Carved from basaltic rocks, these 900-year-old churches were meticulously sculpted below ground level during King Lalibela's reign, circa 1181-1221. Today, pilgrims visit from all over the country and locals come to pray at the Unesco World Heritage site on a daily basis.
Iconic Saint George
Lauded as the most beautiful church in Lalibela, many describe Saint George Church as the icon of Ethiopia. Travellers can recognise its perfectly-shaped cross section when they stand on elevated ground near the site. Thanks to a 2m-thick rock ceiling, this particular church has miraculously withstood centuries of environmental wear and tear. It is the only church doesn't need the protection of a Unesco tarpaulin. I recommend making this your first (or last) stop of the day to avoid the crowds.
Highest point in Ethiopia
Home to some of Ethiopia’s highest peaks, the Simien Mountains pack quite a punch when it comes to lofty landscapes. Because of their geological origins, the mountains are truly unusual, with only South Africa's Drakensberg range having been formed in the same manner.
One of the best times to visit Ethiopia is during Timkat, the Ethiopian Epiphany Day. Since Christianity arrived in the country in the 1st century, it’s been an important part of the Ethiopian identity – as a result, more than half of Ethiopia’s population (about 40 million people) are Orthodox Christians.
Revival of their faith
Timkat is widely celebrated across Ethiopia, but the biggest and most spectacular celebrations take place in the historic city of Gonder. Once a year, Gonder's historic Fasiladah’s Bath (once used as a swimming spot by royals) is filled up for the Timkat festival, to replicate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.
Do you love to write about your travels? Or perhaps Instagram is your thing? Find out more about our Pathfinders programme and how you can contribute.