Tasmania's controversial MONA launches new exhibition

Museum's theatre piece

Hobart's controversial Museum of Old and New Art launches an exhibition today called Theatre of the World that brings together more than 400 works spanning 4000 years. The diverse pieces include taxidermic birds, animal skeletons, Chinese ceramics, patterned bark cloth from the Pacific, watercolours from Georgian England and Egyptian mummy cases.

The works are from the private collection of MONA owner David Walsh and from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Since it opened last year, MONA has drawn critical acclaim and criticism because of the contentious pieces it shows, many with themes of sex, death and the macabre. MONA attracts visitors to the state, however. Recent figures show that 358,288 tourists went to Tasmania during the six months from July 1 to December 31, and of those, 82,000 (23 per cent) visited MONA. Museum visitors stayed an average of nine nights in the state, two nights more than people not going to MONA.

The research curator at MONA, Delia Nicholls, says it is second only to Salamanca Market as a tourist destination in the state, and ahead of Port Arthur. MONA admission is $20, unless you are Tasmanian. The museum's website says: "If you are Tasmanian, and identify yourself as such (yes, yes, second head etc etc), you get in for free."

There are also packages from $350 a person, twin share, that include two nights' accommodation in MONA's pavilions - spaces decorated with original paintings and antiquities and which have views over the Derwent River. Also included is breakfast, museum entry and a cellar-door tasting and tour of Moorilla winery, part of the museum complex. See mona.net.au.

APT's noble pursuits

The Australian tour company APT has bought a stake in the UK-based Noble Caledonia small ship company, and will use the new partnership to expand APT's European river cruising itineraries, as well as expedition cruising to Antarctica and the Arctic. APT's owner Geoff McGeary says the company's growth rate for European river cruising last year alone was in the order of 36 per cent, making expansion through partnership a perfect fit. Expedition cruises to Antarctica will begin next year. APT is also starting a 'destination-hopping' tour of the US west coast, with passengers using private planes and private airports. See aptouring.com.au.

A bigger splash

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is predicting one of the biggest and longest whale-watching seasons in years. The marine fauna co-ordinator and whale expert at NPWS, Geoff Ross, says the coast will soon be teeming with humpback, southern right and minke whales as they make their way from Antarctica to breeding waters in Queensland, Fiji and Tonga.

An increase in dolphins and fur seals is also predicted. "We're expecting to see anything from a 10 per cent to 20 per cent increase in migrating whales on top of last year's numbers, which represented a 17 per cent increase on what we saw in 2010," he says.

Jervis Bay dolphin- and whale-watching operator Matt Cross, who runs Dolphin Watch Cruises and Jervis Bay Whales, says there is a continual flow of whales from mid-May to the end of November. Peak times include June - July for the northern migration and September - October for the southern migration.

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Key whale-viewing areas along the east-Australian coast include Warrnambool in Victoria; Eden, Jervis Bay, Sydney, Port Stephens and Byron Bay in NSW; and Hervey Bay in Queensland.

Meanwhile, the NPWS is asking tourists to help track whales by reporting sightings to wildaboutwhales.com.au, which has an interactive map of whale locations. See jervisbaywhales.com.au.

Canadian coast by rail

The train of Le Massif de Charlevoix has started its spring-summer season on the 140-kilometre route between Quebec City and the resort town of La Malbaie in Canada. Created from restored 1950s railcars, the train runs along the St Lawrence River and passes waterfalls, seaside towns and mountain scenery. Same-day return rail packages include the Escape to La Malbaie, which leaves Montreal at 9am and returns at 8.25pm. The package costs $C275 ($265) and includes sightseeing at Baie-Saint-Paul, breakfast and a four-course dinner. It's also possible to stay overnight along the route. The train is the brainchild of Cirque du Soleil co-founder Daniel Gauthier and made its inaugural run last September. See lemassif.com/en/train.

All aboard, full stop

The author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, Lynne Truss, will be a lecturer aboard the Sydney to Hong Kong leg of Silver Whisper's 115-day world cruise next year. BBC journalist Michael Buerk will join the Los Angeles to Sydney leg and Nigel West, historian and author of At Her Majesty's Secret Service, sails the Cape Town to Fort Lauderdale leg. The cruise departs from LA on January 5. See silversea.com.

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