Swimming with whale sharks is on the bucket list of many travellers, and it is on North Star Cruises' new itinerary to West Papua's Cenderawasih Bay. Encounters with sharks up to 12 metres long are commonplace, says the general manager of North Star, Peter Trembath, and the Indonesian government recently granted permission for the company's vessels to enter the bay's waters, known to be rich with migratory fish.
The bay forms part of the Cenderawasih Marine Park, which attracts more than 200 fish species, including butterfly, parrotfish and anemones, and four turtle species.
Whale sharks are known to feed from the nets of local fishermen, as seen in the video above.
The on-board naturalist for North Star, Dr Andy Lewis, says the behaviour is unsual and that he has never seen it anywhere else.
The whales are resident in the region and the local fishermen have established a relationship with them. Dr Lewis says they have fed from the nets for at least five years and possibly much longer. The locals view the whale shark as a good luck omen.
Whale sharks eat a diverse array of zooplankton, including small crustaceans, jelly fish and coral spawn - and easy feeds of fish when they can get them.
Trembath says it will be observation and photography only for cruise passengers, who can snorkel in water at temperatures that average 26 degrees. Exposure suits are not necessary and time in the water is virtually unlimited. A 10-day cruise includes taking in the Amsterdam Islands, where divers can explore the Junkyard - World War II wrecks that were scuttled by the US Navy and sit in about 30 metres of clear water. The Cenderawasih Bay voyage begins in October and costs from $18,495 a person, twin share, which includes return chartered flights from Darwin to Sorong in West Papua. See northstarcruises.com.au.
Chicago stands tall
The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago in the US is in the No.1 spot on VirtualTourist.com's recently released list of top skywalks. Formerly known as the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower's skydeck offers unobstructed views of Chicago and on a clear day views stretch as far as the state's borders. Built in 2009, The Ledge extends several metres out from the 412-metre-high 103rd floor of Willis Tower.
At No.2 is the Grand Canyon's skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge overlooking the Colorado River at Grand Canyon West. No.3 is the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. No.4 is the Tianmen Mountain at Zhangjiajie, in China's Hunan province, where visitors wear sock booties because finding workers willing to clean the glass floor (at 1430 metres) is difficult. No.5 is the Shanghai World Financial Centre which, at 474 metres, is the world's highest enclosed observatory, with perhaps the finest views of the Bund. Europe gets a look-in at No.6 with the Top of Tyrol summit platform at the Stubai Glacier in Austria. At an altitude of 3200 metres, the mountain views are stunning. Visitors stand in what is known as a "suspended pulpit".
Gorge chopper takes flight
Visitors to Queensland's Carnarvon Gorge can now observe the 200-metre sandstone escarpment from above, with the launch of helicopter flights.
Carnarvon is about 740 kilometres from Brisbane via Toowoomba, Dalby, Roma and Injune or 510 kilometres from Gladstone via Biloela and Rolleston. Flights depart from the airstrip on the cattle property Bandana, about seven kilometres from the base of the gorge. Flight times range from 10 to 40 minutes and cost from $99 a person. See facebook.com/HeliCentral.
When plans turn to Ashes
Cricket tragics should note that more than 50 per cent of packages for the 2013 Ashes series for sale by the Cricket Australia Travel Office have already been snapped up. The tickets, all the more coveted in England as the grounds are smaller and the seats fewer than at Australian ovals, are available for the series start at Trent Bridge, Nottingham (July 10-14); Lord's, London (July 18-22); Old Trafford, Manchester (August 1-5); Riverside Ground, Durham (August 9-13); and the Oval, London (August 21-25).
Deals for the fourth and fifth Tests cost from $1557 a person, twin share, and include reserved match seating, six nights' accommodation, pre-match function and coach transfers for each day's play. See cricket.com.au/travel.
A break from the big smoke
Destination NSW, the state's tourist body, has turned its attention to eight Westfield shopping centres in an attempt to entice time-poor Sydneysiders to take a break from the city. About $1 million in accommodation vouchers for stays around the state, including in the Blue Mountains, Lord Howe Island, the Snowy Mountains and the south and north coasts, will be given away in shopping centres as part of the state's Make Some Our Time campaign. See visitnsw.com.
Guide to hidden treasure
Victoria's history and nature are examined in the first walking guide to the Goldfields Track, linking Ballarat and Bendigo. The 210-kilometre stretch is the longest shared-use track for mountain bike riders and walkers in the state. Published by the track's original volunteer band of builders, the Great Dividing Trail Association (GDTA), the guide has large-scale (1:25,000) contour maps, track notes and details of the area's transformation from indigenous times to its gold rush days.
The Goldfields Track (Em Press Publishing, $29.95). See gdt.org.au.
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