Cruise Antarctica, shed light on the Philippines or find feathered friends: Takeoff travel news

CRUISE: Ship in Antarctica

Norwegian cruise company Hurtigruten has turned its eyes from its Arctic homeland to Antarctica, doubling its capacity to become the largest provider of explorer travel in the deep south. Currently, its small expedition ship MS Fram sails from Ushuaia, Argentina, but in 2016/17 it will be joined by sister ship MS Midnatsol. Carrying 500 passengers, the larger Midnatsol will start and end its journeys in Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia, and will include an interactive science lab and tailored children’s programs. Next season, MS Fram will carry just 200 guests, seeking new locations and extreme nature experiences such as camping among penguins and kayaking in seal and whale habitats. More than 36,000 people visited Antarctica in 2014-2015, the British base at Port Lockroy (and its famous post office) receiving more than 10,000 visitors. Australians make up the second-largest nationality of visitors to Antarctica after US citizens. Journeys on the MS Midnatsol are 18 days. See hurtigruten.com

GEAR: Shine a light on poverty
Help light the lives of those living on less than a dollar a day when you buy a new Mandarin 2 solar light. Australian manufacturer Illumination will donate one solar light to a family in poverty for every light sold. The social enterprise company says a billion people don’t have access to electricity, instead using kerosene lamps to work and study by. “Buying fuel for a kerosene lamp can take a third of their income, the kerosene fumes are toxic and polluting, and the lanterns often start fires,” says inventor and economist Shane Thatcher, whose BOGO (buy one, give one) offer gives safe, clean, free light to Filipino families, in conjunction with Kadasig Aid and Development (kadasigaid.com.au  ).  Ideal for travellers going off the beaten track, the pocket-sized Mandarin 2 weighs 160g, lasts up to 16 hours on a single charge and can be hung or stands as a table lamp. Costs $25.  See illumination.solar.  


TECH: Daydreaming? Do it!
Sleep hanging from a tree in a suspended tent, snooze in a Swedish silver mine or doss in a pop-up hotel in a former prison. The new Crooked Compass travel app lists more than 1000 unusual experiences across 134 countries, with maps, booking info and your own bucket-list creator. Developed by avid Australian traveller Lisa Pagotto, it also hooks up to Facebook and Twitter for instabrag capabilities and its ‘‘Experience of the Day’’ is a wild card that may set you on the path to underwater photography classes in Guam or horse-riding in Mongolia. The Crooked Compass app is available for iPhone and Android platforms, free. See crooked-compass.com.  

FOOD: Cocktails at the ready
London is enjoying a torrid affair with prebottled cocktails, in the swankiest possible way. For those of us on the paying side of the bar, that means less construction noise from blenders, a consistent drink and shorter waits. Leading the pre-mix cocktail charge is London light Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, whose third bar, Dandelyan, is in the Tom Dixon-designed Mondrian London (morganshotelgroup.com). In a stroke of genius, his little gems also appear in the hotel rooms’ minibars – did someone say, ‘‘Martinis in bed’’? Other bottled-cocktail bars to try while you’re in town include Grown-Ups, which pairs World of Zing’s bottled cocktails and gelato in Greenwich (black-vanilla.com), and The London Cocktail Club in Shaftesbury Ave (londoncocktailclub.co.uk). Otherwise, check yourself in to Artesian at The Langham, three times named Drinks International’s world’s best bar. Artesian launches its new cocktail list on July 2. The theme? Surrealism. See artesian-bar.co.uk. 
KIDS: Bunker down with feathered friends
Warning: cute alert. Get down at eye level with Phillip Island’s most famous residents, its Little Penguins, in a new underground bunker that opens in mid-November. The tiny penguins stand about 30cm fully grown, and you’ll be able to eyeball them one-way glass – as they come ashore at sunset after a hard day’s fishing. There’s also new above-ground seating for 400 people being built into the dunes as part of a five-year, $1 million investment by RACV into the not-for-profit Phillip Island Nature Parks. More than 600,000 people visited the eco-tourism venture last year, with profits invested back into conservation, research and education. The close-up Penguin Plus area won’t be available during the construction period, so with fewer seats available, visitors should pre-purchase tickets, especially during school holidays. The Penguin Parade is 90 minutes from Melbourne. General tickets cost from $25.40 adults, $12.25 children 4-12 years, and $61.25 families. See penguins.org.au.  


AIRLINES: Leave your heart in San Francisco
Skip Los Angeles and head directly for the Golden Gate city as Qantas brings back direct flights between Sydney and San Francisco from December 20. The airline cut the route in May 2011, opting instead to fly to its hub at Dallas, Texas. Qantas says the direct flights will be welcomed by Silicon Valley’s corporate customers, but San Fran is also beloved by Australian holidaymakers. Around 20 per cent of the 1.2 million Australians to visit the US pop in to San Francisco, which is our fifth most popular city after Honolulu, New York, LA and Vegas. Qantas will fly Boeing 747s to San Fran six times a week, with lie-flat beds in business and a premium economy section. The flight is estimated at around 14 hours, and goes head-to-head with United Airlines’ daily flight. Meanwhile, Qantas’ partner and oneworld friend American Airlines will pick up an LASydney route from December 17. See qantas.com, aa.com, visitcalifornia.com.  

The Takeoff travel news column by Belinda Jackson is published every Sunday in Sydney's Sun-Herald newspaper's Traveller section.  

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