Australian Tour

Who doesn’t love a lighthouse? They recall the romance of ages past and simpler times. Some people enjoy the remoteness, others like the scenic locations.

The idea of lighting coastlines and harbors by fire to assist mariners dates back millennium. One of the early lighthouses is credited to Themistocles, c. 524–459 BCE, an Athenian politician and general, who established a lighthouse, which was a small stone column with a fire beacon at the harbor in Piraeus connected to Athens in the fifth century BCE.

In this day of GPS and satellites, the iconic symbol of the sea seems mostly relegated to the past. One estimate states that there are still more than 18,600 lighthouses worldwide, not all still in use and many are museums.

A rare rocky promontory on a sand island is home to one such lighthouse. Cape Moreton Lighthouse on the island of Moreton was the first lighthouse to be built in Queensland. It was constructed as a New South Wales light in 1857 before Queensland became a separate colony. It was built because of the increasing traffic to the northern coast. For a long time was the only light on 3,236 miles of coastline.

The entrance into Moreton Bay, near the island, is scattered with wrecks that attest the notoriousness of the bay. The tower was built using sandstone quarried on the island. The tower was added to in 1928. The original light source was oil wick, but it was converted in 1930 to pressurized acetylene gas. That was followed seven years later by a conversion to 240v electricity. Solar conversion took place in 1993.

The lighthouse sits on the northern point of Moreton Island. On the west side of the island is Tangalooma, which was the location of Queensland’s first and only whaling station from 1952 to 1962. Today, it serves as a small resort that serves mainly day trippers from Brisbane.

During our President’s Picks: Australia Down Under Canvas, you have the opportunity to take a ferry to Moreton Island to enjoy dolphin feeding or join in a 4WD tour of the island, which includes the lighthouse. You can also try sand tobogganing or simply relax at Tangalooma Resort.

Other happenings in this program include leisurely touring by bike of Brisbane, one of Australia’s oldest cities. It features more than 17 miles of scenic bicycle pathways surrounding the Brisbane River and city center. Explore Bamurru Plains, an extraordinary wilderness nestled on the coastal floodplains of the Mary River Delta just west of Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory. Learn about Margaret River wine region as well as savoring a smorgasbord of great foods, boutique breweries and colorful arts and crafts galleries. In Bouddi National Park, take in an Indigenous Didgeridoo Smoking Ceremony and relish a guided tour hosted by traditional Aboriginal Elder.

Quite simply, the 15-day President’s Picks: Australia Down Under Canvas features enough activities from private cooking classes to a gourmet wine tour of the Hunter Valley Region, to kayaking and paddle boarding, to please almost any traveler to Australia.


P.S…. After one canceled flight, one schedule change and a forced over, Big Five’s pres is in LA, still trying to get to Australia. Maybe tonight, Ashish? Stay tuned for more of the big guy’s travel adventures.

Brazil Private Tour

Or, should I say a hidden gem? Actually, it is both. The name Chapada Diamantina can be translated as the Diamond Highlands.  It sits smack at the geographical center of the state Bahia, 249 miles from Salvador, Brazil.

If you love hiking through deep valleys and canyons, past stunning peaks, swimming in natural pools, then the isolated Chapada Diamantina National Park is clearly for you. Explore dramatic caves such as Lapa Doce.  Formed by an underground river, the cave system runs over 14 miles. Some of the chambers have 66-foot ceilings. Discover unique aquatic plants and fish in the river and the beautiful lake. Not far away is Pratinha’s crystal lake with opportunities to zip line or snorkel inside Pratinha Cave; and the impressive Devil’s Pool Waterfall beckons you to take a swim.

This seems like the perfect place to get lost for a time, but the trick is to find it. You’ll need to get out your GPS to discover its location – or just ask us.

The park is close to Salvador, yet few outside the area know about it. This was not always the case. The first inhabitants of these mountains were the indigenous Brazilians. It was not discovered by Europeans until the early 1700s. The Portuguese crown was aware of gold in the northern area of Chapada Diamantina so by 1720 the government had legalized gold mining, so the quest for more gold went on for two centuries. A mere 12 years later, the Portuguese discovered diamonds were in the mountains but they did not go after them for fear of Spain’s intervention.

In 1844, a gravel of diamonds was discovered near the town of Mucugê, which brought adventurers, cowboys and all manner of get-rich characters. Lençóis, Mucugê and Andaraí were the most important booming diamond cities.  But by the end of the century the diamond boom pretty much went bust along with these new towns.

But nature has given the region a second chance, having blessed these mountains with lavish waterfalls with countless cascades, where you can swim all year round in the many pools and falls because the sun is very strong both in summer and winter.  There are also opportunities to do some ziplining abd.

If you want to relax a bit, you can take a break in some of the small towns of Chapada such as Lençois, which offers museums, a variety of restaurants and art galleries. Every year between August and September there is a “City Festival” with concerts, expositions and parties.

You will want to make sure you set your GPS to find this still relatively unknown diamond. Begin your Brazil exploration here.

Note: As of June 17, 2019, Brazil will no longer require visas for U.S. and Canadian citizens.  



Vietnam Private Exploration

If helicopters make you nervous, and luxurious cars intimidate you, and the presidential suite scares your wallet, well then, you better stop here. This Vietnam Private Exploration probably isn’t for you. The seven-day journey is about discovering unique Vietnam in inimitable style with VIP airport services, fine dining at one of Hanoi’s finest French restaurants, luxe accommodations and more.

That doesn’t mean you’ll miss the everyday side of life in Vietnam. On the contrary, on your first early morning, you get a glimpse of people in the park at Hoan Kiem Lake as they perform their daily ritual practicing tai chi and aerobics. You can join the locals if you like before settling in with a cup of Vietnam’s distinctive ‘Egg coffee’.

Meet fascinating ‘outsiders’ who call Vietnam home such as French-born Réhahn, a noted photographer based in Hoi An. He is widely known for his portraits that “capture emotions and people’s souls.” He has a special interest in the heritage of Vietnam’s 54 indigenous tribes. As he visited the tribes of northern Vietnam, he saw these diverse cultures and understood how quickly these cultures were disappearing. In January 2017, he opened the Precious Heritage Art Gallery Museum, showcasing these ethnic groups traditions and heritage through their traditional costumes, dialects, rites and ancestral knowledge. Some of the traditional costumes were given to him by the chiefs of the tribal communities because they, too, can see that their lifestyles are slowly vanishing.

And for a truly singular encounter, meet Nguyen Hong My in his Hanoi home for tea and talk. As a young man at engineering college, Hong My was approached to take a test. That changed his life. He was sent to flight school in Russia. He returned one of only 120 qualified fighter pilots in the country. He took to the skies to defend his country. You have a rare opportunity to listen someone who was on the other side of our war with his country and gain a rare look at a different perspective. Spend time with him in his home looking through old photographs, books and testimonials. His war stories are fascinating, but his post-war story is possibly more so. Some 30 years later, he met two Americans – the US pilot that he shot down and the US pilot who shot him down! Remarkably, the three men are friends today.

Savor a private cooking class with the Academy Chef focusing on Hanoi cuisine. You are guided through the heart of the oldest and busiest market in Hoi An to gain insights into Vietnamese food found in the old quarter’s myriad of street stalls.

See Saigon from one of the classic rooftop bars in Saigon with panoramic views of this frenetic city while you sample an array of cocktails and delicious snacks and close out the day in your Presidential Suite.

From a five-star speedboat down the Saigon River to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, to a helicopter over serene Halong Bay with its towering limestone stacks, their bushy tops rarely seen from this perspective, to luxury vehicles in the larger cities, you will be pampered, Vietnamese style!

Even if you have been there before, Vietnam Private Exploration will make you rethink your ideas about what is possible in Southeast Asia.

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