Path of the Gods

Words by Angela Terrell

For beauty, beaches and lemons, look no further than the Amalfi Coast, the Italian seaside escape synonymous with summer and the sweet life.

We set off as the sun’s soft rays kissed the mountaintops, its tendrils turning the spectacular limestone cliffs golden. Birds heralded the waking day while church bells welcomed early worshippers. Having ably contended with the 534 steep stairs down to the local beach the day before, we thought a quick 1,000 step climb skywards before breakfast would be a breeze.

Our jaunt rapidly became a quest. Stairs hewn from ancient stone rose tortuously, clinging to the land like veins on the heart, ours soon pounding with effort. We rounded corners breathlessly seeking the next Station of the Cross, a constant reminder of the area’s sanctity, but under the rising sun a tantalising promise of sublime destinations and a chance to pause. Old ladies burdened with shopping bags put us to shame by stoically climbing alongside us, stopping only momentarily to pray at grottos along the way.

Finally, with feet firmly on the ground yet spirits soaring, we reached the Sentiero degli Dei, the Path of the Gods. Still used as a mule track by locals who live and farm at these perilous heights, it’s from here that the true magnificence of the Amalfi Coast is revealed. Linking Bomerano with Nocelle, the route passes through olive groves, Mediterranean scrub and chestnut woods, with scattered shepherding ruins adding poignancy to the scene.

Life here continues unchanged by the passage of time. We listened to goat bells echoing across the cliff face and families chattering as they tended vines steadfastly growing on terraces sculpted to provide precious arable land in this dramatic landscape for each generation. Spirit and tradition are carved into the hills themselves.

The path appears to float above the world in an almost celestial way. Far below is the glistening Tyrrhenian and the rickety wooden handrail, although precarious, guided tentative footsteps as hypnotising views were absorbed. Dramatic plunging cliffs line the coast and Capri’s Faraglioni Rocks and the Li Galli Islands can be glimpsed against the horizon where the azure sky and turquoise water meet. Positano nestles peacefully across the bay, immense mountains dwarfing the brilliant buildings all seemingly piled upon each other and cascading down to the sea. Below is a flurry of activity with fishing boats and luxury cruisers leaving artistically patterned wakes swirling in the water.

With this remarkable panorama etched into our psyche and the sun high we turned back towards Casa
Angelina in search of a well-deserved breakfast. Enjoying one of the best views on the coast, this boutique hotel hugs the mountainside at the end of a twisting driveway that tests even the bravest of Italian drivers. Here cutting edge design is paramount and, instead of appearing incongruous in the ancient landscape, the hotel’s clean lines, all-white interiors and soaring windows are a perfect framework for the canvas of natural beauty beyond.

Created to be a relaxing yet opulent villa for guests to enjoy, Casa Angelina also showcases the owner’s private art collection. An involvement in toy manufacturing could explain the whimsical nature of the objects d’art, vibrantly playful Murano glass sculptures and Impressionist-inspired paintings that adorn this tranquil space. Pieces such as smiling moon-men lamp bases and flower-filled table tops add to the enjoyment of staying here – and the sense you’re residing within an ever-changing art installation.

Pristine white furnishings maintain the calming palette in the expansive rooms. Beachside fishermen’s cottages have been converted into apartments for those requiring solitude, but no matter the accommodation, never ending sea views ensure constant tranquillity and ‘barefoot luxe’ encourages you to feel simultaneously extravagant and content.

The outdoor terrace of Un Piano Nel Cielo Restaurant allows meals to be enjoyed above soaring seagulls. Breakfast, designed to be brunch, meets all tastes, but after our arduous morning we particularly enjoyed tasting creamy fior di latte, a mozzarella crafted by locals residing in the hills we had just climbed. Later, as lights from Positano twinkle across the water, this window to the world transforms into a candlelit haven where chef Vincenzo Vanacore wields his magic – the La Gavitella tasting menu is a must.

Little can prepare you for the spectacular beauty of the Costiera Amalfitana. This 50 kilometre stretch of coastline claims to be Europe’s most beautiful and it’s hard to disagree. Cantilevered takes on new meaning here with glamorous hotels and bougainvillea-bedecked villas suspended mid-air. Driving along the corniche with its 1,000 hairpin bends is literally breathtaking and the bus drivers who negotiate precipitous corners over plummeting cliffs are miracle-workers; although you’re unlikely to see them bat an eyelid.

A maritime republic once rivalling Venice, the town of Amalfi was virtually destroyed by a tsunami in 1343, but young aristocrats following the Grand Tour of the 18th century ensured its rediscovery. Today tourism merges with the age old lifestyle as bright orange beach umbrellas flutter over timber fishing boats readied for the morning’s catch and tourists sip Campanellos alongside chess playing locals.

A melange of buildings flow down the cloud-capped mountainside to the bustling harbour and the glazed majolica roof of Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea dominates the town. Piazza Duomo is the place to watch the passing parade. Cyclists fill water bottles from the resplendent fountain’s sculpted marble breasts and gelato is savoured whilst sitting on the imposing staircase leading to the Duomo’s golden façade.

Following a map is pointless; roaming is the way to discover the real beauty. Cobbled streets become passageways wending their way betwixt and between pastel-hued buildings and, as you wander under fluttering washing, the spirited sounds of life echo off timeworn walls.

Many charming towns adorn this coastline but Praiano, where we had embarked on our adventurous morning climb, is a gem. Almost tourist-free, this former fishing village near Positano is the only town on the coast where the sun is enjoyed morning to dusk and fiery sunsets are watched from either of its two beaches, La Praia or La Gavitella. Life at the beach is as bright as the bougainvillea. Local boys dance, Campari in hand, to music bouncing over the waves, hoping to draw the attention of girls sun-bathing nearby. Watermelon hour sees the ceremonial ‘cutting of the melon’, everyone sharing in the dripping sweetness of the fruit before washing off the excess in the warmth of the sea. Cosmopolitan life is the essence of this rocky hamlet.

Atrani is reached by following a meandering pathway from Amalfi. Its timeless charm is pervasive, the beach welcoming and the cheerful piazza full of cafes serving limoncello and local delicacies. From the piazza narrow alleyways lead up to the Valley of the Dragon path. Steep, winding and sometimes filled with grazing goats, it takes you through terraces of luscious lemons and sun-ripened vegetables to lofty Ravello.

For centuries artists, writers, musicians and Hollywood stars have been drawn to this fantastic location – and the charm is evident. The town square appears to be perched on top of the world, and from one of its many cafes you can savour a spritz and watch the promenading of locals and tourists alike. The music-centric Ravello Festival takes place in the showpiece gardens of Villa Rufolo, once boasting more rooms than days in the year. Flowerbeds, palm trees and newly discovered Roman baths adorn the picturesque gardens, many of which seem to float like clouds over the sea far below.

The magical gardens of Villa Cimbrone are designed in the English aesthetic to reinterpret the Roman villa. Mixing exotic and local vegetation with fountains and nymphs, they are both theatrical and grandiose, and the Avenue of Immensity leading to the Terrace of Infinity are breathtaking examples of redefined Roman opulence. With such an evocative name the Terrace of Infinity, adorned with marble busts suspended high over the Gulf of Salerno, has a magnificence that is in no way understated. The view indeed appears infinite and standing by the balustrade you feel insignificant yet strangely calm.

The Amalfi Coast is more than picture-perfect, it has an intensity that seduces. The colours of the landscape are deeper, the expansive sky is bluer and the mesmerising panoramas wider. And of course the stairs are definitely steeper.

Loch Lomond

As lovers of literature, escape and Scotland in general we were delighted to come across a new series of literary guides for travellers from I.B.Tauris. When it comes to independent travel, with a dash of history, these books are sure to inspire a spot of creative wanderlust. Below is an extract from Garry MacKenzie‘s guide to Scotland, a delightful read that explores the literary allure of Loch Lomond. We’ve run it with a selection of images from our own Scotland magazine – oh to return to those bonnie braes! 

Jules Verne, the famed French author of Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, loved Scotland and even claimed Scottish ancestry. He set three of his lesser-known novels in the country. The earliest of these is a fictionalised account of his own travels in Scotland in 1859, a work that lay forgotten for well over a century before being rediscovered and published in France in 1989. In 1992, Janice Valls-Russell’s English translation, titled Backwards to Britain, was released. Verne’s impressions of Scotland are narrated by a character named Jacques Lavaret, who travels with a friend from Edinburgh to Glasgow and then on to the Trossachs, visiting landmarks such as Arthur’s Seat, Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis. Jacques, like Verne, is passionately excited about being in Scotland, to the extent that he even waxes lyrical about a steam-operated sausage machine in a Glasgow butcher’s window: ‘“What a people,” Jacques exclaimed. “What genius to apply steam to charcuterie! No wonder the British are the masters of the world!”’ Upon reaching Loch Lomond, the two travellers sail from Balloch, on the southern shore, and Jacques can’t help being reminded of ‘his favourite novels’, including Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, and anyone seeking similarities between Verne’s writing and that of Scott will and them in this description of the loch:

The first, overwhelming impression of Loch Lomond is of countless delightful islands of every shape and size imaginable. The Prince Albert weaved its way between them, skirting their rugged outlines and revealing a myriad different countrysides: here a fertile plain, there a solitary glen, elsewhere a forbidding ravine bristling with age-old rocks. Ancient legends clung to every shore, and the history of this land is written in these gigantic characters of islands and mountains.

The large area of Loch Lomond, and its position on the Highland Boundary Fault, mean that it feels less like a single body of water than like a series of interconnected lochs with changing characteristics. At its southern end it’s broad and surrounded by fields and parkland. As Verne points out, there are numerous islands, some of which are inhabited and many of which can be visited on boat trips. The south of Loch Lomond is busy with yachts and jet skis; on a sunny day the villages and pubs on its shores are filled with Glaswegians escaping the city.

The northern half of the loch is very different. About a third of the way up it narrows, and slopes rise on either side for almost 1,000 metres to form the mountains of Ben Lomond and Ben Vorlich. Lochside fields give way to wooded crags and banks of ferns. There are fewer pleasure boats on the water. On the eastern bank the road ends altogether at the hamlet of Rowardennan and only a rough footpath continues northwards to another settlement, Inversnaid. In Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, the rough country to the east of Loch Lomond is the territory of the eponymous outlaw, a real historical figure whom Scott describes as a Robin Hood character, a ‘kind and gentle robber’. Rob Roy MacGregor lived in the early eighteenth century and was both a cattle drover and, latterly, a cattle thief who earned a living by rustling. He’s the presiding spirit, but not really the hero, of Scott’s novel. Instead much of the action follows Frank Osbaldistone, a young Englishman caught up in intrigue involving Jacobites.

Such was the popularity of Scott’s Highland romance that countless tourists sought out its landscapes for themselves. ‘We ought to traverse the district novel in hand,’ says one Victorian guidebook of ‘Rob Roy’s country’, searching for locations such as ‘the precise spot where Francis Osbaldistone for a moment pressed the flushed cheek of Diana Vernon’. In the summer of 1817, the year before the novel was published, Scott came here himself, visiting ‘Rob Roy’s Cave’, not far from Inversnaid. The cave is one of countless landmarks in the area associated with Rob, an indication of his reputation as a folk hero. It’s allegedly one of his hideouts, though there might be little truth in this – it’s really just a cleft in a pile of boulders, and for visitors today the solitude of the location is more rewarding than the cave itself. Scott himself may have been disappointed by the cave, as he didn’t even mention it in his novel. For those seeking the real Rob Roy, a good place to start is Balquhidder, a quiet village an hour’s drive north of Aberfoyle, at the eastern end of Loch Voil. Rob Roy farmed at Balquhidder and his grave lies in the village church.

For hikers on the West Highland Way, the 100-mile footpath from Glasgow to Fort William, Inversnaid is something of an oasis, the only natural stopping point on the lochside on the rough path north from Rowardennan, and the site of a hotel and a cosy bunkhouse. In 1881 a young Jesuit priest based in Glasgow, Gerard Manley Hopkins, stopped briefly at Inversnaid. Hopkins found life in the big city oppressive and came north with a yearning for wilderness. His poem ‘Inversnaid’, with his distinctive rhythmical stresses, is a brilliant evocation of the sounds, colours and movements of the waterfall at the edge of this hamlet where Arklet Water cascades into Loch Lomond:

This darksome burn, horseback brown,

His rollrock highroad roaring down,

In coop and in comb the eece of his foam

Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

[. . .]

What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and wilderness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wilderness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Today a bridge crosses in front of the waterfall, affording spectacular views. Inversnaid itself is difficult to reach – visitors must either walk here from Rowardennan, navigate a long and twisting road from Aberfoyle or take a ferry from Tarbet on the western shore. As a proto-environmentalist Hopkins would be pleased that Inversnaid now lies within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which was established in 2002.

 

There are less than 30 copies of the Lodestars Anthology Scotland magazine remaining and you can grab your copy here.

To get your hands on one of these brilliant guides from I.B. Tauris click here, the code Lodestars30 will also get you 30 percent off. Brilliance. 

The Crater of Java

Photo essay by Lucy Saunders

Travelling across Java from the heavily-populated, humid bird markets of Malang I reached what felt like the edge of civilisation. The road spiralled upwards, climbing through coffee plantations and rice fields. Houses thinned along the dusty roadside and transport-wise, horses replaced motorbikes. Tired but exhilarated, I arrived at an ash plane where Mount Bromo, a 2,329 metre active volcano, stood before me – beautiful and intimidating in equal measure. As a travel photographer and writer, I felt it was my mission to scale it; and oddly, the climb to its crater was surprisingly easy. The scorching sun made the ascent uncomfortable but, knowing that I was the one to suggest this off-the-beaten-track adventure, I had to stay motivated for those who followed me.

Reaching its summit in under an hour felt like an achievement, although the final push was yet to come. At the top of the volcano the ledge was small, with no barrier stopping you from falling into its mouth, and I found myself considering each footstep, constantly aware of my body and surrounds. All the while Mount Bromo remained vocal, its insides grumbling away should you peer over the edge. The ashy smoke which bellowed into the sky coated my clothing in an orange-grey fleck. That said, the view here is like nothing else; the cliff-edges behind us became apparent, the houses in the distance were almost indistinguishable, and the ground seemed rippled like a river. The solitude in such a vast space felt other-worldly.

As the evening settled, I slept for a few hours before waking and donning my walking boots once more. In the darkness I climbed the hillside opposite Mount Bromo, a head torch illuminating the path before me. Hiking at night the heat was kept to a minimum and reaching the summit the temperature dropped considerably. But I was almost too lost in the scenery to notice. I aimed to hit the summit for a front row seat of the sunrise illuminating Mount Bromo’s crater side and, arriving on time, the view was breathtaking as I’d imagined – dawn colours dancing across the golden terrain. Should you get the change to witness this spectacle know that it’s a view sure to completely encompass you. Both spiritual and ethereal, it’s not a sight I’ll soon forget.  

You can see more of Lucy’s work here, or by following her on Instagram here.

Lausanne

Not all city breaks are created equal. Some come with that golden combination of sun, history, culture, wine, fondue and a lake sure to quicken your heartbeat. Switzerland’s Lausanne is a city with heart. Known as the Olympic Capital (for this is the event’s epicentre), it sits majestically upon Lake Geneva. And my word is it elegant – after all, this was the city Coco Chanel called home for a decade. Found across the water from the French town of Évian-les-Bains (the soon-to-be star of our France issue), this is where you venture to encounter the Europe of yesteryear.

My weekend escape began in Café de Grancy, a homely neighbourhood restaurant with a shabby-chic vibe, plenty of natural sunlight and a killer menu full of classic dishes done very, very well – my personal recommendation being the salmon carpaccio. My sweet tooth not quite sated by their generous dessert cheese plate alone, I wandered over to fair-trade friendly Chocolaterie Durig where, as part of an intimate workshop, I created a giant chocolate squirrel (displaying all the artistic prowess of a drunk five year old), sampling as many truffles as I could while still appearing civilised. Should you find yourself in the city, do not leave without devouring a Durig passionfruit caramel or their Mexican blend, made from spices, almonds and Madagascan vanilla. Though, as the Swiss did invent milk chocolate, perhaps you should tackle a block of that too. 

Lausanne is a city for foodies that’s conveniently surrounded by an abundance of local producers. So, whatever your culinary preference, you’re sure to find something delectable – be it served up from a food cart, as part of a festival or at a three-starred Michelin restaurant. That said, when it came to my evening meal I kept things traditional with a soul-lifting fondue from Café du Grülti, promenading locals providing all the entertainment needed. Should you have a fondness for waterfronts and exercise, factor in a Sunday brunch at Jetée de la Compagnie. While this trendy venue holds events throughout the week – and is where locals head for a post work summer drink – on Sundays fitness classes take over the surrounding boardwalk before participants feast of the their simple set menu. 

There is no shortage of luxurious hideaways perfect for the resting of weary heads, although I fell a little in love with the newly-refurbished Hôtel Royal-Savoy. Built in the chateaux style – with plenty of Art Nouveau overtones – it was once part of the European Grand Tour and is very much etched into the history of Lausanne. Now, thanks to the renovation, modern flourishes abound. There is a shisha-serving cigar lounge, outdoor terrace and rooftop bar – aptly named the Sky Lounge – gallery-esque lobby, sun-kissed swimming pool and a spa that is almost like a Russian doll for there is inviting treatment space upon inviting treatment space. And while the hotel rooms may be the epitome of modern decadence, original stonework and stained glass remain. 

An eight minute train ride from central Lausanne are the UNESCO Lavaux Vineyard Terraces – and while I must confess that I wasn’t aware of Switzerland’s wine lineage pre-visit, you can now count me a convert. The flavours are crisp and clean, more New World than you’d typically associate with this corner of Europe, and here the soil is so varied that should you sample wine produced 100 metres apart, the characteristics will be entirely different. Originally built by monks in the 12th century, the terrace design allows the grapes to be heated in three ways – from the light reflected off the water, the sun itself and the heat from the terrace walls – the process known as the triple sun effect. I admired the watery vista and cascading vines from the cellar door of the Domaine Croix-Duplex vineyard. For an equally spectacular vantage point, take to Lake Generva aboard CGN‘s gourmet cruise at sunset.

But Lausanne is not all history and tradition. The nightlife and bar scene doesn’t disappoint (for this head to Quartier du Flon, made up of converted warehouses) and the year is filled with festivals. Lausanne Estivale may be the best example of this – a 10 week extravaganza made up of 400 free events. While there is always something on throughout summer, many museums are free on the first Sunday of every month year round. Should such cultural institutions appeal, be sure to visit Musée de l’Elysée, dedicated entirely to photography, and the impressive Olympic Museum, a site that is more moving than you may expect. 

Or just act like a local at the markets that operate outside the Town Hall every Wednesday and Saturday. A hive of activity and filled with enticing produce (you can get treats throughout the week from Globus or La Ferme Vaudoise should your visit miss market day), it’s almost as buzzing as the Lake Geneva waterfront. 

Built on three hills – each of which bears a religious structure – architecturally Lausanne is a juxtaposition of styles. It began life as a fishing village, grew into a Roman settlement and then emerged as an agricultural centre. To get a sense of this history join a guided city tour (mine was with Hilary Bales), designed to reveal the beauty of the city and its most iconic structure – the 13th Century Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne. One of the third largest cathedrals in Europe and found on the Camino de Santiago, here you’ll spy, among stained glass and the ravages of time, one of the world’s most impressive organs. Designed to look like an angel with outstretched wings, the 40 tonne instrument, which took ten years to build and install, is used for select services and the concerts held here every Friday. 

A city break can be a glorious thing – a chance to dine, dance and encounter some of the world’s most beguiling destinations. Should you desire such an escape, Lausanne will never disappoint.

lausanne-tourisme.ch

Lofoten

Words and photographs by Lise Ulrich

Driving around the archipelago of Lofoten in the Norwegian county of Nordland on a midsummer’s day is at once as wondrous and soul soothing an experience as it is near exhausting for the shutter-happy landscape photographer.

Jam-packed with jagged mountaintops, majestic fiords, quaint fishing villages and coloured wooden houses, Lofoten deserves every bit of the hype it’s generating as one of Norway’s most spectacular points of interest – and in a country known for its overall natural splendour, that is saying quite a lot.

In June, Lofoten bursts with every nuance of green, patches of yellow, white and blue flowers sprinkled in the fields. But watch out for those low-hanging clouds; volatile weather changes are common on the archipelago and a mild summer breeze can turn into a menacing gale in minutes, dramatically transforming the waters and colours of the fiords to the sounds of eagle cries above.

Despite being located a whopping 1,364 kilometres north of capital Oslo and well above the Arctic Circle (most visitors fly in from the city of Bodø), Lofoten’s largest town Svolvær, with a population of about 4,200, is bustling, with many young families and creatives moving to the area. Once you have experienced the archipelago for yourself, you will seriously consider joining them.

Taking to the waters of Trollfjorden is a must on Lofoten. Surrounded by steep mountainsides and rocky cliffs, the fiord is an ideal place for spotting eagles as well as absorbing some local history: A vicious battle was fought here in 1890 when the first industrial, steam-driven fishing ships and teams of traditional open-boat fishermen rowed over access to the fiord. One guess as to who came out victorious.

Although a tiny fishing village with only 500 residents, Henningsvær boasts an internationally renowned modern art museum, Kaviar Factory, as well as a surprisingly hip bohemian vibe thanks to a steady influx of rock climbers and surfers alike.

Explore Lofoten like the old settlers did: On horseback. Back in the day, seafaring Vikings actually imported the sturdy Icelandic horses from Lofoten to Iceland. Hovhestegard.no

In the village of Vikten, visitors can sample local glassware at Glasshytta Vikten.

The minute village of Nusfjord, population 37, is one of the oldest fishing villages in Norway, with houses dating back to the early 1800s.

Paradise Found

When the winds stir up and clouds descend, it is an island that offers sanctuary – among other deep-sea and earthy delights.

Words & Photographs by Lucy Howard-Taylor

702 kilometres northeast of Sydney, at the intersection of five ocean currents and a submerged continental rib, thrusts forth the remains of an ancient shield volcano. Eroded over seven million years to one fortieth of its original size, Lord Howe Island rises like a wind-shorn jewel from the waters of the Tasman Sea; eleven kilometres long by as little as three hundred metres wide, a vibrant blue-green, its twin peaks capped in cloud. From the sky, the island almost looks like the mossed jawbone of some long-extinct creature given up by the sea.

It may be less than a two hour flight from the crush of Sydney, but the moment you step from the Dash-8 onto the tarmac of Lord Howe’s only airstrip, there is a palpable sense of remoteness. There is no mobile reception on the island and no traffic lights (with next to no cars, bicycles silently reign supreme), but the lack of modern conveniences one might mistake for essential cannot wholly account for the subtle separation felt upon arriving in this UNESCO World Heritage listed property. It is disarmingly beautiful, in an unruly, enveloping way that robs you of words. But there is a strangeness to this wilderness too, with its opalescent lagoon fringed with coral, its deep green canopies of kentia palms, cowrie-studded beaches and panoply of birds.

Travelling in the middle of winter to a subtropical island and the world’s southernmost coral reef may seem perverse, but Lord Howe wore its wild weather hat well. On the tarmac I was left breathless by a brisk wind that tasted of salt and wet leaves. In bed that first night, with large fronds bashing each other outside my window, the roar of the trade winds was almost animal. During the day rain rolled in with no warning and cleared just as suddenly, leaving everything glistening. A wind cheater was essential, and should you go out at night, a torch: there are no streetlights here and the inky completeness of the darkness, broken by a milky wash of stars, took this city dweller by surprise. First things first, hire a bike, even if like me you cannot ride one. With only 360 permanent residents, a maximum of 400 tourists at any one time and 13 kilometres of undulating scenic road, there is ample opportunity for a novice to practice unobserved. Pack a picnic and ride to the preternaturally still and secluded Old Settlement Beach, where three men, three women and two boys came to live in 1833, trading with passing vessels. Or pop over to Ned’s Beach where you can snorkel among fantastically coloured coral gardens (there is an honesty box for hiring gear), or wade closer to shore and hand-feed swarms of tropical fish with names like Silver Drummer and Spangled Emperor. At dusk, throngs of muttonbirds return to their burrows in the low-lying palm forests nearby. As sunset arrives, their distinctive, searching cries can approach an almost human wailing.

These pristine waters host some of the best diving in the world, with an unearthly sunken landscape of volcanic drop-offs, trenches and caves lined with black coral trees, branching gorgonians and over 90 varieties of luxuriant subtropical coral. For those for whom the prospect of coming face to face with the blue teeth of a Harlequin Tuskfish in an underwater canyon sounds vaguely terrifying, you can charter a glass-bottomed boat instead and enjoy the spectacle dry and unmolested from the crystalline surface of the lagoon.

At the southernmost end of Lagoon Road is the start of the Little Island Track, which follows the shoreline to the black basalt cliffs of Mount Lidgbird. Lord Howe is a walker’s delight and this marked and level track meanders its way past picturesque Lovers Bay and through thickly crowded valleys of soughing kentia palms (keep your eyes peeled and you might see a native woodhen grunting happily in the shadows), to the base of the mountain and its stony shores of calcarenite and dark sea-sculpted rocks. Here, especially between March and October, you will see wheeling clouds of one of the world’s rarest seabirds, Providence petrels, diving over the cliffs as they chatter and return to breed. For the more energetically inclined walker, a climb to the scrubby top of Malabar Hill leads to one of the best views of the island and a dramatic scraggy drop to the sea. Alternatively, sign up for the famous day hike to the summit of Mount Gower, where you will find yourself among the twisted trees and inveterate mist of what the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage actually designates as Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest, which sounds more enchanted than ecological.

Enchantment is a recurring theme here. As the days pass, I discover that there is something about this island that is both calming and unexpectedly foreign, a wandering otherness that finds its way in on the throats of seabirds and endows plants with a luminous variety of green. The natural landscape is not only astonishingly lush – isolation, topographic peculiarity and igneous soils have spawned a paradise of ferns, palms, orchids and microhabitats – but feels unusually ancient, almost untouchable. Nowhere is this impression more powerful than in the broody Valley of the Shadows, where 20 metre high trees mottle the light. To stand alone amid this silent grove of banyans, their aerial roots muscling to the ground like the suspended legs of giants, is to realise the difference that is Lord Howe Island. It is to approach the primeval and be at home amongst the extraordinary.

From Lodestars Anthology Issue 3, Australia

Bolivia the Beautiful

Words and photographs by Kate McAuley.

Frozen fingers. Lonely flamingoes. Tufty scrubland. A dome of blue sky. Pastel lakes. Slow trains with white tablecloths and real china. Cheap beer. Hand-knitted alpaca wool socks. Salty pentagonals. And a light case of high altitude pulmonary oedema. These are just a handful of memories of Bolivia in late May.

I crossed the border on foot – from La Quiaca (Argentina) to Villazon (Bolivia) – and jumped on a leisurely train to Tupiza. From there, along with a guide called Elvis and an evangelical traveller preaching a new religion, we drove into the mountains.

For four days we travelled across stark plains and Martian desert scapes. We climbed high and gazed at geysers and braved the biting wind to paddle in geothermal pools. At night, while the the King of Rock practiced walking on his hands, my travelling companion did his best to convince me that God exists simply because so many people believe in her. In bed, with the temperatures plummeting to -10ºC, I tried (and failed) to keep warm under a pile of slippery sleeping bags.

In spite of their beauty and vast horizons, Bolivia’s Andean Highlands are sparsely populated – by humans and animals alike. A few small towns exist here and there – the locals who brave the weather are mostly employed to serve tourists or to farm. Infrastructure is minimal: hot showers are synonymous with luxury, WiFi is practically non-existent, and it’s lights out at 10pm. But what need did I have for these extraneous things in an environment where every twist and turn brought some new marvel to keep my curiosity, and cravings for my creature comforts, at bay?

The annual flamingo migration was coming to an end, so it was only a lazy few that we saw wading ankle deep through the many lakes we passed, scooping up algae with their hooked beaks while pondering where their hundreds of thousands of friends had gone. The only other animals we saw were the ubiquitous alpacas, replete with ear streamers and expressions of complete indifference.

After three nights spent at air-gulping altitudes, we got got up before sunset and dropped down onto the vast plateau of the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat. In all honesty, I thought this would be somewhat of an anti-climax, but as the sun rose and the crackly pentagonals began to appear, my wonder grew. Stark white in all directions, our colourful clothes, even my pale skin, in full contrast. If you ever want to feel both small and inconsequential, but so utterly connected to our earth, this is the place to visit.

Kate joined the basic four-day Tupiza-Uyuni tour with La Torre Tours.