The 2012 Olympics shone a spotlight on London, and in particular the massive revitalisation that is transforming the city’s east. While Olympic sites are undergoing extensive redevelopment and prepare to open to the public in 2013 and 2014, the area has plenty of other attractions showcasing the new East London, and the rest of the capital isn’t lagging behind, with major projects renovating two central areas.
East LondonQueen Elizabeth Olympic Park
North Park, the northern section of the newly named Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, is scheduled to reopen on 27 July 2013 – exactly a year after the Opening Ceremony wowed the world. Visitors will be able to enjoy landscaped gardens and some of the Olympic sporting venues, and the park will host a range of summer concerts and festivals, including Hard Rock Calling and the Wireless Festival.
For Easter 2014, the final stage of the £300 million revamp will see the opening of South Plaza, the southern extension of the park. South Park will include the Aquatics Centre, providing arguably the world’s most stylish place to swim, and the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower, Britain’s tallest sculpture, giving views across the whole park and beyond.
Until then the best way to get up close to the stadium and park is to take the DLR to Pudding Mill Lane and follow the signs for the View Tube, a series of yellow shipping containers that have been turned into an information centre and cafe, serving up excellent food alongside excellent views.
The View Tube sits conveniently on the Greenway, a bike- and pedestrian-only trail that connects the Olympic site with East London’s creative and cultural hub, Hackney. For years a rundown borough, today the area epitomises the rise of the east, with cool restaurants, bars and shops seemingly opening every day. London Fields and its renovated outdoor pool form a relaxing focus point, with Broadway Market to the south offering boutiques and cafes, and Kingsland Road to the west being the place to head for the best bars and nightlife.
Emirates Air Line & the O2
For a bird’s-eye perspective of all of East London’s redevelopment you’re spoilt for choice. If you have a head for heights and reasonably sturdy legs, Up at the O2 takes you to the top of the world’s largest tent where you can experience unique views of the Thames and all the new buildings along it, not least the ever-expanding Docklands skyscrapers to the west.
For a more leisurely overview hop on the Emirates Air Line cable car at either North Greenwich (next to the O2) or Royal Victoria (next to Royal Victoria DLR). Rising above the river, it offers a panorama across the whole city, particularly the Thames Barrier and City Airport. Right next to the Royal Victoria terminal is The Crystal, an informative, interactive exhibition on urban development in London and around the world.
The rest of LondonLondon Bridge & the Shard
One of the most famous parts of London, the area around London Bridge, was also for years one of its least interesting. Recently though, things have been looking up – literally. The biggest – and tallest – change in the area is the 310m-high Shard, Renzo Piano’s pointy skyscraper and the tallest building in Western Europe. The Shard contains offices, homes, the Shangri-La hotel and, from 1 February 2013, the View from the Shard, three vertigo-inducing galleries giving visitors unrivalled views across London.
Meanwhile, down at ground level, food-lovers’ heaven Borough Market is now firmly on the tourist to-do list, which has had a knock-on effect for the surrounding area, in particular nearby Bermondsey St, where traditional pubs nestle next to reserve-well-in-advance restaurants. A few minutes east of here, weekend buyers at the long-established Bermondsey antique markets now have some great lunch spots to choose from around Spa Terminus, a mini Borough Market for those in the know, with famous names such as Neal’s Yard Dairy and St John’s Bakery setting up business in the arches of the 150-year-old railway viaduct.
The biggest urban regeneration scheme in London, indeed Western Europe, is taking place in King’s Cross, once famous as the city’s red-light district but now halfway through a 25-year redevelopment program. One of the first places to recognise the area’s potential was the British Library, which relocated here in 1997 and is still a highlight for visitors with its exhibitions of manuscripts and books including Magna Carta and handwritten Beatles’ lyrics.
Next door, St Pancras Station is London’s greatest 19th-century neo-Gothic building (yes, even greater than the Houses of Parliament). Saved from demolition in the 1960s, it was restored in the early 2000s and is the terminus for national and international train services. A drink at the Champagne Bar is a wonderful way to enjoy the architecture.
Not to be outdone, neighbouring King’s Cross Station is in the middle of its own revamp, with ugly 20th-century additions to the 1852 building being removed to uncover its original Victorian grandeur. Behind the station, in what had been an industrial wasteland, major work is transforming an area the size of 60 football pitches into homes, offices, bars, shops and restaurants. The arrival of Central St Martins art college has brought a creative energy, helped along by nearby Kings Place arts centre complex. The Regent’s Canal that flows through the area has been spruced up and has the fascinating London Canal Museum on its banks. Be sure to pop into the very helpful Kings Cross Visitor Centre for more details.
An excellent source of information on redevelopment across London is the New London Architecture building in Bloomsbury. Housing temporary exhibitions alongside a permanent and impressive scale model of the capital and its major building projects, it’s a must for anyone with an interest in the city’s future.
Remote South Pacific islands you can visit (Niue, Pitcairn Island, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Wallis & Futuna) / 您可以到訪偏遠-南太平洋島嶼(紐埃，皮特凱恩島，托克勞，圖瓦盧，瓦利斯和富圖納群島)
Forget palm-fringed beaches – there aren’t any on Niue. Instead, strap on a mask and explore underwater landscapes including tunnels, an under-island cave system, reefs frequented by sea turtles and tangles of sea snakes at Snake Gully. Swim with spinner dolphins year-round or with humpback whales from May to October.
On land the island boasts and extensive and stunning cave system, trails though tropical forests to hilltops or secluded reef and some rugged, jungle mountain bike riding.
Getting there: Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com) flights currently depart once a week from Auckland and an additional weekly flight is planned starting in April 2013. You’ll want to hire a car to get around.
Stay: From the recently refurbished hilltop Matavai Resort to several smaller ‘motels’ (which are mostly self-contained cottages in magnificent settings) and guesthouses, there’s a lodging option for every budget.
Yarrr. If you’ve dreamed of a pirate adventure, Pitcairn Island, the hideout of the famous Bounty mutineers and now the last British South Pacific colony, is for you. Today the island’s population hovers around 55 and nearly everyone can trace their ancestry to one of the original mutineers.
Pitcairn’s windswept, 4.5 square kilometer surface is steep and hilly and there is only one beach on the island, Down Rope, that’s grey sand and fronted by rocky pools. There’s a sweeping sea view from almost everywhere but the adventure is more about the people you meet and their history. Brenda Christian may take you fishing, Jay and Carol Warren are happy to teach folks about the local flora and more of the Christian family run Christian’s Cafe, the island’s only restaurant and the place to be on Friday nights.
Getting there: Pitcairn Travel (www.pitcairntravel.pn) runs semi-monthly trips on the MV Claymore to/from Mangareva in French Polynesia for US$5000 return (you stay on the island for three days on a return ticket). You’ll have to fly first to Papeete, Tahiti and then onward to Mangareva (available on Air Tahiti – www.airtahiti.com).
About 10 cruise ships make scheduled stops at Pitcairn each year, bringing guests onto the island for day trips. If the sea is too rough however guests won’t be able to visit the island and will only get a view of it from deck.
Stay: Pitcairn Travel will help organize lodging with one of the island’s residents, including meals.
It’s predicted that all three of Tokelau‘s low-lying, coral atolls will be made uninhabitable by rising turquoise sea by the end of this century (due to climate change). Many of the islanders have emigrated but those who have stayed have developed a ground-breaking solar energy program that now sufficiently powers the small country. Kinship is incredibly important and society works on inati, a system of sharing where resources are divided between families according to need.
Activities include getting involved with local fishing, snorkelling or diving the spectacular lagoons, pitching a tent on a remote beach for a true castaway experience or getting your groove on at the community disco.
Getting there: Supply ships from Apia, Samoa depart around every 12 days and cost NZ$286-528 round-trip depending on the class.
Stay: Reservations for the boat and for accommodation in one of the handful of small hotels must be made in advance via the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office (www.tokelau.org.nz). This is also where you’ll need to apply for your NZ$20 visitor’s permit.
Tuvalu is another remote atoll nation threatened by rising sea levels. The idyllic white sand, blue water and palm-filled setting of the capital village of Fongafale is also the cramped 2.8 square kilometer home to some 4500 people and waste management is serious issue.
Get out of town to explore the five pristine islets of the Fanafuti Conservation Area to live out your desert island fantasies. Otherwise experience traditional life on a remote islet like Funafala or get back to the main village for a rocking fatele, a competitive dance and music session that builds and rises to explosive proportions.
Getting there: Fiji Airways (www.fijiairways.com) flies to Tuvalu once a week from Suva, Fiji while Pacific Sun (www.airpacific.com) flies the same route twice per week. A few cargo ships ply the waters between Tuvalu and Fiji (the trip takes about four days) but schedules are irregular. Try Pacific Agencies (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Williams & Goslings (www.wgfiji.com.fj) both in Fiji.
Stay: There are about half a dozen places to stay in Tuvalu and details can be found at www.timelesstuvalu.com.
Wallis & Futuna
Wallis and Futuna are two very different Polynesian islands under the same blanket of French colonialism. The capital island Wallis traces its ancestry to Tonga while the more isolated Futuna has Samoan roots. Wallis is a relatively flat, stocky island dotted with ancient Tongan forts and crater lakes; the pretty rolling hills of Futuna are covered in flower-filled jungles that tumble to white beaches and elaborate coast-side churches.
Aside from being technically a part of France, the two islands also share a dislike of tourism that has left their cultures intact and their names virtually unheard of outside of the region. If you go, don’t expect tourist services or helpful locals – this is a place where you have to be self-motivated to get out and see things and work hard to make friends.
Getting there: Aircalin (www.aircalin.com) flies to/from Noumea, New Caledonia to Wallis three times per week. About 10 flights per week link Futuna with Wallis.
Stay: Both islands have a handful of hotels that mostly cater to visiting French functionaries and none of them are cheap (prices start around US$100). Renting a car is the only means of getting around.