Destinations - Morris Murdock Travel - Cruises, Vacations, Tours & More

In every part of Australia you’ll find unique experiences to make your dream vacation come true. Australia is filled with fresh flavors, welcoming people and open spaces. Although a young nation, it has a rich history with the world’s oldest living culture and prehistoric nature. It is a land full of stunning natural wonders and some of the friendliest wildlife on the planet. Whether it’s the remoteness of the outback, the pristine waters of the beaches, the world-class dining or the amazing wildlife, it won’t take long for you to realize there’s nothing like Australia.

Aboriginal People Dream on a Timeless Continent

Australia’s Aboriginal people were thought to have arrived there by boat from South East Asia during the last Ice Age, at least 50,000 years ago. At the time of European discovery and settlement, up to one million Aboriginal people lived across the continent as hunters and gatherers. They were scattered in 300 clans and spoke 250 languages and 700 dialects. Each clan had a spiritual connection with a specific piece of land. However, they also travelled widely to trade, find water and seasonal produce and for ritual and totemic gatherings.

Despite the diversity of their homelands - from outback deserts and tropical rainforests to snow-capped mountains – all Aboriginal people share a belief in the timeless, magical realm of the Dreamtime. According to Aboriginal myth, totemic spirit ancestors forged all aspects of life during the Dreamtime of the world’s creation. These spirit ancestors continue to connect natural phenomena, as well as past, present and future through every aspect of Aboriginal culture.

Britain Arrives and Brings its Convicts

A number of European explorers sailed the coast of Australia, then known as New Holland, in the 17th century. However it wasn’t until 1770 that Captain James Cook chartered the east coast and claimed it for Britain. The new outpost was put to use as a penal colony and on 26 January 1788, the First Fleet of 11 ships carrying 1,500 people – half of them convicts – arrived in Sydney Harbour. Until penal transportation ended in 1868, 160,000 men and women came to Australia as convicts.

While free settlers began to flow in from the early 1790s, life for prisoners was harsh. Women were outnumbered five to one and lived under constant threat of sexual exploitation. Male re-offenders were brutally flogged and could be hung for crimes as petty as stealing. The Aboriginal people displaced by the new settlement suffered even more. The dispossession of land and illness and death from introduced diseases disrupted traditional lifestyles and practices.

Squatters Push Across the Continent

By the 1820s, many soldiers, officers and emancipated convicts had turned land they received from the government into flourishing farms. News of Australia’s cheap land and bountiful work was bringing more and more boatloads of adventurous migrants from Britain. Settlers or ‘squatters’ began to move deeper into Aboriginal territories – often with a gun - in search of pasture and water for their stock.

In 1825, a party of soldiers and convicts settled in the territory of the Yuggera people, close to modern-day Brisbane. Perth was settled by English gentlemen in 1829, and 1835 a squatter sailed to Port Phillip Bay and chose the location for Melbourne. At the same time a private British company, proud to have no convict links, settled Adelaide in South Australia.

Gold Fever Brings Wealth, Migrants and Rebellion

Gold was discovered in New South Wales and central Victoria in 1851, luring thousands of young men and some adventurous young women from the colonies. They were joined by boat loads of prospectors from China and a chaotic carnival of entertainers, publicans, illicit liquor-sellers, prostitutes and quacks from across the world. In Victoria, the British governor’s attempts to impose order - a monthly license and heavy-handed troopers - led to the bloody anti-authoritarian struggle of the Eureka stockade in 1854. Despite the violence on the goldfields, the wealth from gold and wool brought immense investment to Melbourne and Sydney and by the 1880s they were stylish modern cities.

Australia Becomes a Nation

Australia’s six states became a nation under a single constitution on 1 January 1901. Today Australia is home to people from more than 200 countries.

Australians Go to War

The First World War had a devastating effect on Australia. There were less than 3 million men in 1914, yet almost 400,000 of them volunteered to fight in the war. An estimated 60,000 died and tens of thousands were wounded. In reaction to the grief, the 1920s was a whirlwind of new cars and cinemas, American jazz and movies and fervor for the British Empire. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, social and economic divisions widened and many Australian financial institutions failed. Sport was the national distraction and sporting heroes such as the racehorse Phar Lap and cricketer Donald Bradman gained near-mythical status.

During the Second World War, Australian forces made a significant contribution to the Allied victory in Europe, Asia and the Pacific. The generation that fought in the war and survived came out of it with a sense of pride in Australia’s capabilities.

New Australians Arrive to a Post-War Boom

After the war ended in 1945, hundreds of thousands of migrants from across Europe and the Middle East arrived in Australia, many finding jobs in the booming manufacturing sector. Many of the women who took factory jobs while the men were at war continued to work during peacetime.

Australia’s economy grew throughout the 1950s with major nation-building projects such as the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme in the mountains near Canberra. International demand grew for Australia’s major exports of metals, wools, meat and wheat and suburban Australia also prospered. The rate of home ownership rose dramatically from barely 40 per cent in 1947 to more than 70 per cent by the 1960s.

Australia Loosens Up

Like many other countries, Australia was swept up in the revolutionary atmosphere of the 1960s. Australia’s new ethnic diversity, increasing independence from Britain and popular resistance to the Vietnam War all contributed to an atmosphere of political, economic and social change. In 1967, Australians voted overwhelmingly ‘yes’ in a national referendum to let the federal government make laws on behalf of Aboriginal Australians and include them in future censuses. The result was the culmination of a strong reform campaign by both Aboriginal and white Australians.

In 1972, the Australian Labor Party under the idealistic leadership of lawyer Gough Whitlam was elected to power, ending the post-war domination of the Liberal and Country Party coalition. Over the next three years, his new government ended conscription, abolished university fees and introduced free universal health care. It abandoned the White Australia policy, embraced multiculturalism and introduced no-fault divorce and equal pay for women. However by 1975, inflation and scandal led to the Governor-General dismissing the government. In the subsequent general election, the Labor Party suffered a major defeat and the Liberal–National Coalition ruled until 1983.

Since the 1970s

Between 1983 and 1996, the Hawke–Keating Labor governments introduced a number of economic reforms, such as deregulating the banking system and floating the Australian dollar. In 1996 a Coalition Government led by John Howard won the general election and was re-elected in 1998, 2001 and 2004. The Liberal–National Coalition Government enacted several reforms, including changes in the taxation and industrial relations systems. In 2007 the Labor Party led by Kevin Rudd was elected with an agenda to reform Australia’s industrial relations system, climate change policies, and health and education sectors.

Holy Land MapIsrael is a tiny country––only about 29,000 square kilometers––and yet, it is a place of amazing variety, with globally unique contrasts. For example, central Israel is the most populous place on earth, and yet, having planted over 240 million trees, it is the only country that ended the 20th century with more trees than it started with! Israel’s location, bridging Africa, Asia and Europe, has blessed it with four bio-geographical zones––Mediterranean, steppe, desert and African – make it unique worldwide in terms of its combination and variety of climate, flora and fauna.

Israel has virtually no rainfall for some eight months of the year, which has spurred it to develop alternative water sources. Seventy-five percent of Israel's water is recycled after use, and the world's largest desalination plant is located in Ashkelon. Israel has pioneered arid land agriculture, and has hosted more than 200,000 people from 130 developing countries for training in agriculture and other fields.

Israel’s achievements in hi-tech go back to its early days: In 1954, WEIZAC, one of the world’s first computers, was designed and built at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. Twenty-four percent of the members of Israel’s work-force have university degrees, the third-largest number in the industrialized world. It also has the world's highest count of engineers per capita, and 4,000 high-tech startups, the most per-capita in the world.

Israel has produced a number of outstanding sportsmen and women––in tennis, windsurfing, judo and track and field, the latter mainly thanks to the influx of newcomers from the former Soviet Union. In the 2007 Special Olympics, Israel’s team of 39 competitors garnered 42 medals: 11 gold, 22 silver and 9 bronze!

On the medical front, two out of the top three medications to treat multiple sclerosis were developed in Israel; Israeli microbiologists developed the first passive vaccine against the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, and an Israeli company developed the first ingestible video camera to help diagnose cancer and digestive disorders, so small it fits inside a pill! Israel also developed the world’s first pill to deliver a daily dose of insulin to diabetes sufferers.

Perhaps most meaningful of all, some say it is the variety of Israel’s people that makes it unique in so many other ways––only around 7.3 million, but hailing from over 30 regions and countries the world over.

History

The traveler to Israel walks through history: from windswept crusader castles to ports where seamen, pilgrims and famous travelers spent some time and then moved on; from desert landscapes that were home to traveling tribes, half-forgotten armies and merchants in camel caravans, to sheikhs’ tombs with whitened domes, silent monasteries and ancient synagogues decorated with colorful mosaics.

The State of Israel was created in the Land of Israel which was promised to the People of Israel according to Jewish tradition. It was where Jesus, the Christian Messiah, was born and the place where Mohammed, the Moslem Prophet, ascended to heaven. The meeting place of three continents and two seas, the country is a skein of cultures, customs and traditions, a country that was home to many people, cultures and changing religions. On the crossroads of ancient routes of commerce, the land also saw waves of conquering armies: the Canaanites, Hebrews, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders Ottoman Turks and the British made this much-desired small country into a battlefield where they strove for eminence, built fortifications, castles and royal palaces.

Settlement and Conquest --The Land of Israel in Biblical Times

The Canaanite tribes were the first settlers in Israel and its principal inhabitants until the second millennium BCE. In this early time the country was already a meeting place of different cultures: Egypt to the south, Assyria Mesopotamia and Asia Minor to the north. During the second millennium BCE several tribes started an invasion of the country, including the Philistines who came from the Aegean and settled in the southern coastal plain, and the Hebrews who came from Mesopotamia and settled in the hills.

The Hebrews, known as the Sons of Israel lived in the framework of 12 tribes who were united towards the end of the second millennium BCE by the first King of Israel, Saul. His successor, David, expanded the borders of the country and made Jerusalem, till then a Jebusite city, into his capital. It was here that his son King Solomon built the Temple with the Holy Ark. After Solomon’s death the kingdom was divided into two, with the ten northern Tribes setting up the Kingdom of Israel while the remaining two tribes set up the Kingdom of Judah in the Jerusalem Hills. In the year 721 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians; the 10 tribes were sent into exile and are considered “lost” until this day. The kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in the year 586 BCE, the Temple was destroyed and the Sons of Israel went into the first Babylonian exile.

Between Empires – From the Babylonians to the Byzantines

In the year 539 BCE, Babylon was conquered by the Persians and the tribe of Judah was allowed to return to Jerusalem, which was part of the Persian Empire. Jerusalem was erected from the rubble and the Second Temple was built. In the year 333 BCE, the Persian Empire, with the Land of Israel, was conquered by Alexander the Great, and in the year 66 BCE it was conquered by the Roman general Pompey. For the next 200 years the country was ruled by Jewish kings as a Roman vassal state. These were troubled times. In the year 70 CE the Temple was destroyed after a Jewish rebellion and in the year 135 BCE the Jews were sent into exile after another rebellion. Jerusalem was destroyed to its foundations and a Roman city was set up in its place.

Jesus, the Christian messiah and the founder of Christianity, was born when the country was under Roman rule, but it took 300 years until Christianity was legitimized in the Roman Empire which in turn became Byzantium in the east.

As Christianity was legitimized and became the official religion the view of the Land of Israel as the Holy Land developed. It became a destination for pilgrims and a huge building enterprise got under way with churches and monasteries built all over the country. It was at this time that parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem were built. Remnants of the building from this era can be seen at Ovdat, Capernaum (Kfar Nakhum,) Khamat Gader and Latroun.

Between East and West – From the Moslem Conquest to the Crusaders

In the year 640, the country was conquered by the Moslem Caliph Omar, beginning the period of Moslem rule in the country. In this very important period for the entire region, routes of communication were opened between the east and the west: goods, religious art and cultural and scientific knowledge started to flow from the East to Europe, mutually enriching each other. According to Moslem tradition, the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven from Jerusalem and as such it is perceived as the third holiest city. In the first years of Arab rule Christians were allowed to enter Jerusalem, but this was stopped in the 11th century, prompting Pope Urban II to call for the crusade to liberate Jerusalem from Moslem rule.

The first crusade ended with the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. During the crusader era the country became one of the most important commercial centers in the world with routes of commerce connecting China, India, Madagascar and Africa to European markets. The crusader cities became meeting points for Moslem and Armenian Christian merchants and their European counterparts. The remnants of these crusader cities can be seen in Acre (Akko), Caesarea, Jerusalem, Latroun and Kil’at Namroud.

The crusader era did not last long. In the year 1187, the crusader armies were defeated by Saladin in the battle of Karnei Khitin (Hattin). The crusaders then lost successive battles ending with their defeat to the Mamluks in the battle of Acre, their last stronghold, in 1291. From the beginning of the Mamluk conquest the country diminished in its economic and political importance. The Ottoman conquest of 1517 did not add to its stature. The Land of Israel was a backwater in the Ottoman Empire and except for a few pilgrims of the three monotheistic religions, traffic between east and west declined.

From the Old to the New– The British Mandate and the creation of the State of Israel

The turning point in the country’s importance came with Napoleon’s arrival in the country in 1799. Napoleon’s eastern campaign showed the west the country’s strategic and economic importance – a process that led to increased European involvement in the country. New routes of communication and travel were set up and Christian missionary institutions were set up in the country. More pilgrims started to come and Jews started to immigrate to the country. These and other events led to increased interest in the country – an interest that peaked with the British conquest in 1918 at the end of the First World War.

In the year 1948, the British Mandate came to an end and the state of Israel was created. Its founders said in the Declaration of Independence: “The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews and for the Ingathering of the Exiles from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace… will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions...”

The State of Israel, set up at the meeting places of continents, history and cultures embodies this rich web of cultures. Its population includes different peoples and religions, religious and secular, Arab Moslems and Arab Christians, Druze, Bedouins, Circassians, Samaritans and Jews from 70 Diasporas, from East and Western Europe, North Africa, Asia, North and South America. The people are settled all over the country in the Negev, Arava, Galilee and coastal plain, in moshavim, kibbutzim, vivacious cities and quiet villages busily engaged in industry and commerce, farming and scientific research. All of these cultures, peoples and religions created a rich tapestry of tradition, beliefs and customs that encapsulate the holy and the secular, the past and the present, the east and the west.

Map of MexicoMexico is a traveler’s paradise, crammed with a multitude of opposing identities: desert landscapes, snow-capped volcanoes, ancient ruins, teeming industrialized cities, time-warped colonial towns, glitzy resorts, lonely beaches and a world-beating collection of flora and fauna. This mix of modern and traditional, the clichéd and the surreal, is the key to Mexico's charm, whether your passion is throwing back margaritas, listening to howler monkeys, surfing the Mexican Pipeline, scrambling over Mayan ruins or expanding your Day of the Dead collection of skeletons. Despite the considerable colonial legacy and rampant modernization, almost 60 distinct indigenous peoples survive, largely thanks to their rural isolation.

Travel to Mexico to experience a nation rich in history, tradition, culture, and natural beauty. The inhabitants of this modern country use their land and other resources to create unrivalled handicrafts and a varied and colorful cuisine. Mexico’s tourism industry is strong, with every state offering a unique travel experience.

History

To understand Mexico’s history, one can go to a library, do some internet research or, better yet, visit the country’s central area. Here, the traveler will find cities as diverse as Zacatecas, Aguascalientes or San Miguel de Allende, which all have a common denominator: they participated in the Mexican Independence and Revolution wars, they witnessed the fall of an empire and the birth of a nation. They all show traces of a memorable past in their walls, streets and churches.

Nature

The rich natural resources, privileged geographic location and biodiversity make Mexico an excellent territory to explore. You can do so by train, on foot, on horseback, in a kayak or you can go camping and mountain climbing. Visitors will be truly overwhelmed as they admire the unique landscape and observe indigenous flora and fauna. In the state of Chihuahua, the Copper Canyon offers an amazing experience. As you travel through mountains and narrow passes you can admire the spectacular beauty of the Sierra Madre Occidental.

The canyons, plateaus, waterfalls and rivers are ideal for trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding, hunting, rock climbing and rappelling. Yet if you prefer to explore some of the most fascinating ecosystems in the nation and admire the beautiful landscape inhabited by birds, crocodiles, turtles, fish, reptiles and wide variety of plant life, you should head to the Mayan Riviera.

There you can go scuba diving, kayaking, fishing, camping and horseback riding on the beach or in the jungles. You’re also guaranteed a gratifying experience when visiting the Celestun Biosphere Reserve and the Ria Lagartos Sanctuary, in Yucatan and Campeche. There you’ll see thousands of pink flamingoes, sea turtles, crocodiles and indigenous plant species that you can capture on film on a photo safari, or you can take a boat tour through the mangroves and wetlands.

For those who prefer fishing, whale-watching, scuba diving, windsurfing, an underwater photo outing, or visiting vineyards and valley regions, Ensenada, in Baja California, is the ideal place. But if you want to enjoy a walk or hike through a region known for its beautiful clouds and flowers, you should visit Xalapa, in the state of Veracruz, where the Cofre de Perote National Park and the Cerro Macuilteptel invite you to camp and rock climb in an area surrounded by lush vegetation.

Diversity

Mexico has 110,000 monuments, 29,000 archeological sites, 31 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 62 distinct ethnic language groups and one of the five best cuisines in the world.

What to Do

Take a break from the beach on your next visit to Mexico. Head inland and discover natural beauty, archaeological treasures, and good old-fashioned fun everywhere you turn.

For example, why not join a bilingual guide and explore some of Puerto Vallarta’s hillsides, valleys, villages and jungle—on horseback! For centuries, Mexican cowboys (charros) have relied on their four-footed steeds and now you can follow in their footsteps and beyond. Experience beaches, such as Xcaret and Tres Rios parks in Cancun, river banks and lush forests, with stops along the way for traditional meals, a cooling splash in the river and historic highlights. See mysterious desert landscapes, tropical flowers and picturesque haciendas. Ride for a morning, a day, or take off into the remote countryside on a multi-day tour.

Horses too tame for you? Hop on the back of a Harley Davidson and roar away on a motorcycle tour of the back roads of Cancun. Set your own pace. Stop for a stroll through a village church or cobblestoned marketplace. Spread a picnic in a shady spot overlooking the blue waters below. Take in the sound of mariachis and enjoy the rush of fresh air on your skin.

Or how about testing some rugged trails on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV)? Breathe in the pure mountain air while your eyes and spirit are treated to spectacular views. Discover a magnificent waterfall and relax for a while in the middle of nowhere! Visit a private ranch and pick a fresh mango, papaya or banana right off the tree. Head to the beach or ride through jungle paths, swim in a clear 60 foot deep cenote, explore caves and climb ancient Mayan ruins. Try the Playa del Carmen jungle tour, or a Vallarta back roads tour.

Visit a natural warm spring, such as Oaxaca’s Hierve el Agua, in use for more than 2,400 years. As the water runs off of the edge of the nearby cliff, minerals create a petrified waterfall, one of only two such sites in the world, the other being in Turkey. Or see the thundering Cascada de Eyipantla in Veracruz, with its 246 descending steps (you might recognize it from one of the dozen movies filmed there).

Try biking, trekking, or birdwatching (some 950 species on view in Baja and the Yucatan!). Visit private homes or artists’ studios in Puerto Vallarta or San Miguel de Allende. Go mountain-climbing on Mexico's volcanoes. Explore lost cities, pre-Columbian rock-art sites near Merida, Playa del Carmen and Cancun, sub-tropical rain forests and pristine Caribbean beaches while soaking up the culture of Mexico's indigenous cultures. There’s so much to do—and so many ways to do it—you’ll be planning your next trip before you ever leave!

Learn More About Mexico’s World Heritage Highlights:

Mexico’s charms are nowhere more evident than among its World Heritage sites, designated by UNESCO as those places of significant cultural and natural heritage—sure to lure and enhance any Mexico trip.

Should your travel sights be set on the Baja Peninsula, Sierra de San Francisco in the El Vizcaíno reserve is home to a spectacular assemblage of rock art paintings. Some dating back 5,000 years, the depictions of animal and human figures embellish hundreds of locations.

Heading to Puerto Vallarta? A side trip to Guadalajara offers the imposing Hospicio Cabañas. Built in the early 1800s as an orphanage, the cabañas are now a wonderful music and art center adorned with the murals of Mexican master Orozco.

Built atop the site of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, populous Mexico City claims temple ruins, the continent’s largest cathedral and superb 19th and 20th-century architecture. South of the capital, Xochimilco is known for its 16th-century structures and chinimpas, or floating gardens.

Near the city of Oaxaca, Monte Albán is a complex of stone pyramids, platforms and mounds. Take care climbing the structures’ steep steps! The Historic Center of Oaxaca boasts five-hundred-year-old edifices that include the baroque-style Cathedral of Oaxaca. A day trip here is a “must” for guests on holiday in coastal Huatulco.

On the slopes of Popocatepetl, the famous snow-capped volcano, the country’s earliest monasteries stand. All fourteen structures, built along the Convents Route and once occupied by Franciscan, Dominican and Augustinian missionaries, are excellently preserved.

Complement your Cancun nights with a tour of pre-hispanic Chichén-Itzá in the Yucatán. The stone carvings that decorate the Temple of the Jaguars, the Platform of Venus and more are fascinating examples of Mayan-Toltec artistry. South of Cancun, Sian Ka'an is a splendid bio-reserve of tropical rainforests, wetlands and the world’s second largest barrier reef.

In historic Puebla, southeast of Mexico City, see dozens of 16th and 17th-century churches and the eccentric Alfeñique House, whose plaster work resembles meringue candy—then shop for armloads of brightly colored Talavera tile and dishware.

Come to AlaskaAlaska FactsNo journey stays with you, mind and soul, like an expedition through Alaska. From the blue ice of massive glacial fields to the stunning grandeur of the scenery and wildlife, everything in Alaska is big, bold and absolutely breathtaking. Including the adventures.

The Aleut people called it Alyeska, the great land. Alaska is one of the world's special places, full of exotic wildlife, magnificent mountains, glacier-carved valleys and steep, rocky coastlines.

Alaska is bigger than life, its sheer mass hard to comprehend. The distance from Barrow, on the northern coast, to Ketchikan, at the southern edge, is more than 1,350 mi/2,174 km—about the same as New York City to Miami. Alaska has six distinct climatic regions, the tallest mountains, the biggest glaciers, the most plentiful fishing and the wildest nature preserves on the North American continent.

Visitors go to Alaska for the fishing, hiking, hunting or camping—Denali National Park is a big attraction. Some go for the northern lights, or to whale-watch while cruising the Inside Passage. Some even go to Alaska for the Iditarod dogsled race.

Even as Alaska vacations become more accessible, distance creates costs. Per-day expenses in remote parts of the state are comparable with those in major urban centers. The abundance of spectacular scenery and wildlife, however, should more than compensate.

GEOGRAPHY

Alaska borders the northwest edge of Canada and is actually closer to Russia (just 39 mi/62 km by air across the Bering Strait) than it is to the rest of the U.S. The landscape is dramatic and, because it covers such a huge territory, quite varied. In the south is temperate rain forest (Tongass), and in the north is Arctic desert.

The state is traversed by nine major mountain ranges, encompassing 17 of the highest peaks in the U.S., including North America's highest mountain, Mount McKinley, as well as most of the country's active volcanoes. It has more coastline than all of the other states combined. The geography ranges from endless miles/kilometers of tundra to sheer mountain walls, from the densely forested temperate coasts of the Inside Passage to the permafrost of the treeless Arctic Circle.

HISTORY

The first settlers in Alaska arrived at least 20,000 years ago, when hunters from Asia followed large game over the Bering Strait land bridge into North America. By the time the first Europeans arrived in the mid-1700s, they found several diverse cultures living in Alaska: Whale- and seal-hunting Inupiat and Yupik peoples inhabited the treeless tundra along the Arctic Ocean, Chukchi and Bering sea coasts, and nomadic Athabascan caribou hunters roamed the forested interior along the Yukon River. Alaska's panhandle was home to members of the Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida groups, who lived in a lush coastal environment.

Even though Russian explorers had seen the Alaskan coast as early as 1741, Europeans didn't venture into the territory's immense interior until well into the 1800s. Even after the U.S. purchased the area in 1867 for cents an acre/hectare, the region remained largely unexplored.

As was often the case elsewhere in the opening of the American frontier, it took the discovery of gold in Juneau in 1880 to get folks headed for Alaska. During the famous Klondike Gold Rush of 1898-99, thousands of rowdy, ambitious and gutsy prospectors and speculators flooded into Dawson, Skagway, Valdez and other towns.

Alaska was made a U.S. territory in 1912, but statehood wasn't granted until 1959. Then the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 sparked a new rush to Alaska. The construction of the Alaska Pipeline from the Beaufort Sea to the Gulf of Alaska in the 1970s brought new wealth, new jobs and new environmental concerns.

Even now, the debate continues as to how much of Alaska's pristine wilderness should be developed. Most recently, the focus has been on oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, declining populations of marine mammals in the Bering Sea, and the impact from cruise-ship travel and other tourist activity, especially in southeastern Alaska.

SNAPSHOT

Alaska's main attractions include spectacular scenery, wildlife viewing, camping, skiing, the northern lights, volcanoes, Inside Passage cruises, hiking, riverboat rides, fishing, canoeing, river and sea kayaking, friendly people, Alaska Native and Russian cultures, totem poles, glaciers and dogsled rides.

Most people will like Alaska, but the state has special appeal for nature lovers and the adventurous. Those on a strict budget may opt to tour the coasts via Alaska's Marine Highway ferries rather than by cruise ships. Motor homes, recreational vehicles and camper vans are available to rent for those who want to explore the state's interior highways or drive the Alaska Highway through Canada.

POTPOURRI

Alaska is from an Aleut word meaning "great country" or "what the sea breaks against."

The state of Alaska has 33,904 mi/54,585 km of coastline, more than the rest of the U.S. combined.

All Alaskans (who apply and qualify for it) receive an annual Permanent Fund Dividend check that averages around US$850 per person (including children). The dividend is funded by North Slope oil taxes and profits from investments.

In the unique history of Alaska, the male-to-female ratio across the state has often been quite imbalanced. As a result, a saying began among Alaskan women that in Alaska "the odds are good, but the goods are odd." This joke has failed to wither with time or the balancing of the odds.

Juneau is the only U.S. state capital that cannot be reached by highway. It is located 573 mi/916 km by air from Anchorage, the state's largest city and populated area. With as many roads as a New England state but a landmass triple the size of Texas (only 12 major highways are open year-round), Alaska is a place where flight is commonplace and pilots are many.

Geologically, Alaska is an amazingly active location. Small earthquakes are common in many parts of Alaska, and midsized ones frequently shake the thinly populated Aleutian Islands. The devastating 1964 Good Friday Earthquake registered 9.2 on the Richter scale, making it the most powerful temblor ever recorded in North America. In addition, 80% of the active volcanoes in the U.S. are in Alaska, and major eruptions in the Aleutian Islands occur almost every year.

Dog mushing is the official state sport of Alaska.

Former Secretary of State William H. Seward bought Alaska from Russia for US$7.2 million in 1867. At approximately US$0.02 per acre/half-hectare, it was a bargain that some called Seward's Folly.

LOCATION

There's nothing quite like experiencing the Last Frontier from a cruise ship: Icebergs and rugged islands glide by, porpoises play in the ship's wake, and whales breach off the side. In Alaskan towns along the way, you can shake a gold pan in a rushing stream and watch native carvers at work on a new totem pole. You can raft down whitewater streams and fly to (and land on) glaciers.

The state is so big, its extremes of climate and geology so great, and its wildlife and history so fascinating that Alaska delights (and uses up film and camera capacity) like few other places on Earth. In fact, with so much to choose from there, it's easy to become overwhelmed. A cruise simplifies some of the decision-making.

Ship lines offer a wide variety of Alaska cruises, so there's an itinerary to satisfy almost everyone. You can ride on a megaship with more than 2,000 passengers and all the comforts of home, and then some, as you visit the state's main ports. Or you can cruise aboard an exploration ship (with 100 other people) that can slip into the narrowest of fjords and get close enough to watch a brown bear snatch a salmon out of the water.

The big cruise lines usually offer a choice of two routes, both of which take you through the Inside Passage, the protected waterway between the mainland and the coastal islands. The emphasis is different, however. The trips known as Inside Passage cruises usually begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, include stops at such southeast Alaska ports as Ketchikan and Juneau, turn around in Glacier Bay and return to Vancouver. Gulf of Alaska cruises (sometimes called Glacier Route cruises) usually run between Vancouver and Seward, with connections through Anchorage so you can add excursions into the interior of the state.

Both routes often include stops at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway—one of the most visited ports along the Inside Passage and the main jumping-off point for tours into the Yukon Gold Rush area. Small ships combine the best of both routes, offering stops in smaller ports, visits to hard-to-reach landmarks and more personal attention. Of course, their prices are usually higher, too.

Alaska Travel Specialists

Hawaiian Islands MapHawaii is like no other place on earth. Home to one of the world's most active volcanoes and the world's tallest sea mountain. Birthplace of modern surfing, the hula and Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Former seat of a royal kingdom and home to the only royal palace on US soil. Hawaii is one of the youngest geological formations in the world and the youngest state of the union. But perhaps Hawaii's most unique feature is its aloha spirit: the warmth of Hawaii's people that wonderfully complements the Islands' perfect temperatures.

There are six major islands to visit in Hawaii: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii’s Big Island. You'll find each island has its own distinct personality and offers its own adventures, activities and sights. Mark Twain called Hawaii, "That peaceful land, that beautiful land... the climate, one long delicious summer day, and the good that die experience no change, for they but fall asleep in one heaven and wake up in another." They invite you to explore the Islands of Aloha to find your own heavenly Hawaii experiences.

History

“The Aloha State” became the 50th state in 1959, but the history of Hawaii goes back centuries earlier. Roughly 1,500 years ago, Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands first set foot on Hawaii's Big Island. With only the stars to guide them, they miraculously sailed over 2000 miles in canoes to migrate to the Islands.

500 years later, settlers from Tahiti arrived, bringing their beliefs in gods and demi-gods and instituting a strict social hierarchy based on a kapu (taboo) system. Hawaiian culture flourished over the centuries, giving rise to the art of the hula and the sport of surfing, but land division conflicts between ruling chieftains were common.

In 1778, Captain James Cook, landed on Kauai at Waimea Bay. Naming the archipelago the "Sandwich Islands" in honor of the Earl of Sandwich, Cook opened the doors to the west. Cook was killed only a year later in Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii's Big Island.

In 1791, North Kohala born Kamehameha united the warring factions of Hawaii’s Big Island and went on to unify all of the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810. In 1819, less than a year after King Kamehameha's death, his son, Liholiho, abolished the ancient kapu system.

In 1820, the first Protestant missionaries arrived on Hawaii’s Big Island filling the void left after the end of the kapu system. Hawaii became a port for seamen, traders and whalers. The whaling industry boom flourished in Lahaina Harbor in Maui. Throughout these years of growth, western disease took a heavy toll on the Native Hawaiian population.

Western influence continued to grow and in 1893, American Colonists who controlled much of Hawaii's economy overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom in a peaceful, yet still controversial coup. In 1898, Hawaii became a territory of the United States.

In the 20th century, sugar and pineapple plantations fueled Hawaii's economy bringing an influx of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Portuguese immigrants. Lanai, under the leadership of James Dole, became known as the “Pineapple Island,” after becoming the world’s leading exporter of pineapple. This mix of immigrant ethnicities is what makes Hawaii’s population so diverse today.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Oahu. Four years later, on September 2, 1945, Japan signed its unconditional surrender on the USS Battleship Missouri, which still rests in Pearl Harbor today. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th State of the United States. Today, Hawaii is a global gathering place for visitors to share in the spirit of aloha. Beyond the sun and surf of the islands, they urge you to discover the rich cultural history of Hawaii to add even more depth to your visit.