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One of the main reasons why the High Desert is so intriguing is that it is full of hidden gems. Aside from its rustic flea markets, vegan roadside cafes, and ruggedly beautiful landscapes, it also has an abundance of naturally heated mineral pools. Desert Hot Springs, an eccentric and underrated town located in the Coachella Valley, is a prime location for holistic healing and swimming under the sun.
" What makes Desert Hot Springs so unique is that it offers a wide selection of all- natural spas, most of which are scattered throughout the valley. A far cry from conventional hotel chains, these family run resorts offer a variety of specialized spa treatments, holistic healing sessions, and access to prized mineral baths. To test the waters, we decided to stop by the Nurturing Nest, a rustic spa and retreat located on Sunset Avenue in DHS. For a reasonable 20 dollars per person, this retreat offers two hour access to its indoor and outdoor mineral pools, along with a spot to lounge and sip on a complimentary cup of tea. The pools are open to visitors from 11-7 PM, and open 24 hours to patrons staying overnight. Since not everyone can handle the intense 106 degree heat of the indoor pool, Nurturing Nest also provides access to its milder outdoor pool.
" Despite its ragtag exterior, the interior of Nurturing Nest is modest yet elegant. Sparsely decorated with moroccan lanterns, buddha statues, and wild succulents, thepoolside lounges are spacious and serene. Travelers both young and old can be seen lounging by the outdoor pool, where tattoos and sun-kissed skin are commonplace. According to Sandy Gune, the owner and operator of Nurturing Nest, many patrons visit because they want to experience solitude and renewal.
" Aside from providing access to mineral pools, Nurturing Nest also has programs which focus on restoring physical, mental, and emotional health. A holistic chiropractor for over 18 years and specialist in the Energetic Synchronization Technique, Sandy Guneʼs treatments focus on realigning both the body and spirit. Chiropractic treatments and counseling sessions range from 65 to 150 dollars, and can be booked online or by phone. From “Total Tune-ups” to Transformational Breathing exercises, these holistic treatments are a unique blend between science and spirituality--so if youʼre passing through the Mojave desert and need a place to turn on, tune in, and drop out, Nurturing Nestʼs doors are always open.
For inquiries regarding retreats and reservations, contact Sandy Gune at (760)251-2583 or visit her website.
Downtown San Franciscoʼs Tenderloin district is a multifaceted creature. A glittering sprawl of strip clubs, dive bars, and late night donut shops, itʼs certainly not everyoneʼs cup of tea. Nicknamed the Scorpio neighborhood by The Bold Italic for its unpredictable atmosphere, the Tenderloin is an inner city paradise that has much to offer if you look in the right places.
In our ultimate quest for the life of leisure, me and my blue haired accomplice decided to check in to the Phoenix hotel, a retro-mod retreat located on Eddy and Larkin. Upon arrival, itʼs easy to fall in love with the Phoenixʼs funky, 1950s architecture and mix-matched decor. A wild cacophony of kitsch and color, the rooms are an acid dream come to life. Along with psychedelic tapestries and retro-mod furniture, the rooms have travel guides listing local events and upcoming concerts. Since the Phoenix is close to historic music venues such as the Great American Music Hall, it serves as a popular destination for the performers who play there. Whether itʼs by accommodating the tour buses parked out front or transforming the hotel into a gallery location overnight, the Phoenix proves to be an epicenter for musicians, artists, and eccentrics alike.
What makes the TL unique compared to most neighborhoods in SF is that itʼs teeming with life well until daybreak. Living true to its title as the entertainment district, people are often seen shuffling in and out of cabernets or crawling out of impromptu basement shows. Jam packed with notorious drag clubs and dim-lit dive bars, the Tenderloin is a cornucopia of sleaze and splendor. Weekends tend to be the busiest as leather jacket-clad locals smoke, drink, and dance in the street to attend gallery openings or record release parties. Nearby Gallery/Venue locations such as Vacation and RS94109 frequently host these events, where the wine flows free and the party is open to the public. Whether itʼs late night record shopping or attending a last minute DJ set, the possibilities are endless--and all within a five block radius.
So pack your favorite pilled band t-shirt and call the Phoenix in advance; itʼs gonna be a long night ahead. Donʼt worry though, the Phoenix has everything you need to recuperate from your post-punk show shenanigans. Along with a continental breakfast served until 10:30 AM, they also provide free access to communal baths at the Kabuki Spa. So as youʼre contemplating why you drank that whole bottle of Honey Jack Daniels to yourself, or wondering if those bruises have always been there, allow yourself to get treated to a massage or unwind with a long bath. In addition to access to communal baths, the Kabuki offers facials, massages, and acupuncture treatments. Massages and facials cost between 75 to 150 dollars, but access to the communal baths is a complimentary feature as long as youʼre a guest at the Phoenix. Or, if you would prefer to stay within the hotel grounds, you can lounge in a cabana during one of their annual sunday poolside parties.
For more information on booking, summer packages, and upcoming events, contact the Phoenix here.
The seaplane dips ever so slightly as we approach to land on the glacial waters surrounding the wild, remote islands and inlets of British Columbia's far north-west.
From my vantage point in the cockpit, the pine forests stretch endlessly into the horizon, their uniformity broken by the occasional snow-capped rocky mountain peak. Apart from the odd lone fishing boat, there are no obvious signs of human life. We begin to close in on the green-blue waters of a fjord below with a gentle bump signalling our landing. As our pilot steers the aircraft down the waterway, the green-roofed floating log cabins of Knight Inlet Lodge come into view. Against the dramatic backdrop of the mountains, they seem positively dwarfed.
``Welcome to bear country,'' our pilot says as we pull up outside the lodge.
The bears he is referring to are the grizzlies -- the admired and feared animals which dominate Canada's north-west outskirts.
Knight Inlet has one of the largest concentrations in British Columbia. The guests who make the journey here come for just one purpose: to see these animals up close.
Two of the lodge's staff come over to greet us before we are led to our rooms. Mine is tucked away at the back of a cosy timber cabin with a fireplace and spectacular views across the inlet. We're given just enough time to settle in before the Lodge's guides direct us to a boat for our first bear-spotting session. As we set off, we are told the rules of bear-watching: no loud-talking, perfume or camera-flashes; the idea, of course, is not to attract attention.
No more than a few minutes have passed when our guide -- a Canadian local who drives huskies during the winter -- points ahead to a moving brown figure behind a bush. It moves forward so that its shape can be seen. Yep, it's a bear -- and a big one at that. We are told he is around 180kg and most likely a male.
The boat's engine is turned off and we sit and watch. It is so quiet that the cracking sound of branches being broken by the bear as he feeds echo through the valley. He eventually catches our scent and briefly lifts his large round head to sniff the air. Deciding the salmonberries on his bush are far more interesting, he resumes eating. We leave him be and continue our search.
The anchor is pulled up and we head to a grassland area further north where we find two smaller grizzlies on the water's edge.
We are told there can be up to 40 bears sighted within a few kilometres of the lodge. As they like to feed by the water, you're likely to see at least a dozen, even on a bad day. Satisfied with our first bear sightings, we head back to the Lodge for dinner.
Knight Inlet's two resident chefs have been cooking all day and their efforts of crab, roast beef, vegetables and varied cakes and sweets are devoured by our hungry crew. By the end of the meal, I feel as if I've consumed an entire bear.
Still, I somehow manage to squeeze in a glass of red by the fire where the rest of the guests have gathered.
The next morning, after waking to the sounds of bird calls, we are split into groups -- some will go off on a hike while others will take out the kayaks. Our group is hiking through a forest to see where the bears sleep, eat and just hang out.
After a short motorboat cruise down the inlet, we disembark before boarding a big bear-proof truck for our journey into the forest.
Unlike the rules on the boat, we are instructed to talk loudly when off the truck to let the bears know we are here. The aim of this tour is to see where the bears live, but not to actually run into one. If they know we are here, they will keep their distance.
We follow an old logging route into the forest. Light soon turns to darkness as the thick rainforest canopy blots out the sun.
We eventually pull over to begin the first of a series of short walks into the bush.
A few steps down a trail, we are stopped by our guide who crouches down near a brown mound ... bear droppings, and still warm. We look around nervously, but all is still: whatever left it behind has moved on.
As we move further down the trail, we come across a large sheltered depression beneath an old-growth rainforest tree. Our guide explains it is a ``day bed'' -- a place for bears to sleep in between foraging for food. Not far away we find a tree covered in bear fur which is used as a scratching post.
After a good few hours exploring, we head back to the Lodge for lunch before our afternoon bear-viewing tours. This time, more bears have come out to play. As we watch, two cubs take part in a spectacular chase along the water's edge. The pair are pursued by a cranky adult grizzly who has apparently objected to their presence.
Further along the inlet, a large chocolate-coloured head of another bear appears above the grasses. We also encounter a pair of bald-headed eagles carrying sticks to a nest, and an enormous sleeping seal making use of a random log which has floated into the inlet.
One of the guides offers to take us on an afternoon cruise to some of the inlet's glacial waterfalls. A thick blanket of fog descends into the cove before lifting to reveal mountain-top glaciers and sheer rock faces with waterfalls fuelled by melting snow.
We also see more bald-headed eagles and seals. But it's too early in the season for whales, which also frequent the local waters.
By the end of my three-day stay, I feel as if I have stepped back into a time and place before humans occupied the planet.
With just four hours left before I must fly home, I decide to squeeze in a last-minute kayaking tour. Three grizzly bears are out on the shoreline. My kayak drifts towards one of them. Although I am a good few metres away, I can see all his features in great detail -- from the hump on his back, a small scar on his head to his giant front paws. I thank him for allowing me into his home.
Several major airlines fly from Sydney to Vancouver, from about $AU1300. The lodge, Knight Inlet Lodge, is 80km north-west of Campbell River, British Columbia. Guests flying from Vancouver stay overnight at Campbell River before taking a float-plane to Glendale Cove.
Package: ... Scenic Tours' four-day grizzly bear expedition can be added to any of its tours or taken alone from May to late October. Fare from $AU2345 includes return air faresfrom Vancouver, two nights at Knight Inlet Lodge, one night at Campbell River. All-weather gear and boots included.
More: www.scenictours.com or 1300 723 642.
It was with some trepidation that I agreed to go on a Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival camping trip.
While it is universally regarded as one of the hippest music festivals in the northern hemisphere - style muses Alexa Chung and Chloe Sevigny are regulars - as a Gen X indie-rock survivor, I thought my days of drinking cans of warm VB while standing in portable toilet queues had gone the way of my faded Nirvana T-shirt. However, the pull of seeing live music outdoors again - Nick Cave, Tame Impala, Yeah Yeah Yeahs - was too great, even if I was going to have to bring ear muffs.
Heading into its 15th year, Coachella has become one of the most successful art and music festivals in the world.
What began as a one-day gathering on an Indio Polo Club field back in 1999 has become so popular it stretches over two weekends, with bands playing the same set twice to cater for the demand.
Part of its appeal is that Coachella attracts the biggest names in the business - The Stone Roses, The Cure and even Madonna have performed.
It also taps into the upcoming music scene, scouring the world and inviting the best still largely unearthed talent to play alongside the megastars.
In preparation for the weekend, my travelling crew check into the Andaz Hotel on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip in West Hollywood to overcome jet lag. The hotel is famous for having hosted parties by rock'n'roll royalty such as The Rolling Stones and The Who back in the day.
While still "cool", the hotel is more of a relaxed oasis for weary travellers.
The two-hour road trip from LA to Coachella is broken up with a quick stopover at the Desert Hills Premium Outlet to collect some cut-price jeans, sunnies and yet another pair of Converse shoes.
Upon arriving in Indio Valley, where the festival is setting up, we climb into golf buggies and are driven to a field of white-marquee style tents - the luxury safari tents camping ground. Across the field, there is a pool with deck, massage tents and showering trailers with mirrors and power.
Inside my tent, a wrought-iron bed covered with '70s print cushions takes the place of a sleeping bag. There's power. A fridge. Even aircon.
The "mess hall'' is yet another luxuriously furnished tent that serves hot breakfasts and late- night snacks.
With a three-day festival ahead, we plan our days.
The advantage of staying next to the festival grounds means we are a short golf buggy trip to the stages.
Despite its popularity - the festival attracts about 85,000 over the two weekends - there is never the feeling of being in a crowd, except, of course, near the moshpit.
It is a relaxed atmosphere with the fashion - think Woodstock, Ali McGraw, Michelle Phillips - and the celebrity-spotting is just as entertaining as the onstage acts.
The stark but stunning desert landscape is best appreciated from atop the now iconic Coachella ferris wheel.
Both toilet and drinks queues are surprisingly short, while the fast food is so good that even singer Katy Perry queues.
The VIP area - tickets can be bought at extra cost - is teeming with celebrities who appear to enjoy mingling with the masses instead of taking advantage of their backstage trailers. We spy Twilight stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart huddled in a corner (they broke up a few weeks later), Paris Hilton with her chain-smoking sister Nicky and actor Lindsay Lohan.
True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard outed himself as a fan of The Stone Roses, as did Katy Perry and UK Vogue cover girl Lily Donaldson.
Even back at the campground, we have a celebrity encounter when Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, famous for partnering with Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, walks past on his way to have a shower.
Being a desert, the days are hot, think mid-30C and the nights cool. To avoid the midday heat, there is the option of joining the pool party scene in downtown Palm Springs. The hotels open their doors to the public - except for those hosting the real VIPs like Bono - to lounge by the pool with a cocktail under one of the district's ubiquitous date palms until it cools down.
Others wile away the hours with a yoga or Pilates session, or take photographs of the 9m tall statue of Marilyn Monroe who lived in the neighbourhood.
It is hard not to fall in love with Coachella. Not just for the music but also for the afternoon desert sunsets - arguably the best act each day - and the chilled-out nature of the crowd.
Not even an eye-stinging violent desert dust storm could dampen my enthusiasm for the festival, nor the headline act - the Red Hot Chili Peppers - who gritted their teeth and crunched their way through the final hour.
After four days and more than 40 bands, it is time to go into recovery mode - and a long, luxurious shower.
We check in at the Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, opposite the famous pier, before heading further south to stay at Belamar Hotel in the artist and surfing hub of Manhattan Beach.
Linda flew Virgin Australia to Los Angeles.
Ph 13 67 89
Linda stayed at the West Hollywood Andaz Hotel, Shore Hotel Santa Monica and Belamar Hotel Manhattan Beach.
Valley Music Travel has Luxury Safari Tent Coachella weekend packages for about $AU6500 for two people.
Coachella general release tickets will go on sale early next year from $AU399.
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