Calendar Highlight: January is the time for prime summer sun and warmth in this southernmost Australian state. The 723-mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, billed as the world's most grueling ocean race, ends in the island's 200-year-old colonial-style capital, Hobart, with winners announced December 31. The race coincides with the 11-day waterfront Hobart Summer Festival, showcasing the state's gastronomic delights and superb wines, ending January 7.
The 411: Ruggedly mountainous and sparsely populated, Tasmania is about the same size as Sri Lanka. About 20% of the island has been designated a World Heritage Area because it is untouched wilderness. "Tas" sits about 150 miles southeast of the Australian mainland, and about half the population lives in small towns along the northern coast, with roughly the other half around Hobart and the eastern coast. The island is best known for its dense rain forests, wild coastline, and increasingly sophisticated restaurants and boutique wineries. Tasmania was the site of Britain's most feared 19the-century penal colonies, and the ruins of the one in Port Arthur near Hobart are the state's most visited tourist destination. Among the most scenic places to visit are the spectacularly jagged peaks of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park.
How Gay?: Saddled with a conservative reputation for many years, Tasmania has moved noticeably leftward, gamely courting the LGBT market. There is, however, not much of a gay scene, and even Hobart has no real gay bars. But antigay discrimination is illegal, and the state offers registration of same-sex relationships.
Insider View: "The laid-back attitude can be conducive for a relaxing holiday, but in rural areas, don't expect to stay out late. Most places stop serving food by about 8 P.M., even in the summer months." -- Phillippa Denne, owner and operator (with her life partner) of Mt. Paul on Freycinet Mountain Lodges
Don't Miss: Breathtakingly beautiful Wineglass Bay in the Freycinet National Park on the east coast is secluded, untouched, and overshadowed by red and pink granite peaks.
Luxe Lodging Pick: Lesbian-owned Mt. Paul on Freycinet Mountain Lodges make up an environmentally sensitive, luxury retreat set in a lush 1,200-acre woodland. The views take in the soaring red Hazards Mountains and Great Oyster Bay.
Discover Tasmania Tourism
Hobart Summer Festival
Guide to Tasmania's National Parks
ROLEX Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
Mt. Paul on Freycinet
Calendar Highlight: Relatively mild February is when the overpriced and crowded winter high season is ending and before the monsoons come.
The 411: Washed by the Andaman Sea on Thailand's western coast, Phuket is the country's largest island. Aside from a pumping nightlife, the relatively well-off island has national parks with virgin rain forest, rubber plantations, limestone cliffs, and broad beaches; it's indisputably the main center for scuba diving in Thailand and considered one of the top 10 dive destinations in the world. Phuket is also one of Southeast Asia's main yachting ports.
How Gay?: One of the gayest resorts in Asia, with a huge annual pride parade (dates vary; in 2007 pride festivities took place March 29-April 1), Phuket has a large number of gay and gay-friendly bars, hotels, and guesthouses, mostly concentrated around the Paradise Complex in the Patong Beach area. You'll find a happy cross section of gays from Europe, Australia, and the United States as well as from Asian spots like Singapore.
Insider View: "Yes, we have some rain but no typhoons, hurricanes, or tornadoes. This makes it a perfect yachting location." -- Joel Martinson, out partner of the gay James Dean Bar and Guest House
Don't Miss: Stroll around downtown Phuket city for fine examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture.
Luxe Lodging Pick: The Amanpuri Resort's private villas come with live-in maid, cook, teak floors, and breezy verandas. This exclusive resort spa has a 4-to-1 staff-to-guest ratio.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)
Calendar Highlight: Puerto Rico's peak tourist season, December through April, is safely outside hurricane season, the water is a perfect temperature for swimming or surfing, and the above-wave temperature basks around 80 degrees.
The 411: This U.S. territory comprises the 3,435-square-mile island of Puerto Rico and a scattering of smaller islands, including Vieques and Culebra. Metropolitan San Juan is home to over half of Puerto Rico's 3.9 million people, yet the capital city and much of the main island retain an Old World ambience. Castilian Spanish rings out through narrow blue-cobblestoned streets, while modern bistros and boutiques flourish and streets teem with cruise-ship crowds.
How Gay?: The culture throughout Puerto Rico remains quite closeted, although less so than in most other Caribbean destinations. San Juan is home to the Caribbean's largest queer infrastructure as well as two gay-adored beaches (one by the Atlantic Beach Hotel, the other being the quieter Ocean Park Beach). San Juan's gay scene is being driven by high rents from the traditional gayborhood of Condado to the grittier Santurce area. A well-accepted local gay community thrives on the quiet, 21-mile long, beachy Vieques, where gay-popular inns include the renowned Inn on the Blue Horizon, and lesbian-owned Rainbow Realty offers upscale villa rentals.
Insider View: "Vieques Island is a fabulous place to live and visit, as it is safe and welcoming. The weather is almost always perfect." -- Lin Wetherby, owner, Rainbow Realty
Don't Miss: On a moonless night at Vieques's eerily beautiful Cano Hondo, better known as Bioluminescent Bay, millions of blue-white glowing dinoflagellates swirl through the waters like aquatic fireflies.
Luxe Lodging Pick: The sophisticated, gay-friendly Inn on the Blue Horizon is a tropical Shangri-la, set on a crescent of white sand with nine antique-filled rooms.
Go to Puerto Rico
Inn of the Blue Horizon -
Calendar Highlight: April 17 marks Flag Day, a major holiday in American Samoa with longboat races, colorful parades, and traditional dances where islanders celebrate a vibrant Polynesian culture infused with U.S. naval history.
The 411: Divided between the U.S. Territory of American Samoa and the Independent State of Samoa, the stunning Samoan archipelago basks in the South Pacific, west of the Cook Islands and north of Tonga. Despite their different flags, the two entities maintain strong ties. American Samoa's residents live on six of its seven islands and atolls. Samoa's population of 177,000 outnumbers smaller American Samoa's 58,000 residents. Samoa's capital of Apia has a more developed tourism structure than American Samoa, with a plethora of sophisticated lodgings. Divine natural attractions and consistent climate entice most visitors, who can explore lava tubes, rain forests, waterfalls, reefs, and undeveloped beaches.
How Gay?: Gay visitors will find it refreshing that gender views are flexible in Polynesia, and especially in the Samoan islands. Unlike in more homophobic Fiji, queerness is a widely accepted part of Samoan culture, and Western gay men are often cruised, not just by transgender locals but also by officially straight men. Nevertheless, local culture tends toward traditionalism.
Insider View: "The Samoa islands are the homeland of fa'afafine culture, a Polynesian custom that celebrates transgenderism in society, while conservative public behavior among all genders is still practiced." -- Dan Taulapapa McMullin, out artist
Don't Miss: Occurring only once every four years, the Festival of Pacific Arts takes place July 20 to August 2, 2008, in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, with dance groups, tattooists, and visual artists from all over the South Pacific.
Luxe Lodging Pick: Ensconced on Samoa's idyllic Upolu Island, the Coconuts Beach Club consists of 22 rooms, suites, and thatched bungalows (with some built over the ocean), and a beachside restaurant famed as one of the best in Samoa.
Artist Dan Taulapapa McMullin
Coconuts Beach Club
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