The drive from Dili to Baucau is, for the most part, gorgeous. Suspended midway between the sea and the mountains, the road passes several beaches with very snorkel-able reefs before crossing a river into the little town of Manatuto. Although most of the buildings here were destroyed in 1999, itís still a very nice place to stop for lunch on the beach (try the Timorese Womenís Associationís cafť) and a look at the local potterís wares. Thereís a terrific 2-day coast-to-coast trek that begins here, winding through traditional mountain villages and ending up at a nature preserve on the south shore.

Vemasse, beyond Manatuto, is rice country, after which the road gradually leaves the coast and climbs through forests onto Baucauís plateau. Your introduction to what was once northern Australiaís top honeymoon destination is a full-length runway designed to cater to international airlines - and the national hope is that it may yet again. And then, abruptly, this blank landscape gives way to lush forest as you head over the edge of the plateau and down into East Timorís second largest Ďcityí.

There are two sections to Baucau, New Town and - logically - Old Town. All the interesting bits are in Old Town, which lies below Old Town at the foot of a steep limestone cliff -although still a thousand feet above the sea - and is built around a gushing fresh water spring. A number of very pretty colonial buildings have survived here in various states of repair; notable among them is the pink Pousada de Baucau, arguably the plushest hotel in the country (with a very good restaurant and great views over the Savu Sea). The 3km/2-mile walk down to Baucauís beach follows the spring as it flows under enormous banyan trees, over short waterfalls and along the way irrigates coconut groves and bright green rice paddies studded with traditional thatched houses.

If you canít live without electricity, hot water and reliable telephone lines, use Baucau as a base for exploring points east and south.