Morning glory on ANZAC Day

“Where’d you get those badges?” I heard a little girl ask an old fella today.

“They’re war medals, love!” he said, pointing to the string of metal hanging from his chest.

For my foreign friends, today was, of course, Anzac Day, where Australia remembers its war dead. Sort of like 6 October in Egypt, but less glory-obsessed.

There was a good turnout at my local cenotaph, the memorial found in every town commemorating the local sons and daughters who have died for their country. There was a respectable showing of old blokes with their pressed trousers and medals, some smart older ladies with set hair and nice hats, and quite a lot of young teens wearing what most likely was their great-grandfathers medals and slouch hats. A few blokes with plenty of tatts and shaved heads had the look of Vietnam veterans about them, and amongst the flags was the banner for the Royal Australian Regiment, Second Battalion, which has served in Malaya, Borneo, Korea and Vietnam.

I remember being hauled off to Anzac Day parades when I was a kid, so it was the first time for the Jackson junior to get a dose. Admittedly, she’s a little too young to understand, but she kept quiet during the Last Post and the hymns, curled up against me in the baby carrier.

Later, as we walked away, we passed a very tall old Scottish man, leaning on his walking frame. The cheeky baby pulled a face at the old soldier. “I wish someone’d carry me,” he said, and trundled down the hill to the RSL (Returned Soldiers’ League) hall to play two-up.

Nirvana for the wild at heart

Rafting the rapids.

By boat or bike, paddling or pachyderm, the Island of the Gods is heaven for the adventurer.

more to Bali than the nightclubs and Kuta’s beaches: get on your
elephant, cycle among green paddy fields or take to the water to explore
its underwater life.

Elephant tours

into Bali’s Hindu culture with a cruise through the jungle atop an
Asian elephant. Don’t worry about the logistics of steering a four-tonne
animal, the elephants are guided by their mahouts (handlers) through
Elephant Safari Park, a world-recognised sanctuary in Taro, 20 minutes
north of Ubud. It started when Australian Nigel Mason rescued 10
endangered elephants from Sumatra and now includes a luxe lodge,
restaurant, night safaris, botanical gardens and white-water rafting and
has earned the thumbs-up from animal luminaries such as Steve Irwin.
Elephant safari tours from $US73/$US49 ($70/$47), include hotel
transfers, lunch and admission to the park. Bali Adventure Tours, +62
361 721 480,

Rafting the rapids

through Bali’s lush green scenery, from rice terraces to rainforests,
on the rushing Ayung or Telaga Waja rivers, which provide the perfect
vehicle for white-water rafting. Run by long-time outdoors experts
Sobek, the Ayung River run is best for families, with grade 2-3 rafting
that has a few quiet stops to catch your breath, while the Telaga Waja
river route sends you down shallow rapids on a grade-3 ride in a
two-hour adventure. From $US79/adult, $US52/child (7-15 years), includes
towels, showers, lunch and insurance, Sobek Bali Utama,

Tropical Trekking

Not-very-hard Bali trekking, Creative Holidays

in the quiet of the early morning, you can appreciate Bali’s nickname,
the Island of the Gods. The most popular walking trails are around
Bali’s highest and holiest mountain, Mount Agung, at 3142 metres, and
Mount Batur, 1717 metres, in the north-east. Hiking the crater rim of
Mount Batur is best done in the dry season: head up pre-dawn for a
spectacular sunrise. From 450,000 rupiah ($47), includes torches, hiking
sticks, wet-weather gear, hotel transfers, breakfast and guide,
For a more genteel amble, take a 2½-hour hike through rice paddies,
jungles and the village of Taro, with lunch at the Elephant Safari Park,
Creative Holidays, $63/adult, $45/child, 1300 747 400, or through travel agents.

On your bike

Roberts did it and you too can feel the tropical wind in your hair as
you pedal through the paddies. Staying off the scary main roads, with
their death-wish bemos (buses), seeing Bali by bike lets you listen to
the peaceful soundtrack of village life. From $47, includes transfers
and lunch,
Intrepid Travel’s “Beautiful Bali” tour includes one day cycling from
Ubud up into the hills, from $672/nine days, 1300 018 871,

Dive in

National Park in north-western Bali is considered one of the island’s
premier diving spots, with the coral reefs of Pulau Menjangan (Deer
Island) the star attraction. Guides are essential when diving in the
national park: you’ll find them at the jetty at Labuhan Lalang, the
island’s jumping-off point. To organise from down south, combine luxury
and diving with Anantara resort’s two-day certification courses in Barat
National Park, $344,
Sleepy Sanur, near Denpasar, is itself a divers’ nursery and also the
starting point for the southern hotspot of Nusa Penida island. From
$US131/four days, +62 361 288 829,

Catch a break

Tropic Surf

remote point breaks from your base at the secluded eastern Balinese
resort Alila Manggis, with Tropic Surf owner and guru Jack Chisholm.
Using the full moon, he’ll lead you on a moonlit surfing safari around
the little-known eastern coastline, $US661/night, four nights includes
accommodation, spa treatments, some meals and daily surf guiding, Alila
Manggis +62 363 41011,
Private surf guiding is also available, discovering the iconic, the
infamous and the unknown, from $US500/half-day (extra surfers $US100
each), which can include coaching, surfboard factory tours, transport
and access to the top events on the islands, (07) 5455 4129,

Click here to read more



Cradle Mountain, APT Tours.


Surf, swim or shipwreck hunt, Kangaroo Island’s beaches cater for all
comers, including the white-sand Vivonne Bay, often considered Australia’s best
beach. With jetties begging you to drop a line over, and farmers markets on the
first Sunday of the month, SA’s beloved island does winter beautifully. Knock
25 percent off your room rate at the 4-star Kangaroo Island Seafront Resort
from April 22. From $180 a night, 1300 130 485,


You don’t have to head to the far north to revel in Queensland’s island
culture. Morton Island is just over an hour from Brisbane’s CBD where you can
4WD, fish and dive wrecks to your heart’s content. Castaways Moreton Island lets
you save $120 between May 1-31. Costs $430 including two night’s accommodation
for two and transfers from the MiCat ferry, (07) 3909 3333,


The well-heeled Melbourne suburb of Prahran and its none-too-shabby
neighbour South Yarra are enjoying a restaurant renaissance, with notable
dining rooms recently opened by George Calombaris (Mama Baba) and the Reymond family
(Bistro Gitan). Stay amidst them at The Cullen, one of Melbourne’s three
ArtSeries hotels. The Cullen celebrates the work of contemporary artist Adam
Cullen and was recently voted the city’s coolest pad. Book a studio suite seven
days in advance and pay $358, 1800 002 333,

$$ WA

Kick back and learn about life from Mandurah’s most famous tourists, the
dolphins and whales that visit this cruisy town in southern WA. The 4.5-star
Seashells Mandurah sits right on the beach at Comet Bay, and is geared up for
both couples and families. Pay for two, get the third night and a bottle of
wine free when you travel before May 4. Costs from $836 for three nights, twin
share, 1300 551

$$$ NSW

You don’t have to go overseas for extreme luxury – in fact, you don’t
even have to leave the state. Three hours from Sydney, the Wolgan Valley Resort
& Spa is set on 4000 acres, with just 40 individual suites that look over
the national parks of the Blue Mountains, for the last word in eco-luxe. Stay
three nights, pay for two between April 1 and June 30, with three gourmet meals
daily and two nature-based activities each day including wildlife spotting,
horse riding and mountain biking. From $1950 a person, twin share, (02) 9290

$$$$ TAS

The reward for hiking Tassie’s great Overland Track is a dip in the freezing
Lake St Clair, the deepest lake in Australia. Or, you can dip your toes in and
nip back onto a warm luxury coach –  far more civilised! Travel at last
year’s prices with APT’s 12-day Royal Tasman tour, saving $225 a person if
booked before July 31 for departures after September. Includes accommodation,
meals, cruises and entrance fees across the southern island’s beauty spots including
Gordon River, Russell Falls, Freycinet National Park and Port Arthur. Costs
$4470 a person, see travel agents, 1300 229 804,

Sofitel So Bangkok’s uniforms
by Christian Lacroix.



With fashion guru Christian Lacroix at the design helm, it’s no wonder the
Sofitel So Bangkok is such a lush affair. Set beside Lumpini Park, the
two-month-old hotel includes a chocolate deli, Chocolab! Stay four nights, pay
for three on stays until May 20, and enjoy a decadent 4pm check-out and fruit
basket or flowers to celebrate the diva you really are. From $137 a night, 1300
884 400,


Aaah, New York, New York, so good they named it twice. Splash your cash on a
show in the nearby theatre district when you save up to 30 percent on Big Apple
hotel rooms during May and June. The three-star Amsterdam Court Hotel, in the
heart of the action in Midtown West, costs $235 a night, (02) 9037 0397,

Ulusaba Private Game


If it’s good enough for Virgin’s Richard Branson, Ulusaba Private Game
Reserve is good enough for us. Butting up against Kruger National Park, you can
be sure to tick off the Big Five during your twice-daily game drives and walks.
There’s no roughing it, the champagne’s on ice and the spa will soothe any
nerves. Stay four nights, pay for three until July 31. Costs from $1707 for
four nights,


Photographers should make a beeline for Egypt while its normally roaring
tourism industry is in a lull and the sites are relatively empty. Two can
travel for the price of one on Icon Holiday’s nine-day Treasures of the Nile,
which includes four nights in Cairo and four on the Nile. Applies to Friday
arrivals only, on sale until August 31 for travel to September 7. Costs $3125
for two people, twin share, 1300 853 953,


The Festival of the Tooth isn’t a dentist’s convention, it’s a wild
celebration of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha arriving in Sri Lanka in
the fourth century. One of the world’s great festivals, Perehara mixes
slow-moving elephants with whip crackers, drummers and fire throwers who parade
the streets of Kandy. This 15-day small group tour visits rock fortresses,
ancient Buddhist shrines, hill towns and tea plantations. Book before April 30
for a July 25 departure to save $250 a person. Costs $6209 (ex-Sydney), 1300
363 302,


Pull out all the stops this Christmas with the works: snow-clad mountains,
hot spiced drinks, festive markets and hotels that could be cut from a
gingerbread mould.  Albatross Tours’ eight-day package whisks you away to
spend the season in a timber chalet-style hotel the Swiss Alps, exploring the
lakes and cities of Luzern and Bern by Switzerland’s alpine trains. With access
to great walking trails, medieval cobbled stone
streets and some of the world’s best skiing, this is an unescorted tour
designed to let you do the exploring. The package includes most meals including
Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch. Costs $1579 a person, twin share,
1300 135 015,

See more at

Secrets from the grave revealed in Book of the Dead (aka The Mummy part II)

A ps to my post the other evening about The Mummy exhibition in Brisbane:

I flicked open this morning’s papers to find a front page story that famous Egyptologist John Taylor, who is in Brisbane for the exhibition’s opening, has discovered a piece of burial scroll of one of Egypt’s biggest names, amongst Queensland Museum’s holdings!

Apparently, the scrap of papyrus belongs to the Book of the Dead – a burial scroll laden with spells – that was written for the 15th-century BC chief builder Amenhotep, Egypt’s top builder during the construction of Karnak temple. The papyrus was donated in 1913 by an unknown woman.

You can read the full story in today’s Australian here:

Top of Tassie on go-slow

“Far OUT!” says the man in my life. “There’s nothing here. Nothing! No McDonalds. No KFC. No Red Rooster.”

Driving across the top of Tasmania, from Launceston to Burnie late on a Friday afternoon, there is a notable lack of inhabitants, but it’s more than compensated for by the signs of life: two cheese factories, a chocolate factory and tasting shop, a Fuchsia Factory (don’t ask me), Penguin Market and The Big Penguin. I suspect they don’t actually sell penguins, but it is the street market at the town named Penguin.

Instead of stinky fast-food shops, there is soft mist on farm dams, a sunset of gold, rose and powder blue. There are busy milking sheds with black-and-white cows waiting for their turn, tiny towns with tiny white churches, arched bridges over little brooks and I learn that the town of La Trobe is the platypus capital of the world.

When we hit Devonport, the billboards start – McDonalds in 10km! Doesn’t seem so important by now.

Priest keeps mum about temple secrets, now unwrapped by scientists

Looking inside the mummy to Nesperennub.

Last week, I had a sneak peak at a 3000-year-old-man. Sounds a bit naughty, but he had all his clothes on, and more.

Nesperennub was a temple priest in Thebes (now Luxor), whose mummified body now rests in the British Museum’s Egyptology collection.

The priest is now holidaying in Brisbane, and is the headline act in Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb, an exhibition that opens tomorrow, Thursday 19 April, at the Queensland Museum. 

There are four mummies in the exhibition, including the body of Tjayasetimun, a singer in the temple of Amun. 

“Sometimes, I look at her and I think about the hopes, dreams and memories of each object,” one of the curators told me as we wandered around the exhibition. “That’s why we investigate.”

One of the coolest things is the 3D movie at the entrance. It shows the CT and X-ray scans used to analyse the mummy, without unwrapping him and ultimately destroying his fragile frame. From this, a rather lifelike model of the priest’s face was constructed, and is also on display.

For tickets:

Putting the Gold Coast in your face

Risque … chocolate three ways at Salt Grill Restaurant, the Hilton Hotel.

New food stars have come out to shine on the Gold Coast, leaving kebabs and burgers in the shade.

new Hilton hotel features another Gold Coast newbie, Sydney chef Luke
Mangan, who has made the trek north to open Salt Grill restaurant. Four
months after opening, it was awarded a Chef Hat at the 2012 Australian
Good Food Guide awards. As we toss over the difference between
striploin, fillet and tenderloin, Mangan works the room, smiling and
shaking hands like the best-trained celebrity chef.

In case you
forget who designed your dinner, his name is on every plate laid on the
table. And there are many, many plates on our table.

eat the kingfish sashimi, with the most divine crust of ginger,
eschallot and Persian feta. We eat chargrilled quail on shredded
zucchini studded with pine nuts and currants. We eat the tenderloin, we
eat the striploin. Heaven help us, we eat dessert: a strip of
sunshine-orange cheesecake and a risque-sounding chocolate three ways.

might be shocked but, finally, we are so full we forgo a post-prandial
cocktail in the hotel’s heaving bar, Fix, even if it is by international
barmeister Grant Collins, who lists Sydney’s Zeta bar among his

You would think we wouldn’t eat again but you’d be
wrong. The next night is earmarked for Bazaar, an “interactive
marketplace” housed in the QT Gold Coast hotel ( Forget tired hotel restaurants: every table is packed, wine is flowing, and the chefs in the alfresco kitchens are running.

an eye-popping international array of hanging meats, sizzling
barbecues, woks on fire, an embarrassment of raw fish and, when the
dessert chef pops out, he’s mobbed by grateful women like a celebrity
turning up to an AA convention. “It’s a buffet but it’s a buffet on
steroids,” one of the many beautiful staff members says.

restaurant pumps not only to its own beat but the beat of the nightclub
Stingray, one floor below, where waitresses in tight ‘n’ t’riffic red
minidresses mingle between thirtysomething local partiers, who are all
happy to leave at midnight, while still beautiful.

More great eats

1 Hellenika, Nobby Beach An
effusive Greek restaurant famed for its luscious baked lamb, though the
white marinated anchovies and chargrilled Mooloolaba king prawns are
worthy of the journey. (07) 5572 8009,

Vie Restaurant, Palazzo Versace, Main Beach Now serving Sunday brunch.
The duck confit on polenta is creamy and rich with the scent of truffle
and the wagyu beef divine. Order Bloody Marys and pretend you own one of
the yachts in the marina. $49 for two courses and welcome drink. (07)
5509 8000,

The Food Store, Hilton Surfers Paradise Create the perfect picnic with
charcuterie and ask hotel staff to set up a picnic at Main Beach.
Must-eats include dried, tissue-thin wagyu beef, black truffle duck,
chicken liver pate and muscatels. (07) 5680 8000.