I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 



Vietnam on famil, en famille

Playing with restaurant staff at Temple Club, Saigon.

Last week, I travelled in Saigon and Hanoi for work, with a 17-month-old in tow. News flash: we survived.

It’s not often I do a blog about the family, mainly because the term ‘mummy blogger’ makes me cringe, and also because I think most people would be bored with twee tails of my junior assistant. But if you’re not, here goes:

Living in Australia and wanting to holiday with kids, conventional wisdom says you holiday either at your local beach, in Queensland or, further afield, in Bali or Fiji. Lovely places all of them, but hello? How limited is that?

What little advice I read about babies and Vietnam was a truism in the Lonely Planet that the main problem is controlling what they put in their mouths.

So true, especially when I watched her throw her dummy onto the ground in Saigon’s main wet (very wet) fish market. A kind trader hosed the dummy down with cold water and then watched carefully to see if I’d reinsert. I diverted the awkward situation by pausing to give the baby a drink of water after thanking the trader and walking off, mid-drink.

Fiji trades on its affinity with children: the same should be said for Vietnam. The staff on Vietnam Airlines played with her curls incessantly, taking lots of photos and trying to stuff her with chocolate cake, and it was no different throughout the country. As another traveller said to me recently, “Asia is far more patient with children than our Western countries.”

Chilling out in a bassinet aboard the Vietnam
Airways flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

The minute we walked into hotels, restaurants, galleries or shops, a smiling person would drop to their knees and say hi to the baby, leaving me free to shop, check in, or check out the menu. Baby chairs were everywhere (compared with the icy reception I received from a Sydney maitre’d recently: ‘No, madam, we do NOT have high chairs’), and people, you could order off-menu to suit the child!

I stayed in four and five-star hotels, so paid accordingl: the going rate for babysitters was $8/hour, comparable to Bali’s five-star hotel rates. Thanks to the three-hour time difference, the baby slept around 7 or 8pm, as the sun was going down, and I organised babysitters to co-incide when she’d be sleeping: easier on her, easier on them. I also spotted plenty of shops in the big cities selling bottles, dummies, wipes and nappies: babies are big business in Vietnam.

The main issues were the same ones we adults encounter: keeping hydrated and avoiding the hottest and most humid times of the day. In August, Saigon was cooler and drier, whereas the noise and heat of Hanoi’s Old Quarter meant two hours outside at the most. Any more than that, and there were tears. I thought rooftop cafes would be a good, breezy escape, except there were so many escape routes – mainly over the side of unfenced terraces. Not so good.
A few pointers:
Most milk sold in Vietnam is sweetened, so ask for non-sweetened for babies’ bottles.
I have had success with night flights, as the baby is so exhausted, she’ll sleep all the way home, unless another kid starts bellyaching (which happened recently coming home from Bali. No fun for anyone, especially his parents).
In Hanoi, I used our pram for cool, early morning walks around the lake to watch the locals play badminton and do martial-looking exercises. Otherwise, the sidewalks are almost non-existent, so baby carriers make more sense, though kids do get hot if squished against you for a long time.
Gorgeous tropical fruit is everywhere – the usual rule applies to peel everything.

Essential packing items:
Dummy cord (see fish market above).
Baby food tubes (Rafferty’s Garden etc – they’re not packed in glass so they’re unsmashable, and sometimes kids like a taste of home such as spag bol or lamb casserole, no matter what the age. They’re great squirted over rice for a bigger meal.)
A toybag with short colouring-in pencils, books for the plane and favourite soft toy. 101 Dalmations, on Disney Channel, was invaluable, with plenty of time spent woofing at the screen.
Photos of family from home, so she didn’t miss her papa or nana.

(PS: if you’re wondering about the headline, ‘famil’ is short for ‘familiarisation’, slang for a press trip.)

Travel deals 26 August 2012

Mara tribe, Kenya

Meet the Masai, the 12 Apostles or the hamlets of the Nullabor Plains on an epic trans-Australian journey.

Pay $111 a night – a discount of 33 per cent – when you
book three nights at the Novotel Twin Waters Resort on the Sunshine Coast until
December 20. Located close to beaches and popular attractions like Australia
Zoo and Aussie World, the resort also provides free catamarans, kayaks, bikes
and mini putt putt golf, plus a water trampoline on the resort’s man-made
lagoon. Kids’ Club and babysitting services are available. 1800 072 277,

For many, the highlight of Victoria’s beloved Great Ocean
Road are the 12 Apostles near Apollo Bay. For others, it’s the local waterfalls
and rainforest walks. Check into the YHA and grab a winter special: stay three
nights, pay for two, saving $95. Costs $190 a double/twin room for three night stays
before September 20. (03) 5237 7899, yha.com.au.

Tootle down to Merimbula, on the south coast, to
rediscover what holidays used to be like when you were a kid. Cute villages,
broad sweeps of empty beach, jetties for dropping a line off and dolphins and
whales cruising by. Book two nights in an apartment or townhouse at the
4.5-star Coast Resort before September 21 and save almost 50 per cent. Facilities
include heated pools, tennis courts and big balconies. Costs from $360 for two
nights. 1300 130 483, travel.com.au.  

Quay West Resort, Bunker Bay

Trade your Weet-Bix and morning news for views of Bunker
Bay, three hours south of Perth in the Margaret River region. The vista from
the terrace of the Quay West Resort is of the blue waters of the Indian Ocean,
and brekky is drawn from local produce, with a splash of sparkling wine, as
befits the locale. Save $65 on bookings before September 30. Costs from $478
for two nights for two people, midweek (Sun-Thurs), includes breakfast for two.
13 15 15, quaywestresortbunkerbay.com.


Cross the continent in four days, from Perth to Sydney on
The Ghan, stopping at historic crossroads and watching the scenery of desert,
mountains and the Nullarbor Plain pass your window. Red Sleeper cabins sleep
two, with beds that fold into day lounges, and the trains feature newly
refurbished Matilda Cafés and new Red Gum lounges. Take a friend for free when
booking Perth to Sydney in a Red Sleeper before October 31. Costs $1510 for two
people, 132 147, greatsouthernrail.com.au.


One of the country’s top lodges, Saffire Freycinet, on
the Freycinet peninsula, comprises just 20 beautiful suites looking out to the
Hazards Mountains. Book a deluxe suite for four nights, pay for three and get
all meals and dinner drinks, activities including guided walks, fishing,  golf, wine tasting, canoeing, cooking demos
and learn to mix the perfect cocktail. 
The deal also includes $100 to spend in the spa until end September.
Costs $5400 a suite, 1800 723 347, saffire-freycinet.com.au.

Slick and sweet: Eurostar

It’s easy to slip a little ski weekend in on your British
adventures – the Eurostar runs from London to over 40 ski resorts in the French
Alps, including Courchevel, Tignes, and Les Arcs. Book now for travel between
December 21, 2012 – April 13, 2013. Costs from $123 a person (standard class)
or $190 (standard premium class). Travel agents or raileurope.com.au. 


Stay eight nights, pay for just four at the Kata Palm
Resort & Spa, in southern Phuket, down past Karon Beach, and you’ll also
get breakfast daily, return airport transfers, one dinner and a 30 minute
traditional Thai massage for each person. The deal runs until October 31, in a
superior pool view room. Costs from $245 a person, twin share. 1300 138 755,

You deserve sun: specifically, you
deserve Fijian sun. Book five nights at The Westin Resort & Spa and save up
to 50 per cent. Includes return flights with Air Pacific, airport transfers and
daily breakfast. Book by September 28, stay between November 1-December 27 and
January 6-March 31. Costs from $1169 a person for five nights, twin share,
including flights. 1300 358 382, coralseas.com.au.


Though the Olympics are now over, London will always have
Wimbledon, from June 24, 2013. Book before November 30 and get 5 per cent off
three-night packages, which include a reserved seat for two days at The
Championships on Centre and No. 1 court, three nights’ accommodation, breakfast
daily, London Travel cards, programs, admission into the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis
Museum and lunch at The Wimbledon Experience Club. Costs from $2049 a person,
twin share, 1300 730 023, keithprowse.com.au


Wildebeest migrating across the Masai Mara, flamingos on
Lake Nakuru, sunrise over Mt Kilimanjaro. Scenic Tours’ ultimate African small
group tours spend 31 days on a Grand African Adventure, from Cape Town to
Jo’berg via Tanzania and Kenya. Save up to $1600 a couple on 2013 tours when booked
by December 31. Costs from $15,695 a person, twin share. 1300 723 642, scenictours.com.au.


High on many people’s hit list, the Trans-Siberian
railway crosses from Vladivostok, in Russia’s far east, to the capital, Moscow,
over 15 days. The Golden Eagle is a luxury train that covers the epic 10,600-kilometer
journey, its highlights including the onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in
Moscow and Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, in remote Siberia. Forget
rough sleepers – cabins have underfloor heating, DVD players, power showers and
there’s fine dining in the restaurant. The package includes $700 air credit per
person, two nights’ accommodation before the trip, tour guides in nine stops,
all meals, transfers and tipping. Costs from Book before November 30, 2012 for
travel on February 24, 2013. $14,495 a person, twin share. 1800 044 066, www.travel-associates.com.au.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Midnight marathons and trekking in Bhutan: travel deals 19 August

Anantara Dhigu Resort & Spa, Maldives

Midnight marathons, trekking in Bhutan and the London Design Festival; great international and domestic travel deals.

The great thing about Adelaide is the wineries on its
city fringe including the granddaddy of them all, Penfolds’ Magill Estate,
where you can stop for a drop or dinner. Book two nights at the Oaks iStay Precinct,
in the centre of Adelaide, and get an upgrade to a one-bedroom, fully
self-contained sky view apartment with free parking. Costs from $119 a night,
two night minimum. Book by August 31, stay by September 30.  1300 721 514, oakshotelsresorts.com.au.


Footy fever is about to hit Melbourne in earnest, when
the AFL grand final wraps up in September. Stay at Melbourne’s designer sports
hotel, the Middle Park Hotel, and they’ll serve up a pre-footy frothy, a
counter meal by the city’s top meat man, chef Paul Wilson, and a gourmet brekky
to set you to rights, the next morning. The Finals Fever package is available
throughout September. Save $49, costs $209 a night for two people. (03) 9690
1958, middleparkhotel.com.au

Skyview apartment, Oaks iStay Precinct, Adelaide


With snowy Mt Wellington overlooking Hobart, it may be
cold, but it’ll always be picturesque. A destination in its own right, the
harbourside Henry Jones Hotel has been a jam factory and a whaling station and its
current reincarnation is as a sleek art hotel. Stay until September 30, save 28
per cent on your room rate. Costs from $234 a night (standard room) or $328
(deluxe spa harbour view room). 1800
420 555, thehenryjones.com.au.


Far North
Queensland is one of the best vantage points to view the total solar eclipse
that will take place around 14 November, when the sun is completely blocked by
the moon. Stay at Peppers Beach Club & Spa in Palm Cove, and save 20 per
cent on your room. Book until September 9, stay from November 12-15. Costs from
$1530 for three nights in a lagoon spa room, includes breakfast for two daily.
1300 737 444, peppers.com.au


Just 170km south of Darwin is one of Australia’s natural
gems:  Kakadu National Park. Explore the
eerily beautiful landscapes, from croc rivers to ancient galleries of
Aboriginal rock art, and the floodplains spread below you at Ubirr. The
three-day Kakadu and Litchfield small group tour includes 4WD transport, guide
and a stay at the Wildman Wilderness Lodge. Book before September 7, travel
from August 31-November 3 and get $600 toward your airfares. Costs $1559 a
person, twin share, land only. 1800 228 546, aatkings.com.au.

15th annual midnight run, Bangkok

THAILANDTake to Bangkok’s streets at night, when the temps are
cool and the traffic’s taken a breather, with the 15th annual charity
midnight run, to be held on October 20. Runners in the 6km and 12km races will
raise money for local causes. Stay two nights at the Amari Watergate, get two tickets
to the marathon (worth $11 apiece), an upgrade to a Grand Deluxe room, free
wifi, 2pm checkout and 20 per cent off spa treatments and food. Costs $347 a room
for two nights. +66 (0) 2653 9000, amari.com.


Trek to Taktshang Monastery, 900 meters above the valley floor, where it’s said Buddhism came to the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Gay tourism operator Gay Globe will lead a 10-day tour of the Kingdom of Bhutan from January 5, 2013, exploring the cultural and natural aspects of this secretive land. Book before September 30 and save 10 per cent. Includes accommodation, meals and private guides. Costs from $2691 a person. (02) 8005 1690, gayglobe.com.au

Chen Sea Resort & Spa, Phy Quoc, Vietnam

Detox in style at the four-star Chen Sea Resort & Spa Phu Quoc, on the
southern holiday island of Phu Quoc. The deal, valid until September 30,
includes an hour-long Vietnamese massage for two people, daily breakfast, a
three-course lunch or dinner for two, free meditation and private tai chi
classes. Costs from USD$552 for four nights. +662 101 1234, centarahotelsresorts.com

Glowing London is still hot, post-games, with the London
Design Festival (September 17-23) the next cab off the rank. Get in on the good
vibes and stay five nights in a Falconers two bedroom suite at the five-star 51
Buckingham Gate, a Taj hotel. Stay until September 30 and save 20 per cent,
that’s $1339. Costs from $3495 for five nights. (02) 9331 9000, tajhotels.com.


Have the kids been good? Treat them with a holiday in the
Maldives. The Anantara Dhigu Resort & Spa is every kid’s dream, with one
Dining by Design dinner, a dolphin cruise, unlimited ice cream (for genuine kids
only!), babysitting, kid’s cooking classes and seaplane airport transfers. 
For travel until January 9. Costs from $5368 for two adults and two children
under 12, for four nights. +66 (0) 2365 7500, anantara.com.


Singapore sizzles to the sound of smokin’ engines from
September 21-23 when the 2012 Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix hits town.
It’s not all about crazy cars, the entertainment includes Katy Perry, Noel
Gallagher and Maroon 5. If you’re an 80s tragic, Bananarama, The Proclaimers
and The Pretenders are also strutting the stages. A three-day Premier Walkabout
ticket costs around $115 a day with access to all zones, singaporegp.sg.  Or stay in four-star accommodation and get
transfers, breakfast and a three-day Grandstand ticket. Costs from $892 a
person, four nights. 1300 747 400, creativeholidays.com.
Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Frogs in the belly get you the jump on Saigon

Saigon’s jumping chicken: high in calcium.

I can’t even really look at this photo any more: not after knowing that one of these beasts is now part of me.

In a life spent putting weird things into mouth, Saigon’s ‘jumping chicken’ was a fairly thoughtless decision. It’s only now, afterwards, when I look at the photos, that I’m feeling the qualms.

The frogs (apparently, though they look like toads, they’re definitely frogs) are part of an after-dark tour on the back of vintage Vespas through the streets and alleyways of Saigon.

It’s a wind-in-your-hair, frogs-in-your-belly extravaganza, made moreso because of its simplicity: restore a few gorgeous old Vespas, grab a handful of punters and take them to a few out-of-the-way eating haunts and bars around the city, experiencing life as the locals live it.

The locals cruise the streets, shoulder-to-shoulder with their mates, slowing down for a chat. Long-haired girls in hot pants gossip and do phone. Mums charge determinedly between with kids in front. I even saw one family – mum, dad and a boy about 18 months, who was seated on a wicker chair, its legs wedged across bike’s the petrol tank to keep the little fella from toppling into the traffic.

Knee to knee with the rest of Saigon, cruising the streets on the back of a bike thrashes sitting in a sealed taxi, though a facemask would go down well in peak hour. Preferably one with a pirate’s skull-and-crossbones on it.

And if the thought of a little traffic bingle has your knickers in a knot, the frogs are allegedly high in calcium: so at least your bones would knit back quickly.

Trip details:
Saigon After Dark tour costs US$72 a person for four hours, includes Vespa, driver, guide and all food and drinks, Vietnam Vespa Adventures

Getting there: Vietnam Airlines flies daily from Melbourne and Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), costs from $1180, vietnamairlines.com

Staying there: The five-star Caravelle is the grande dame of Saigon’s hotel scene, and will be relaunching a new look over the coming year. Costs from VND660,000++/A$299 deluxe room/night (84-8) 3823 4999 caravellehotel.com Newest kid on the blog, the four-star Novotel Saigon Centre, has an opening deal which includes free wi-fi and 10 per cent off spa treatments until October 30. Costs from USD$100++ superior room/ night. +84 (0)8 3822 4866, novotel.com.

The toast of Saigon

That’s not a fruit bowl. THIS is a fruit bowl.

Ah, lovely Vietnam, where a complementary fruit arrangement in your room isn’t a couple of geriatric bananas and an aged granny smith, but chock-full of hairy ramabutans and a whole mango. That baby lasted all of 20 minutes after I checked into the new Novotel Saigon Centre this evening.

The scents of Vietnam started on its national airway, with lotus-scented refreshing towels (sic), a pork-heavy menu and tart French wines.

In my few brief hours in the city, Saigon’s served up all the standard Asian cliches – families of four on the one moped, incessant traffic, stalinist scupltures on major roundabouts, and sidewalks that are masquerading as cafes, moped parking lots, shoe and trucker hat shops, or just enormous holes that could drop a large man into the sewers below.

Tomorrow, the sleeves are rolled up and Saigon’s underbelly should prepare to be probed.

Champagne free-flow on sale! Travel deals: 12 August 2012

Tadrai Island Resort, Fiji

Get classy in Britain, test the champagne free-flow in Langkawi or slip into something comfortable in the Kimberley.
Some of the world’s most pure air blows through Strahan,
a fishing village on the west coast of Tassie. Base yourself here to cruise the
Gordon River, catch the West Coast Wilderness Railway or to taste the divine
wine and cheese that results from such purity. Book a hilltop
standard room at the Strahan Village and pay half price until
September 30. Costs from $55 a person a night, twin share.1800
420 155, strahanvillage.com.au


The seaside town of Queenscliff, an hour from Melbourne,
grooves to the tunes of the Blues Train, a steam train that shakes, rattles and
rolls over the rails to Drysdale and back, serving up dinner and a blues show.
The ‘D’ carriage is for dancing and there’s a bar on board, too. Stay two
nights at the Big4 Beacon Resort and get two tickets to the train, worth $185, transfers
to the train, a recovery brekky hamper and noon checkout. Costs from $272.50 a
person for two nights, twin share, 1800 351 152, beaconresort.com.au.
Tickets are also cut from $92.50 to $50 during August and September. 132 849, ticketek.com.au.


Get a bird’s-eye view of the Red Centre with a balloon
flight over Alice Springs and its dramatic surrounds. Stay two nights at the
four-star Crowne Plaza Alice Springs and get upgraded to a Mountain View room
and a 30-minute balloon flight. Kids under 19 stay free, pay $209 for
ballooning. Book by 3pm October 5, stay until October 12. Costs from $439 an
adult. 1300 130 485, travel.com.au.


Families can discover the heart of Sydney when they book
a premier room for four nights, and pay for just three at the five-star Sydney Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. The
hotel will also throw in a family pass to Taronga Zoo and free internet.  Book before January 31, stay now until
September 30, December 16-24, 2012 and January 2-31, 2013. Costs from $1074 per
family (2 adults +2 kids) for four nights. 1800 044 066, travel-associates.com.au.


The quiet, fern-lined pools of Zebedee Hot Springs, on El
Questro cattle station, are the most ecologically sound spa you’ll ever
encounter. Soak it up in between outback hikes, bush-bashing down the Gibb
River Road, ogling crocs in Windjana Gorge, exploring the Bungle Bungles and
ancient caves on this nine-day Wild Kimberley tour. Accom is a mix of permanent
tents and al fresco camping. Was $2195, save 20 percent on September 11
departure. Book by September 7, costs $1756 a person. 1800 018 871, intrepidtravel.com.

Snorkelling at Orpheus Island, Queensland


The secretive hideaway of Orpheus Island, off the coast
of Townsville, is sheer island luxury. Stay five nights, pay four, saving $1400
a couple. The package includes sensational meals from the kitchen of Cheong
Liew protégé Arie Prabowo, selected wines and beers, use of dinghies, cats, and
snorkelling equipment as well as a daily nature-based experience, be it a
sunset cruise, fishing or island tour. Stay till January 21, including the
Christmas period. Costs from $5600 for two people. (07) 4777 7377,


Oh, they know how we like it, at the Datai Langkawi. The
grand dame of Langkawi is cutting 25 percent off its regular rates with a
stay-three, pay-four deal until December 19, and includes daily breakfast with champagne
on free-flow.  Accommodation is a deluxe
or superior villa and also included are limo transfers, a private dinner on the
beach for two, 120 minutes of spa treatment per person, a mangrove tour and guided
nature walk. Costs from $2338 for four nights. +60 4 959 2500 www.dataihotels.com

The Datai Langkawi, Malaysia


Sometimes, a bit of class doesn’t go astray, especially
when you’re upgraded from standard to lovely first class. Buy a BritRail Flexi
Pass for four or eight days by August 30 through International Rail and get a
free upgrade to first class when you use the pass any time in 2013, travelling
through England, Scotland and Wales. Costs from $355 for a four-day pass. 1300
387 245, internationalrail.com.au.


If you can’t get enough of winter, now’s the time to
think about the Christmas ski season. Ski Hakuba and stay just 150 meters from
the ski lifts at High Mount Hotel. The deal includes breakfast and a six-day
lift pass. Book by 3pm September 28, travel December 14-29, January 3 – April
30.  Costs from $1099 a person, twin
share for seven nights. 1300 130 485, travel.com.au.  

Innsbruck, Austria


The capital of the Alps, Innsbruck, has city breaks
including a three-night stay in a four-star hotel and a 48-hour Innsbruck Card,
worth E35, with E227 value. Includes a guided walk through the medieval town, rides
on seven cable cars, a sightseeing bus tour, entrance to museums including the
Ambras Castle, Swarovski crystal museum, a cocktail at the town’s casino, and
there’s coffee and cake in the clouds, at the Alpenlounge Seegrube restaurant.
Costs E219 (A$256) a person, twin share, for three nights. +43 512 56 2000, innsbruck-packages.com.


The new adults-only Tadrai Island Resort is sleek and
chic, with the Mamanuca islands’
signature white sand beaches. Includes champagne on arrival, all meals, drinks
and butler services. Stay seven nights and get one return flight from Australia
to Nadi with Air Pacific, stay 10 nights and they’ll give you two international
return flights. Book by September 11, travel until December 16. Costs $10,077
(two people, seven nights) or $14,399 (two people, 10 nights). (07) 5524 5222, tadrai.com.

Howe Island

When you breathe your next yoga breath, your lungs are
filled with the pure air of Lord Howe Island during this wellness retreat with
yoga teacher Charlotte Dodson. You may have spotted her recently teaching Lara
Bingle, and other radiant celebrity followers include model Miranda Kerr and
fashion designer Kit Willow. Pinetrees
Spring Wellness Retreat’s six-night packages include two daily yoga sessions
with Charlotte, daily fitness sessions, wholefood cooking classes, organic
gardening classes and wine tasting (that’s organic wine, of course!) Ayurvedic spa treatments are also available and then
there are the island’s everyday charms – snorkelling, swimming, kayaking and
mountain climbing. Runs from September 3-7 and November 17-23.  Costs from $1270 a person twin share
(excluding airfares). (02) 9262 6585, pinetrees.com.au.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Bathrobes and pearls: travel deals, 5 August 2012

Crown Metropol, Melbourne

Souveniring bathrobes, cruising with Agatha Christie or shopping South Sea pearls in Manila, read on for this week’s domestic and international travel deals: 


It may be chilly but Sydney’s event’s scene is hotting up
in August, with the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival (August 21-25) or, if lycra
is more your scene, the City 2 Surf (August 12). The four-star Metro Hotel on
Pitt’s winter special includes one night’s accommodation for two in a superior
deluxe queen room, dinner at its restaurant, a bottle of wine and midday check-out
on stays until August 31. Costs $199 a room, 1800 004 321, metrohotels.com.au.

You don’t have to try to smuggle the plush bathrobes out
of Melbourne’s sleek Crown Metropol: the hotel is giving you two robes to
celebrate winter. They’ll also include an in-room movie, valet parking and breakfast
at its newest restaurant, Mr Hive, when you book a one of its Luxe King rooms
until September 2.  While rooms normally start
from $310 a night, the winter package, with dinner and robes, costs from $395 a
room a night, 03 9292 6211, crownmelbourne.com.au. 

Karijini Eco Retreat, Western Australia
If you love camping but can’t convince the other half of
its joys, start with baby steps, in a deluxe eco tent at Karijini Eco Retreat,
in the Karijini National Park, in the Pilbara. The tents have their own
bathroom, decks, king-sized beds and linen (no sleeping bags!) yet are designed
to be ecologically sustainable, using solar power and recycling water. 
Book before August 30, stay two nights between September 1-30 and get a free
whale watching cruise for two. Costs from $323 a night, 1800 002 333,

The Gold
Coast’s glistening foreshore is lined with walking tracks and bike paths which
is just as well, as a rash of great, new restaurants has recently opened around
Surfers Paradise. The family-friendly Mantra Crown Towers is 100 meters from
the beach and is knocking 20 percent off three-night stays in its one-bedroom
apartments. Facilities include a lagoon pool, waterslides, kids’ playground,
spa and sauna. Stay before October 7, costs from $453 a room for three nights,
517, mantra.com.au.


One of the country’s top lodges, Saffire Freycinet, on the Freycinet
peninsula, comprises just 20 beautiful suites looking out to the Hazards
Mountains. Book a deluxe suite for four nights, pay for three and get all meals
and dinner drinks, activities including guided walks, fishing,  golf, wine
tasting, canoeing, cooking demos and learn to mix the perfect cocktail. 
The deal also includes $100 to spend in the spa. Costs $5400 a suite, 1800 723
347, saffire-freycinet.com.au.
Larapinta Trail, Central Australia

The Larapinta Trail runs 223 kilometres from Alice
Springs across the Western MacDonnell National Park toward Mt Zeil. The area has
recently been handed back to its traditional Aboriginal owners and World
Expeditions is celebrating by letting you take your best mate free, with a
two-for-one deal on its three-day Larapinta Experience. Single travellers will
get 25 percent off. Travel between August 31 – September 21. Costs $995 for two
people, or $750 for single travellers, 1300 720 000, worldexpeditions.com.au.


Celebrate Agatha Christie’s birthday on her beloved Nile
River, with a two-in-one deal and a copy of ‘Death on the Nile’ in hand. The
12-day tour includes seven days cruising the Nile on a luxury small ship, and
afternoon tea on the terrace of the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract, where she
stayed while penning the book. Costs $7,100 for the first person and their
companion travels free. Singles pay half price, costs $5170, 1300 851 800, abercrombiekent.com.au.

Vijitt resort, Patong, Thailand

Set on the white-sand Friendship Beach in Phuket, 30
minutes from Patong, get three nights free when you book seven nights at the
five-star Vijitt Resort. The deal includes an hour-long massage for two and
buffet breakfast daily. Book before August 31 and get a free upgrade to a pool
villa. Normally $1770 a villa, costs $900 for seven nights on stays until October
31, 1300 305 870,


The Angkor Wat temple complex is Cambodia’s biggest drawcard
and the world’s largest Hindu site. Stay four nights at the 4.5-star Angkor Century Resort & Spa,
just 15 minutes from the massive complex, and get a free private full-day tour
of Angkor Wat. Book until 3pm September 21, travel until September 30. Costs
from $199 a person for four nights, twin share, 1300 130 485, travel.com.au. 

shopping has to be experienced to be believed: South Sea pearls, awesome
handbags and a shoe scene that puts all other countries to shame. Stay three
nights in the thick of it at the five-star Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila and
pay for only two nights. Book by August 30, stay by September 30. Costs from
$431 a room for three nights, 1300 888 180, zuji.com.au.

Stay five nights, pay for only four at the largest
overwater villas in the South Seas, in the five-star St Regis Bora Bora, in
Tahiti. The deal also includes return flights from Papeete to Bora Bora
airport, and boat transfers from the airport to the hotel, as well as daily
breakfast, and if you’re a honeymooner, 
bonuses include a free couple’s massage. Book by August 31 for stays
November 15-December 20, 2012 and January 10-March 30, 2013. Costs from $3179 a
person, twin share, 1800 044 066, travel-associates.com.au.

Burgundy’s fame is based on its cuisine, and who better
to reveal its treasures than one of three truly great chefs. The digs are a
16th-century chateau and the chefs are Philippe Mouchel of Melbourne’s PM24 , George
Biron of Sunnybrae in Birregurra, WA and the official Hottest Chef 2012 in The
Australian Hot 50 Restaurant Awards, Andrew McConnell of Cumulus Inc, Cutler
& Co, Golden Fields and the Builders Arms. Each chef will spend a week in
May with up to 10 guests and the resident sommelier, uncovering the Grand and
Premier Crus wines of the Cote d’Or, shopping at the local markets, conducting
daily cooking classes and celebrating with spectacular chateau and local
restaurant dinners. Costs $9000 a person for seven nights, twin share, land
only, tastesofburgundy.com.
Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Indian summer coming up

I must be missing my beloved hiking tent, because I saw this teepee in Sydney’s Koskela, when I was putting Kitchen by Mike through its paces (big thumbs up to the chorizo and chick pea stew and the pizza), and thought, “I must have one.”

The basic concept is so gorgeously simple, four sticks and a wrap of fabric, but summer is coming (oh, yes it is) and it’s time for cowboys and indians in the back yard. Or just massive floor cushions, a carpet and a jug of something with lots of ice and mint in it.

After four days of blue-sky days in Sydney, I can believe that Melbourne is soon to be similarly blessed by the weather gods.

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