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… 



From the top of Australia to top drops of Australia: travel deals 28 October 2012

Petra, Jordan.

Visit the tippy-top of Australia, hang with Lawrence of Arabia’s mates in Wadi Rum or raise a glass in Wineglass Bay or the Barossa.

Wineglass Bay is often listed as one of the world’s top
10 remote beaches, paying homage to its perfect crescent of white sand. Visitors
here are more likely to move on four legs, or hop on two, such is the solitude
of the Freycinet peninsula. Freycinet Lodge is offering 50 per cent off on
stays until December 20, with brekky thrown in. Costs from $113.50 a person,
quote code PT004. 1800 420 155, puretasmania.com.au.
The limestone stacks that make up the 12 Apostles (psst:
there are actually only eight) are the main reason to stop in Port Campbell, a
bustling village on the Great Ocean Road, about 290km from Melbourne. The new
Anchors Port Campbell is perched on a cliff overlooking the dramatic coastline.
Stay two nights and save $160, which includes a Heytesbury Ridge tasting
hamper, featuring the best local food and wine. Costs $495 for two nights in a
self-contained unit. 0417 434 400, anchorsportcampbell.com.au.
The Barossa Valley’s original homesteads are beautiful
bluestone, and those at Jacobs Creek Retreat, Moorooroo Park, date from 1840.
Stay midweek at one of its five self-contained suites and pay less than half
price. Expect rose gardens, antique furnishings and sunken spa tubs. You’ll
also get a cooked breakfast, local cheese tasting plate, homemade fudge and a
bottle of wine on stays until November 29. Costs from $340 a night. 1300 130 483, travel.com.au.
Escape to the Blue Mountains midweek to recharge those
drained batteries and save 15 per cent. Choose from Mountain Whispers’ four
luxury cottages, which can accommodate two couples, and get two nights’
accommodation, two bottles of wine, handmade chocolates, port, breakfast
supplies and $35 toward dinner prepared by an inhouse chef. Book by November 30
for stays until March 31, 2013, Mondays – Thursdays. Costs from $816 for two
couples, for two nights. 0430 496 755, mountainwhispers.com.au.
Truly a great southern land, this 10-day Country and
Coast coach tour visits Australian icons, from sheep stations to Parliament
House, Kosciuszko National Park and Kangaroo Island on its route from Sydney to
Adelaide. There’s also fine regional food and wine, an Aboriginal cultural
experience and sea lions to be spotted. Save up to 5 per cent when you book and
pay six months in advance, valid on departures until December 3, 2013. Costs
from $3075 a person, twin share. aatkings.com.au.
The top of Oz, Cape York, Queensland
The first European expedition to Cape York, at the most
northern point of mainland Australia, was devastatingly unsuccessful, with just
three of 13 men surviving. Happily, while the landscape is still as ruggedly
beautiful, the 12-day journey is far more pleasant, exploring old gold mining
towns, Bloomfield Falls and cruise across Endeavour Strait to visit Thursday
Island by 4WD. Book the Cooktown & Cape York tour before December 31 to
save $350. Includes a cruise on the Daintree River and an excursion with indigenous
Guurrbi Tours. Costs from $6645 a person, twin share. 1300 229 804, aptouring.com.au.
Europe’s budget design hotels come to Switzerland, with
the 25Hours Hotel in Zurich opening on November 8. Zurich is a business town,
so deals are to be had on weekend stays. Normally from $278 weekdays, $185 weekends,
the hotel’s introductory offer costs from $225 weekdays and $153 weekends. A
member of Design Hotels, book from November 1 for stays until January 31, 2013.
+41 43 243 63 10, 25hours-hotels.com/zurich
or myswitzerland.com.
Island is just 25 minutes from Fiji’s Nadi international airport, and boasts
the full monty: white sandy beaches, palm trees, hammocks, and hey, look at
that kids’ club! Stay three nights at Sonaisali Island Resort and pay half
price, which still includes daily breakfast, free kids’ meals, airport
transfers and a jungle cruise. Water activities, including windsurfing and
Hobie cats, are also free. Book until November 15 for travel until June 15,
2013. Costs from $272 a person. 1300 883 887, travelonline.com.
Vale, Colorado.
Colorado’s not just for celebrities: kids get the
five-star treatment at Keystone Resort, 90 miles from Denver airport. Any kids
under 12, staying two nights or more, can ski or snowboard for free the entire
season, from November 2 until April 8, 2013, with no blackout dates. The
resort’s accommodation options range from luxury hotel rooms to self-contained
apartments, there are family private lessons and the new snowboard park is
designed for boarders from 3-6 years, with the motto, “if they can walk, they can ride”.
The Colosseum, Vatican pomp, ancient catacombs and Italian fashion: four reasons to slip the
word amore, into your vocabulary. Your Roman holiday includes
seven nights’ accommodation in a three-star hotel within walking distance from
the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, and return economy flights with Emirates,
departing from Sydney. Book before November 30, travel between February 1 –
October 31, 2013. Add on a Dubai stopover from $44. Costs from $2500 a person. 
1300 787 858, newhorizons.com.au.
Mt Stewart House, Co Down, Northern Ireland
Tour the premier gardens of the UK and Ireland, including
the 18th-century Mount Stewart House and Gardens in County Down,
Northern Ireland and Wales’
Bodnant House and Garden and Chirk Castle,
built in 1295. Toursgallery is giving away 12 months’ National Trust membership
to all tour guests on its 22-day tour departing July 20, 2013. Costs from $9988
a person, land only.
1300 307 317, toursgallery.com.
In the midst of the desert, there is life, as English
garden designer Paul Hervey-Brookes demonstrates on this 10-day tour through
the Kingdom of Jordan. Green thumbs will already know Hervey-Brookes won gold
at this year’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show for his ‘Discover Jordan Garden’. He’ll help you explore some of the country’s
2500 plant species in the Dibeen Forest, learn about Bedouin medicinal plants
and discover the quiet beauty of the desert flora of Wadi Rum, a favoured haunt
of Lawrence of Arabia. There’s also a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens and,
of course, the rock city of Petra and the ruins of its desert castles. Departs
from the capital, Amman, on April 18, 2013 and includes accommodation, guides
and some meals. Costs from $3212 a person, twin share. 1300 836 764, coxandkings.com.au.

Baby got backpack

Me and Yasmine, en cyclo, Hanoi. PIC: Belinda Jackson

Dummy cord, check. Vegemite, check. Belinda Jackson learns the art of travelling plus one.

Last month, I travelled to Vietnam for work with a 17-month-old in tow. Newsflash: we survived. We’re always talking about making work family-friendly – so, for the travel writer, it’s a case of “have baby, will travel”. 
For a travel writer,it’s a case of ‘have baby, will travel’. 
In the years before my family went from two members to three, I’d swirled the waters of the Ganges in India, galloped with gauchos through Chilean Patagonia, camped in the western deserts of Egypt and trekked the Kashmiri Himalayas.

In contrast, my first work trip with baby Yasmine was to the kids’ paradise of Fiji, when she was five months old. “Come and do a story about our nannies,” the Outrigger hotel offered. Say “nanny” to a woman who for five months hasn’t slept more than four hours at a stretch, and she’ll jog to Fiji.
“Babies are just hand luggage,” an old travel hand told me. “Travel as much as you can with them while they’re young.”
Apart from being so portable – and, for the first nine or so months, staying put when you put them down – babies travel free on domestic and some short-haul international routes, or pay up to 25 per cent of the adult fare, before jumping to a hefty 75 per cent once they’re aged two.
If that ain’t an incentive to go directly from the delivery ward to departure gate, I don’t know what is.
Yes, travelling with a baby has been a shock to the system: my gorgeous Mandarina Duck luggage has been replaced by a far sturdier wheeled duffle bag to fit the nappies, snacks, wraps and plethora of accoutrements required by a sub-10 kilogram human. The days of travelling with only carry-on luggage are but a dream. And each flight is spent praying she will sleep during meal service, to avoid the unbearable foot-in-tea scenario.
Chi-chi hotel rooms have given way to apart-hotels, such as Oaks and Mantra, which can be as compact as the tiniest hotel room, but with a kitchenette and often a washing machine squeezed in. It saves 100 calls to housekeeping for more milk, to warm up food and could they please send a cleaner to gouge yoghurt from the crevices of the linen-covered sofa. And I now understand villas and holidays in close-by Queensland.
I have joined the ranks of Australians who travel with a tube of Vegemite for a convenient, vitamin-packed sandwich. And I have learned the importance of dummy cords: our worst places for dropped dummies are in Hanoi’s wet fish market and on the toilet floor of a plane hovering over Indonesia.
Previously, I’d seen baby bassinets only from the other side of the bulkhead – in business class – but am now a firm fan. Their capacity ranges from 10-kilogram up to 18-kilogram babies, though not all planes have them, as I recently learnt while booking a flight, with Virgin Australia back to Bali. And night flights are ideal – unless someone else’s child chooses to spend the evening shrieking. Never have I seen so many bottles of baby Nurofen and Panadol emerge so swiftly from handbags throughout the cabin.
Hitching a ride … Vietnam-style. Photo: Getty
For most Australians, the pinnacle of baby-friendly destinations is Fiji, which trades on its affinity with children. Bali is getting in on the act, with its beautiful villas and armies of nannies (see story page 27), but deliciously wallet-friendly Vietnam is a close contender.
On the eight-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City, staff on Vietnam Airlines take endless photos of Yasmine, stuff her with cake and play with her curls incessantly. It is no different throughout the country. The minute we walk into hotels, restaurants, galleries or shops, a smiling person drops to their knees and says hi to the baby, leaving me free to shop, check in, or check out the menu.
More lessons: Asia is far more patient with children than Western countries, though without the safety barriers we enjoy, which means no pool fences, and rooftop bars are dicey propositions. Pavements are generally non-existent, so baby carriers make more sense than prams. And Asian nannies tend to learn their skills through experience with their own children or siblings, rather than a TAFE course. Make of that what you will.
We’ve also discovered that exclusivity doesn’t necessarily mean anti-children, to wit the super-luxe Orpheus Island, in far north Queensland, which figured if the baby could cope with the helicopter journey to the island, she was most welcome.
We haven’t hit Europe yet, but the plan is to break the journey with a stopover on Singapore’s Sentosa Island beaches. I have to add the coda that I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a healthy baby who learnt from a very young age to sleep in the car, on a sofa, in helicopters and in the noisiest restaurants beside the wok station.
And I’m travelling with only one. I doubt it would be so simple with two, or three.
However, hope springs eternal: last week, I spotted a woman at Tullamarine airport calmly navigating the crowds with four children under eight. Nobody was crying and everyone was carrying their own luggage, save the toddler in the stroller. Woman, I salute you.
I’m now at the stage where Yasmine is walking, yet without the facility to reason or bargain with. Will it get easier? I don’t know. But life is a journey, and each journey is unique. And that’s what keeps me (or rather, us) travelling.
Top five pearls of wisdom
  1. The Baby Jogger City Mini pram pulls shut with one hand and weighs just eight kilograms. Infants can be tucked in and carried on with the excellent Phil & Ted’s Explorer cocoon and I truck Yasmine around in an Ergobaby carrier.
  2. Essential packing items: a dummy cord that connects pacifier to progeny; and a large scarf for modest breastfeeding that doubles as a handy wrap during cold flights, emergency towel, sunshade …
  3. Feeding the baby (bottle, breast, snacks) on takeoff and landing helps their ears “pop”. Sucking on a dummy also helps.
  4. Baby food tubes (Rafferty’s Garden, Heinz and so on) are unsmashable and give kids a taste of home, such as spag bol. Squirt over rice or pasta for a bigger meal.
  5. Pack a toy bag with snacks, short colouring-in pencils, books and toys. Some airlines rent out iPads loaded with kids’ games and movies for about $10.
Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/baby-got-backpack-20121026-28a7v.html#ixzz2AZ0ZE43k

Bubbles and sunshine: Hayman Island, Qld

Sadly, this is not me. This is a leggy model,
at Hayman’s  (and my)beach 

The Sun Goddess awaits: my transport to Hayman Island is a gleaming white launch awash with sparkling wine. 
The smooth journey from Great Barrier Reef Airport on Hamilton Island to Hayman takes an hour, which is long enough to nibble at a plate of canapes and toast the journey with flutes of sparkling wine from the Hunter Valley’s Bimbadgen Estate.
A little box with chocolates handmade on the island includes a white-chocolate prawn: that’s a first.

Alongside me on the Sun Goddess are urbane European couples (the women carry delicious handbags), newlyweds from Japan and a few families.
‘m told the resort is almost full when I arrive, yet I see but a handful of people the entire time I’m there. “It’s the great mystery of Hayman,” says a Hayman staffer, Sam. “Where does everyone go?”
If they’re one of a privileged few – and I’ve joined this elite group for only a few days – they’re most likely at a beach villa.
Click here to read more 

Source: Belinda Jackson, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald, 27 October 2012

Lights out, Cairo! It’s 10pm already!

Downtown Egypt PIC: Belle Jackson
It’s not a hoax, the Egyptian government plans to turn the lights off in Cairo at 10pm.
Cairo’s been voted the world’s most 24-hour city, and I’ve heard it described not so much as ‘the city that never sleeps’ as ‘the city that sleeps in shifts’. 
Most Egyptians here in Australia are amazed at how early we shut up shop, and our household is constantly scrounging for somewhere to eat, midweek at 3pm, when all the sandwich bars and cafes have packed up, and the restaurants are only starting to think about dinner (6-9pm, no latecomers) Admittedly, this is country Australia we’re talking, but they’re still horrified. 
The plan to shut the country down at 10pm (midnight for restaurants) is the Egyptian government’s way to save electricity and increase productivity, to the tune of $1 billion a year. Hello? Cairo’s toddlers would laugh at the idea of being in bed at 10pm, let alone their parents doing so. 
People celebrate the massive festivites of Eid al-Adha (think Christmas times 10) by giving new clothes to children, and I saw, with my own eyes, parents out shopping with their children for new threads at 3am. The kids didn’t seem to mind. 
In a newspaper article I read this morning, locals laughed at the idea. One joker suggested the government “wants to turn us into Switzerland.” 
Perhaps it’s easier, as a traveller, to love places like Cairo for their chaos and their unwieldy wildness when you don’t have to live there yourself. But my heart says this town won’t close down. 
Eid Mubarak!

Seoul Purpose: a local’s guide to the South Korean capital

Gyeongbokgung Palace

The heart of Seoul lies in its palaces, skyscrapers  – and its stomach.

Seoul is a city is split by the River Han – old money to the north, new money south of the
river. Northside, think palaces, president’s house and traditional hanok houses: snap up classic ceramics or
perhaps a hanbok dress in Insa-dong
and drink 100-flower tea in Bukchon. 

To the south of the river, Gangnam is all
about Euro-luxe labels. Would-be models strut the streets as they shop at the Garosu-Gil
fashion strip, Asia’s largest underground mall, COEX, or too-cool
Cheongdam-dong, with its Italian boutiques and wine bars. 

At any tick of the
24-hour clock, you’ll find some of Seoul’s 10 million inhabitants in the pubs, karaoke
bars, restaurants, internet cafes and saunas. Iif anything closes, it’s always
late. In Seoul, the neon lights are never switched off. 

Tosokchon restaurant

Three things you
have to see in Seoul

Tea oils the wheels of Korean
society. The Beautiful Tea Museum is
a gorgeously serene space in the antiques hood of Insa-dong, selling and serving
130 beautiful teas and their accoutrements. It also exhibits perfect, simple
ceramics (Jongno-gu Insa-dong 193-1, www.tmuseum.co.kr ) Otherwise, go traditional at Cha Masineun Tteul, which lives up to its
name, ‘cosy garden where people drink tea’. Take a seat on hanoks warm floor as tea ladies serve iced
strawberry summer punch or hot spiced dae
chu cha
(Asian date tea), rice cakes and toasted sunflower seeds while you
look out on that cosy garden or out over the rooftops (Jongno-gu, Samcheong-dong 35-169).  

wonderful place to see Seoul’s traditional architecture is Bukchon
Hanok Village, considered the most beautiful corner of Seoul. Its neighbourhood
of 900 hanoks makes  a welcome change to the industrial-strength
apartment blocks that pierce the city skyline. The tourist information booth
opposite Gyeongbokgung Palace (Jogno-gu, 1 Sejong-ro, www.royalpalace.go.kr)  offers excellent walking maps of the area, including
a trail with eight signposted photo spots that give the
views down tiny, picturesque alleyways and over the rooftops to the palace. 

a more transient nature are the comically named ‘tent restaurants’ that dominate the city’s streets: sun shelters
lined with clear plastic walls to keep out the fierce winter winds. Korea’s
food culture is wildly rich: walk any street and try fried silkworms, suck
down a live octopus, chomp on pig’s trotters or snack on a jeon (Korean
savoury pancake) washed down with makgeoli
(rice wine). At the massive Noryangjin
Fish Market
, buy your seafood and have it thrown in the pot in seconds. No
matter how lean your purse or how limited your Korean, you’ll never starve in
this town.


Artisan Mecca
three-kilometer-long cobbled street, between the president’s house and Gyeongbokgung Palace,
sniffs at mainstream labels. On this strip, it’s all about one-offs and their stylish
producers –  shoemakers, milliners, bespoke
designers and art galleries, with a hundred latte-pumping cafés in between. Cool,
yes, but also resolutely Korean. You’ll still find locals queuing for the
classic sujaebi, which is soup with dumplings, green onions and kimchi. You can get your fill of this dish for about $6 at Samcheong-dong
Sujabei (Samcheong-dong 102).

At the table
With hundreds of
eating-out options – from traditional Korean barbeques to fusion fare – in every
neighbourhood, Seoul cements itself as one of Asia’s prime food capitals.

SUMMER FLAVOURS A visit to Tosokchon (Jahamun-ro 5-gil 5, Jongno-gu) means
tucking in to samgyetang, a summer broth of ginseng and chicken. Tosokchon enjoys
a cult following, with former president Roh Moo Hyun amongst its devotees.

LIKE A LOCAL Young chef Yim Jung Sik is
currently wowing New York diners with his ‘New Korean’ cooking. His Seoul
dining room JungSik (649-7
Sinsa-dong, Gangnam, jungsik.kr) is a celebration of truly beautiful plates.
The kitchen uses using quintessentially Korean ingredients to serve up fresh
delectable dishes.
CHEAP EATS Visit lpumdang (16-1 Dangju-dong, Jongno-gu, ilpumdang.co.kr) and you’ll
realise that Korea’s best chow isn’t necessarily found in the most expensive
restaurants. Order the Korean shabu shabu
– thin wafers of beef cooked in broth and served with dipping sauce.
Hidden cultural
to find out what the locals are really drinking? “We teach Korea’s drinking
culture – how to pour and what to drink,” says Korean-American guide Daniel Grey. His Korean Night Dining Tour steers you through the joys of
drinking soju (potent rice wine) and
snacking up a storm in the city’s alleyway barbeque cafés (ongofood.com). 

Korean Night Dining Tour

After you’ve been fed
and watered, the place to be on the last Friday of the month is Hongdae
district for Club Day, where $12
gets you entry to a dozen or more clubs in the happening Hongik University area.
Don’t expect to get home early – it kicks off around 11pm and diehards call it
a night around 5am. The second Friday of the month is the smaller Sound Day,
with fewer clubs and a focus on live music, from 8pm-5am (02 333 3910). 


a big night, recharge at a jjimjilbang (public bathhouse), which
is guaranteed to knock a dress size off you, thanks to a battalion of
scrubbers and fiery steam
rooms: expect rampant public nudity (yes, they are segregated). Most hotels
have their own sauna, or try the foreigner-friendly, seven-story Yongsan Dragon
Hill Spa (dragonhillspa.co.kr)

The Westin Chosun

Pillow talk
The Westin
Chosun (Jung-gu, 87
Sogong-dong, westin.com/seoul) is walking distance to Namdaemun market,
Myengdong fashion town, beautiful department stores and two palaces.

SPA BREAK On the side of Mount Nam sit the luxe San
5-5, Jang Chung-dong 2-Ga Jung-gu,

banyan tree.com).
Each of the hotel’s huge 32 suites has a steamy indoor pool and sauna and its
spectacular outdoor pool is a favoured haunt of Seoul’s elite.

Banyan Tree Seoul

BUDGET Sophias Guest House (Jongno-gu, 157-1 Sogyeok-dong, sophiagh.com), a 150-year-old hanok with ondol
rooms (mattresses on heated floors) around a pretty courtyard, a short walk from
the arty enclave of Insa-dong.

BOUTIQUE In the expat district of Itaewon you’ll find IP Boutique Hotel (737-32
Hannam-dong, Yongsangu, ipboutiquehotel.com) It has has an Alice-in-Wonderland feel, with jungle swings in
the foyer and compact, mirrored all-white rooms.

LUXURY RakKoJae (98 Gye-dong,
Jongno-gu, rkj.co.kr) is a serene luxury hanok in Bukchon, with natural jade
floors in its ondol rooms and a yellow-mud sauna.
National Folk Museum

Don’t leave Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace
, the first home of the Joseon dynasty.
Dating from 1395, it also houses the excellent National Folk Museum with a
great, kitch-free gift shop. Closed Tuesdays (royalpalace.go.kr) For live
entertainment, you can’t beat non-verbal theatre,
which is massive in Seoul – great if your Korean is rusty. 

Nanta is a
blood-pumping kitchen comedy set to traditional samulnori rhythm, and audience
members are regularly invited on stage to participate (nanta.co.kr). 

spend a day at Namdaemun Market; stop for dumplings in alleys of food
stalls or buy jars of pickled ginseng or gorgeous kitchenwear from more than
1000 stalls. Nearby, you’ll find the 14th-century Sungnyemun Gate, officially Korea’s
Number 1 National Treasure.



Celebrity snapper Kim
is Korea’s top commercial photographer and been named one of the
country’s Men of Culture in 2000.
What’s the quintessential
photograph of Seoul?
It lies somewhere between the historical past and
the advance of the modern structure: the juxtaposition between hanoks and palaces and its modern
architecture. It is best to find this in Gwangwhamun, near Gyeongbokgung Palace. 
What is the most beautiful street in Seoul? Personally, I think I’m
the only one in Seoul who enjoys red lights. I take photos while stopped in
Where’s Seoul’s
heart of art
? Hongdae and Insadong. Independent musicians play in the park
at night in Hongdae and there is a great grunge feeling to the street art
there. Hongdae has various flea markets where artists sell their wares while Insa-dong
is famous for its many art galleries and historic feeling. 
Where do you go to find nature in Seoul? Namsan, which is Nam
Mountain, the center of the city. There is nature even in the heart of Seoul,
if you know where to look. 
Your favourite art gallery in Seoul? Gallery Kong (157-78
Samcheong-dong, Jongno-go, gallerykong.com)

Getting there: To book your flight to Seoul with our codeshare partner, Singapore Airlines, visit www.virginaustralia.com or simply call 13 67 89 (in Australia).
Source: Belinda Jackson, Voyeur magazine, Virgin Australia. October 2012.

Donkeys in Donegal, lounging on Lizard: travel deals 21 October 2012

Donkey and Mt  Errigal, Donegal, Ireland.

Chase donkeys in Donegal, lounge like a lizard on Lizard Island (where else?) or off track into the Balkans on an Ottoman trek.

With the Barossa to the north and Adelaide Hills to the
east, the centre of Adelaide is but a hop-skip to some of Australia’s most
exciting vineyards. If wine’s not your cuppa, the city has a plethora of
chocolate shops that would make a dietician blush. The Mantra Hindmarsh Square
is offering discounts of 13 per cent on stays in its Parkview suits on Thursday
to Monday nights until February 21, 2013. Costs from $199 a night. 131 517 mantra.com.au.
The Sheraton brand is celebrating 75 years in the
business and the Sheraton on the Park is kicking up its heels with a
stay-three, pay-two deal on stays until January 31, 2013 at the Elizabeth St
hotel until November 14. Costs from $587 for three nights. Otherwise, stay at
the standard rates, and pay 1937 prices for breakfast, a whopping 95 cents for
two. (02) 9286 6000, sheraton75.com.
The new Stormie Mills suite, Cullen Art Hotel
Your dreams will be brightly coloured with Melbourne’s
famed street art, on a Street Art Sleepover at the edgy Cullen art hotel. The
package includes a night in its Street Art suites, with works by top artists
Swoon, Blek le Rat and D*Face and the newest, by Australia’s own Stormie Mills.
Also included is a one-hour street art tour and a bottle of wine. Normally $319
accommodation only, save over $100 on stays until December 30. Costs from $329
a night.  (03) 9098 1555, artserieshotels.com.au.
Discover the world’s first private nature photography
gallery, cruise the Gordon River and breathe in the exquisite beauty of Cradle
Mountain’s Dove Lake on a six-day self-drive ’Wilderness Wonders’ journey from
Launceston to Hobart, via Strahan. Includes accommodation at the Henry Jones
Art Hotel, Cradle Mountain Chateau
and Country Club Villas, Launceston. As an added bonus, buy one ticket, get one
free on the West Coast Wilderness Railway. For travel until December 20, costs
from $516.50 a person, twin share, quote code TOU1. 1800 420 155, puretasmania.com.au.
Lizard Island, Queensland
Lizard Island is one of Australia’s top resorts,
literally: it’s 240km north of Cairns, at the top of the Great Barrier Reef.
Stay five nights, pay for four, saving $1444. Includes all gourmet meals, fine
wines and champagne, and if you go off-track to one of its 24 private beaches,
the kitchen will pack a picnic hamper, so you’ll never go without. Book until
March 31, 2013 for stays from December 1 until March 31, 2013 (excluding
December 21-January 7). Costs from $5776 a room. 1300 863 248,
With 22 kilometres of white sand, Cable Beach is one of Australia’s great beach strips, lapped by the Indian Ocean. Book five nights in a pool view studio at the four-star Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa, pay for four. They’ll also include breakfast daily and return airport transfers. Book until November 30, stay until March 31, 2013. Costs from $725 a person for five nights (excluding flights). 132 757, harveyworld.com.au.

The author’s lounge, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
Jim Thompson, the man who brought Thai silk to the world,
is one of Bangkok’s great figures, and the Mandarin Oriental commemorates 45
years since his mysterious disappearance in 1967. Its package includes three
nights in a superior room with butler, a bespoke tour of Jim Thompson House, a
Thai massage, dinner and show at the hotels’ Sala Rim Naam restaurant and a
silk gift. Valid until March 31, 2013, with some blackout dates, save 18 per
cent, around $350. Costs from $1846 for three nights, +66 (2) 659 9000,
Prices in Bali are undoubtedly on the up, but the new 201-room Mercure Nusa Dua is celebrating its opening in late September with keen opening specials.  Close to the convention centre and Bali Collection shopping mall and airport, it’s also a short hop to the restaurant strips of Seminyak and Kuta’s clubs. Costs from $85 a night on stays until December 20. 1300 656 565, mercure.com.

Tick all China’s top sights – the Great Wall to the
Terracotta Warriors and the Three Gorges Dam – off your bucket list on this
14-day China Special, which departs April 6, 2013. Regular tours cost around
$3050, land only, but the price on this excursion includes return air fares to
China with Singapore Airways, so you can blow your savings on cocktails on
Shanghai’s swanky Bund. Costs from $3550 a person, twin share. 1300 720 000,
Croatia may well have entertained the likes of Tom Cruise, but go off track into the Balkans on the Ottoman Trek to discover the romantic cities of Sarajevo, Belgrade and Sofia and the perennial traveller’s fave, Istanbul in the Ottoman Trek. Book by January 13 and save 15 per cent. Costs from $750 a person, includes walking tours, six nights’ accommodation, all transport and guides and a Lonely Planet guidebook. 1300 287 226, busabout.com/earlybird.

 Beynac in Dordogne, France
French Travel Connection’s 17-day French tour starts in
Paris before exploring the WWII landing beaches of Normandy, the Loire Valley’s
castles, winescapes of Lyon and, of course, Champagne. Book by December 22 for
departure between May to September 2013, save from $300 a person and get a free
airport transfers. Includes 3 and 4-star accommodation, many meals and entrance
fees. Costs from $6486 a person, twin share. 1300 858 304, frenchtravel.com.au.
Breathe and feel the literary and cultural traditions of
Ireland, from Belfast in the north through Mayo to Tipperary down south, with
Donegal man James Clarke. “No, you will not rush to kiss the Blarney Stone,”
James warns. Instead, you’ll attend the spectacular Galway Writers’ Festival,
visit Fethard in County Tipperary where Ned Kelly’s folk hail from, and sail to
remote islands off the wild Donegal coastline. Includes all accommodation
(usually two-night stays), breakfasts, some lunches and all transport.  Next tour departs Belfast April 20, finishes
in Dublin May 1, 2013. Costs $8000 a person (excluding air fares).  0417 206 932, irelandjourneys.com.au

Where the wild things are: Ubud

Gateway to heaven: Villa Alamanda

The forest is absolutely roaring tonight. Frogs croaking, crickets creeping, there’s a bird that screams like it’s on a rotisserie. Well, it could be a bird. Our driver, Gusti, describes it as a ‘little animal’. It could be the small child in our party.

This is Ubud: fertile, fecund and slightly wild. And that’s just the people. With my unerring sense of bad timing, I’ve just missed the Ubud Writer’s Festival, where John Pilger was one of the headline acts, and again, I have failed to get to one of Ubud’s legendary yoga classes. Surely, however, nothing can top the inspirational class I did with Danny Paradise, years ago, for a mere $20 at one of the neighbourhood yoga hangs. The memory sustains me.

We’ve stayed in two places in Ubud this time, the first being a private villa, Villa Alamanda, and I’ve returned to the lodge at Taro Elephant Park for the second time this year.

The four-bedroom villa is set in a small village just outside Ubud, though you wouldn’t know it. It overlooks a river ensnared in wild jungle, and the grounds include a vast infinity pool that spills down the hillside, and breakfast each morning looks out onto the wilderness.

Yet at night, I can hear plenty of chatter and the chime and clang of gamelan. This past weekend was one of the two most auspicious dates in the Balinese calender, popular for religious ceremonies including weddings, so the streets are lined with decorations and occasionally, we’ll drive through a village where the locals are dressed in their Sunday best.

The village school took the opportunity to have its new classrooms blessed, and we wandered in to witness the ceremony conducted by our villa’s head chef. The very well behaved kids, lined up watching the ceremony, had a little riot at the appearance of the curly-haired babe, but unlike my strict Mass ceremonies as a child, nobody was waiting to whack them with a cane. Perhaps that’s why Hinduism has remained so strong in Bali… 

Lemme hear you go Woo! Travel deals 14 October 201

WooBar at the new W Hotel Singapore
Snap up the bargain of the century with six cases of wine when you bed down in St Kilda, or throw your hands in the air like you don’t care at the new WooBar Singapore’s new W hotel in this week’s travel deals.

If you ever needed a good reason to stay in St Kilda (aside
from it having the town’s best band pub, great pizza cafes, awesome spas,
smokin’ beachside cafes), here’s another. Book a standard non-bayview room at
the Novotel Melbourne St Kilda until October 31, get six bottles of wine, worth
$200, absolutely free. The deal also includes free car parking and breakfast
for two.  Costs from $179 a room, a
night, quote ‘wine and wind down’. (03) 9525 6191, novotelstkilda.com.au.
in all things Polynesian, without leaving the state. The Sebel Resort & Spa Hawkesbury Valley’s midweek Polynesian
inspired special includes overnight accommodation in a deluxe spa room,
breakfast for two, $50 to blow at the restaurant and two hours of Polynesian
spa fabulousness at its Villa Thalgo. Start with a body scrub, lagoon water
bath and a Mahana massage using sacred oils. Just an hour from the city in the
Hawkesbury Valley, the 4.5-star hotel has been recently renovated. Worth $499,
pay $289 a room, a night, Mondays to Fridays until December 28. 131 515, sebelhawkesburyvalley.com.au.
If you’ve got the time, then Tassie’s got the deal, with a
five Strange+Wild nights which includes accommodation for two, priority access
tickets to the Museum of Old and New Art’s (MONA) Theatre of the World extravaganza,
car hire, a ferry ride up-river to MONA, a bottle of Moorilla Muse chardonnay,
maps and tourist guides.  Save up to $796
a person until April 8, 2013. Costs from $915 a person, (03) 6277 9900,
Lovers of the tv series ‘McLeod’s Daughters’ will already
know Kingsford Homestead, a beautiful five-star historic home in the Barossa
Valley, just north of Adelaide. Accommodating just 14 guests in its suites and
cottages, stays at the homestead include three or five-course dinners and big,
hearty country breakfasts, as well as drinks and canapés at sunsets and
lashings of local wine. Costs from $1580 for two nights for two people. 1300
130 483, travel.com.au.


Discover some of the most remote beauty spots in
Australia, spending 13 days exploring the Kimberley. The Kimberley Complete
tour starts and finishes in Broome, cruising Geiki Gorge, Emma Gorge at El
Questro and the beautiful Windjana Gorge, staying in wilderness lodges and
taking a helicopter flight over Mitchell Falls. Couples can save up to $1500 on
departures between April and October 2013 when they book by December 31, 2012. Costs
from $7145 a person, twin share. 1800 240 504, kimberleywilderness.com.au
I’d like to show you a room shot, but hey,
this is the ELEVATOR. W Hotel, Singapore.

now has its own W Hotel, set on Sentosa Island, the city-state’s super-chi-chi
beach getaway. So naturally, the hotel’s three room types are classed as Wonderful,
Spectacular and Fabulous, normally priced from SGD430++ ($343) room only. Get ahead of the pack and
snap up an Island Glamour Welcome opening package, which includes one night in
the Wonderful guestroom, breakfast for two and cocktails, until March 31, 2013.
Costs from SGD$388++ a room. 1800 325 2525, wsingaporesentosacove.com.


A magnet for surfers, Uluwatu is at the southernmost tip of the island of Bali and its famous sea temple. Nearby, the family-friendly Uluwatu Surf Villas looks over the high cliffs, down to the surf beaches, prime location for daily sundowners. Normally $290 a night, all accommodation bookings on TravelMob are 20 per cent off until November 10. Costs from $232 a room a night.  travelmob.com.


Get off the beaten track with a journey through the
former Eastern Bloc countries of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia,
finishing in the glamorous museum mecca of St Petersburg. Book and pay for the
11-day journey 12 months ahead and save 10 per cent. Book by December 27, 2012
and fly from $1754 a person with Emirates, with a free stopover in Dubai. Costs
from $2319 a person, twin share. 1300 230 234, globus.com.au.


It’s got Gaudi, Picasso, the Alhambra palace and then there’s tapas. Oh Spain, we love you. The 10-day cultural extravaganza, Treasures of Spain, starts in Barcelona, and visits Valencia, Granada, Cordoba and finishes in Seville. Includes accommodation, some meals, transport and tour guide. Book before October 31, save on seven departures between May 19 and October 13, 2013. Past Peregrine travellers also get additional discounts. Normally $5090, costs from $4581 a person, twin share. 1300 854 400, peregrineadventures.com.


The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, Los Angeles

Girls, get your
scarves and sunnies on and hit the road with the ultimate road trip, from LA to
Vegas. The package includes four nights’ accommodation at the Hyatt
Regency Century Plaza  in Los Angeles,
three nights in the Westin Las Vegas, return flights and eight days’ car hire.
There are also bonus tours including a tour of Hollywood, a helicopter flight
over Vegas, entry to Madam Tussards. Book by October 20, travel November 9-30,
February 1 – March 20, 2013. Costs from $2290 a person, twin share.  1300 000 872, myholidaycentre.com.au.

Many Vietnam
tours take you through the Cu Chi tunnels, the elaborate tunnels of the
VietCong, but this is a tour with a difference. The guides are author Jimmy
Thomson and Sandy MacGregor, a former ‘tunnel rat’ serving in the Vietnam War
who led the group that discovered the tunnels and the underground city of Cu
Chi. The tour also visits the Vietcong Caves in the Long Hai mountains and a
few days in the sin city of Vung Tau, a notorious town where troops went for
R&R. Oh, and there’s time for shopping, too. The Tunnel Rats tour departs
October 26, 2012.  Costs from $1900 a
person, twin share, land only. (02) 8229 4764, sapperswar.com.

Who the hell is Rhonda? Bali fashion

‘Who the hell is Rhonda?’ I heard a fellow Aussie ask, here in Bali yesterday.

It must be the humidity, as it took me a while to figure this one out, too: I just couldn’t understand why the tat strips of Jl Legian and Double Six, in south Bali, were filled with singlets with such slogans as ‘Rhonda is Mine’ and ‘Keep your eyes on the road, Rhonda’.

Insurance company AAMI must surely be delighted with their star, Rhonda, who features in their safe drivers’ rewards campaign, has found international fame. Bintang beer singlets, it’s time to move over. 

Washing instructions: Littlehorn designs

Washing instructions tag spotted on kid’s t-shirt by Littlehorn, at the other-worldly Horn Emporium, on Jl Petitenget, Bali.

Washing instructions: ask your mother,
she will know what to do.

Just in case you missed the shop,
here’s the exterior.

Even the shop’s loo is fab, thanks to
Alex Zabotto-Bentley’s impeccable styling.

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