Would you visit Egypt now?

Adrere Amellal ecolodge, Siwa.

Two weeks ago, I started writing a post about the idea of visiting Egypt once again. It was time: tour prices have halved, even from the most prestigious travel companies. The Lower Nile has finally been reopened so that a visitor can sail the entire length of the Egyptian Nile, from Cairo to Abu Simbel. And the crowds that plagued the Pyramids, Luxor and all Egypt’s treasures, have stayed away in droves.

The blog was driven by a recent letter to the editor in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which the writer, recently returned from Egypt said, “I had a great and safe time. I have been there before and this time stayed mainly in Cairo, at the Sara Inn, and was saddened by the empty markets and other tourist areas. The Egyptians are, mostly, very friendly and welcoming and need the tourists to survive.”

Bab al-Futuh, Cairo

A few minutes later, my inbox was hit with a recent survey by the Hilton group, which found that 43% of Australians in the survey said they wanted to visit the Pyramids.

So it’s heartbreaking to see, in the space of a week or two, how the climate has changed, with the anger fuelled by the second anniversary of the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, to the riots in Suez over the death of 73 fans at a football match, which saw a judge sentence 21 people to death over their role in the catastrophe.

Fashion comes and goes: why, Syria was tipped the Lonely Planet’s hottest country just six months before it descended into its current, horrific civil war. And now Sri Lanka, still scarred with its own civil war, is 2013’s poster child for world tourism.

I know it is hard for Egyptians to live through these times: it’s hard to watch from the outside. But such a beautiful country, in such a politically strategic location with possibly the world’s greatest tourism riches, will rise again. We just have to hope, for the people’s sake, that it’s soon. 

Swing and sing across Texas: travel deals 27 January 2013

Do glamour, Gregory Peck and gelato in Italy, swim with dolphins in Western Australia or hit the road, Jack, and swing across Texas, in this week’s round-up of domestic and international travel deals.

Canberra’s centenary calendar is hotting up, with the National Archives of Australia showing exhibitions by photographer Max Dupain and on Britain’s Child Migrants, there are the best political cartoons on show at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House and, of course, Toulouse Lautrec in the National Gallery. Stay at the five-star Hotel Realm, within the parliamentary triangle, until end June and save 54 per cent on the full rate with its ‘Love Notes’ package, which includes accommodation, a mini Moet, dessert platter, breakfast and late check-out. Costs from $375 for two people, one night, quote ‘Love Notes’. 1300 88 7979, wotif.com/hotelW50609.

You don’t have to leave the state to find one of the
world’s longest resort swimming pools: coming in at 485 metres long, it’s at
the Oaks Pacific Blue Resort in Port Stephens, 160km north of Sydney. The quiet
coastal region is a magnet for fisherfolk, dolphin spotters and those who just
like rolling down sand dunes, while the resort facilities include tennis
courts, a gym and a Japanese steam room.  Save up to $25 a night on when you book a
two-night stay from January 27-June 30. Costs from $258, studio room, two
nights. 1300 669 978, oakshotelsresorts.com.

You’ll be praying for hot weather with a deal at QT Gold
Coast hotel’s SpaQ, which knocks the price of the day’s top temperature off
your midweek one-hour spa treatment. So if it’s 29 degrees, you’ll get $29 off the
cost of the treatment. Valid until February 28, Mondays-Thursdays and quote
‘I’m hot’.  07 5584 1108, qtgoldcoast.com.au/spa-q/.
The dolphins of Monkey Mia, WA.
Set foot on the most westerly tip of Australia, at Cape Leeuwin, walk through the Valley of the Giants, watched over by towering forests, and journey into Kalgoorlie’s Super Pit on a 15-day coach tour of WA’s south east. Starting and finishing in Perth, the tour includes lunch at Palandri Winery in the Margaret Valley, a walking tour of Fremantle and a meet-and-greet with Monkey Mia’s dolphins. Book during the wildflower season, from August to November, to see WA’s desert plains flushed with colour. Book with a deposit by February 15, and your friend saves 25 percent. Costs from $4550 for the first person, $3413 for your friend. 1300 228 546, aatkings.com.au.

Visit some of the most beautiful
gardens surrounding Melbourne on a three-night tour just in time for Mother’s
Day. Staying at the Sofitel Melbourne, the small group tour starts with high
tea at The Hotel Windsor, followed by a street art tour through the city’s
laneways, for an edgy touch. The gardens on tour include Cranbourne Botanic
Gardens’ Australian garden, Heronswood on the Mornington Peninsula and the
William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenong Ranges. Book by February 28
and save $100. Includes  most meals,
botanical guides and airport transfers. Costs from $1695 a person, twin share.
1300 305 202, botanica.travel.
Hotel Aviatic, Paris
Soak up the Parisian vibe at a discount price at the
Hotel Aviatic, on the Left Bank, close by the bars and restaurants of Saint-Germain
des Prés and Montparnasse. Save E135 ($171) on a traditional room or E165 on a
prestige room, and get breakfast, a bottle of wine and chocolates on stays
until February 28. Costs from E160 (traditional room) or E195 (prestige room).
1800 667 731, aviatic.fr.
The islands of the Pacific are renowned for their
welcoming arms, and those travelling to Rarotonga with Air New Zealand will
receive NZ$100 (A$75) to spend, for a very warm welcome, indeed.  You could do an Aitutaki Lagoon tour, enjoy
an hour-long massage, get two days’ car hire or buy 20 papaya smoothies! Book
by March 4 for travel until June 3, cookislands.travel. Passengers traveling
Air New Zealand from Sydney to Rarotonga direct on Saturday nights get an
additional round of discounts on activities on the islands. Flights depart
Sydney 8.30pm Fridays, arrive Rarotonga 5.30am Saturdays. 132 476,

Spend Valentine’s Day at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, in
Hawke’s Bay, voted one of the world’s top lodges and save 15 percent off the
standard high season rate. The package includes one night in a luxury suite, a
bottle of champagne, rose petals, bath oil and candles. There’s also a
five-course dinner, breakfast, mini-bar and, importantly, late check-out.
What’s not to love? Valid February 10-17. Costs from $855 a person, twin share
(naturally).  +64 6 875 1900, capekidnappers.com

The sunny islands of Fiji are on the rebound after last
year’s Cyclone Evan, with deals to be had. Stay seven nights at the Sofitel
Fiji Resort & Spa on the five-star strip on Denarau Island, get return
airfares from Sydney, $535 in wine, dine and spa credit, a full-day island
cruise, a cultural heritage tour, airport transfers, breakfast, free kids food
and kids’ club. Costs from $1690 a person, twin share. Similar deals are
available at the Sheraton Fiji Resort and Outrigger on the Lagoon. 1300 00 34
54, myholidaycentre.com.au/fiji/.

Glamour, Gregory Peck and gelato: do Italy like Audrey
Hepburn, swanning through Tuscany, Rome and the Amalfi coast. Diva alert: join
a handful of other fabulous travellers and cruise Italy in the ultimate girls’
getaway of shopping, spas and Vespas. Book and deposit the 14-day ‘Do it like
Audrey Hepburn’ tour by February 22 for departure on June 23, and get a free
night in a 4-star Florence hotel before or after the tour. Costs from $6959 a person, twin share, quote
‘SHDIVAS’. 0408 721
569, travellingdivas.com.au.
San Antonio, Fort
Worth, Memphis, Texarkana … if these names resonate with your soul, it’s time
to hit the American West – in a Mustang convertible, of course – for a musical
road trip across the USA, from LA to Nashville. The Swing Across Texas
self-drive tour is fully escorted and departs June 15, hitting Route 66, Vegas
and Buddy Holly’s birthplace in Lubbock County, Texas, with the Grand Canyon in
there for good measure. The clincher is there’s a live act or entertainment in
every city, every night of the 22-day tour, which is included in the price
along with car hire and insurance. Costs from $7350 a person, twin share. (07)
5577 4655, classicdrivingtours.com.

From Elysium to Middle Earth: travel deals 20 Jan 2013

The crowd-pleasing silvery gibbon, Indonesia.

Track down the Asian Big 5, find Elysium in the Hunter Valley or hit Middle Earth, in this week’s domestic and international travel deals.

With the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum
of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia (currently showing the Toulouse
Lautrec exhibition) all within cooee of each other, it’s easy to see why art
lovers love Canberra. Plan ahead and save when you stay at the Mercure
Canberra. Book 30 days in advance and save up to 30 per cent on your room rate.
Costs from $112 a night, room only. 136 565,
Need a break after the rush and bustle of Christmas? Head
to the serenity of the Barossa Valley, an hour’s drive north of Adelaide.  The Novotel Barossa Valley costs from $239 a
night; fly return with Virgin Australia to Adelaide and stay two nights until
March 31. Costs from $429 a person, twin share, ex-Sydney. 1300 130 485, travel.com.au.
Stay five nights, pay four at Daydream Island Resort
& Spa and get full buffet breakfast daily and free use of watersports
equipment and open-air cinema. Two children under 14 also get to stay and eat
breakfast free for stays January 28-March 31. Costs from $598 a person, twin
share, four nights. 1800 075 040,
Elysia, Hunter Valley NSW
The Hunter Valley’s Golden Door health retreat, Elysia,
is running a ‘bring a friend for half-price’ deal over summer. Packages include
beautiful spa cuisine, snacks, an initial assessment as well as wellness
seminars, exercise equipment and classes including meditation and early morning
tai chi. Book before January 31 for stays until February 14 and save $525. Costs
from $1575, two people for two days. 
1800 212 011, goldendoor.com.au/health-retreats/elysia.
Forget heatwaves, it’s time to
plan your snow play, and happening Hotham has launched its early-bird specials.
Stay five nights in a ski-in/ski-out one-bedroom White Crystal apartment, in
the middle of the village, and save $251 when booked by January 31. Costs from
2102 for five nights during the value
June 7 -27, July 22–August 1, August 26-29 September. Costs
from $2256 for five nights during peak season (June 28 – July 21 and August 2 –
25). 1800 468 426, hotham.com.au.
Eagle Lodge, Faraway Bay
Far up on the remote Kimberley coastline sits the aptly named
Faraway Bay, a tiny resort amidst the wonders of pristine waterfalls, sublime
waterways and ancient Aboriginal art. Book before January 31 and save 10 per
cent off the regular rate, and they’ll also include a free night at the
Pinctada Kimberley Grande Resort, Kununurra before you fly out to the remote property.
 Rates include guided activities,
unlimited boat charters to hook the big one, and all meals and most drinks. Costs
from $3330 for two nights. 0419 918 953, farawaybay.com.au.
Just 3½ hours from Sydney, Wellington (aka Wellywood to Middle-earth devotees) is ramping up the deals.
Book a ‘Spring into Summer’ deal at the five-star Bolton Hotel and get buffet
breakfast and an antipasti tasting plate for two, as well as late check-out. Normally
from $382 a night, stay before January 27 and pay from $151 for two people.
Stay January 28-April 1, costs from $238 a night, weekends only. 1300
887 979, wotif.com/hotelW12421.
Traverse Britain on its railways, including the most
scenic routes – from Inverness to Kyle
of Lochalsh in Scotland, Llandudno to Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales Exeter to
Penzance, in the West Country – and buy your freedom to hop on and hop off at
will. Buy a selected BritRail pass before February 14 for travel until February
28 and save 20 per cent. Costs from $170 for a three-day, second-class
Britrail Consecutive Pass. 1300 387 245, internationalrail.com.au.
Head for the hills in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand and
stay three nights for the price of two in the tranquil Tamarind Village, until
March 31. With just 45 rooms and suites, the hotel is decorated by the region’s
rich tribal weavings and patterns. It also offers a 10 per cent discount on
stays booked more than 30 days in advance, until October 31. Costs from $300
for three nights, includes buffet breakfast. (02) 9211 6590, tamarindvillage.com.
Notre Dame cathedral, Paris.
Get the passport out for some serious stamping when you
cover 15 European countries in 30 days on Topdeck’s popular Discover Europe
trip. All the icons are there: baguettes at the Eiffel Tower, wine tasting in
Bordeaux, gondolas in Venice and bicycles in Amsterdam. Save 7.5 per cent on
summer trips when booked and paid for by February 28. Costs from $5411 a
person.  1300 886 332, topdeck.travel.
Get your Bollywood on where it all began, in Mumbai,
where you’ll enjoy two free nights at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel when you book
a 14-day Splendours of Rajasthan journey. Highlights include the Pink City of
Jaipur, Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort and a stay in a traditional tented camp with
evening birding walks. Save up to $1045 a person and get two nights free, when
travelling until April 15. Costs from $7410 a person, twin share. 1300 851 800,

If you haven’t heard of the Asian Big 5, this is the trip
for you. Join Wildlife Asia board member Clare Campbell (pictured) travelling through
Indonesia, from Jakarta to east Borneo and Sumatra, to see and save five endangered
species. Bornean orang-utans, Sumatran rhinos, Asian elephants, Sun bears and
the crowdpleasing Silvery gibbons all are under threat from disappearing
habitats and poaching. 
The group of up to 12 will travel on traditional river
boats (klotoks) and trek through
rainforests, staying in jungle lodges and on boats to view the wildlife and
visit animal rescue centres and the Dayak villages of Borneo. Departs 10-18
March, 2013. Costs $3100 a person plus $1000 secured fundraising. Excludes
international airfares, 0499 773 303, wildlifeasia.org.au.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Tickets, please!

The Shard, London.

An astonishing line-up of new attractions awaits globetrotters in 2013, as Belinda Jackson and Julietta Jameson discover in their round-up of the best.

For lovers of the highest, biggest, cleverest or freshest, this year presents a remarkable array of new attractions in all corners of the globe. 
From Paris to far-north China, amazing feats of architecture, adrenalin-pumping roller coasters, world-class collections and even an endangered-animal experience will welcome visitors in 2013.
Here’s our guide to 10 of the best.

1. Marina Boulevard, Singapore

Gardens on the Bay, Singapore.
Type of attraction Botanical spectacular.
Wow factor 
More flowers than Interflora on Mother’s Day.
Great for
 Gardening enthusiasts, respite from the Singapore heat and humidity.
Singapore’s penchant for creative new architecture is fully in play at Gardens by the Bay. The Supertree Grove, a collection of fluted glass towers, is like something out of a futuristic space station. The walkways 22 metres above ground between the towers offer terrific views.
Two glass domes sit like giant sea snails on the edge of Marina Reservoir. Inside, visitors are surrounded by an extensive botanic collection, carefully zoned and climate controlled. It’s a soothing and intriguing experience that, all up, 700,000 plants collaborate upon.
The Flower Dome is a pleasing walk through different microclimates and their plants. The Cloud Forest, with its 30-metre waterfall centrepiece, mimics a tropical climate 1000-3500 metres above sea level. By night, light shows transform the gardens into a flashier – and perhaps more child-friendly – place.
“We could have used this for far more valuable commercial or residential developments, right in the middle of the new Singapore city,” says the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. “But our planners in URA [Urban Redevelopment Authority] believed that a large and beautiful park was an important element of our new downtown in Marina Bay South.”
Entry to the domes ranges from $S8 ($6.15) to $S28. gardensbythebay.com.sg JJ

2. London, England

The View from The Shard
Type of attraction High-rise viewing platform.
Wow factor 
On a (rare) clear day, you can see forever – or at least 64 kilometres away.
Great for
 Marriage proposals, London first-timers getting their bearings, a different perspective for London veterans.
 February 1.
The controversy surrounding Renzo Piano’s The Shard made that about Sir Norman Foster’s quirky “Gherkin” in the same city look a doddle.
The Shard – all 95 storeys of it – dwarfs the London skyline.
It’s hated as incongruous and hailed as elegant. Either way, there’s no denying it’s spectacular.
The tapering edifice on the edge of the Thames at London Bridge is the tallest building in western Europe and incorporates offices, apartments, a hotel and two floors of public viewing space – The View from The Shard. The view is nothing short of breathtaking. The aspect of the winding course of the Thames is a highlight – it affords a deeper understanding of the way this warren of a city works.
“This iconic building is already the new centrepiece for the city,” says the head of international media at VisitBritain, Paul Gauger.
“The View from The Shard will be the must-visit attraction for London in 2013 and I’m sure for years to come.”
The attraction is expensive, however. Tickets cost £24.95 ($38) for an adult and £18.95 for a child. Compare that with the €14 ($17.70) price of an adult ticket to the top of the Eiffel Tower. theviewfromtheshard.com JJ

3. Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Legoland Malaysia
Type of attraction The world’s sixth Legoland.
Wow factor
 Miniland: made from 30 million Lego bricks over three years.
Great for 
Young families, hardcore Lego buffs.
Set on the border of Singapore, Legoland is hands-on, with more than 40 attractions, including mini trains, tots’ playgrounds, castles and carousels, and roller coasters.
The park is zoned into areas where you can build and test your creations, play jousting, damsels and dragons, or journey into the Land of Adventure to hook up with pharaohs and dinosaurs.
Intricate Miniland is a city of animated models of Asian landmarks, including the Taj Mahal and Petronas Twin Towers, at a scale of 1:20.
Coming in late 2013/early 2014 are a Legoland water park and hotel.
Buy online seven days in advance for the best price, from 112 ringgit ($35) for adults (12-59 years), 88 ringgit for children and seniors (3-11 years, 60-plus years). www.legoland.com.myBJ

4. Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Yas Waterworld
Yas Waterworld (artist’s impression)
Type of attraction The world’s biggest water park.
Wow factor
 The world’s largest surfable sheet wave.
Great for
 Families, thrill seekers, anyone who feels the heat at 50 degrees.
 January 24.
There are 43 Emirati-themed water rides at Yas Waterworld, including the little-kid-friendly Marah Fortress, complete with water cannon, and Dawwama, a 20-metre-high funnel ride that propels you into the air.
“Cameras installed inside the ride are meant to capture the looks of pure terror on riders’ faces,” the organisers say with unbridled glee.
There’s a designer Arabian souk (market) within the park.
Action-packed Yas Island, half an hour from Abu Dhabi, is the leisure island of the Emirates, according to Abu Dhabi Tourism. It’s home to Ferrari World, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit, and a string of hotels and shops. You can buy multi-park passes to Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld, or single-entrance tickets cost from 225 dirham ($58) for adults, 185 dirham for children under 1.1 metres, free for children under three years. yaswaterworld.com BJ

5. Sichuan province, China

The Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control Centre
Type of attraction Endangered wildlife sanctuary.
Wow factor
 Up close with pandas – what’s more “wow” than that?
Great fo
Voluntourists, nature lovers.
The rescue centre is the third part of and completes a giant panda preservation network, collectively the only place in the world where visitors can get close to large groups of captive pandas. Dujiangyan encloses the panda area of China’s west, making for easier protection, breeding, rescue and research work.
Voluntourists are invited to spend a week or so there, helping feed and care for the pandas.
Helen Wong, who runs panda tours for Australians and organises access to the animals, says it’s a “very moving experience” getting so close.
“At the centres, people can get to know this indigenous species and understand why they are such an important treasure,” she says.
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is sponsoring a new bamboo plantation as part of its Care for Panda project. It will help feed the rescued ill and elderly wild giant pandas at the Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control Centre.
Guests at the Shangri-La Hotel, Chengdu, will be able to visit the Dujiangyan centre, take education tours and participate in activities, such as preparing food for pandas. chinagiantpanda.org JJ

6. Paris, France

The Department of Islamic Art, Musee du Louvre
Type of attraction The Louvre’s newest department.
Wow factor
 The entrance, a 15th-century Egyptian Mamluk vestibule, sets the tone for the treasures within.
Great for
 Art and design lovers.
After nearly five years’ refurbishment, the new Department of Islamic Art exhibits almost 3000 of the Louvre’s 12,000 Islamic works, spanning 12 centuries and many countries, from Spain to India.
Treasures include Turkish ceramics, Iranian ewers, tiles from central Asia and a silver-and-gold basin used to baptise Louis XII, many on display for the first time.
“The Egyptian Antiquities department is one of the most popular, but the new Islamic art collection is a great opportunity for Australians to go off the beaten tracks and discover an amazing civilisation,” says Coralie Pierre of French Travel Connection. The department’s new home is almost worth a visit alone: the collection is in an 18th-century palace courtyard roofed by a gold, flowing architectural “veil”. The cost of the new wing? About $131 million. Entrance costs from €11 ($13.90) for adults, free for children under 18. Closed on Tuesdays. louvre.fr BJ

7. Jackson, New Jersey, US

Six Flags Great Adventure
Type of attraction Theme park.
Wow factor
 Animals and 13 roller coasters. Oh, my! 
Great for Wildlife spotters, adrenalin junkies.
 March 23.
This adventure park in New Jersey will become the world’s largest theme park when it merges its fun park and Wild Safari animal park.
Scream your way down the new four-storey-high Big Wave Racer water toboggan or splash through the million-gallon wave pool.
Make like Paris Hilton and hit the stand-up Green Lantern roller coaster. Or spot, hand-feed or zip over the top of some of the 1200 animals in the safari park. If you’re lucky, you’ll eyeball a red lechwe, kudu, nilgai twins or a khulan. Get the best (camera) shot from an open-air safari vehicle on the park’s new Safari Off Road Adventure or the new zipline for a bird’s-eye view of the African-style park. The park is 1½ hours’ drive south of New York City.
Buy tickets online from $US42.99 ($41) for adults, $US34.99 for children under 137 centimetres, free for kids under two years. sixflags.com BJ

8. Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Type of attraction Art gallery.
Wow facto
The long-awaited return of one of the world’s best art collections.
Great for
 Culture vultures.
 April 13.
A decade and $300 million later, the Netherlands’ national art gallery reopens. It’s five years late – “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” general director Wim Pijbes says – but the delay was, in many ways, a blessing. There has been incredible progress in museum technology in the past five years; the museum has responded. The base collection will comprise 8000 works telling the story of the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to now.
Highlights include the Rembrandts and works by other artists from the Dutch golden age of painting, such as Vermeer and Hals.
Cardboard cathedral, NZ.
There are revamped gardens, new public facilities and an Asian Pavilion, plus the stunningly renewed facade of the grand 17th-century building. The museum expects annual attendance to rise from about 1 million visitors before the closure to 5 million.
Amsterdam will be an art mecca in 2013. Also reopening are the Van Gogh Museum and the modern art gallery. rijksmuseum.nl JJ

9. Christchurch, New Zealand

The Cardboard Cathedral
Type of attraction A temporary cathedral.
Wow factor
 Seats 700 people, who won’t get wet when it rains.
Great for
 Fans of architecture and sustainability – atheists and the faithful alike.
Built in 1881, the Anglican ChristChurch Cathedral was severely damaged in the February 2011 earthquake and in two subsequent quakes. The Gothic stone building is being replaced temporarily by a transitional cathedral made from 320 giant cardboard tubes, the signature material of “emergency architect” Shigeru Ban, who is working, for no fee, on the project.
The Japanese architect specialises in designing temporary buildings in disaster zones using cardboard, which is cheap, recyclable and readily available. It’s also more earthquake resilient and it won’t go soggy, thanks to a concrete floor, timber beams and polycarbonate roof.
It has a lifespan of about 20 years, and in the ultimate recycling move, the temporary cathedral will become the permanent house of worship for the St John’s parish, which also lost its church, hall and vicarage in the same earthquake. “The arrival of the cathedral will provide an important venue for both spiritual and community gatherings,” says the chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism, Tim Hunter. christchurchnz.com/planning/cardboard-cathedral BJ

10. Daqing, China

Jurassic Dream
Type of attraction Theme park.
Wow factor 
Cutting-edge animatronics and roller coasters featuring spectacular visuals.
Great for
 All ages of kids who dig all things dinosaur.
Sometime in 2013.
“China has become the new Eldorado for theme park designers thanks to frenetic development,” says the online journal of the theme parks and leisure industry, NewsParcs. That’s good news for lovers of theme parks and dinosaurs.
Heilongjiang province in the far north of China is the home of Heilongjiangosaurus, an obscure duck-billed species of dinosaur.
Fossils of it, and many other species, have been unearthed here.
Up until now, there has been little to entice enthusiasts in, especially with the oil-rich region’s shocking weather – during the long winter, the temperature can drop to a chilly minus 30 degrees.
Enter Jurassic Dream, which puts paid to climate concerns by being one of the biggest covered, temperature-controlled theme parks in the world.
“The all-indoor theme park is a stunning celebration of dinosaurs … that will thrill guests of all ages,” says Craig Hanna of Thinkwell, the mastermind behind the park.
Highlights include the Mystic Caverns Express, a family roller coaster that takes riders through extravagant dinosaur-related visuals, and the crowning glory, Dinosaur Encounter, a walk-through experience full of cutting-edge animatronic dinosaurs.
The 5.7-hectare 2013 version of the park is set to be quadrupled by 2015, with the likely addition of a hotel. thinkwellgroup.com JJ

Source: Sun Herald newspaper

Getting out there with your fantasies: travel deals 13 January 2013

The Gordon River, Tasmania.

Live out your Man or Woman from Snowy River fantasy or check into the Wildman Wilderness Lodge – it’s time to get out there. 

Head for the hills to live out your Man or Woman from Snowy River fantasy at the Grand Mercure Pinnacle Valley resort in the Victorian Alps, half an hour from Mount Buller. Nearby activities include fly-fishing, bushwalking, golf and, of course, horse riding. A two-night tree change usually costs from $160 a night, stay until April 30. Quote the code “summer special” and get a free bottle of wine in the room. Costs from $288 for two nights. (03) 5777 5788, accorhotels.com.

Blow the city smog away with a quick getaway on the central coast. Stay at the four-star Crowne Plaza Terrigal, pictured above, by the seaside, just an hour from Sydney, and save 10 per cent and get breakfast as well. Valid on two-night stays from Sunday to Thursday in a queen or king room. Book until January 31, stay until February 28. Costs from $406, two nights. 1300 888 180, zuji.com.au.

Tassie celebrates 30 years since the creation of its South West Wilderness World Heritage Area and is offering you the chance to see what the fuss is about. The Ultimate Wilderness Experience package includes two nights at Strahan Village, a cruise up the Gordon River aboard luxury catamaran Lady Jane Franklin II, main picture, a trip on the West Coast Wilderness Railway and buffet dinner at View 42° Restaurant and Bar. Save $131 on stays until April 30. Costs $880 for two people. 1800 420 155, puretasmania.com.au.

It takes just 2½ hours to hit the glorious Whitsunday Islands from Sydney, so why are we here? Stay five nights, pay for just four at the adults-only beachfront Beach Club on Hamilton Island between January 28 and March 28. Includes a full breakfast buffet daily, VIP airport transfers and free watersports such as snorkelling and cat sailing. Costs from $2280 for five nights. 13 73 33,hamiltonisland.com.au.

You could take a lifetime to explore the remote north Australian coastline, but 22 days is a good start with this Treasures of the West Coast tour, which spends two nights at the luxury Wildman Wilderness Lodge near Kakadu, a cruise through Chamberlain Gorge in El Questro and the spectacular Katherine Gorge, and feeding dolphins at Monkey Mia. Book by March 31 and Scenic Tours will include free flights to Darwin from the other capitals, for six departures from June. Costs from $9495 a person, twin share. 1300 723 642, scenictours.com.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald 

Some like it hot: and then there’s Oodnadatta

On the Oodnadatta Track. 

This morning, as Sydney puffs its way through a heat wave, breakfast TV did a cross to Oodnadatta. The tiny town in northern South Australia is experiencing a run of above 45C degrees, topping out at 48C on Saturday – that’s 118.4 Fahrenheit  for all you imperialists out there.

A few years ago, I travelled to Oodnadatta to do a newspaper story about the pubs along the track (which the subs creatively titled Aussie Crawl).

Our editors sent us there in January. The photographer, Randy Larcombe, and I pulled in to sleepy Marree for water and, lured by the espresso machine on the counter, a coffee.

“Where are you from?” asked the woman at the counter.

When we told her we’d just come up from Adelaide, her face turned purple. “You’re bloody Aussies! You know better than to come out here in the middle of summer!” We blamed it on our Sydney editors. She bought it. We shouldn’t have bought the coffee. It was dreadful.

PS: a big hello to the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta, a welcome pit stop and burger mecca in the desert founded by Lynnie and her husband Adam Plate. We were terribly sorry to hear of Adam’s death last year. He told me how he and Lynnie, fresh from art school in Darlinghurst, were walking camels and donkeys through the desert in the 70s before stopping at Oodnadatta. They put the town and the track on the map, and on breakfast TV. 

Lame Van Halen leads Melbourne limping into 2013: opinion

Happy new year, everyone!

I hope you saw Christmas in with a bang from London, New York, or the back blocks of Gippsland (for those whose work won’t let them leave the confines).
Melbourne’s tallest buildings sang with a symphony of fireworks and about half a million people headed in to the city for the 10-minute display. The alcohol-free apparently event went off well, with police happy and lots of smiling tourists kissing for the TV cameras. However, the Letters to the Editor in today’s Age newspaper turns up the tarnished side of the PR coin: 
“We attended New Year’s Eve in the city,” writes Fiona Jackson. (Yes, she is related.) 
“I cannot fathom why, at Federation Square at 7.30pm, early 1980s music was being blasted and the stage lay empty. Duran Duran and Van Halen? Did the organisers just whack on the golden oldies radio station? At Flagstaff Gardens between 11pm and midnight, at least 2000 people soberly waited for fireworks, bereft of an MC or live entertainment. A 90-second countdown video and a DJ was embarrassingly lame.
“Here were missed opportunities where Melbourne could have shone and put on local acts. Many underemployed performers would have jumped at the gig. Let’s put some effort into the experience, not just crowd management.”
An excellent point regarding under-employed musos, and given the stories circulating in the press regarding heavy-handed policing at the MCG and other events, perhaps the jibe of crowd management vs experience has found its mark?

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/letters/walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes-20130102-2c5ka.html#ixzz2GsUttOaN

PS: Sadly, I can’t share any Melbourne fireworks pix with you, not least because I wasn’t there. And to whip them off the City City of Melbourne home page would be absolutely too naughty, considering the content 😉