Colombo via Rum Jungle and Connemara

Flying from
Melbourne to Colombo via Kuala Lumpur, the tv map on the aircraft wall has
thrown up some gems – it’s listing Arthur’s Seat (a beauty spot on the
Mornington Peninsula), Rum Jungle near Darwin (never heard of it but its allure is undeniable), and I learn there’s a place
called Connemara somewhere near the NT-SA border. 
Crossing the country diagonally, it always seems to be five minutes to 4pm on the
wall screen, (which Yasmine uses to try to skype her uncle Berny).
We fly over
Alice Springs, the flat land broken by two long ridges that curve gently like a
dog’s spoke military-strain roads cutting into the soft pink ground. By the
time we hit the end of Australia at the Kimberley coast, it’s dark and the next
view are the lights of KL, and finally, around 1am, Colombo welcomes us with warm, thick heat and the scents of a tropical jungle.
Also, just
a short aside to praise Malaysia Airlines’ customer service line: They. Do.
Callback. Imagine! No more waiting in the queue: just a polite message telling
you your position in the queue and estimated callback time. Amazing. Australian
airlines, take note please!

See Tokyo in style and go warp-drive in Sri Lanka: travel deals 10 February 2013

Click on for Mark Jensen’s bbq octopus recipe, Noosa Food & Wine, Qld.
Beautiful people eating beautiful food: it’s Noosa in a nutshell come this May. Otherwise, Tokyo in style and knowing your warp and weft in Sri Lanka, in this week’s domestic and international travel deals.

QUEENSLAND
Foodies will flock to Noosa from May 16-19 for the 10th Noosa International Food & Wine festival. Highlights
include Edible Music, which sees musicians and chefs combined, degustation
dinners, sunset concerts and a new Barefoot beach marquee for cocktail
competitions and a seafood feast. Tickets cost from $40, which include
celebrity chef cooking demos and live entertainment, up to $330 for a Weekend
Gold Pass, which includes cocktail parties and preferential concert seating.
Book before April 1 and save 10 per cent discount (excluding some events and
the Platinum Experience). (07) 5455 4455, noosafoodandwine.com.au.
VICTORIA
“Autumn is a delightful time to escape into our wonderful alpine landscape, with epic sunsets and soft meadows filled with wildflowers,” says Alan Fenner of ParkTrek. The highlight of the ‘Alpine High Plains’ wfour-day walk (March 23-26) is a trek along the Razorback from Mt Hotham to Mt Feathertop. Team it up with the four-day ‘Easter in the Victorian Alps’ walk (March 29 – April 1), which criss-crosses the high country, visiting historical huts, staying at a ski lodge in Falls Creek. Walks are graded easy to medium, averaging 12-16km daily. Book both trips and save $120. Costs $2080 a person for two trips, includes meals, accommodation and guides (03) 9877 9540, parktrek.com.

TASMANIA
Tassie is girding its
loins for the island’s international arts festival, Ten Days on the Island,
coming up on March 15-24 (tendaysontheisland.com). Get in early and hook
yourself some seriously swank digs, at the beautiful Villa Howden, 15
minute drive from Hobart on the shores of North West Bay. Comprising 10 luxury suites looking over the bay,
the setting is serene,  with wi-fi,
Australian cosmetics, full breakfast and in-suite bar included. Stay two
nights, get a third free, saving a cool $420. Book and stay by March 28. Costs
from $840 for three nights. (03) 6267 1161, villahowden.com.au.
  
WESTERN
AUSTRALIA
Start planning for WA’s wildflower season, which carpets the state in a rich
tapestry from June to November. Outback Spirit’s 15-day Western Wildflower
Discovery tour traverses the state’s riches, from Monkey Mia and the Shark Bay
Marina to wildlife sanctuaries as well as those beautiful stretches of native
wildflowers. Tours depart in September and October, book by February 28 and fly
Sydney-Perth return for just $199. Costs from $5595 a person, twin share. 1800
688 222, outbackspirittours.com.au.
Shangri-La Tokyo
TOKYO
Get to grips with Tokyo in style, with the Shangri-La Hotel’s new package, which sees you skipping about town in a private limo. Hotel stays usually cost from $740 a night, but the two-night ‘Explore Tokyo in Style’ package lets you snap your fingers and have the car whisk you on a tour, to the airport or just to take you shopping, until June 30. Costs from $1500, two nights. 1800 222 448, www.shangri-la.com/jp.

ITALY
Feel the rails rocking beneath you on the night journey from Paris to Rome. The Thello night trains travel up to 180km/hour and travel between Paris, Milan, Venice and now Rome with both six-berth couchette and first-class sleepers available. Book seven days in advance and save up to 50 per cent. Seats are limited, so get in early.  Costs from $52 a person in a six-berth couchette. 1300 387 245, internationalrail.com.au.

USA
Get the true taste of Creole with a cooking school that
unravels the cuisine of the Deep South, with its French, Spanish, Portuguese,
Italian and Native American influences. There’s also a tour of the Jack Daniels
distillery and dinner in a Natchez mansion on this 10-day Tastes & Sounds
of the South tour. The tours depart between May 2 and October 31. Book six
months ahead and save $119. Costs from $2256 a person, twin share. 1300 663
043, trafalgar.com.
CANADA
Recovered from Christmas? It’s time to start planning for
next year, with a Canadian White Christmas tour. Have Christmas Day brunch at
Lake Louise followed by a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh, train through The
Rockies, visit the snow haven of Whistler and a take gondola ride at Banff.  Departs December 16. Book by April 30, save
up to $500 a person. Costs from $6495 a person, twin share. 1300 278 278, aptouring.com.au.
MALAYSIA
Bargain hunters love Malaysia, not only for the shopping, but also for the good value on its accommodation. The Villa Samadhi is a sleek, 21-room contemporary Asian residence brimming with pools, thatch roofs and Asian antiques in central Kuala Lumpur. Stay two nights at the Relais & Chateaux property before February 28, get dinner and airport transfers and $173 off. Costs from $566 a villa, two nights. 1800 667731, globalhotelsmarketing.com.

TOURWATCH: SRI LANKA
One of this year’s hot spots, the attention on Sri Lanka
is justly deserved for its spectacular beaches, lush landscapes and intriguing
culture. Textiles aficionados have the chance to explore the island’s textiles
history, from lace to embroidery, batik and handloomed cloth.  The tour is led by Melbourne embroidery
artist Cresside Colette, originally from Colombo. Highlights include private
textiles collections, weaving villages and lace workshops, as well as the
island’s main tourist sites and there’s plenty of opportunity to shop its busy
markets, with Active Travel’s wise shoppers by your side. The tour departs May
6-17. Costs from $3874 a person, twin share (excludes airfares). (02) 6249
6122, activetravel.com.au.

SOURCE: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Places in the heart: Anthony Field

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is ”chill city” for Anthony Field, aka the Blue Wiggle, who says visiting the red heart of the Northern Territory is like going on a retreat.

I first went to Uluru in the 1980s and I’ve been back five or six times, twice with my wife, Miki, and our three kids. I used to love driving from Alice Springs, but now I fly. The first thing I always do is get a photo with whomever I’m with, lying in the red dust. People can’t believe it when they see the colour of the ground.
It’s a totally different style of holiday to when I was a kid. I love my mum and dad, but Dad’s idea of a holiday was driving to Canberra in a Holden station wagon with seven kids, no seat belts. We got kicked out of the Australian War Memorial for being too noisy. It made the Canberra Times.
Mum was very protective of us: at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, we had a rope tied around our waists. We got in the papers again. Uluru’s the real Australia, the real spirit. You can actually feel it. It’s like going on a retreat. You can even meditate, walking around Uluru and around Kata Tjuta.
Yes, it’s beautiful to watch the colours change on the rock at sunrise or sunset, but in the midday heat, there are secret waterholes in the shade. We pick desert roses and other native flowers – and my children actually put down their Nintendos for the weekend.
The main thing is to switch gears in my brain. Uluru is chill city, even though it may be 40 degrees. However, I don’t really care about the heat. We’re going back there. I think all Australians, if they can get there, should go to Uluru. It’s something we should all do. It’s the heart of Australia.
The Wiggles’ national Taking Off tour starts in March. thewiggles.com.au

Bargains and bright ideas: from Middle Earth to Malaysia

Fantasy: Sir Ian McKellen in The Lord of the Rings, New Zealand.

Are you a shopper, a temple lover, volcano hopper and or film fan? Here’s your escapade. 

Where to? New Zealand.
The experience: Hobbit hunting on the North and South islands.
Pack for: Middle-earth adventure in four-star style.
Who goes? Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans.
HighlightsThis 10-day tour is led by one of the dwarves from the Hobbit trilogy. The tour starts in Auckland and finishes in Christchurch, visiting the Hobbiton film set in Matamata, as well as Wellington (aka Wellywood) and dramatic film locations, including Mount Victoria and the uplifting scenery of Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo.
Watch the clock: It takes three hours to fly from Sydney to Auckland with Air New Zealand (13 24 76, airnewzealand.com.au), Emirates (1300 303 777, emirates.com/au), Jetstar (13 15 38, jetstar.com), LAN (1800 558 129, lan.com) and Virgin Australia (13 67 89, virginaustralia.com). It also takes three hours to fly from Christchurch to Sydney with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia.
Costs: From $4790 a person for 10 days. Includes flight from Wellington to Dunedin, guides and some meals. 1300 888 225, odysseytraveller.com.
For more information: newzealand.com.
SUPping in the Cook Islands.

Where to? Cook Islands.

The experience: The islands’ first “Gathering Holiday”.
WhenMarch 16-22.
Pack forIslander glam.
Who goes? Single travellers aged 28-45ish wanting to broaden their social network.
HighlightsA mix of fun, relaxation and a few healthy activities: 4WD rallies, starlit cinema, cooking schools, a lagoon cruise, stand-up paddle boarding and a speed-friending event (like dating, but without compulsory romance). There’s also time to hit the local nightclubs and markets. The “donate time” program encourages travellers to spend a little time in the islands’ schools reading to local kids, to give back to the local community. Group size averages about 20 people.
Watch the clock: It’s a six-hour direct flight from Sydney to Rarotonga with Air New Zealand, departing every Saturday night and crossing the dateline to arrive at 5.30am, Saturday. 13 24 76, airnewzealand.com.au.
Costs: $2399 a person, twin share, for six nights, most meals, activities and transfers.
For more information: (07) 5408 0153, thegatheringholidays.comcookislands.travel.
Where to? Singapore.
The experience: Larging it up in one of the world’s most iconic hotels.
Pack for: City luxe.
Who goes? History lovers and hardened shoppers.
Highlights: A three-night stay in a Palm Court suite at Raffles Hotel Singapore (established in 1887) is the last word in colonial charm. The offer includes breakfast in the Tiffin Room, dinner in Raffles Grill, personalised bathrobes, spa treatments, a bottle of 125th anniversary Billecart-Salmon champagne and airport transfers in a Bentley. There’s also a voucher for one complimentary night’s stay, a butler on call 24 hours, and a history tour by the hotel’s resident historian. The hotel is surrounded by shopping malls, and the famed 2.2-kilometre Orchard Road strip is just a hop-skip away.
Watch the clock: It’s bang-on eight hours from Sydney to Singapore with Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com), Scoot (flyscoot.com), Qantas (qantas.com), British Airways (britishairways.com) and Virgin Australia (virginaustralia.com).
Costs: From $3871 a person for three nights. +800 1 7233537, raffles.com. Quote “Celebrating Romance”.
For more information: yoursingapore.com.
Borobudur, Java, Indonesia.
Where to? Central Java, Indonesia.
The experience: Five-day “Cultured Treasures & Temples” tour.
Pack for: High-end luxury and natural beauty.
Who goes? Natural beauty and culture buffs.
Highlights: Borobudur, the world’s largest, absolutely breathtaking, Buddhist sanctuary, dating from the ninth century, and nearby Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex from about the same era. The backdrop is of mountains and volcanoes – visited at sunrise and sunset – including the “home of the gods”, the volcanic Dieng Plateau at an altitude of 2000 metres. Stay at Amanjiwo Resort or Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa to immerse yourself in the local beauty.
Watch the clock: Garuda Indonesia flies daily from Sydney to Yogyakarta via Denpasar (7hr 15min, though expect a Balinese layover). 1300 365 330, garuda-indonesia.net.au.
Costs: From $US1670 ($1604) a person, twin share, for four nights. Includes private transfers and all sightseeing.
For more information: 1300 851 800, abercrombiekent.com.au.

Where to? Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The experience: Bargain hunting and tower climbing.
Pack for: Pounding the pavement.
Who goes? Hardcore shoppers.
Highlights: All of Asia knows KL packs a punch in the shopping stakes. The malls are glamorous and airconditioned – as befits the humidity – and they range from the world’s top fashion labels to fabulous local shoe designers, exceptional kids’ wear and great electronic goods. Stay for four nights and pay for only three (your first bargain before you even arrive!) at the four-star Parkroyal Hotel Kuala Lumpur in the compact city centre, close to the Petronas Twin Towers and the Bukit Bintang shopping strip.
Watch the clock: It takes 7½ hours to fly from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines (malaysiaairlines.com) and Air Asia (airasia.com).
Costs: From $349 a person, twin share, for four nights. Includes 20 per cent off spa treatments and in the restaurant, airport transfers and a half-day city tour. Book until May 31 for travel between April 1 and May 31. 1300 747 400, creativeholidays.com.
For more information: (02) 9299 4441, tourismmalaysia.com.au.

Mt Yasur volcano, Vanuatu.
Where to? Tanna Island, Vanuatu.
The experience: Volcano hopping.
Pack for: Five-star adventure at three-star prices.
Who goes? Those keen on white sand and big fireworks.
Highlights: Get up close to Tanna Island’s Mount Yasur volcano. Easily accessible, the volcano was seen by Captain Cook when he visited in 1774 and is most active during the wet season, from late February to April. Stay for four nights in an ocean view room at the White Grass Ocean resort in Tanna and take a volcano safari tour, then spend three nights in Port Vila to soak up the turquoise waters of the south Pacific.
Watch the clockAir Vanuatu flies from Sydney to Port Vila daily (3hr 25min), and under an hour from Port Vila to Tanna. 1300 780 737, airvanuatu.com.
Costs: From $1873 a person for seven nights. Includes flights ex-Sydney. Book by February 15 for travel until March 26 and between April 23 and June 20.
For more information1300 370 792, coralseas.com.au.

Dine in the desert, lap up the luxury: travel deals 3 February 2013

It could only be the Maldives.

Lap up the luxury in the Maldives, dine in the desert beneath the stars at Uluru or snigger like a schoolboy in Cappadocia, in this week’s domestic and international travel deals. 


TASMANIA

Small and beautiful not only describes the island of Tasmania, but also Hobart’s sleek boutique hotel scene, led by the bellwether The Islington. The last word in chic, the 11-room hotel is offering 20 per cent off dinner, bed and breakfast in its lush Garden View rooms when you stay Wednesday to Sunday. Normally $585 a night, rug up and save $117 a night on stays between April 1 and September 30. The offer includes a three-course a la carte dinner for two. Book by February 28. Costs from $468 a night. 1300 896 627, mrandmrssmith.com.
VICTORIA
Now the holiday crowds have gone, you can soak up the
beauty of the Great Ocean Road in relative peace. Stay three nights in a cabin
at the Big4 Beacon Resort in Queenscliff and they’ll include a Movie Munch
popcorn pack, free DVD hire, mountain bikes, two meals for the price of one at
Terindah Estate vineyard, half price on a South Bay eco-tours discovery tour
and a bottle of chardonnay from local vineyard, Scotchmans Hill. Excludes
Saturday nights, the Bellarine Getaway
Package is valid until August 31. Costs from $330, three nights. 1800 351 152, beaconresort.com.au.
QUEENSLAND
The Sebel Resort Noosa, Queensland.
If you thought Noosa’s locals couldn’t get any more buff and beautiful, wait till the Kellogg’s Nutri-grain Ironman and Ironwoman series comes to town on February 24. Get into the action with a stay at the refurbished Sebel Resort Noosa, on Hastings Street. Stay in a one-bed spa apartment and get 35 per cent off, kids stay free and you’ll also get free internet. Stay two nights or more, and get free bike hire or surfboard hire. Book by February 28 for stays until June 20 (excluding Easter), and quote the suitably vigorous promo code ‘outdoors’. Costs from $259 a night. 131 515, sebelresortnoosa.com.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA
It’s still summer out in the west, where the turtles are
nesting and the manta rays are swimming. Do your bit to keep the turtles happy
with a guided tour to spot Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles (08 9949 1176, exmouthwa.com.au), Stay at the nearby Novotel Ningaloo Reef in
Exmouth and get five nights for the price of four on stays until March 28.
Costs from $1100 a room, five nights. (08) 9949 0000, novotelningaloo.com.au.
NORTHERN TERRITORY
Tick the Northern Territory many icons off your bucket
list in one swoop, on the 11-day Territory Explorer, including Uluru, Alice
Springs, Kakadu and Katherine Gorge. Highlights also include a Sounds of
Silence dinner in the central Australian desert, a slap-up feed at Daly Waters
pub and two nights at the Sails in the Desert resort at Uluru.  Book by March 31 and your partner gets free
flights into Ayers Rock and out of Darwin, tours depart between June and August.
Costs from $5665 a person, twin share. 
1300 723 642,
scenictours.com.
THAILAND
Get into the thick of Bangkok’s gold-obsessed Chinatown
with a three-night stay that includes breakfast daily, welcome drinks, free
wi-fi and 20 per cent off at the hotel spa. Rooms from the 11th floor up of the
three-star Grand China hotel include views of the city and Chao Phraya river.
Book by March 31 for stays between April 1 and October 31. Costs from $95 a
person, twin share, for three nights. 133 133, flightcentre.com.au.
TURKEY
The pun-worthy rock formations of Cappadocia, Turkey
Turkish history resonates with Australians, and the
battlefields of World War I are on the itinerary of this seven-day ‘Turkish Delight’ coach tour through
a remarkable country. Other highlights include the ancient cities of Troy and
Ephesus, the Convent of the Whirling Dervishes in far western Konya and the
pun-worthy rock formations of Cappadocia. Save 10 per cent when you book by
February 20, excludes tours during the ANZAC period, April 18-25. Costs from
$828 a person, includes four-star accommodation and most meals. 1300 362 844, tempoholidays.com.
BALI
Beat the rush for flights and book your April holiday
before March 1 to save $726 on a seven-night stay at Club Med, Nusa Dua. The
offer includes all meals, open bar and snacks, kids’ club, sports activities
and daily entertainment. They’ll also include airport transfers and Club Med
membership with travel insurance on travel. The deal is valid for travel until
April 30. Normally $1913 for adults, costs from $1187 for adults, $692 for
children, seven nights.  1300 855 052, clubmed.com.au.
The Viceroy Maldives.
MALDIVES
You may not
have celebrated Maldives National Day on January 25, but the five-star Viceroy
Maldives, on Vagaru Island, has marked the occasion with a discount on its 61
luxe beach and waterfront villas. Book by February 17 and save up to $760 a
night on stays until March 23. They’ll also include breakfast daily and a free
upgrade to the next villa type, if available. (Minimum stay four nights between
February 4 – 17).
Costs from $910 a
villa, a night. viceroyhotelgroup.com.
SPAIN & FRANCE
Paris and Barcelona: does it get any better? It does,
when you include the French wine regions of Bordeaux, St-Emilion and Sauternes,
then add Seville, Ronda and Granada into the mix. The Splendours of France
& Spain tour spends 18 days ambling through these two European superstars,
with departures on May 5 and September 29. Book before February 28 and get $200
off the luxury coach tour. Costs from $4435 a person, twin share. 1300 237 886,
insightvacations.com.
South Australia’s incomparable Flinders Ranges.
TOURWATCH
Capture the vastness of central Australia with a new
aerial landscape photography tour, led by the highly experienced photographer Peter
Elfes. The six-day tour skims over the beauty of the Flinders Ranges and Lake
Eyre in light aircraft, and gets down on the ground with walking and 4WD tours
and photography workshops. There’s also an overnight stay in Marree and visit
to Andamooka included, with flights by Air Wilpena, which has been running
scenic flights in the region since 1959. The groups will have a maximum of 12
guests and tours depart June 4-9 and October 22-27. Costs from $4475 a person,
single room, including all flights and tours. (08) 8648 0004, airwilpena.com.au.