It’s guinea pigs on the barbie and Pi Mai in Laos: travel deals March 24, 2013

To die for: Sofitel Sydney’s Addams Family suite. 
Roast guinea pix in Ecuador with Celine Cousteau. Go on, you know you want to. Or stay with the Addams family in Sydney, sniff out a bottle of fabulousness in Tassie or hang with pandas in China, in this week’s international and domestic travel deals. 

For lovers of all things creepy, kooky and French, check in to the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth’s Addams Family suite, main picture, for the night – complete with cobwebs, watchful family portraits and a haunted mirror – and do high tea, Addams style (“It’s to die for,” the hotel says). The Addams Family musical opened last night at the Capitol Theatre, and the Sofitel’s Soiree lobby bar, resplendent with coffins and tombstones, is serving a blood-red Morticia’s Martini and bubbly Pugsley’s Poison to celebrate. The Addams Family suite package includes an ‘A’ reserve ticket to the musical, Club Sofitel access, breakfast, high tea with cocktails and, of course, late checkout (though still in daylight hours). Book by April 28. Costs from $275 a person, twin share. (02) 9228 9188,
Follow your nose to some of Australia’s best cellar doors and gourmet haunts in northern Tasmania, between Launceston and Cradle Mountain. Stay one night at the Country Club Tasmania, just outside Launceston, and another night at Cradle Mountain Chateau and get full breakfast and two-course dinners each night, a bottle of local wine and entrance into the privately owned photography gallery, The Wilderness Gallery, until June 30. Costs from $283 a person, twin share, quote code “CC009”. 1800 420 555,
Hervey Bay is the jumping-off point for Fraser Island, pictured top left, a delight for whale-watchers and simply a place to relax. Save a precise 31 per cent on three-night stays at the four-star Peppers Pier Resort. The resort has two pools, a children’s area, day spa and fully-equipped suites with balconies overlooking the bay. Book by April 15 for travel April 2-July 4. Costs from $516 a room for three nights. 1300 888 180,
Although it is more than 1600 kilometres from Sydney, Norfolk Island is still part of the ‘hood, even though you fly over seas to get there (and you also need your passport). This eight-day tour of the south Pacific island sees you staying in the top hotel, the Governor’s Lodge resort, experiencing local culture at the Sunday markets and exploring its rainforests and gardens. Book by September 30 and save $125 a person. Costs from $2770 a person, twin share. 1300 723 642,
Enjoy your own bird’s-eye view of Australia when you cross the country on a Bill Peach Gulf to Gulf aircruise. There are only two journeys annually, this year departing from either Adelaide (June 21) or Darwin (July 1). The 10-day aircruise visits iconic outback towns and villages including Innamincka, Birdsville and Arkaroola, as well as raucous Mount Isa and up into Arnhem Land, where you’ll stay at the remote Seven Spirit Bay, on the Cobourg Peninsula. (PS: atlases out. The gulfs are Carpentaria and Spencer). Costs from $11,595 a person, twin share. 1800 252 053,

Stay five nights in a deluxe room at
Kuta’s Hard Rock hotel and get two extra nights free. The offer includes
breakfast daily, shopping vouchers and airport transfers as well as a massage,
white-water rafting adventure or water-sports experience. Travel from April 1
to June 30. Costs from $519 a person, seven nights. 1300 883 887,

Laos celebrates Pi Mai from April 13-15. The best spot to experience
it is in the Luang Prabang. Stay three nights in a garden
room at the former royal residence, the 25-room Maison Souvannaphoum and they’ll
include a boat tour on the Mekong to watch the celebrations, guided tour of the
Lao New Year parade, market fair and city festivals and a Lao Prince dinner as
well as half-price spa treatments. Costs from $488++ a room. 856 71 254 609,
Celebrate winter in style at the famed luxury lodge,
Matakauri Lodge, and save 33 per cent. Set outside Queenstown, the view from
the 11 suites is of Lake Wakatipu with the remarkable Remarkables towering
behind.  Stay two nights in a deluxe suite
between May 1 and July 31 and get a third night free: the offer also includes
pre-dinner drinks, breakfast and gourmet dinner. Costs from $1430+ a person,
three nights. +64 3 441 1008,
It’s veteran tour leader Jeanette Savage’s last European hurrah
when she leads Interlude Tour’s 36-day journey through Europe, departing
September 18. Just 17 guests will fly to Paris and travel to
the Loire Valley, visit Bilbao’s Guggenheim, see Gaudi’s masterpieces in Barcelona
and revel in the beauty of Provence, Cinque Terre and the Swiss Alps, staying
in boutique hotels. Book by April 19 and they’ll include airport transfers and
two nights’ accommodation for two at the Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok on the way
home. Costs from $12,240 a person, twin share, includes economy air fares. (02)
9405 2218,
Intrepid My Adventure Store is cutting 25 per cent, or $550, off its two-week tours from Beijing to Shanghai when booked by April 15, for travel May 20 and June 3. The tour ticks off the Chinese icons, including the Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors and Tienanmen Square, as well as volunteering at the Bifengxia Panda Breeding Centre and staying at a rural farm.  Costs from $1500 a person. 1300 021 123,

Celine Cousteau in underwater action.
With a pedigree that lists Jean-Michel Cousteau as her father and Jacques
as grandfather, you know that an adventure with French
explorer Céline Cousteau is going to be a wild ride, indeed. Céline will spend
three days with you on Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands as part of Contiki’s 11-day
Galapagos & Ecuador tour. Remember, it’s still South America, so expect
guinea pig on the barbie, hip-flinging salsa and a chance to stare into the
abyss at Cotopaxi volcano.  As part of Earth Month, Contiki will donate all profits from this trip to local Oceanic
initiatives in the Galapagos. The tour departs April 21. Costs
from $2685 a person, twin share. 1300 266 845,

Where Maggie Beer relaxes, Fleur Wood eats and wellness and eco escapes: Good Weekend

Where does Maggie Beer truly relax, and Fleur Woods
find a Victorian gourmet getaway? Part of Good Weekend’s 52 ExtraordinaryJourneys that cover wellness retreats and eco-escapes.

restaurateur, author

The experience: Consistency, attention to detail and utter relaxation
on Kangaroo Island. 
“I have visited the Southern Ocean Lodge four times, as
I host a Kangaroo Island Food Safari each year. Recently, I stayed at the lodge
for five days. I’m a detail freak and I appreciate every little bit. The luxury
is the staff, who are lovely people. It’s in the swivel chairs you sit on. It’s
in the way everything is so restful, and how every window is set to capture a
view: the first time I walked into the lodge’s great room, it took my breath
away. It’s in the greeting on arrival, the freshly made lamingtons served and
the good-quality tea. On my last visit, we walked the cliffs to Hanson Bay
every morning, and every morning the staff would offer to pack us cut fruit on
ice or a picnic and rug. We sat outside for every meal we could, eating the
best food, using seasonal, local produce. The lodge’s signature scent is lemon
myrtle, so there’s a sense of the bush. I don’t relax easily unless I’m by the
sea. Here, I am so relaxed, I just give myself over to it.” 
Dream to reality: Regional
Express ( flies daily from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island; Sealink
( has a daily ferry service from Cape Jervis on the mainland.
Southern Ocean Lodge, Hanson Bay, two-night stays from $990 a person a night,
twin share.

The experience:
 Chardonnay body scrub, pinot bath and a glass of wine.
Snuggled in the wild dunes of Tasmania’s far north-east, Barnbougle Lost Farm’s
spa menu includes vinotherapy – embracing blends from the nearby Tamar Valley’s
cool-climate wines. Think chardonnay exfoliant, pinot noir body mask, then a
still-water pinot bath.
Dream to reality: Barnbougle Lost Farm, Waterhouse
Road, Bridport, is one hour’s drive from Launceston. Fly direct from
Melbourne’s Moorabbin Airport. Rooms from $190 a night, twin share; 150 minutes
of vinotherapy from $320 a person.

The experience: Waterfall “treatment” in
subtropical climes.
Nature’s hand replaces that of the therapist, no booking is required, and there
are no man-made products – just an invigorating pummelling. In and around
beautiful Litchfield National Park south of Darwin, the popular Florence Falls,
Wangi Falls, Sandy Creek (Tjaynera Falls), Surprise Creek Falls and Buley
Rockhole can deliver neck-and-shoulder workouts. The best time to try is early
in the
dry season, May-June.
Dream to reality: Litchfield National Park is a
90-minute drive from Darwin. Walk from carparks to individual waterfalls.

The experience: A splendid bolthole and secluded
beach in the south-west.
Injidup Spa Retreat’s 10 villas have heated plunge pools, ocean views, in-villa
dining and an in-villa massage service. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of
the World network, Injidup is adjacent to Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and
within driving distance of the Margaret River wine-and-dine bounty, yet well
suited to travellers who seek to be alone, but pampered, near a brooding sea.
Dream to reality: Injidup is a three-hour drive
southwest of Perth. Two-night weekend villa stays from $650 a night.

The experience: Barossa bush bathing.
The seven-suite Kingsford Homestead, built in 1856, has an alfresco two-person
bath set in a private corner of the estate. Guests are handed a basket
containing a bathrobe and salts before they walk into the bush to bathe.
Dream to reality: Kingsford is an hour’s drive
north of Adelaide. Two-night stays from $1780 for two.

The experience: A Noosa ‘‘bodibreak’’ for those
made of tough stuff.
Train like a pro under the direction of Life’s A Gym coaches: think
bootcamp-style sessions on the beach, in the ocean and pool, as well as
running, bike riding, and stand-up paddling and surfing sessions. The regimen
is bespoke and includes fitness and nutrition advice.
Dream to reality: Fly direct from Sydney or
Melbourne to Sunshine Coast Airport. Stay at Outrigger Little Hastings Street,
Noosa. Four-day ‘‘bodibreak’’ from $1650 a person, twin share.

The experience: Savannah meets wetlands meets
lodge comforts.
Wake to a chorus of brolgas after a night’s sleep in an African-style tented
stay overlooking the 2000-hectare Mareeba Tropical Savanna and Wetland Reserve
the Atherton Tableland west of Cairns, in Far North Queensland. The Wildlife
Conservancy of Tropical Queensland spent 10 years developing the reserve.
Dream to reality: By car, it’s about a 90-minute
drive from Cairns or Port Douglas. Lodge stays from $229 a person a night, twin
share. Cairns-Mareeba train and bus services available. Transfers from Cairns
to the Jabiru Safari Lodge are available by special request.

The experience: Stylish digs deep in native
Winter and early spring bring forth flowering plants and orchids at the
spectacular Tanonga, a 100-hectare property on the Eyre Peninsula where more
than 25,000 native trees, shrubs, grasses and sedges have been planted to help
restore the land. It’s a robust landscape of incredible views, with two
architect-designed, self-contained lodges sitting among it.
Dream to reality: Regional Express flies daily
from Adelaide to Port Lincoln. Tanonga Luxury Eco Lodges are a 20-minute drive
from the airport. Lodge stay is $310-$340 a night. Minimum two-night stay.

The experience: At home on the edge of the wild
Corinna is a former goldmining settlement, its riverside workers’ cottages and
stores since renovated and an additional 14 retreats built to complement the
settler vernacular. On the southern side of the Tarkine – the largest temperate
rainforest in Australia – Corinna has rainwater on tap. While you’re there,
take a Pieman River cruise on the stunning Arcadia II, a 17-metre vessel made
of huon pine in 1939.
Dream to reality: Corinna is a three-hour drive
south west of Stanley or 90 minutes north of Strahan, on Tasmania’s west coast.
One-bedroom retreats from $200 a night for two people.

The experience: Corrugated-iron “bush
shelters”, courtesy of architects.
Self-contained studios insulated with sheep’s wool and decorated with found and
recycled materials form The Odd Frog, built on
4.2 hectares in Bright in Victoria’s north-east. It’s a solar-powered stay,
with grey water going to the orchard, walking and cycling tracks (including the
sealed Murray to the Mountains rail trail) nearby, and Bright’s shops a short
stroll away.
Dream to reality: Bright is about a three-hour
drive from Melbourne. Nearest airport is Albury, NSW. Studios from $150 a

The experience: No plastic, thanks, we’re
permaculture people.
Tucked between a sandstone escarpment and the Morton National Park, Kangaroo
Valley has National Trust-listed landscapes and village buildings, a
long-standing ‘‘no plastic bags in shops’’ policy, and tourism operators who
are upfront about their efforts to reduce their carbon emissions. About 1300
people live in the valley, and it’s
a badge of honour for many that there are no traffic lights in the area.
Dream to reality: Kangaroo Valley is a two-hour
drive south of Sydney.
FLEUR WOOD, Sydney fashion

The experience: Towns that let the tables do the talking. 
“Victoria’s Daylesford region is a foodie revelation All
we did on a weekend visit was eat. My favourite restaurant is Kazuki’s –
modern, Japanese-inspired bistro food. There’s beef and foie gras on the menu,
but it’s very light. It’s my kind of food and I wanted everything on the menu.
Wombat Hill House cafe, in the botanic gardens, is a great place to take kids
and the food is fresh, organic and healthy. We had lunch in the conservatory
and were struck by the delicious salads with fresh herbs and the local spring
water. I did manage to get to Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa and visit Lavandula, a
Swiss-Italian-style lavender farm for the signature lavender scones, of course.
It is really beautiful, a good place for a post-spa afternoon tea. There are so
many restaurants, yet there’s still an Australian country town aesthetic about
Daylesford. With a husband and young baby, plus restaurants and spa treatments
to experience, I didn’t have much time for shopping, but we took home some
home-made apricot and almond jam. So much of the food is local and organic and
there’s a real pride in growing and producing your own foods. It’s such a great
community. If it was just outside Sydney, I’d be there every second
Dream to reality: Daylesford
and the Macedon Ranges is north-west of Melbourne. Self-guided touring

This article originally appeared in Good
. Like Good Weekend on Facebook to get regular updates on upcoming stories
and events –

Source: Belinda Jackson, Good Weekend Magazine

Can’t get to Afghanistan? Here’s the next best thing.

Gold hair pendant, 1st century BC – 1st century AD.
Photo:  Thierry Ollivier 

Afghanistan’s been on my wishlist for years, but it seems every time there was the hint of open borders, the country would become a flashpoint for disaster on a global scale.

So I could only imagine the wondrous beauty hidden in the mountainous country until yesterday, when the Melbourne Museum launched its latest exhibition, Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures.

The exhibition has more than 230 priceless artifacts from archaeological sites along the Silk Route. Afghanistan was the crossroads for the trading network, and the riches are decorated in motifs from the ancient world, blurring Indian, Greek, Persian and local mythological creatures and legends into one beautiful culture.

The story goes that a hill of Bactrian gold lay undisturbed for 2000 years, before being discovered in the late ’70s and held by the National Museum in Kabul. The museum was destroyed between 1992 and 1995, and what remained was looted.

Sutara Arian from Channel 31’s
Afghan program, in national dress
at the opening yesterday. 

So it was thought the gold was destroyed or melted down by warlords during the Soviet War or under subsequent Taliban rule, but the exhibition’s curator, archaeologist and National Geographic Fellow Fredrik Hibert – described by ABC’s Jon Faine yesterday as a real, live Indiana Jones – found it preserved by a courageous band of ‘keyholders’.

Hibert led a team into Afghanistan in 2003 and opened the vaults to reveal Afghanistan’s treasures, some of which have found their way to Melbourne.

Gold, turquoise, pyrite and bronze were wrought into diadems, pendants, statuettes and, the showpiece of the exhibition is a collapsible nomadic crown garnished with golden birds and the Tree of Life.

There are also beautiful photographs from Afghanistan today, including scenes from the Hindu Kush, terraced wheat fields of the Kunar River vValley and the ruins of a royal Greek city founded by Alexander the Great’s followers, Aï Khanum.

The exhibition was supposed to have been opened by the Governor-General, but leadership spills (the non-story of the day) stole her away. However, we did spot a tv-crew from Channel 31’s Afghan program, including host Sutara Arian (pictured) in gorgeous traditional dress. You can catch her program at 1.30pm Thursdays.

Collapsible nomadic crown, 1st century BC – 1st century AD.
Photo:  Thierry Ollivier 

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul

22 March – 28 July 2013
Adults $24, concession $16, children $14, 131 102, Melbourne Museum 

Cruising on all continents: travel deals March 17 2013

Silver Spirit in Santorini, Greece.

Cruise, baby, cruise. Get in quick to snap up a travel deal on the high seas. 

Cruise China’s Yangtze River on the
14-day Yangtze Splendour Deluxe tour that starts in Beijing and ends in
Shanghai, with six days on the Victoria
. The cruise itinerary explores ghost cities, gorges and the ancient
capital of Nanjing. The tour departs April 9 and includes return economy air
fares from Australia, six nights in five-star hotels, bias fees and
English-speaking tour guides. Save up to $600, costs from $5390 a person, twin
share. 1300 727 998,
Take a spring cruise through the Netherlands and Belgium,
with all the classic images of windmills, tulips and canals, with stops in
historic Antwerp  and gorgeous Ghent. Save
up to $1500 a couple and solo travellers have the single supplement waived when
booked by March 30, on selected departures on the eight-day Tulip Time Cruise.
Costs from $3543 for solo passengers on departures April 21, 28, and May 12,
2013 and from $2843 a person, twin share, on departures April 28 and May 12,
2013., 1300
230 234.
Discover New Caledonia in a 10-day cruise on the Carnival Spirit. The round-trip tour departs
Sydney and visits the islands of Mare, Lifou and the Isle of Pines as well as
the capital, Noumea.  Book by March 31
for travel May 19 and get $100 credit to spend on board. Costs from $749 a
person (quad share, inside cabin) or $915 (twin share, inside cabin). 1300 450
Swim with turtles and sea lions off the coastline of one
of the world’s star eco-tourism destinations, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. The
luxury Galapagos Odyssey takes just
16 passengers on its five-day cruises that let you get up close and personal
with the islands’ famed giant tortoises and bird life. Book a five, six, 10 or
11-day cruise before March 30 for travel until September 30 and get a free stay
at a hot springs resort, city stay or a hacienda within the Cotopaxi National
Park, worth $445. Costs from $2819 a person. 1300 320 795,
Sail the Danube, from Romania to Austria, via
Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia, on a 16-night tour. During July and
August, children under 18 staying in their own cabin pay half price, which
includes all excursions. Save up to $1900 on the August 8 departure
on cruise-only fares. Costs from $4228 a person, twin share, includes all
meals and drinks. 1300 583 572,
Trek the wilds of Patagonia,
then cruise ice landscape of Antarctica in a spectacular 20- or 21-day
adventure with Aurora Expeditions.  The tour begins at El Calafate, Argentina, staying in lodges iat the Torres del Paine National Park, before heading south
on the Polar Pioneer. Save 25 per cent on
departures on December 1 and December 10. Costs from $8,939 a person, triple share. (02) 9252 1033,
Cruise the Chobe River on the Zambezi Queen in a small group tour, departing Cape Town and finishing in Johannesburg. The itinerary includes a two-day cruise on the 14-suite river boat, as well as game drives
and luxury camping. A $500 air credit on return
flights from Australia with South African Airways is available. Costs from $10,195 a person, twin share. 1300 278 278,
The Pacific Jewel departs from Sydney and visits Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Cairns and Port Douglas, with a stop on the Reef. Book by April 1, 2013, for departure June 2, 2014 and get $100 onboard
credit per cabin. Costs from $1649 a person, twin share (inside cabin). 1300 450 133,
A 21-night journey, departing on August 31, includes two days on Canada’s Rocky
Mountaineer train, a spin at the casinos in Vegas seven nights on the Star Princess from Seattle to Glacier Bay.  There’s also a stop in Las Vegas. Price includes economy return airfares with V Australia. A free
cabin upgrade may be available. Costs from $6,879 a person.  1300 369 848,
The nine-day ‘Nile in Style’ tour, cruising between Luxor to Aswan on the luxury boat Sanctuary Sun Boat IV, includes the services of a private Egyptologist in Cairo,
visiting the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Save 25 per cent on departures between
April 5 – May 1. Costs from $3169 a person, twin share, or $4508 solo
traveller. 1300 851 800,
Silversea Cruises is offering special fares on its three Mediterranean
departures on the flagship craft, Silver
. Book by March 31 and check in to one of Silversea’s Silver Suites,
featuring marble bathrooms, espresso machines, a large veranda and separate
dining and living areas. There’s also the butler and personalised bar, the Relais & Châteaux meals and the
Champagne on tap, to ensure smooth sailing. The three sailings include
16 days from Venice to Barcelona, departing October 24 cruising the Adriatic,
Ionian and Mediterranean seas, visiting Monte Carlo and the French Riviera. Costs
from $12,739 a person. 1300 306 872,
Celebrate the beauty and diversity of Australia with the
circumnavigation of Australia on the Queen
Mary 2
, the grand dame of the Cunard line. The journey starts and ends in
Sydney, departing February 19, 2014, and takes 23 nights, stopping in Brisbane,
the Whitsunday Islands, Darwin, Bali, Fremantle, Adelaide and Melbourne.  Go the healthy option with yoga, gym and spa
treatments, or learn to make cocktails, go line dancing and hit the 15
restaurants and bars. Australians love the ocean liner’s heritage, and fares
are in hot demand. Costs from $5641 a person (inside stateroom). 132 441,

Find the romance of Persia or follow the Great Migration: travel deals 10 March 2013

Ancient cities, warm hospitality, wild landscapes: the romance of Persia is calling. Closer to home, get fabulous in northern NSW or Thailand, or follow the Great Migration across the Serengeti and Masai Mara.

Walking is the new cycling, which is of course the new golf, and one of the best walking destinations in the country is Tassie. The new Three Capes walk hugs the sea cliffs of the Tasman peninsula and out to Cape Raoul. This three-day tour also includes a visit to Port Arthur and a jet boat wilderness cruise (yes, you read that right). Normally $1095, book before March 23 and save 15 per cent on the April 24 departure.  Costs $930 a person, three days. 1300 666 856,

Toulouse-Lautrec, Canberra.


Travelling to Canberra to see the best of Toulouse Lautrec is a whole lot cheaper than hauling off to Paris. Stay at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra during the boho Paris exhibition and you’ll get overnight accommodation in a Park Room as well as two tickets to the Toulouse Lautrec exhibition, breakfast and free parking. The offer runs until April 2, quote code ‘TOUL’. Costs from $345 per room. 131 234,

Golf aficionados head far west for a putt in the sun, and non-golfing spouses will enjoy the diversion of staying a houseboat on the Murray River. Stay four nights on a deluxe houseboat and play Mildura’s two 18-hole courses, including buggy hire and get full breakfast provisions, dinner at the Gol Gol hotel and a gourmet barbeque. Normally from $900 a person, save $350. Costs from $550. 1800 800 842,

It’s billed as the ultimate fishing safari, and when you spot the barramundi lurking in the shadows of the waters around the Kimberley Coastal Camp, you’ll have to agree. The remote camp is on the Kimberley’s Admiralty Gulf, and is offering half-price fishing safaris from March 19-22 or March 22-25. Includes air transfers from Kununurra, a scenic flight over the magnificent Mitchell Falls, all meals, accommodation and fishing tackle use. Costs from $3382 a person. 0417 902 006,


Cabarita Ocean Spa, NSW

You’re a healthier you, on the NSW far north coast.  Book a health retreat at Cabarita Ocean Spa with a friend and save 25 per cent on all stays until March 23, and singles get 15 per cent off. Expect surfing and stand-up paddling, as befits an ocean retreat that’s moments from the coastline, as well as lashings of organic, locally sourced food and Sodashi in the spa. Costs from $1650 a person, twin share, three nights. (02) 6674 3111,

Canny backpackers have long known that an overnight train journey saves on the cost of accommodation. Do it in style and save, as Rail Europe celebrates its 18th birthday with up to 65 per cent off City Night Line trains, which operate in eight countries including Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Book by April 2, travel by June 30. Costs from $59 in couchette, $70 in double sleeper economy.
Bali bargain hunters alert. Fly with Virgin Australia from Sydney to Denpasar and stay seven nights for the price of five in a deluxe pool view room at the Kuta Lagoon Resort, on Jalan Legian. The offer includes breakfast, airport transfers and regular shuttle buses to the surf and bangle sellers at Kuta Beach. Book until 3pm June 7 for travel from April 28 to June 14. Costs from $1,079 a person, twin share. 1300 130 485,
It’s time to get your skates on, literally, to catch an earlybird ski bargain. Club Med’s Early Bird Ski Booking deals knock up to 30 per cent off all bookings made by July 1, including five nights in Yabuli, China as well as Europe and Japan. Packages include ski passes, lessons, all meals, open bar and snacks as well as travel insurance. Valid for travel from December 1 to April 7, 2014. Costs from $1033 for adults, $584 for children, five nights. 1800 258 263,
Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary, Koh Samui, Thailand

Heal thyself: at a discount price, at Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary on Koh Samui’s south coast. First-time guests can stay four nights, pay for three until April 30. Repeat guests are not forgotten, with a stay five, pay four deal until May 31. Includes airport transfers, all meals and treatments in your wellness program as well as an initial wellness consultation and holistic activities. Costs from $3500 for seven nights on a wellness program, or accommodation only from $224 a night.  +66 (0) 77 429 800,
Follow the migration paths of wilderbeest and zebras across Tanzania and Kenya, across the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. This package includes eight nights’ accommodation in luxury tented camps and a treehouse, as well as game drives and a visit to the Ngorongoro crater. Book until March 31 for travel until March 24, then May 1 – May 24 and save $1840 a person. Costs from $6629 a person. 1300 320 795,
Wind towers, Iran.

Blow the myths out of the water and discover one of the friendliest countries on earth: Iran. This tour departs from Shiraz, reached easily from Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where there’s no drinking wine, but plenty of beautiful gardens and the astonishing ancient city of Persepolis. Highlights include the romantic desert city of Yazd and one of the world’s largest plazas, Naksh-e Jahan Square, in bejewelled Isfahan. There are hill villages, palaces and fine museums as well as plenty of tea stops and fine Iranian cooking to be sampled. The 18-day Highlights of Persia tour departs October 1. Costs from $3850 a person, twin share. (02) 9418 7803,

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald newspaper

Colomboscope to get the town talking

Galle Rd & the Indian Ocean, Colombo.

If you’re in Colombo next weekend, pencil in a few events from Colomboscope, an arts festival curated by  Sri Lankan author Ashok Ferrey. 

If I was in town, I’d be making a beeline for the panel of war reporters and a Sri Lankan army representative talking about massaging the numbers of war in ‘Who Counted the Bodies?’ Too grim for your tastes? There’s also a great debate on English-Singlish-Tinglish (blends of Sinhalese and Tamil), piano recitals, poetry and a rock concert 🙂 

FRIDAY 22ND MARCH 6.00 pm – 06.15 pm
Festival Opening  *Free Event*
Incredibly short speeches by Festival Sponsors: Anirvan Dastidar (CEO Standard Chartered Bank), Tony Reilly (Country Director, British Council), Bjoern Keitels (Director Goethe Institut), Ashok Ferrey (Festival Curator).

6.15 pm – 7.30 pm
Announcement of Short List for the Gratien Prize 2012
*Free Event* Compeered by Nafeesa K Amiruddeen. Introduction of judging panel, comments on the judging process by chair of panel, citations on the shortlisted works, brief self introductions by the five authors, and readings of their short-listed works.

8.30 pm – 10.30 pm
*GOURMET DINNER* At Bayleaf, Dutch Hospital, and Park Street Mews
Details and tickets from February 15th at Park Street Mews.

SATURDAY 23RD MARCH09.00 AM – 09.40 AM The Kaduwa
*Free Event*
Does English serve to unite or divide? English-Singlish-Tinglish – how far should be go with the indigenization of the language? Sumathy Sivamohan, Shermal Wijewardene and Malinda Seneviratne air their views. Moderator Shyamalee Tudawe wields the sword.

10.00 AM – 10.40 AM
1- Anjali Joseph in conversation with Tony Reilly
The prize-winning author of Saraswati Park and Another Country on her writing life.

11.00 AM – 11.40 AM 2- My Life in Robes
Two men and a woman in robes – a Christian priest, a Buddhist monk and a Muslim lady – talk about what those robes mean to them: how they serve to define their identity and how they change the way others perceive them. Moderator: Jill Macdonald.

12.45 PM – 1.30 PM
3 – Lunchtime Concert: Some Musical Fun
Concertmaster Lakshman Joseph de Saram and the Chamber Music Society of Colombo. Mozart Divertimento K. 522

02.00 PM – 02.40 PM 4 – Songs from Across the Water
Four poets: Three of Sri Lanka’s finest – Holocaust poet Anne Ranasinghe, Ramya Jirasinghe and Vivimarie VanderPoorten – and T. S. Eliot Prize nominee Sean Borodale, on expressing identity and alienation through their work.

03.00 PM – 03.40 PM 5 – Flying on the Other Wing
Minoli Ratnayake talks to Carolin Emcke, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Koluu and Brandon Ingram about sexual identity and living an alternate lifestyle in modern-day Sri Lanka, and to film-maker Asoka Handagama about the portrayal of it on film.

*Free Events* 04.00 PM
Book Launches and readings

6.00 PM – 08.00 PM
Film show followed by Q&A: Flying with one Wing by Asoka Handagama curated by Anoma Rajakaruna

06.15 PM – 06.30 PM Dance Recitals
*Free Event* Martha Graham – The Resurrection, by Seneka Abeyratne

07.00 PM – 07.45 PM Performance by nATANDA
Choreography by Kapila Palihawadana

08.00 PM – 10.00 PM *GOURMET DINNER*
At Bayleaf, Dutch Hospital, and Park Street Mews.

10.00 PM – 12.00 AM Rock Concert 
*Free Event* Kumar & Out of Time

09.30 AM – 10.10 AM
The Gratien Prize *Free Event*
Former Gratien judge and nominee Neluka Silva talks to last year’s winner Madhubhashini Dissanayaka Ratnayake and this year’s short listed hopefuls about Sri Lanka’s top literary prize for English writing, and what a win would meant to their writing career.

10.30 AM – 11.10 AM 6 – Sean Borodale in conversation with Smriti Daniel
T.S. Eliot Prize nominee, poet Sean Borodale talks to poet and journalist Smriti Daniel

11.30 AM – 12.30 PM 7 – Who Counted the Bodies?
War reporters Carolin Emcke and Julian West in conversation with Rajiva Wijesinha and a representative of the Sri Lankan Army, about the problems of war reportage: Who exactly assigns the numbers in an environment where facts and figures can be massaged equally vigorously by both sides? Moderated by Savithri Rodrigo.

01.00 PM – 01.40 PM 8 – Eshantha Peiris in Concert
One of Sri Lanka’s most gifted pianists, with his own selection.

02.00 PM – 02.40 PM 9 – In the Driving Seat
Three very different women novelists – Yasmine Gooneratne (The Sweet and Simple Kind), Anjali Joseph (Saraswati Park, Another Country) and Shamila Kandatha (Just the Facts, Madam-ji, A Break in the Circle) talk to Mrinali Thalagodapitiya about what exactly drives their work. Is it plot, character or genre? Or is it just plain good writing?

03.00 PM – 04.00 PM 10 – Kaveri Lalchand: One woman show
Side-splitting laughs with a born entertainer.

*Free Events*
04.00 PM – 04.30 PM Book launch – M.T.L. Ebell

05.00 – 05.30 PM  CD launch by Spa Ceylon

06.00 PM – 08.00 PM Film show followed by Q&A: August Sun by Prasanna Vithanage curated by Anoma Rajakaruna

07.00 PM – 07.45 PM Dance Recital: ‘Absence’, created by Ruhanie Perera in collaboration with Sally Dean and Jake Orloff

08.00 PM – 10.00 PM AFTERPARTY – Street bands and food carts

Keep in touch with it all here

Loving Mungo and Malaysia: travel deals 3 March 2013

Tiptoe through the tulips, snap up a bargain stay in Malaysia or go mad for Mungo in our own wilderness, at the edge of the Outback. (Ok, so this column is up a little bit late, but you never know when a bargain will strike!)

Wring the last out of summer with a quickie getaway to the far northern NSW coast, for great fish & chips and quiet, sandy beaches, just 20 minutes south of the Gold Coast airport. Save 20 per cent on stays at Peppers Salt Resort & Spa, Kingscliff, and get buffet breakfast, in-room movies and internet access thrown in on stays until September 10. Costs from $564 for three nights in a one-bedroom spa suite. 1300 987 600,

The time poor don’t have to miss out on the beauties of the Top End: the five-day Mysterious North journey whisks you around the crown jewels, including Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks to swim in waterfalls and view Aboriginal rock art galleries. There’s also a cruise down Katherine Gorge and glamping at Wildman Wilderness Lodge to round up a perfect week away from the office. Save $105 when you book six months before departure; tours depart between May 12 and October 20. Costs from $2075 a person, twin share. 1800 467 747,

The Terrace Hotel, Perth


With Chanel now open on Perth’s King St and photographs from New York’s Museum of Modern Art showing in the Art Gallery of Western Australia, our western cousin is a sophisticate, indeed. Add to the mix a new boutique hotel, situated on St Georges Terrace in Perth’s happening West End. The elegant buildings of the Terrace Hotel were built in 1892, and the 15-suite hotel starts at $505 a night. Book the ‘Weekend Warrior’ and they’ll add a cocktail and full breakfast for stays on Friday and Saturday nights until April 1. Costs from $495 a night, (08) 9214 4444,


The InterContinental Adelaide

Adelaide is celebrating all things
maritime with the arrival of the JMW Turner exhibition, Turner from the Tate,
showing until May 19. Book a Turner Art Package at the InterContinental
Adelaide and save $132. The offer includes one night’s accommodation, two
tickets to the exhibition, breakfast for two and 2pm check-out. The hotel,
which is a short walk from the Art Gallery of South Australia, can also arrange
VIP guided tours of the exhibition. 
Costs from $228 a night. 138 388,

On your bikes, girls, it’s time to explore the Victorian
High Country on a Girls Own Bicycle Adventure. Bring your own or hire one of
Snowy River Cycling’s mountain or hybrid bikes. The six-day tour starts and
finishes at Orbost, in East Gippsland, and covers up to 50km a day (depending
on terrain, weather and mood) staying in national park lodges and farmhouses.
Departs May 5 and includes a basic bike maintenance workshop and an op shop
frock night. Save 20 per cent, or $229, on bookings made by April 5. Costs
$1416 a person, twin share. 0428 556 088,
The Baglionio, London
An Italian hotel in London – how could you go wrong? And
it’s on sale too. Stay two nights for the price of one, making the Kensington
hotel, the Baglionio, an outrageous steal. There’s a two-night minimum, and the
offer is valid on deluxe rooms until April 1. Smith members also get a bottle
of prosecco into the deal as well: and it’s free to join. Costs from $462 for
two nights. 1300 896 627,
Malaysia’s five-star hotels are fabulous, and fabulously
priced. The luxury Saujana Hotel in Kuala Lumpur includes an 18-hole championship
golf course and 260 hectares of tropical gardens. Snap up Malaysia Airlines
discount return flights and team up with a four-night stay at the Saujana. Book
by March 31 for travel until November 13, costs from $1057, or $753 flight
A Dutch deal is hard to find, but the tulips are
plentiful on Outdoor Travel’s Bike & Barge tour through Holland in the
springtime. Highlights include the world’s biggest flower auction, happening Amsterdam,
Delft and a cheese farm in Gouda, as you bike in between cruising the serene
riverways on a 10-cabin craft. Non-cycling partners are welcome. Save up to
$300 per cabin on departures on April 7 and May 12 only. Costs from $1600 a
person, includes most meals and bike hire. 1800 331 582,
The best of China is on display over 21 days, from
Beijing to Hong Kong, with Xi’an, Shanghai and the Yangtze River in between.
The China in Depth tour is a hotpot of pandas, Sichuan cooking, Great Walls and limestone crags and
five-star accommodation includes the new Westin Xia and Fairmont Beijing.
Partners fly free from Australia on bookings made by March 31. Costs from
$10,420 a person, twin share.  1300
723 642,
Japan just got even cheaper, thanks to a strong Aussie dollar and 15 per cent off World Expeditions’ Japan trips, including its Family Explorer. There are bullet trains, geishas, wasabi farms and fish markets, folk villages and the neon madness of Tokyo on this 12-day trip. The discount applies on bookings made before March 31 for departures July 1 to December 31. Costs from $4,390 a person, twin share. $3746 for kids 6-11 years. 1300 720 000,

National Park
“I think Aussies are really interested in Mungo National
Park,” says Janine Duffy of Echidna Tours. “It’s like a cathedral of our
history, but we can’t quite understand it.” The ancient landscape of Mungo is
near the meeting place of the Murray and the Darling rivers, in far western
NSW: think out Broken Hill and Mildura way. The Mungo Outback Journey is a
private journey with guides from the local Paakantyi Tribe who spend three days
showing you the beauty of the desert, from brilliant parrots and fairy wrens to
extinct marsupials, and the
remnants of 50,000 years of Aboriginal history. Fly in to Mildura to pick up
the private three-day tour, staying at the pretty river town of Wentworth. Runs
from March to November. Costs from $1350 a person, (03) 9646 8249,

Going floral like a kid in a Kandy shop

The crush at the Temple of the Relic of the Tooth, Kandy
I read a
travel decorating piece a few years ago that gave tips on how to make your
arduous journey more comfortable. One suggestion for the deco-minded was to buy
oneself flowers for the hotel room – just like home.
Our guesthouse tonight is far less salubrious than the one the magazine had in mind, but we’ve
done the same trick.
It’s easy
when the hotel faces the flower stands that make the beautiful floral tributes
offered to Buddha in the nearby revered Temple of the Relic of the Tooth, which
houses on of Buddha’s teeth – though you’ll never see it. It’s housed in a
golden casket, and like Ho Chi Minh’s corpse, you’re ushered past at a
seemingly irreverent pace – we glimpsed the casket for all of a second, after a
good half hour’s solid pushing and nudging.  
trays of jasmine flowers and Sri Lanka’s beautiful national flower, a blue
water lily, are constantly sprinkled with water to preserve their beauty for
hard-shopping pilgrims – 100 rupees, about 70c, will get you a huge handful of
the most exquisitely fragrant jasmine flowers. 

Travelling, Sri Lanka style: Hatton’s tea plantations

Last night, we stayed in an old tea mansion in Hatton, high amongst Sri Lanka’s verdant tea plantations. The hills roll and tumble, every inch covered in short, green tea bushes that look so much like my wild camellia at home.

The house, the Governor’s Mansion, is all very jolly hockey sticks, with a picture of a young Queen Elizabeth above the fireplace, and more four-poster beds than you can poke a walking stick at.

This morning, after breakfast, we borrowed one of the house’s mountain bikes (other gear includes fishing and tennis equipment, and waterproofs for bracing walks in the rain), and headed off down to the tea workers’ village.

I strapped Yasmine on my back and tore down the steep hills. We were mobbed by kids en route, demanding photos (and the occasional request for money) and took some lovely snaps of the picturesque tea processing factories and hillsides. Then I realised I didn’t have my mobile phone: I could have called my driver, Lucky, and have him pick me up at the bottom of the hill.

A week into the trip and I have completely given myself over: Australia with its housework and supermarket slogs are but a blurred memory.