Bunker down in top Tassie style, eat Paris or cycle New Zealand: travel deals January 26, 2014

Oh we love any excuse to look at a photo of Paris, even this improbably perfect one of the Eiffel Tower. Snap up a little city stay in the City of Light, cycle New Zealand or see how we Aussies do serious luxury. For something a little more laid back, it’s sun loungers in Caloundra, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Go now: New
Zealand
Cycle the world and save 10 percent on 21 journeys including
the Queenstown Otago Rail Trail, stretching 150km from Queenstown to
Christchurch or Dunedin. Book by March 15 for travel until December 31. From $1197
a person, twin share. 1300 720 000, worldcyclejourneys.com.
Go sooner:
Tasmania
Voted Australia’s top luxury lodge, stay four nights and
pay for three at the lush Saffire Freycinet, from March 1 until November 30. Free
activities include fishing, mountain biking, cocktail mixing or the gentle art
of hammocking. From $5400 for four nights. (03) 6256 7888,
saffire-freycinet.com.au.
Go later: France
Book a five-day Taste of Paris by March 16 and save 20
percent. The tours, which run from July 27 to August 30, include four nights in
a Left Bank hotel, sightseeing and transport passes and airport transfers. From
$533 a person, twin share. 1300 558 987,
tempoholidays.com.
KIDS
Go now: Queensland
Want water slides without the mania and price tag of a
theme park?  Check in to the Oaks Oasis
on the Sunshine Coast  and check out its
new water play park, with slides, fountains and a giant tipping bucket. For
those inclined to recline, there are also sunloungers aplenty. The newly
refurbished accommodation  ranges
from  hotel rooms to apartments and villas,
and is walking distance to the beach, 
close by Australia Zoo and one hour’s drive from Brisbane. From $40 a
person in a family room (sleeps four) until March 31. 1300 031 963,
oakshotelsresorts.com/oaks-oasis.

This article by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.

Adventure beckons: Aireys Inlet, Victoria

Rock-pool-hopping at Eagles Nest, Aireys Inlet, Victoria.
Photographer, Mark Chew.

We love a craggy, snap-tastic coastline, horse rides on the
beach, gourmet food and bush settings, which is why Aireys Inlet,
sitting pretty between the big guns of Anglesea and Lorne, is so
attractive.

Aireys is where the
artisan shop Lulu and Mr Q sells hand-made ice-cream, where the
shoreline has epic rock-pool-hopping potential to spot crabs and sea
urchins at low tide, where kids can snorkel in Mermaid Pool and where
crumbling cliffs above the sand burn a vivid ochre in the afternoon sun.

The
essential items for a summer holiday based at Aireys Inlet are a
well-stocked picnic basket and blanket: set up on the benches by the
barbecues at Moggs Creek or in a bushland setting at Sheoak Falls in the
Great Otway National Park.

If the kids whine, “But what else
are we going to do?” there’s an arsenal of off-sand activities at your
fingertips, from mountain biking around Distillery Creek to canoeing
down river where Painkalac Creek meets the ocean. See Great Ocean Road Adventure Tours; gorats.com.au.

Or
you can stretch your legs along the Surf Coast Walk from Aireys towards
Torquay, taking in sheltered nooks and windswept scenery alike. Then
there’s the White Queen – the Split Point Lighthouse – now open for
guided tours. See splitpointlighthouse.com.au.

With the kids
Under fives
* There’s sheltered swimming at Sunnymead and at Sandy Gully beaches.
* The reef at nearby Step Beach forms a swimming hole at low tide, while Aireys Inlet Beach suits experienced body surfers.
* It’s Victoria: sometimes it rains. Aireys Inlet’s Great Escape Books
hosts kids’ readings at 11am on Wednesdays in the summer school
holidays. Otherwise, order a hot chocolate and snuggle in for a read or
ransack the store’s toy box; greatescapebooks.wordpress.com.

Older children
* Explore Fairhaven Beach on horseback; blazingsaddlestrailrides.com.

Teenagers
* Take a photography walk along the coastline with a guide-teacher; surfcoastwalks.com.au.

Dining there
Pull
up a seat with water views at Aireys Inlet Foodstore & Cafe and
order home-made baked beans with Otway pork or free-range eggs. Then
stock the larder with local produce from its foodstore; aifsc.com.au.
It’s the perfect marriage: a parma and locally made beer at Aireys
Pub, which earns its stripes as a great all-rounder, with a sandpit in
the beer garden and live music every Saturday; aireyspub.com.au.
Add
a touch of the Mediterranean to your getaway with lunch at A la
Grecque. Order the seafood, order the wine – it’s your holiday;
alagrecque.com.au.

Getting there
Aireys Inlet is about a 90-minute drive west of Melbourne at the start of the Great Ocean Road.

Staying there
The
Aireys Inlet Getaway Resort has one-, two- and three-bedroom villas
with a pool, picnic spots and koalas and birds on the guest list; aireysinletgetaway.com.au.The Glen Farm Cottages are
self-contained, mud-brick stays on Old Coach Road, a few kilometres
inland from the beach; aireys.com.au.Private holiday homes are plentiful and listed on stayz.com.au. B&Bs are dotted throughout the region. Aireys
Inlet Holiday Park has cabin accommodation ranging from three-bedroom,
two-bathroom executive cabins to smaller cabins, aicp.com.au.

Camping there
Also at Aireys Inlet Holiday Park are ensuite sites with power and private bathroom, powered sites and grassed tent sites.

More information
See visitgreatoceanroad.org.au.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney Morning Herald Traveller.

Go underground, go outback, go AWOL: travel deals 19 January 2014

Hanging around at Kamalaya,
Koh Samui, Thailand

Take a Thai spa, check into a cave hotel, rail across Australia or get the kids’ skates on with new Skoot luggage.

Go now: Turkey
Explore Istanbul’s palaces, the limestone terraces of
Pamukkale and sleep in a Cappadocian cave hotel on a 10-day Turkish Delights
tour. Book by February 28 for travel until March and save $100. From $970 a
person, twin share. 131 398, travelscene.net.au.
Go sooner:
Thailand
Get a post-Christmas detox and save 20 percent at
Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary & Holistic Spa, on Koh Samui. Stay five nights,
pay for four, with free yoga, tai chi, qi gong, pilates and a body analysis
included, from March 1-April 30. From $955 a person, five nights.  +66 77 429 800, kamalaya.com.
Go later:
Trans-Australia
Save 20 percent on 10 holiday packages on The Ghan train
journey from Adelaide to Darwin, including the Rock & Rail tour, which adds
in two nights and tours in Alice Springs. Book by February 28, travel May 1-October
31. From $1741 a person, twin share. 1800 725 993, greatsouthernrail.com.au.
KIDS
Scoot cute
Cute kids’ luggage abounds, but is it useful? The Skoot
is a 13-litre suitcase, a boredom buster and a mode of transport in busy
airports. 
The shoulder strap allows parents to sling the scooter over their
shoulder and it doubles as a pull cord to rein in recalitrant cruisers. The
ride-on hard case also fits most cabin luggage requirements. Suitable for kids
from 3-6 years. $79.95, (03) 9824 6770,  littlegulliver.com.au.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sun-Herald newspaper.

Tripping the light fantastic: Northern Lights in Norway

On Deck 9, Midnatsol, Norway. Photo: Bob Stephan

There’s reindeer on the menu and light shows in the polar night, as Belinda Jackson cruises around Norway.

The temperature says it all: it’s 2.2 degrees C but the wind-chill
factor drags it down well below zero.

The ground is slippery with black
ice and it’s only 5pm, yet the sun has long given way to a dark, polar
night.

Norway’s extreme north is turning on a chilly welcome this November eve.

The town of Kirkenes is the starting point for my sea journey from high
up in the Arctic region to the gentler climes of Bergen in the south of
Norway, just a hop-skip across the North Sea to Scotland’s Shetland
Islands.

To help you place Kirkenes on the world map, it’s 400km past the Arctic
Circle, 7km from the Russian border and 37km west of Finland. There are
reindeer burgers on the hotel menu and rather prosaic tips on sleeping
during the midnight sun (close the curtains).

The next morning, my chariot awaits. More precisely, it’s the
Hurtigruten. Even more precisely, Hurtigruten is not one particular
ship, but a route (‘hurtig ruten’ = fast route) that links Norway’s
coastal towns and villages.

A ship leaves Bergen every day of the year for the journey to Kirkenes
and has been doing so since 1936, interrupted only by wars. My ship, the
MS Midnatsol (Midnight Sun), was built in 2003 and with 644 berths, can
take up to 1000 passengers (and not just tourists), drawn predominantly
from the UK, USA and northern Europe – not to mention more Australians
than you’d expect. Our ship has also a substantial smattering of
Norwegians using the ship for its original purpose: as a means of
transportation, and the staff are all locals, too, save a few
foreigners…from Sweden.

My cabin is a cosy little affair: two couches fold down to make
comfortable beds, there’s a little desk and a bathroom that can be
described kindly as ‘petite’. There are hooks and nooks to tuck your
gear away in, though the ship’s lounges, cafes and libraries are
preferable, with their panoramic windows and wi-fi which,
understandably, gets a bit shaky when the weather is tossing the ship
around on the stretches of open sea.

Panorama Lounge, Midnatsol, Norway.

Unlike most cruise ships, there’s no grand piano chained to the floor,
there are no dancing chorus girls, and the stars are not belting out
their ’70s hit parade but glittering overhead in the black depths of the
winter sky.

“You won’t starve on the journey,” a waitress tells me sorrowfully at my
first meal. My induction to the chef’s hand is lunch, which today
features five types of fish including roasted cod, gravalax and tubes of
Mills Caviar, as well as reindeer casserole with onions and mushrooms.

Stopping at coastal habitations, sometimes for as little than 15
minutes, we’re encouraged to jump off and explore: from the excellent
polar bear museum in Hammerfest to walking the mediaeval streets of
Trondheim or feeling your skin prickle during an eerie, uplifting
midnight concert in Tromso Cathedral.

Cruising in winter has a couple of fairly obvious disadvantages:
firstly, it’s seriously cold and secondly, you’ve got to cram your
sightseeing into the brief hours of daylight. Nobody’s worried – we’re
all here for the big winter drawcard: the lure of spotting the Northern
Lights.

They’re fickle beasts, those lights. They flicker and swirl without a
care who’s watching, but winter 2013/14 and 2014/15 are considered the
best in a decade for seeing what local legends describe as the dancing
souls of the departed, or a shining bridge to the heavens. There are two
astronomy groups on board, so we’re treated to guest lectures and the
ship hands out a memo of photography tips.

And we get lucky.

Rugged to the eyeballs – literally – we camp out on
Deck 9, the open deck at the top of the ship, which also houses two
outdoor jacuzzis that steam invitingly. The wind’s agile fingers tear at
our clothes and the ship rolls and churns as we strive to catch the
roiling clouds of green light in our camera lenses as, for two
spectacular nights, the Aurora Borealis deigns to put on a show.

Down below, we break from viewing to drink hot tea and peel back the
layers of clothing. The talk is all about the lengthy light show and
photos are admired and emailed onward. Many travellers slip into a
reflective state, absorbing the daytime scenery of fresh snow on
dramatic peaks and revelling in the nocturnal adventures in the sky.

There’s a sense of camaraderie among us all: we have tripped the light fantastic.

Belinda Jackson was a guest of Bentours.

This article was published in Get Up & Go magazine. 

Vintiquing in Melbourne: best vintage & antique shopping

CoteProvence, 433 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

It may be a 24-hour flight away but Melburnian Belinda Jackson says her home town holds rich rewards for antiques and design lovers holidaying in Australia.

‘Which do you like better, Melbourne or Sydney?’ It’s a question we Melburnians can’t help asking international visitors. Maybe we have second-child syndrome: founded in 1835, Melbourne is nearly 50 years younger than its glossy sibling. but despite Sydney’s glittering harbour and its first-city status, we also know that we have a great deal to rival what it offers. Who needs the harbour when you can walk the pier at St Kilda? Melbourne’s design scene is more exciting and, of
course, the coffee’s better down south. You’ve come a long way – but Australia’s
second-largest city definitely is worth the journey. 

DECO DELIGHTS

Melbourne is one of the world’s great Art Deco cities,
thanks to a building boom leading up to its centenary in 1934. Many
architecture aficionados rate the Manchester Unity Building their favourite, but
guide and deco expert Robin Grow loves the Century Building
for what he describes as its ‘sleek, unadorned and uncompromising
verticality’(cnr Swanston St & Little Collins St). Join Robin on his Melbourne Art Deco tour, for $49, which takes place every
second Sunday of the month, meltours.com.au/architecture.htm

AROUND TOWN

Undoubtedly one of the city’s most exciting streets for design is Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. It’s only a couple of
blocks long, but packed with great cafes, restaurants and some of
the city’s best vintage shops (see below). Fitzroy’s sister hotspots
include its neighbour, Colllingwood, refined Prahran and the
street-art-spattered lanes and alleyways of the central business district. Forget taking a taxi, make
like a local and zip between these areas on the trams.
A word of advice for the serious hunter: the high-end antique
stores cluster around Armadale’s High Street. Here you will find the Armadale Antique Centre (1147 High St, armadaleantiquecentre.com.au),
the Francophiles at Capocchi (941/951 High St, capocchi.com.au),
the fresh and fun Fenton & Fenton (471
High St, fentonandfenton.com.au) and the master of quirkiness, Graham Geddes Antiques (877 High St, grahamgeddesantiques.com).

Kazari + Ziguzagu,
450 Malvern Rd, Prahran

MARKET CULTURE

See what Melbourne’s artist community has to offer at the Rose Street Art & Design market (rosestmarket.com.au) which takes place efvery Saturday and Sunday, or look for vintage reads in the weekly book market
at Federation Square, the city’s love-it-or-hate-it modern architecture statement
(fedsquare.com). You won’t find anything
shiny and new or mass-produced at Camberwell’s enormous Sunday market, but lots of lovely pre-owned and
handcrafted goods (Sundays, 7am-12.30pm). The 135-year-old Queen Victoria Market is an institution selling produce through
the week, before acquiring a gifty edge on weekends (qvm.com.au). Lunch on hot pide (Turkish pizza) from the
delicatessen hall or squeeze in with the hipsters for a caffeine hit at tiny Market
Lane Cafe (109-111 Therry
St, marketlane.com.au).

 

CAFE SOCIETY

Design Dispensary, 92 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

It’s said that if three Melburnians are standing
together, an espresso machine will soon turn up. This town has a serious speciality
coffee culture: aficionados hang in hip Proud
Mary
ordering cold drip, pourover, syphon and chemex coffees. The ricotta
hotcakes are astonishing and yes, you can get a latte. (172 Oxford St,
Collingwood, proudmarycoffee.com.au) For some New
York love, everyone’s talking about Bowery
to Williamsburg’s
pecan pie (16 Oliver Lane, City) while old
school vibes still resonate at oh-so Italian Pellegrini’s
Espresso Bar
, said to be the first place to pour an espresso in this town and
still rocking its original working-class diner theme (66 Bourke Street, City.

DAY TRIPPING

An hour and a half south of the city, you’ll discover our
beloved beach getaway, the Mornington Peninsula. This is the ideal place to enjoy fish and chips
and a paddle at Safety Beach or indulge yourself with a long lunch at Merrick’s General Store (3460
Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, mgwinestore.com.au) or indeed at one of Red Hill’s
many wineries. In Dromana, don’t miss Felix
which appropriately sums itself up as ‘unique, boutique, antique’ (167 Point Nepean Rd,
Dromana, felix.net.au) while Big Chair stocks Australian-made, upcycled
furniture and also pocketable gifts (119 Ocean Beach Rd, Sorrento, and 118 Main
St, Mornington, bigchair.com.au) andhe little town of Tyabb is an antiques and
vintage hub. Check out The Vintage Shed
(thevintageshed.com.au) and the vast Tyabb
Packing House
at 14 Mornington-Tyabb Road (tyabbpackinghouseantiques.com.au) before heading back to the city.

NEED TO KNOW

WHERE TO STAY Artist and architect Maggie Fooke has created an
artistic haven at Brooklyn Arts Hotel (48-50 George St, Fitzroy, brooklynartshotel.com.au) which is just off Gertrude Street.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK Enjoy old-world glamour at The Everleigh bar (150-156 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, theeverleigh.com) Euro-cuisine at Moon Under Water
restaurant (211 Gertrude St, Builders’ Arms Hotel, buildersarmshotel.com.au) or modern Australian gastronomy at Saint Crispin’s
(300 Smith St, saintcrispin.com.au).

To find out which are Melbourne’s top eight vintage & antique shops, click here.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was first published in British magazine Homes & Antiques

2013: a year in the world

Sri Lanka masks

Happy New Year!
By now, most of you in the northern hemisphere should be scrounging around for the asprin or box sets of Dr Who – or, judging from Facebook, run a marathon or some other such oxygen-sucking activity. Here in the southern hemisphere, there are thoughts of work tomorrow. Ugh. Let’s not go there.

It’s raining here, the Christmas pudding is back on the boil and it’s time for tea and reflection. The tea is Russian Earl Grey, from Harrods, which seems a good way to kick off a year in the world…

…I’m not going to win points for originality, but I fell in love with London again: the cheesy, the touristy, the lot, from Harrods to London Bridge.
The city’s on a high, with energy levels up there with the London Eye. The Tate Britain has
just opened after a £45-million renovation, the Shard glimmers over
Southbank, the grungy quarters have reinvented themselves as edgy design
destinations, cashing in on their bad old days, when the High Street
might be known as the Murder Mile… it was all fabulous (except the serious cold snap, but hey, that’s London in November).

Leopard spotted in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka


For sheer sell-your-pants-off stories, Sri Lanka left all other destinations in the shade. It didn’t hurt that the Lonely Planet named it one of 2014’s must-visit countries.The food, the fabulously quirky fantastic shopping, the leopard spotting and the warmth and security of the country all stitch together for a great holiday destination, without overwhelming the sub-continental novice.

This was also the year I learned to make gnocchi, rekindling a post-Aitkin love of pasta.
The destination: the King Valley, in northern Victoria, just a shade
under our modest little Alps. The teachers: the Pizzini and the Simone
families. Forget milk and honey, this is the land of pork and prosecco.

The year 2013 also finally brought a return to Egypt, this time
to bring the Small Girl to her other spiritual (and ethnic) home. I saw
how a population can survive when all the news reports we see tell us
they are being gassed in the streets and chased by tanks. They just keep
going on: going to work, to school, to the market. And they just keep
hoping the generals and the politicians – the big men – treat them
better than pawns on a chessboard.

Fashion parade in Thimphu, Bhutan

I know Egypt will recover, hopefully
soon after the next presidential elections. But in the meantime, Tahrir
Square, the scene of the revolutions, is lush and green, well maintained
and clean. I have never seen it look better. So there is some good come
out of this whole, messy Arab Spring.

The most unexpected experience was attending Bhutan‘s first indigenous fashion parade, beneath the stars in the mountain kingdom. Visiting two tiny countries at either end of India – Sri Lanka and Bhutan – was an eye-opener as to the powerhouse of the sub-continent, and how these tiny nations fight to maintain their identities in the face of ‘a billion shouting Indians’ (their words, not mine).

This year and next mark a flurry of solar activity, resulting in the best showings of the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis.

Deck 9, Midnatsol,

About the same time as I was teetering on a rolling deck of the Hurtigruten, somewhere in northern Norway,
trying to take a photo that wasn’t just a series of squiggles, the
Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis, were reportedly putting on a
great show in Tasmania, about an hour’s flight from home. With another winter of high solar activity ahead, maybe that’s next year’s goal?

Here’s wishing you peace and happiness for 2014 (with the Year of the Horse promising prosperity, to complete the trifecta).