|101 Bali-Legian hotel, Bali.|
Hi ho, the summer sun is still only just dipping below the horizon but it’s time to think winter, with all the international resorts releasing their snow deals for the 2014 winter season, or drumming up business for summer in the mountains.
Otherwise, there are olives to pluck in Tuscany and family holidays mixing the Taj with tigers in this week’s international and domestic travel deals.
Get return flights from Sydney with Virgin Australia and
three nights at the 3.5-star 101 Bali-Legian hotel, with Wi-Fi and one
three-course dinner thrown in. From $600 a person, twin share, on stays
May 14-17. 1300 887 979, wotif.com/packages.
Check into Brisbane’s newest hotel, the Four Points by
Sheraton Brisbane, and save up to 60 per cent on stays until September
3. There is free Wi-Fi, and craft beers in the hotel bar. From $149 a
night. 1800 074 545, fourpoints.com/brisbane.
|The best of Colorado, USA.|
Discover Aspen’s glorious spring season. Local hotels and
lodges are offering the third night free from May 15-June 16, plus $50
towards outdoor activities such as ballooning, rafting or biking.
Take one of Australia’s most luxurious hikes and bring a
friend free. The Arkaba Walk is a four-day, 45-kilometre private hike
through the Flinders Ranges, with food, wine and guides. Book by April
11 for travel June 12-August 31. Costs $2150 for two people. 1300 790 561, arkabawalk.com.
|The rustic huts of Corinna, Tasmania.|
Explore the incomparable Tarkine Wilderness in winter. Stay
three nights for the price of two, get a brekky hamper, half-day kayak
hire and discounts on the Arcadia II river cruises. Three nights from
$540, queen cabin, $760, family cabin. (03) 6446 1170, corinna.com.au.
Celebrate the Year of the Horse with $200 off Helen Wong’s
China and Vietnam group tours; its 12-day China Discovery tour costs
$3930 a person, includes international flights. Book by April 4, travel
May 1-November 30. 1300 788 328, helenwongstours.com.
HARVEST IN TUSCANY
Experience quintessential Italy at the annual olive harvest
in San Miniato, Tuscany. Back-Roads Touring’s new seven-day “Harvest in
Tuscany” winter tour takes you into the heart of the region’s cuisine
and landscape, with cooking classes, Prosecco and a night in a
12th-century castle. Tours depart November 11 and 18, 2014. From $2418 a
person, twin share. 1300 100 410, backroadstouring.com.au.
|Talking tigers, India.|
TAJ & TIGERS
If you’re looking to take the kids into the wild, the
eight-day India Family Holiday package fits the bill. You’ll explore
manic Old Delhi by rickshaw, (hopefully) spot tigers in Ranthambore
National Park, take an elephant ride in Jaipur and witness sunrise at
the Taj Mahal.
Staying in three-star hotels, the tour departs daily
(except July-September). From $1698 an adult, $1443 a child, low season
(April-June). 1300 760 208, selectivetours.com.
It’s festival season in Adelaide, with WOMADelaide and the
Adelaide Festival top of the list. Save $20 on a stay in BreakFree
Directors Studios, from $99 a night, or a studio at BreakFree Adelaide
from $268 for two nights, saving 15 per cent, until April 30. 1300 987 602, breakfree.com.au.
Save 10 per cent on World Expeditions’ Japanese adventures,
such as the five-day Kii Hanto Pilgrim Hike along mountain trails to
ancient Buddhist and Shinto shrines. Book by March 31 for travel July
1-December 31. Costs $1791 a person. 1800 567 2216, worldexpeditions.com.
Bright lights, big cities – save 25 per cent on US and Canada
journeys departing by June 30, such as the 23-day Best of America trip,
from New York to Nashville and New Mexico, finishing in freewheeling
San Francisco. Book by March 31. From $2471 a person, save $824. 1300 797 010, intrepidtravel.com.
Pet-friendly Mavis’s Kitchen is 10 kilometres from Murwillumbah on
the NSW north coast. Save $94 and get breakfast for two, a bottle of
organic bubbles and Devonshire tea. Sundays to Thursdays until April 28.
Costs $199 a night, two people. (02) 6679 5664, legendarytweedvalley.com.au.
Do the city in style with a B&B package at the luxury
Hyatt Regency Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui. Book on the Kowloon hotel’s
website by April 30 and get breakfast for two, free internet access and
2pm checkout. From $365 a night. See hongkong.tsimshatsui.hyatt.com.
Check into the Vibe Hotel Melbourne, on Little Collins
Street, and get perky. Choose two perks, including 24-hour Wi-Fi, valet
parking, in-room movies or $25 credit at the hotel bar. Valid from April
1 to June 30. From $220 a night. (03) 9622 8888, vibehotels.com.au.
This small-group Tauck Roman Holiday raises you up above the
crowds, with an after-hours private tour of the Vatican museums and
Sistine Chapel, a reception in Rome’s Cinecitta film studios and five
nights at The Westin Excelsior. Departs October 18, from $5982 a person.
1300 950 622, traveltheworld.com.au.
Forget boring black, the new Heartland range, in stores this month,
comprises 80-litre ($249.99) and 40-litre ($199.99) four-wheel
hard-shell upright cases with a slot for the laptop and an internal
Lock in the teen-queen look with a matching beauty case
($49.99). (03) 5261 0022, ripcurl.com.au.
|The Aurora throws out a curtain.|
EDIT: I am very pleased to note that this feature, originally
published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, has won the Australian Society of Travel
Writers’ 2014 award for Best Cruise feature.
Dodging trolls and and black ice, Belinda Jackson rugs up to hunt the Northern Lights.
Boarding the MS Midnatsol, the first thing we see is a tall
Norwegian woman welcoming us on to the ship. The second spectacle is of a
tall English woman being stretchered off the ship.
“She slipped and fell on the ice,” reports one of the crew.
Instinctively, I want to crawl. Happily, the lady reappears several days
later, smiling but in a wheelchair. Norwegian winter cruising, it
appears, has a touch of the blood sport about it. Forget bikinis and sun
loungers: there’s a layer of difficulty travelling in the far northern
Actually, there are many layers. Going outside for anything more than
a quick photo on the promenade deck becomes an epic exercise in
wrestling with thermal underwear. And two pairs of socks. Fleece.
Waterproof jacket. And the boots with ice grips (hmmmm – the casualty).
Crown it all with a tight beanie that will resist the wind’s
insistent fingers. Some people even pull on a balaclava, but that’s all
just a little too Douglas Mawson for me, though I am sporting a dangling
pompom that holds a 90-degree angle to my head in prevailing winds.
We do it because we’re hunting the light: the Northern
Lights. Yes, there’s reindeer sledding, midnight concerts and hot
tubbing on the top deck while it snows. But right now, our sun is in the
midst of exceptional solar activity, and boffins say that this winter
and next are the best in a decade to see the elusive Aurora Borealis.
Norway is one of the world’s top viewing locations and
doesn’t require frostbitten fingers, drinking sterilised wee or eating
your own dogs to get there.
|Light-hearted: the Aurora from the deck of the Midnatsol.
Photo: Bob Stephan
In fact, it’s all rather civilised on the Midnatsol, one of
12 Hurtigruten ships that undertake an 11-day round trip that traverses
the length of the Norwegian coastline. A ship sails every day.
The coastal express mail and goods run started in 1893, with
passengers hopping on and off between farming villages and port towns.
Norwegians still use the Hurtigruten as public transport, but they are
now outnumbered dramatically by tourists keen to cruise the fiords and
wild coastline as the ship pushes up into the Arctic Circle. There’s a
healthy showing of Aussies among them, forsaking a southern summer for
temperatures so low, the locals don’t even bother to say “minus”.
You can pick the Norwegians: they’re the ones glued to the
live chess tournaments on the television in the main lounge, silently
sculling black coffee from tall thermo-mugs. The rest of us have our
noses stuck to the ship’s panoramic windows, waving at fishing trawlers
and making such blindingly obvious statements as “Gosh, it’s cold!”.
Doing nothing to dispel opinions of Norwegians as a teensy
bit boring, Norway’s national TV station NRK’s home-grown programs
includes 12-hour documentaries on stacking firewood, knitting and a
minute-by-minute program of the Hurtigruten journeying down the
Norwegian coastline, from Bergen to Kirkenes. It was a 134-hour,
non-stop broadcast, and it rated!
“Did you see the program?” the urbane concierge at Oslo’s
beautiful Grand Hotel asked me several days before boarding. “It was
great!” His patriotism makes me almost forgive Norway for being so
expensive that it makes my muscular Aussie dollars wimper and
Back on the ship, it’s time to throw out all my cruising
expectations: there are no little towel animals at the end of the bed
each night, the theatre hosts astronomy lectures instead of chorus
girls, and all the staff are locals.
It’s a dramatic change from the United Nations of staff that
you meet on most cruise ships, and it’s lovely to have locals’
experience and advice (“It’s Sunday night. This town is dead. Don’t
bother getting off.”)
But hey, it does a mean buffet. Scandinavians invented the
smorgasbord. The Norwegianised breakfast buffet features caramelised
cheese, mustard herrings and salmon done three ways (roasted, smoked,
cured) every morning. There’s reindeer pate and cloudberries at
lunchtime and a local salmon served, classically, with dill steamed
potatoes at dinner. And yes, there is a gift shop, full of hideously
misshapen trolls and heart-breakingly expensive snowflake knits. The
Hurtigruten is undeniably Norwegian.
The total journey from Kirkenes to Bergen is 2465 kilometres,
stopping in at 33 ports, some as little as 15 minutes, just long enough
to sling a crate of parcels overboard. After a few days, we slip into
the routine of busy mornings exploring towns and afternoons of quiet
contemplation and panoramic viewing.
It’s dark by 4pm but we don’t care: we’re here to see the
light. The Japanese say a baby conceived beneath the lights is a special
child. The Sami believe the lights are a trail left by a fox scampering
across the sky. Everyone from ancient Chinese to American Indians have a
theory: the lights are souls, they’re a bridge to heaven, a good omen, a
But let me blow a few myths: if you were standing on deck in
sub-zero temperatures at midnight waiting for a ray of green light to
zap you between the eyes, you’d be waiting a long time. Guest lecturer
and British astronomer Dr John Mason says most of the colours in the
Northern Lights are invisible to our eyes: we just can’t see the red and
turquoise bands with the naked eye.
“You probably won’t see colour, but
you will see movement.” Green is the most apparent colour, followed by
violet, but even then they’ll most likely show up as a hazy grey cloud
against the clear black sky, he warns.
Point a camera at the grey clouds and you’ll see the eerie
green rays appear in your final photo – and even then only when you open
the lens for up to 15 seconds or more.
To see the lights, the sky has to be dark, with no light
pollution. You also need a cloudless sky and your eyes also need to be
dark adapted, which can take up to 10 minutes, which is a long time on a
windswept ship’s deck in the black of a polar night. “When the lights
appear, we’ll make the announcements over the ship’s PA, and you have to
hurry,” Dr Mason says. “We don’t know how long they’ll last – You’ve
got to be ready.” We’re all so ready.
“We’ve been on six nights, from Bergen, and haven’t seen
anything yet,” says glass artist Bob Stephan, from North Carolina. Armed
with a fish-eye lens and balaclava, he helps me lash my camera to a
deck chair in lieu of my lost tripod.
There are two important things to note from this
conversation: one is that most tourists tend to stay on the ship for the
entire 11-day round journey, from Bergen up to Kirkenes and back again.
The second is that the Northern Lights are fickle.
But we strike it lucky: second night on board, and the show
is on. The deck is jam-packed as people point cameras to the sky. The
sky swirls and a soft grey-green light gusts and drifts into view. It’s
not the “hit-me” colours of the brochures, or a white night. But the
wild wind, the snow gusts and the dancing sky leave us light-hearted and
light-headed: we are but mesmerised little people dwarfed by the glory
|The Lofoten archipelago.|
The serious photographers are rugged up and settled in for
the night, but the crowd drifts off after an hour or so. The next night,
the lights show even longer, a static display that has the astronomers
scratching their heads, though the ship is pitching wildly.
It’s also cold enough to bite your nose off.
We dash down below decks to thaw out, when one of the
astronomy tour members, Patch, pulls out his phone. The Aurora Australis
has been putting on a spectacular show in Tasmania, just an hour and
$100 from my Melbourne home. Groans from we Australians. Tasmania?
That’s next year’s plan.
The writer was a guest of Bentours.
AHOY! Norwegian Getaway has a three-storey sports complex that includes an eight-foot over-sea “walk the plank”.
FIVE MORE GREAT PLACES TO HUNT THE AURORAS
TASMANIA The Aurora Australis has been seen as close to Hobart as
Seven-Mile Beach (near Hobart Airport), on the Overland Track and Bruny
Island. Get viewing tip-offs from this local alerts page facebook.com/groups/215002295201328/.
ALASKA Fairbanks and nearby Denali National Park are Alaska’s
playground for aurora hunting, and boast an 80 per cent chance of
spotting the lights from August to April, see explorefairbanks.com.
ICELAND Make sure you’re in the glassed-in bar of the Ion Hotel when
the lights deign to shine. The new eco-hotel is an hour’s drive from
Reykjavik, see ioniceland.is.
CANADA Head for Whitehorse, Yukon, on the edge of the wilderness and
hunker down in a yurt while you wait for the performance to begin, see arcticrange.com.
FINLAND Tuck up in a snow igloo in Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, in Finnish Lapland, a thousand kilometres north of Helsinki, see kakslauttanen.fi.
GETTING THERE Fly Sydney to Oslo via Bangkok with Thai Airways or via London with British Airways (britishairways.com). From London or Bangkok, book early to catch Norwegian Air’s cheap flights (norwegian.com).
CRUISING THERE The nine-day Best of Norway Cruise departs daily from Bergen
or Kirkenes, with astronomy tours available in winter. From $2877, twin
share (winter) to $4448 (summer), 1800 221 712, see bentours.com.au.
MORE INFORMATION visitnorway.com.
|Explore Antarctica with Abercrombie & Kent|
Hit the high seas or relaxing rivers with this week’s international and travel deals, featuring cruises from Broome to Botswana.
BOTSWANA & NAMIBIA
Cruise the Chobe River on the African Queen and save $420 a
couple on a three-night adventure, until June 30. See water-loving
elephants and hippos and take a game drive. From $1865 a person, twin
share, $2295 singles, phone (02) 9290 2877, see benchinternational.com.au.
SYDNEY SEA BREAK
Time poor? Escape for a three-night sea break on the Pacific
Jewel. The ship features seven restaurants, nine bars and clubs, spa,
zip-liner and big screens galore. Depart May 30, save $150. From $339 a
person, quad share. Phone 132 494, see pocruises.com.au.
|P&O’s Pacific Jewel.|
Save 30 per cent on selected seven-night cruises on the
88-guest River Cloud II between April and August. Cruise the Rhine, from
Basel to Amsterdam, with all meals and a bottle of champagne to say
hello. Book by March 31. From $2195 a person, twin share. 1300 583 572, seacloud.com.
Cruise the Murray River in winter (June to August) and save
up to 25 per cent on three, four or seven-night cruises. Includes meals,
shore excursions and coach transfers from Adelaide to Mannum. From $674
a person, three nights. Phone (02) 9206 1111, see captaincook.com.au.
Save up to $3350 a person on three 2014-15 specialist
Antarctic journeys, covering climate change, photography or family
Christmas cruising. The 12-day Classic Antarctica journey costs from
$12,850 a person, twin share. Book by March 31. Phone 1300 590 317, see abercrombiekent.com.au.
Follow the historical Kunmunya Wilderness Walk, a shore tour
on three Kimberley cruises from Broome to Darwin on June 2, 13 and 23.
Book by March 31 and get a free stay and camel ride in Broome, worth
$500. From $7390 a person, 11 days. Phone 1800 637 688, see auroraexpeditions.com.au.
|MV River Orchid on the Mekong River.|
Spend 15 days exploring Vietnam and Cambodia by land, air
and water including seven nights aboard the River Orchid on the Mekong
River. From Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, you’ll sail the delta of
southern Vietnam then head into Phnom Penh and the Tonle Sap river.
Includes flights from Siem Reap to Hanoi. Book by November 30 for
travel until December 23. From $5814 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 939 414, see flightcentre.com.au.
Multi-generational travel – a fancy name for holidays with
the grandchildren and grandparents – is so hot right now. “Take the
grandkids to Alaska” is the call for families of four to join the
Disney Wonder in Vancouver and cruise up to Ketchikan, Alaska.
The nine-night tour includes two nights in Vancouver, all
meals, kids, teen and adult clubs, first-run movies and Broadway-style
Disney musicals. From $1899 adults, $1299 kids two-11 years, quad
share. Phone 1300 886 940, see worldwidecruisecentres.com.au.
Barbie is 55 and let me tell you, she’s lookin’ good.
The real, live Barbie (looking 25 and very, very tall) popped in to Melbourne for a touch of high tea this afternoon and to promote her new movie, The Pearl Princess. The Langham, Melbourne, turned it on with a High Tea in Alto, the 28th floor of the Southbank hotel, with fabulous views across the city.
While the rest of the city is learning barista tricks, brewing their own cider or perfecting a sea urchin foam, a la the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, we were served up the Princess Menu, featuring pearl cupcakes, fairy bread, sparkling pearl pink lemonade, and popcorn cups.
Hand on my heart, I’m not a pink person. My attempts to program my Small Girl into thinking that orange is the coolest (cue to bedsheets so orange they could turn you Buddhist) have failed. The little girls soaked up the pinkness as though they were born to it.
The Langham Melbourne’s GM, Ben Sington, popped in for a photo with Barbie (I note he waited till it all started to wind down) and commented that everyone seemed very well behaved.
True, there were no tears and no screaming, but give a bunch of little girls a long table full of pink cakes, a movie, face painting and bunch of cooing (and quite possibly champagne-infused) mamas, and who’s going to complain?
There’ll be six Barbie Pearl Princess High Teas on March 29 and 30.
|Metung jetty at sunset. Pic: Belinda Jackson|
Coastal chic meets village vibes on a svelte strip of land that dips into the Gippsland Lakes.
happens around Metung’s Village Green: from kids on swings to cafe
culture to hopeful fishermen looking for a bite from a bream. The
village is surrounded on three sides by lakes, and the air here is
filled with the chimes made by the riggings on yachts.
Metung’s lakes King and Victoria on a traditional timber boat (no
licence necessary) and take a picnic to a deserted sand island where you
may spot wild goats, inquisitive seals and the occasional dolphin.
lakes’ waters are calm and clear, excellent for lazy-day swims, and are
well guarded from the crashing surf of Bass Strait by a long spit of
low-lying dunes: cross them and you’re on the wild, rugged Ninety Mile
For panoramic views, boat to Barrier Landing, moor and
follow the path across the dunes to one of Australia’s great coastal
wildernesses. For an epicurean excursion, the hills above Metung include
the Nicholson River Winery, Tambo Estate and Lightfoot & Sons.
With the kids
* Back Beach on Lake King is the place for the buckets-and-spades brigade.
* Press the big green button at the Rain Drop Water Play Area in Metung village’s Patterson Park.
* Try the new mountain-bike track at Nowa Nowa, a 40-minute drive from Metung.
* The best surfing conditions can be found at high tide at Red Bluff,
between Lakes Entrance and Lake Tyers Beach, a 30-minute drive from
* Learn to water ski, wake board or tube ride at nearby Paynesville; aquamania.com.au.
While there Locals head to Bancroft Bites on Metung Road or The Metung Galley, just opposite, for a caffeine fix. Cruisers and day boats are available for hire at Metung Marina; rivieranautic.com.au, bullscruisers.com.au.
Getting there Metung is 3 1/2 hours’ drive east of Melbourne on the Monash Freeway.
Staying there Jetty
Road Retreat cabins at nearby Nungurner sleep four; jettyroadretreat.com.au. For holiday homes, apartments and B&Bs, see
stayz.com.au. Waterfront apartments overlooking Bancroft Bay include The Moorings at Metung; themoorings.com.au.
The writer was a guest of Gippsland Tourism.
This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Traveller section.
Families get free ski passes this Easter, saving up to $440 a
person, when staying in fully catered chalets in Verbier, Courchevel,
Meribel, Val d’lsere and St Anton. Meribel’s Chalet Christiane sleeps
six, from $1280 an adult, seven nights from April 5. See powderwhite.com.
Explore Victoria’s Wilderness Coast on a four-day cycling
tour from Mallacoota to Cape Conran, with walks and a half-day kayak
trip, all meals and support vehicle. Save 20 per cent on the March 16
departure. From $1836, twin share. Phone 0428 556 088, see snowyrivercycling.com.au.
|Rumba Beach Resort, Caloundra, Queensland|
Soak up two nights in luxe Shangri-La Dubai then take the
limo to its sister hotel in Abu Dhabi, with tickets to the top of Burj
Khalifa and Ferrari World. Save 20 per cent until September 1, quote
“DXB-AUH Arabian Stopover Experience”. From $1560, three nights. See shangri-la.com.
Take a short Sunshine Coast break at the luxe Rumba Beach
Resort in Caloundra. Stay three nights and get $50 restaurant credit, a
morning boat cruise, bicycle hire and free in-house movie. Available
until April 17, from $597 a couple, three nights. Phone (07) 5492 0555, see rumbaresort.com.au.
|Casa Angelina on the Amalfi coast, Italy. Photo: SUPPLIED|
Do the Amalfi Coast in five-star style at the cliff-top Casa
Angelina, 10 minutes’ drive from Positano. Book a four-night stay by
March 31 and get champagne, late check-out and 10 per cent off
accommodation and dinner, May 16-October 27. From $416 a night. Phone 02 9211 6590, see casangelina.com.
Hike Australia’s most iconic walking trail, the Overland
Track, and save $200 when booked by March 31. Tasmanian Expeditions runs
weekly departures until May 18 with guides, meals and gear included.
Costs $1795 a person, quote “OV0214”. Phone 1300 666 856, see tasmanianexpeditions.com.au.
|Tamil Nadu. Photo: SUPPLIED|
TOUR WATCH: SOUTHERN INDIA
Tamil Nadu is India’s deep, secret south. Banyan Tours
offers tours of temples, dance academies and mansions as you discover
the region’s past. Tours include boutique hotels, a driver, guide, car
and domestic flights, from October 2014 to March 2015. From $2436 a
person, nine nights. See banyantours.com.
Your kids are just out of kindy, but they already know a
gaucho is an Argentinian cowboy, Bollywood is in India and a Moroccan
market is called a souk, thanks to Lonely Planet’s new World Search
Aimed at five-year-olds and up, the three cartoon board
books, Busy Places, Amazing Jobs and Incredible Animals, have flaps to
lift, stickers to stick, treasures to find and a world to explore.
$19.99 each, lonelyplanet.com.