Ten travel experiences that will change your life


Characters of Egypt. Photo: Belinda Jackson.

If you’ve been living under a rock (or possibly not in Australia), you may have missed the launch of the fabulous new Traveller website, from Fairfax Media. To kick off, a handful of us were asked for 10 travel experiences that changed our lives. I nominated hanging off a glacier on Russia’s Mt Elbrus and watching the cultural puzzle click in India, but also experiencing the absolute inability to communicate (in South Korea) and travelling in the Middle East (oh, there are SO many ways this has changed my life). 

Here are my two published experiences below, and you can click here to read the full story, which includes seeing Rome’s Colosseum, going on safari on the Masai Mara and visiting the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.

There are holidays that help you relax and unwind, then there are
travel experiences that change your entire outlook on life. Here, some
of Traveller’s most well-travelled writers name the experiences that
changed their lives – and could change yours, too.

Where: South Korea and beyond

The experience: Finding yourself in a truly foreign culture
How it will change your life:
One
of the great joys of travel is connecting with a local without a tour
guide babying you through the conversation.There are those little
milestones – the first time you buy water, order a meal, score a date in
a foreign language.
I thought I was pretty slick: I could fumble
French, shout Spanish, read Russian. My mime skills were excellent, the
vocabulary list in my travel guides well-studied. But my global
communication skills foundered, profoundly, in South Korea.
I’m
sitting in an empty café in Seoul. According to the photos around us, it
sells noodles. I would like noodles. Every time I suggest a noodle
dish, the waitress shakes her head. So I point. She shakes. Point.
Shake. Point. Shake. I give up, I find a vending machine. (Later, I
learn I was sitting in a closed restaurant.)
Having the complete inability to communicate is a humbling experience. It is a reminder that the world is a far bigger place than just you and your orbit. – Belinda Jackson
More: english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/index.kto

Where: The Middle East

The experience: See life beyond the newsreels
How it will change your life:
They do things big in the Middle East: the Great Pyramid of Gizas,
Iran’s Persepolis, the Sahara desert and the Empty Quarter, to name a
few. Steer clear if you like orderly queues, traffic lights and 10pm
bedtimes.
The standard backdrop for the Middle East in news
bulletins is of tanks, screaming masses and men in epaulettes. The
reality on the ground – save a few war zones – is about traffic jams,
happily shouting friends and men in epaulettes (what’s not to love about
a good uniform?).
Men and women live in different spheres, pork
and booze are largely off the menu and if you’re foreign, you’re rich.
Yes, there are camels and shisha (tobacco water pipes) and you will see
belly dancers. Yet there are also chic beach resorts, the sneaky
late-night bars and saucy cabarets, the deep and abiding love of
football (that’s soccer). And while headscarves can polarise a nation,
from Iran to Oman, the passion for fashion is alive and kicking, with
the same obsession for black.
Let go: travelling in the Middle
East requires sinking deep into a rich, cultural morass. Deep down,
you’ll realise, we all just want the good life. – Belinda Jackson.

Como Maalifushi Maldives: Pint-sized paradise

This new, luxury resort in the Maldives delivers a world of
pleasure, writes Belinda Jackson.
It took me three days to realise I’d lost my shoes. I’d kicked
them off the day I hit the Maldives and never put them back on again until I
crash-landed into the howling winds of a Melbourne winter, tragic in glittery,
strappy sandals. I think the shoes are still on Maalifushi, a remote island
resort in the south-west of the remote island nation.
Let me share some fashion advice about packing for the
Maldives. The first point is: don’t bother bringing heels. They get stuck in
the sand, and every resort worth its sea salt has a sand floor restaurant, lobby
or walkway. The second fashion tip is: unless you’re going to sweat it out on a
treadmill, leave your runners behind, too. Preferred sports on these balmy
isles are barefoot – swimming, yoga and messing about in boats.
 The new Maalifushi by COMO is the Singaporean hotel group’s
second Maldivian resort. The first, Cocoa Island by COMO, is 40 minutes by
speedboat from Male airport, past a plethora of single-resort islands. In
comparison, Maalifushi is the only hotel in the isolated Thaa Atoll, deep in
the vast Indian Ocean.
An aerial view of the tiny resort. 
Getting to Maalifushi is half the adventure. At Male airport,
we learn that the closest airport, Thimarafushi, is closed because ocean swells
have engulfed the runway. “It’s a very, very low atoll,” a local
tells me. “Very good for surfing, very bad for flying.”
Instead, we fly to tiny Kadhdhoo airport then board a very
white, very luxurious pleasure cruiser. Flying fish skip alongside the boat,
and the water changes abruptly from deep ocean blue to pinch-me-I’m-dreaming
turquoise as, after two hours, we pull up at the island. It is a study in green
coconut palms and raked yellow sand, tiny crabs scattering at our footfalls.
Maalifushi is tiny: even by Sydney standards, 800 by 200
metres ain’t a lot of real estate. To compensate, the spa’s eight treatment
rooms, Japanese restaurant Tai and 33 suites and villas are off land and over
water, connected by timber boardwalks. Absolute beachfront is claimed by 22
suites and the two-bedroom, 296-metre-square COMO residence, at almost $7000 a
night in peak season.
My room is, quite simply, breathtaking. Forget shiny surfaces,
this is a decorating exercise in island chic. White curtains billow from the
four-poster bed, the high-pitched ceiling is thatched, the deep bath is
unpolished marble, and the timber deck leads out to a thatched bale beside my
plunge pool. There are indoor and outdoor rain showers, daybeds and sofas. In
fact, there are so many places to sit, I don’t know where to start. Ripping off
clothes and leaping into the pool seems a good start. Shy? Think twice about
skinny-dipping – the deck’s not as private as you’d first think.
Island chic decor sets the tone for a blissful break.

Banish any notion that all this gorgeousness is reserved only
for lovestruck couples. The kids’ club is a jaunty affair with swings and
climbing apparatus, and there are six very private garden suites targeted at
families who don’t want to mix young children and plunge pools. The
well-equipped dive centre has quality Japanese masks for all shapes and sizes,
and the kitchen promises to cater for all tastes and dietary persuasions.

The COMO brand is all about luxury pampering: the signature
scent is a cool blend of peppermint and eucalyptus best served on cold towels.
The spa is a palatial affair and COMO’s signature Shambala spa cuisine offers
an array of organic deliciousness featuring seed breads, healthful juices and
sublime local raw fish, which is unsurprising given the country’s national fish
is the yellowfin tuna, its national tree the coconut palm. The weekly seafood
barbecue is an extravaganza of local lobster, a carpaccio of kingfish, trout
and tuna, and sweet rock shrimp.
Unfortunately, I realise the food is actually too good, when
breakfast comprises saffron-poached pears with papaya and lime, watermelon
juice, eggwhite omelette, French toast with fresh mango and a lavish porridge
made from crushed almonds. It’s all healthy, I tell myself (OK, maybe not the
French toast).
I try burning off the excess with a healing, Shambala
signature massage and join marine biologist Francesco on a tiny speedboat to
play with happy little spinner dolphins who gambol alongside us, occasionally
thrusting into the air to spin once, twice, thrice, just for sheer joy. There’s
talk of year-round whale shark spotting.
One evening, three of us take a pre-dinner night snorkelling
safari. It’s a first for all of us, and we lower ourselves gingerly into the
dark water. Call me unAustralian, but the marine life in the Maldives makes our
reef look like a jaded nightclub at the end of the night, just a few old
groupers hanging out, trying their tired old lines. A young green turtle glides
beneath us, which I find slightly disconcerting but completely exhilarating.
Nocturnal surgeonfish are everywhere and the most beautiful purple spotted
starfish are surely the mirrorballs of the Maldivian seas.
Marine life aside, the big drawcard for Maalifushi is its surf
breaks. The luxury surf safari group TropicSurf has a shack on the island and
the staff are constantly discovering new reef breaks. Farms is the best-known,
which TropicSurf calls “the perfect right-hander” in peak season,
from April to October.
Back on my villa’s deck, I discover a set of stairs that lead
down into the island’s lagoon. Moments later, I’m swimming with some rather
nonchalant little black-and-white striped reef fish called Moorish idols.
Professor Google tells me Africa’s Moors considered them “bringers of
happiness”. The sky overhead is clear and blue, the water I’m swimming in
is clear and blue. Their mission is accomplished.
The writer travelled as a guest of COMO Hotels.
TRIP NOTES 
GETTING THERE There are no direct flights from Australia to the Maldives.
Fly via Kuala Lumpur or Singapore with Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines or
Virgin Australia. Australians are issued a free visa on their arrival in the
Maldives. See malaysiaairlines.com, singaporeair.com, virginaustralia.com.
GETTING AROUND Maalifushi is a 50-minute flight from Male Airport to
Thimarafushi, followed by a 25-minute boat ride. COMO Resorts plans to operate
a seaplane between its two resorts.
STAYING THERE Maalifushi’s “soft-opening” special allows for
low-season rates until December 26. Garden suites from $820 a night, water
suites from $1400 a night. COMO Villas are open for bookings. See website
(left).
MORE INFORMATION visitmaldives.comcomohotels.com.
This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

Melbourne-bound? Here are nine cafes and restaurants your kids’ll eat up

The back end of business from the Dreamworks Animation
exhibition at ACMI, Federation Square.
Photo: Belinda Jackson
Hello, neglected blog. We had a chat recently with fellow travel writer Daniel Scott about where to hang while you’re in Melbourne with kids. 
We spilled the beans on our favourite cafes, from pram-friendly Thousand £ Bend (will they thank me?) to the wondrous National Gallery of Victoria, which has great interactive art and the Gallery Kitchen.

Daniel also dug up some cool hands-on play including Crafternoon in North Carlton and The Farm Cafe at Abbotsford Convent, in Collingwood.

A dad of two himself, here’s Daniel’s take on the top kid-friendly spots in the city at Art of Money.

Takeoff travel news: August 31

AIRLINE
Greater Goode
The movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people in the Australian Constitution has just been boosted into the
skies as Qantas adopts the RECOGNISE logo on its new QantasLink Dash 8 Q400 aircraft.
Qantas Ambassador and Australian of the Year Adam Goodes says he is thrilled by
the new livery and urges Australians to sign up to the movement at
recognise.org.au. “It’s  so  important 
that  every  one 
of  us  plays 
our  part  in 
campaigning  for  this 
referendum  and  securing 
a resounding YES vote,” he says. Qantas is adding a RECOGNISE
logo to all its 31 Q400 aircraft flying within Australia and to PNG.
SHOP
Global Glamazons
Buy the world on a ‘glamcation,’ a luxe jaunt for ladies
who shop. The girls-only trips are tailored for women over 30 and include
preening beauty sessions, insider info on the best fashion boutiques and
red-carpet entrances into A-list events fashion and sporting events, from the
races in Hong Kong to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and Broadway shows. The
tours are also timed to hit the sales, including New York’s Black Friday sales and private shopping events at Hong
Kong’s Lane Crawford
.
Led by self-confessed bagaholic, perfume tragic and organisational queen
Justine Weller, the very first glamcation, Tropics Shopaholics Honolulu, gets
underway in September 7-15, $4299, followed by Fully Loaded Hong Kong (October
5-12, $3995) and Glam Apple New York (November 22-30, $4499). Excludes
airfares. Phone 0414 753 767, see glamaramagetaways.com.

KIDS

Apple of your eye
Plan a three-day active family getaway in Tassie in two
of the island’s iconic destinations, Cradle Mountain and Freycinet Peninsula.
Tasmanian Expeditions’ two new family trips are run in the school holidays, both
departing from Launceston. The Freycinet adventure includes three days’ easy
coastal walking around the officially beautiful Wineglass Bay, whereas the more
challenging Cradle Mountain journey sees you touch highs and lows, up to the
mountain’s summit and underground in Mole Creek Karst National Park. Accommodation
is in multi-share cabins, with savings for bigger families and includes
professional walking guides, park permits, packed lunches and hot dinners for
hungry hikers. Costs $1095 for adults, $895 for kids under 16. Phone 1300 666 856,
see tasmanianexpeditions.com.au.
GEAR
Carry on
Oh, the places you’ll go, with these travel accessories
from Kikki-k. Its new ‘Adventure Awaits’ range includes leather passport
holders, cosmetics bags and onboard bags that manage cables,
paperwork and tablets, all neatly packed away. Printed with the cheeky line,
‘I’m ok, carry on’ the sturdy clear plastic ziplock bags – ideal for carry-on
liquids – might even get a smile out of the Customs crew. The pink and navy
range has just hit the shelves. Canvas luggage tag, $12.95. Canvas onboard bag,
$34.95. Plastic pouches (2 pack), $9.95. Call (03) 9645 6346, see kikki-k.com.
TECH
Destination known
Squint no more for directions, Navman’s newest GPS is
easy on the eye, with a seven-inch screen and free lifetime map updates. The new
EZY GPS is Bluetooth handsfree, lists blackspots and landmarks including service stations and has logbook capabilities, helpful for tax
calculations. It also lets you search by keyword, rather than requiring an
exact address and is pre-loaded with Australian and New Zealand maps. European
maps can be bought outright or rented for 30 days from $25. The EZY270LMT GPS
costs $279. Phone 1300 628 626, see navman.com.au.
FOOD
Indian giver
Follow celebrated chef Christine Manfield through central
and west India for a cultural and epicurian feast: admire Rajisthan’s Kumbhalgarh
fort and the ruined city of Mandu in Madhya
Pradesh
, eat street food in Ahmedabad or taste a menu specially designed by
Christine and and the chefs of Mumbai’s top restaurants. The 15-day luxury journey
includes leopard spotting in Jawai and shopping textiles made by women
in charitable trusts. Manfield has had a love affair with India for more than 20 years and this is her eighth tour of India with Epicurious Travel. There are 10 places on
the tour, which runs February 2-17, 2015. Costs US$15,980 ($17,200) a person.  Phone (03) 9486 5409, see epicurioustravel.com.au.
TRACEY SPICER KIDS
Blobbing in Fiji
Blobbing out just got a whole lot more active with the
arrival of the Water Blob, a new rocket-shaped 
floater on Fiji’s Sigatoka River. Slip on a life jacket and blast into
the river, bouncing off the giant Blob. It’s the brainchild of Australian Jay
Whyte, owner of the Sigatoka River jet boat and village safari, who says the
Blob is a way to fly and play in the Fijian way. A three-hour Blob session
costs F$59 a person (over 10 years). See waterblobfiji.com.

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday.