Farewell, toxic world: Takeoff travel news

Farewell, toxic
Learn to achieve true wellness in a world where we are
exposed daily to toxins, in a once-off retreat at the luxurious Gwinganna
Lifestyle Retreat. The two-night retreat on the Gold Coast hinterland is led by
Professor Marc Cohen, head of Wellness Discipline in the School of Health
Sciences at RMIT University. With simple solutions to reduce your exposure and
increase your wellbeing, ‘Wellness in a Toxic World’ runs May 22-24. The
weekend includes two nights’ eco-accommodation, all organic food and drinks, transfers
from Gold Coast airport and a 50-minute massage in the indoor/outdoor Spa Sanctuary.
Costs from $1175 a person, twin share. Phone 1800 219 272, see

Master host
Eat like a local, with a local, on a new food tour by
Masterchef winner and proud Tasmanian Ben Milbourne. Like armies, adventurers
travel on their stomachs and we have an appetite for Tassie’s burgeoning food
tourism scene, unsurprising given that the isle produces not only apples, but
also truffles, wasabi, rare-breed meats, single malt whiskey and chocolate. And
that’s aside from the staples of salmon and wine. On the One Degree Experience
tour, Ben wines and dines up to eight guests at his residence,
Fairholme, a 1920s farmhouse in Spreyton, 10 minutes from Devonport. You’ll hit
the big guns, such as Hellyer’s
Road Distillery and Anvers House of Chocolate, but also go off-piste in
north-west Tasmania to dig out boutique beer, ginseng and dairy from the hands
of the producers themselves. The tailor-made tours include lunch, a take-home
hamper, cooking demo and five-course degustation dinner. From $550 a
person.  Phone 0428 266 545, see benmilbourne.com.au.
Light and bright
The old design maxim, “Say it in French,
it always sounds better,” also rings true for visual appeal – the Lipault Paris
luggage range is sure to brighten the world’s baggage carousels with its two
new spring-inspired colours, duck blue and orange. Taking cues from Parisian
catwalks, designer François Lipovetsky has ultra-lightweight luggage cred,
having created baggage for Air France.
The Original Plume is a soft-sided wheeled trolley that comes in three sizes,
55cm (2.8kg), 65cm (3.4kg) and 92cm (3.8kg), from $229. Best of all, it’s
foldable, so your storage cupboards aren’t full of bulky suitcases between
jaunts. Match it up with the Lady Plume carry-all, $99. First launched in 2005
and recently purchased by Samsonite, the Lipault Paris range has been available
in Australia only since November. Snap up in all the best places; Selfridges in
London, Galeries Lafayette in Paris or Myer in Australia, or phone 1800 331 690.
Bird’s eye view
Think staycation, think walking past your office
on a weekend? Sail to a secluded island with world-class views, but still use
your metro card to get there when you stay on Cockatoo Island. The Sydney
Harbour Federation Trust has added a new two-bedroom apartment to the
accommodation on the UNESCO World Heritage site, which is on the Balmain ferry
route. The new self-contained apartment has a balcony facing the
harbour, an enclosed garden and sleeps up to four. Formerly a police station,
learn about the Federation-era building on an audio tour of Cockatoo Island’s
history or call for cocktails beneath striped umbrellas and watch the sun set
at the Island Bar. The Cockatoo Island Garden Apartment has a full
kitchen, laundry and all linen. Costs from $370 a night, midweek, or $280 as a
one-bedroom stay. See cockatooisland.gov.au.
That’s the Spirit
A new restaurant, more bars, two new cinemas and new
recliners are on the cards when the hardworking Tasmanian ferries, the Spirit of Tasmania I and II, undergo
major makeovers over the coming months. It’s the first time in 13 years the
ships will have had a major refit since they started working the Melbourne-Devonport
route in 2002. All decks will have changes, including refurbishment of the
deluxe cabins and a refresh in all other classes, a new kids’ zone and teen
area, and new lounge areas to showcase Tasmanian wines, ciders and beers. Some
things don’t change. “We’re still going to have the same ocean views, relaxing
atmosphere and sensational Tasmanian cuisine,” says Spirit of Tasmania CEO
Bernard Dwyer. The refurbishment will be complete by September. The Spirit of Tasmania ships are also increasing
day sailings this year, and offering half-price travel from May 16 to September
17 when you book by April 4. Day sailings cost from $43 one-way, night sailings
from $48 one-way in an ocean recliner. Phone 1800 634 906, see spiritoftasmania.com.au.
A novel idea
What’s the quintessential read of New York, Vietnam or
even Brisbane? Find a book that captures the soul of your destination with
tripfiction.com, which links up books and the regions in which they’re set. The
British website was born in 2012 with just 1000 books, and now has five times that
amount, covering fiction and non-fiction including memoirs, across 1100
locations. It’s free to register, which will allow you to create your own
must-read list. You can also add your own books and reviews, which are moderated
by the site’s founders, Tina Hartas and Tony Geary. The discussion board turns
up some interesting topics, from ‘best Scandiavian noir’ to ‘new Yemeni
thriller’, and is sure to guarantee itchy feet. For those who travel by
airplane or armchair. See tripfiction.com.
The Takeoff travel news, by Belinda Jackson, is published every Sunday in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.  

Build the perfect family holiday: choose from these 6 LEGOLANDs (or do them all!)

If you’ve got kids, chances are you’ve also got
crates of Denmark’s most famous export, LEGO. In a classic case of
‘build it and they will come,’ this modest toy has built an empire. And
its theme parks are about to rake over the world. 

Empire building

LEGO is older than nearly all of its fans: the plastic brick was
invented in Billund, Denmark, in 1958. Fast-forward 56 years and there
are six LEGOLAND destinations across the globe: the Danish original, two
in the US, one in the quintessentially English town of Windsor,
Germany’s LEGOLAND Deutschland and the newest (and closest to Australia)
in Johor, Malaysia. The theme parks are designed for kids 2 to 12
years, and all have Duplo Gardens, with bigger bricks for smaller kids.

Try the original

Go back to where it all began. The first LEGOLAND opened in 1968,
just beside the first Lego factory. “My oldest boy wanted to go to
Lego’s heartland,” says Jacqui Davidson, who has taken her three active
boys, aged 12, nine and six, to the original LEGOLAND in Denmark, and
visited Malaysia’s LEGOLAND three times. “LEGO is more educational than
other theme parks,” she says. “The kids do building workshops, have
competitions and even robotics courses. It’s inspiring, and it’s not
just a boy thing.”

Eat, breathe and sleep LEGO

If too much LEGO is never enough, check the family into the LEGO
Hotel attached to your LEGOLAND destination of choice. The rooms have
either a pirate, kingdom or adventure theme.  “I would definitely
recommend LEGOLAND Billund Hotel,” says Jacqui. “There’s LEGO kitsch,
LEGO soap, LEGO shampoo, LEGO pillows, and the excellent, very
child-oriented buffet in the bistro.” The four-star Hotel LEGOLAND also
specialises in corporate teambuilding using LEGO (and let’s face it, if
you can’t team-build here, then where can you?!)

Water play

In Malaysia, Jacqui’s boys give the new Star Wars section a big
thumbs-up, while the grown-ups love Miniland (which reproduces Asia’s
top landmarks, such as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and the golden temples of
Burma, in Lego). “Be prepared with water and umbrellas for shade,” she
adds. The best thing is its waterpark, she says. “If you’re in Malaysia
for more than 24 hours, you’ll need a swim.” With balmy temps also the
norm in California and Florida, both of the US theme parks conveniently
have fabulously fun waterparks.

Enter the dragon

In comparison, Bernie Jackson took his three kids, aged 10, eight and
four, to visit LEGOLAND Deutschland over two rainy days, which kept the
crowds at bay. “The kids loved it. The park was manageable enough for
the older kids to explore by themselves, and there was plenty to keep
the four-year-old in awe. The biggest hit was Captain Nick’s Splash
Battle, and while our youngest was a late-adopter on the Dragon Coaster,
he rode it until the park closed.”

What’s next?

2014 saw the launch of the Lego Movie, featuring the voices of
Hollywood greats including Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson, about an evil
tyrant’s plan to glue the LEGO universe together. There are also
another three LEGOLANDs in development, across Dubai, Japan and South

But wait… There’s more!

Not even the 2015 Super Bowl could escape the Lego treatment. Enter the Brick Bowl
– the brainchild of British animation house A+C Studios. The
three-minute clip is a journey through nine of this year’s Super Bowl
ads edited together to make a story – and it took them an incredible 36
hours to create. Watch the video now and be amazed. Because everything is awesome.

This article by Belinda Jackson was published on Art of Money blog by GE Money.

Taking a break in Shanghai, lounging like a lizard, Townske launches: Takeoff travel news


Lounge on Lizard Island
The luxurious
Lizard Island opens its doors on Tuesday to reveal a multi-million dollar
refurbishment. The resort, located 240km north of Cairns in the Great Barrier
Reef, has been closed since it was damaged extensively by Cyclone Ita in April
2014. New to the island is The Villa, a two-bedroom, 95-square-meter ridge-top
eerie, as well as a new restaurant, new bar and a wine room with menu by wine
critic Jeremy Oliver. There are more private plunge pools, more panoramic view
points and the Essentia Day Spa has partnered with Parisian apothecary La
Biosthetique What hasn’t changed are the 24 white-sand beaches and proximity to
one of the world’s top dive sites, Cod Hole. Garden rooms start from $1699 a
night while The Villa will set you back from $5200 a night. The resort, reached
only by private aircraft, will be all systems go from April 1. See lizardisland.com.au.
Sightseeing on the run
Oh you were so good
last night! You evicted yourself from that exotic bar before midnight so you
could explore the quiet streets of this new city with a morning run. Give your
early morning a little help with Salomon’s newest city trail runner, the Sense
Mantra 3, which has a breathable mesh upper, cushioning for pavement pounding
and comes in various colours, including this sunshine-bright version.
Originating in post-war France, Salomon focuses on light weight – the women’s British
size 5.5 Sense Mantra 3 weighs just 250g – and its ENdofit technology wraps the
foot for a stable, protected yet natural stride. The Sense Mantra 3
is available in women’s and men’s fits, RRP $179.99. Kids’ sizes are available
in some ranges. See salomon.com.
Guide to glory
Not a backpacker or flashpacker, a tourist or traveller?
So you don’t fit the mould for a million travel guides? Find a guide that
grooves to your own style of travel on Townske, a new social media outlet that
lets you follow like-minded locals or become a guide yourself. Just emerging
from its soft-launch cocoon, Townske is the brainchild of the luggage/trend
aficionados behind Rushfaster.com. It’s already attracted guides sharing
spectacular photography from the top of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers bridge
climbers, proffering dinner tips in Paris or revealing the best of Stockholm
metro’s architecture, all on the one site. It’s ever changing, just like our
world. See townske.com.
Get on track
Sick of reading others’ fabulous travel memoirs when you
could do so much better? Let award-winning travel writer Rob McFarland coax out
your inner Kerouac with
his travel writing workshops. McFarland, who writes for Traveller, conducts his
workshops in Sydney and also has a correspondence version, if you’re already on
the road. He also offers a story review service for those who have already
penned On The Road Mark II. The intensive
two-day course is limited to 12 students and runs on March 21 and 28 at Vibe
Hotel, 111 Goulburn St Sydney. Costs $599, or $549 for Sun-Herald readers. See robmcfarland.org.
Hop in to a feast
Australia’s third-largest
island, Kangaroo Island, is laying the tables for its 2015 food celebration,
FEASTival. The annual festival is headed up by kitchen doyenne Stephanie
Alexander, who harvests her kitchen garden to help create the signature SeaLink
Enchanted Garden launch dinner. Other highlights of the nine-day food festival
include gin-making, French and Italian cuisine masterclasses, riverside picnics
and a family day in Kingscote with music, cooking demos, a farmer’s market and
food stalls. KI is famed for its wildlife, so there are also pop-up wilderness
events around the island, including Breakfast with the Birds, a bush brekky at
dawn with local wildlife experts and wildlife artist Janet Ayliffe. The island is
connected to Adelaide by short flights with Rex Airlines or by ferry from Cape
Jervis, two hours’ drive from Adelaide. FEASTival runs from May 1-8. See tourkangarooisland.com.au/kifeastival,
rex.com.au and sealink.com.au.
Shanghai’s art of
If you thought kids and glass didn’t mix, you’re wrong.
At least, you’re wrong in Shanghai, where the new Kids Museum of Glass has
recently opened. Aimed at 4-10 year-olds, kids can watch and play with glass
art, magic mirrors and rainbows in its DIY Creative Workshops, learning all
about glass through play. Attached to the Shanghai Museum of Glass, it’s a
little haven in a big city, with a chic cafe, lockers and wi-fi for your
Instagram uploads of cute kids doing wonderful things with glass blowing and
sand blasting. Costs 48RMB ($10) for a child under 1.3m (one parent goes free)
or 88RMB which gives entrance to both the kids’ and main museum and a Hot Glass performance. Open daily except
Mondays. See kmog.org.
The Takeoff travel news, by Belinda Jackson, is published every Sunday in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section. 

Things to do in Phuket, Thailand: One day three ways


Amble down to the food carts that congregate outside the mosque at
Bang Tao before 9am for a classic breakfast of lod chong (bright green
pandan noodles with coconut milk and red sugar) and sweet tea with
Carnation milk, served in a huge glass stein (THB40). Hitting the beach
is now a cheaper proposition since the government has stopped daybed
hires. Go early to nab a shady spot then call for a beachside massage
(THB500). Lunch is  hokkien noodles at third-generation run Mee Ton Poe:
order the fish curry in banana leaf, mee tom yum (tom yum soup with
noodle) and mee hokkien. Arroy mak mak! (Yum! THB100) Tap into Phuket’s
Buddhist roots at the Big Buddha overlooking Chalong, then stop into the
super-ornate Chalong temple (free) before winding down with a Singha
beer and sunset over three beaches (Kata Noi, Kata and Karon) from the
Karon View Point (THB80). Dinner is by the obliging women who set up
their food carts in Kalim Bay, till 9pm (THB100). Looking is free on
crazy Bangla Road, with its ladyboy and girl-a-go-go bars. Thus dazzled,
doss in one of the Old Town’s gorgeous, tiny guesthouses – try Na Siam
(171 Soi Soon Uthit, facebook.com/nasiamguesthouseandcafe, THB800/double).
TOTAL THB 1620 ($64)

Charming: Dibuk Road, Old Phuket Town. Photo: Getty Images


Call for mango juice and house-made croissants at your digs, the
four-star Swissotel Resort Phuket, but go easy before you line up for a
quick Muay Thai session at the hotel (free). Hot enough for you? Cool
down with a dip from a longtail boat, which you can hire off Kamala
Beach and cruise to little Laem Singh beach (TBH1500). Lunch is a chance
to rub shoulders with Thai starlets at One Chun restaurant: order the
rich, creamy crab and coconut curry (48/1 Thepkrasattri Rd, Old Town,
THB280), then unravel the cuisine’s secrets through an afternoon at the
Blue Elephant Cooking School, (THB 2800, 96 Krabi Rd, Phuket Town, blueelephant.com/phuket).
After slaving in the kitchen, reward yourself with sunset drinks and
dinner at BiMi on the swank strip of Surin Beach: don’t go past the
whole grilled snapper with spicy jim jaew sauce. Pair with a mojito made
from local Cha Long Bay rum (THB820, bimibeachclub.com)
or grab a Sly Thai vodka/limoncello/lime cocktail next door at Catch
Beach Club (THB290), then it’s sweet dreams at the nearby Swissotel,
which has one, two and three-bed suites (From THB 4720 a night, one-bed
deluxe suite with breakfast, swissotel.com).
TOTAL THB 10410 ($413)


Get the yacht to pick you up at Cape Panwa Marina for Thai-style
breakfast aboard its five-hour cruise – leap off for a snorkel and kayak
through the Andaman Sea (thailuxurycharters.com,THB130,000)
then jump ship at Kalim Beach for lunch by the seaside at the modestly
named Joe’s Downstairs, where chef Aaron Hooper has been named
Thailand’s top chef. Order his Blue Crab Cake and/or Joe’s Famous Burger
THB1500) but don’t go overboard: this afternoon you’re hanging from the
treetops on a zipline eco-adventure, and the weight limit is 120kg (flyinghanuman.com,
THB3250). Dust down and gloss up to rub shoulders with royalty and
Rockefellers at sunset drinks at one of Phuket’s best bars with a view,
Baba Nest, in the luxe Sri Panwa hotel. For real, undumbed-down Thai
food, take a table at the hotel’s Baba Soul Food restaurant or order the
luxe toro sushi and do a Phuket versus Canadian Maine lobster
comparison at its new Japanese Baba Iki restaurant (THB5100) then call
for champagne and party the night away in your private plunge pool (sripanwa.com, from THB22,400 a night, pool suite ocean view).
TOTAL 162250 ($6448)

Belinda Jackson was a guest of Swissotel Resort Phuket and Sri Panwa. 

This feature was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.

On the road: Lang Co, central Vietnam

Well, today was the day that you do all the slog for: pay-off for all the rejection emails, all the silence from editors when you really need the cash, all the crappy deadlines and the ridiculous subjects you have to write about.

Today ran pretty close to my idea of nirvana: yoga with real yogi in a sala with windows open to catch the sea breeze. Organic cooking school amidst a garden of plenty, picking fresh herbs and lettuce before grilling and chopping amidst the greenery. Lunch and then more lunch with Vietnamese coffee. Massage that unknots, unties and unravels all those kinks down the spine. Swim in villa’s plunge pool. Dinner of local seafood, and a nightcap.

There may have been a little early-morning deadline (met), there may have been too much instagramming (see global_salsa). But in all, a spectacular day. Tomorrow, it’s back to Singapore.

Thanks to Banyan Tree Hotels, here in Lang Co, central Vietnam.

Sri Lanka: platter up on the spice island

Dried red chilies are a signature ingredient of
Sri Lankan food.
 Photo: Kevin Clogstou


Not for the faint-hearted or the waistline obsessed, Sri
Lankan food is chili and spice-laden taste sensation and there is always
enough to feed a small army. Belinda Jackson goes to the front line to
taste the best of the best.

After a lifetime of putting (almost) everything in my mouth – dog,
toad, rotten fish and cheese so old it qualifies for the pension – Sri
Lanka, the game is on.

 Let’s not muck around, let’s go straight
to the source: Sri-Lankan born chef Peter Kuruvita is Australia’s go-to
man fzor everything edible on the Tasmania-sized island.

top suggestion is also possibly Sri Lanka’s top restaurant, the
officious-sounding Ministry of Crab (Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo).

was always going to be a hit with the locals: in cricket-mad Lanka, the
restaurant is owned by test cricketers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar
Sangakkara, along with chef Dharshan Munidasa, Sri Lanka’s answer to Our
Tetsuya. The half-Sri Lankan, half-Japanese celebrity chef is also
owner of the polished benchmark of Japanese cuisine, Nihonbashi (1 Galle
Face Tce, Colombo).

A lone stilt fisherman, Sri lanka.
A lone stilt fisherman, Sri lanka.
Photo: Eye Ubiquitous

Ministry is set in the Old Dutch Hospital complex, which
should be the first stop on the first-time tourist’s list for its
excellent cafe and shopping scene, a hit with locals and out-of-towners
Thank goodness Kuruvita  advises  me to book ahead.
Midweek, and Ministry is pumping on the signature cocktail, Small Island
iced tea, made with Sri Lankan tea and Old Arrack, a traditional spirit
made from the sap of coconut palm flowers. The signature dish, chilli
crab, comes out in a flurry of waiter’s whites and torturous cutlery
while the open kitchen rattles and howls, with the occasional spurt of
naked flame.

Driving around the island, fruit stands offer an unashamed abundance including Sri Lanka’s 18 types of banana.

“I went to Singapore and I ate their chilli crab,” chef Dharshan
tells me. “But Singapore has no crab, no chilli and no pepper. It’s all
from Sri Lanka. So why do they think they own it?”

He’s a man on a mission to prove Sri Lanka has its own
cuisine. “We’re not sitting in a rice paddy, smashing spices with
rocks,” he says. “We’re as sophisticated as anyone else.”

if you asked any traveller for their take on the local food, the first
thing that comes to mind is also its most humble.

It’s the hopper.
A hand-sized crepe made with rice flour and coconut milk and cooked in a
cupped pan, we’re not talking haute cuisine here. String hoppers are
made with rice noodles that, despite all the gaps, are ideal for soaking
up curry sauces. Early in the morning, hopper stands line the roadsides
and laneways: little carts that fuel a nation for the day ahead.

“Ask for an egg hopper and seeni sambal,” Kuruvita has recommended.

first place I taste hoppers probably isn’t where Kuruvita had in mind.
Forget street sellers, I’m in Galle’s top digs, the Amangalla hotel.
Specifically, I’m in the pool and breakfast is being delivered to my
poolside ambalamba (cabana) early one fine morning. Three hoppers are
beautifully presented on  china, an egg baked into the well of the fine

Red, yellow and green bananas hanging for sale at a market, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Red, yellow and green bananas hanging for
sale at a market, Kandy, Sri Lanka. 
Photo: iStock

There’s a pot of bright Sri Lankan tea and an array of
condiments including seeni sambal – a sweet onion and chilli relish –
and pol sambal, which Ministry chef Dharshan names his quintessential
Sri Lankan dish.

“Pol sambal’s not the most expensive, it’s not the most interesting, but it’s the most important on the table,” he says.

sambal is a dish of fresh grated coconut (pol means coconut in
Sinhalese) spiced with lime, red onion, cured tuna flakes and a
blistering amount of fresh chilli. The locals ladle chilli onto hoppers
for a morning eye-opener, at lunch as a pick-me-up then at dinner, as a
tasty side to round out their chilli intake for the day.

between, Sri Lankans are incorrigible snackers. If you find yourself in
someone’s house at 3.30pm, chances are you’re in time for tea and butter
cake, a super-simple Madeira-style cake that kicks the country over the
afternoon slump.

Otherwise, they’re queuing at their favourite short-eats
stand. Short eats are not for the weight conscious: savoury little
calorie bombs such as deep-fried fish rolls, sausage pastries, creamy
chicken pastries or spicy vege samosa. There’s fierce competition as to
the best short-eats shop on this island, the epi-centre appearing to be
in the Colombo 3 district, home to old-timer The Fab (474 Galle Rd),
upmarket contender Sponge (347 Galle Rd) and the undying institution
that is Green Cabin (453 Galle Rd).

If you’re leery of eating on
the street, follow the trail of foreigners to one of the many, many
branches of the 100-year-old Perera & Sons, who’ve lifted the game
with sparkling shops and, let’s be practical, nice loos (pereraandsons.com).
Trucking kids with you? While you’re in there, make like a local and
grab a pack of rulang cookies, crunchy semolina and coconut biscuits
spiced with cumin seeds as a good travel snack.

In this
neighbourhood, travelling and eating are indistinguishable: at the
Hatton train station, up in the tea-growing district, men lift baskets
of steaming wadi, fried savoury snacks with chilli chutney, up to my
window, hot, deep fried lentil patties wrapped in the leaves of a
child’s old schoolbook, soaking up the tasty oils.

Market vendors selling produce in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.

Market vendors selling produce in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. Photo: PhuongPhoto

On the drive
from Galle to Yala National Park, we stop to photograph the famed stilt
fishermen of Tangalle Lake, where a retired fisherman sells us king
coconuts. He slices the top off with a machete and we sit beneath a
shade of woven leaves, drinking fresh coconut water while his sons
teeter on poles, one eye on the fish, one eye on our coin.

Tangalle, at the insanely luxurious Amanwella hotel, I dine on seafood
caught by local fishermen that morning. Move over, deep-fried seafood
basket, this is the real deal: prawns, mahi mahi, red mullet, seer fish
(Spanish mackerel) and calamari are served with steamed rice, mango and
papaya salad and gotukola salad.

“Gotukola makes you look younger
and helps you lose weight,” the waiter tells me helpfully. Bring me two,
please. So great are its claims, gotukola is known for its miracle
properties in the West and is also in Ayurvedic medicine, so I joyfully
wolf down the salad, which looks like chopped spinach, dressed with the
omnipresent chilli, coconut and fresh lime juice.
Amangalla breakfast with hoppers.

Amangalla breakfast with hoppers. Photo: Belinda Jackson

Driving around
the island, fruit stands offer an unashamed abundance including Sri
Lanka’s 18 types of banana, and tiny villages on the highways sell just
one food, be it Kadjugama (literally ‘cashew village’) on the
Colombo-Kandy road, Thihariya for mandarins the colour of a Buddhist
monk’s robes or buffalo curd (meekiri), served roadside in Andalla, deep
in the Southern Province, drizzled with kitul syrup, or palm-sugar
treacle. An ancient lady in a white chola, held together Liz-Hurley
style with three gigantic safety pins, carefully packs a traveller’s
picnic of curd, which is traditionally set in rough hand-thrown clay
pots that you smash back into the earth once finished. It’s a probiotic,
it’s a passive-aggression outlet.

Back in Colombo, it’s time to
try the famed black pork curry of the Gallery Cafe, contender to
Ministry of Crab for best restaurant (2 Alfred House Rd, Kollupitiya).
Cruising the menu, I’ve gone past the seer fish served with coconut
risotto, past the fish-head soup and even said no to the baked crab.

black pork dish is owner and entrepreneur Shanth Fernando’s baby. “I
taste it every morning,” he says, sipping espresso in his chic hotel,
Tintagel. “That’s why I’m the size I am.” He leans in to spill its
secrets: belly pork with fenugreek, curry leaves, bitter gourd, sweet
spices and the signature (chilli-free) black-roasted curry powder, which
adventurous traveller-cooks can buy at any supermarket. The curry is
served with another classic, brinjal pahl (eggplant relish), cucumber
raita and more gotukola sambal, presumably its anti-obesity properties
balancing the extravagance of the belly pork. It is divine, but also
calls for a nice lie-down afterwards.  Or maybe a tart, cleansing
cocktail. Either way, the Gallery Cafe will oblige.

Gallery Cafe.

Gallery Cafe. Photo: Belinda Jackson

Some of the
best food of this journey is served in the most unexpected location. In
the leopard-rich Yala National Park, the under-canvas kitchen of my
luxury Leopard Safari camp, fuelled only by solar energy, turns out
spectacular plantain curry and bitter gourd curry, tuned down to sate
the western palette, but not so much that it offends us: and
vegetarianism is easy in this isle.

Pre-dinner snacks are hot,
deep-fried leaves called elephant ears, tossed in salt and chilli
powder, and the all-male kitchen serves the  toddler on my hip gentle
baby potato curries, as well as two classic street foods, coconut roti
and her favourite, egg roti, the sweet coconut and egg cooked into rich,
buttery fried flatbread.

At the Kandy Muslim Hotel,
fierce-looking old men in white robes serenely serve us the staple meal
of kottu roti – chopped roti fried with strips of egg, cabbage, carrot
and whatever else comes to hand (70 Dalada Vidiya, Kandy) –  and I taste
the classic Dutch Burgher dish, lamprais, in a Colombo home kitchen,
from the generous hands of my Burgher friend Andrea.

The samba
rice and mixed meat curry are baked in a banana leaf with a prawn paste,
fried cutlet and eggplant in the mix. If you don’t have a Burgher chef
to hand, trust Colombo city guide yamu.com
and head to the colonial mansion that is the Dutch Burgher Union
(that’s DBU for those in the know) (114, Reid Avenue, Colombo 4).

is called a curry, but not everything is pungent,” explains Andrea.
“And everything that floats in a gravy is curry.” She also notes that
Sri Lankan curries are quite dry, compared with their Indian
counterparts. “It preserves the fresh tastes, instead of drowning them,”
she adds, with a sly dig at her gargantuan neighbour.

I make the
rookie mistake of ordering ‘just a curry’ at boutique hotel The Wallawwa
and end up with a 10-plate extravaganza by the time all the
accompanying curries, sambals, salads, rice and deep-fried fillers are
laden on the table. Delicious, though slightly unfair to any dining
companions wishing to sit near me.

Asking around for the best meal
turns up some unlikely answers: “I’ve found chicken parts curry,”
confides a local artist. “It’s so good, I’ve had it twice in the past
two weeks.” I ask for the cafe’s address but he won’t tell me. “I’ve had
training,” he says delicately, then abandons all tact. “Pack the
Imodium! Hahahaha!”
It’s on the last day, just before we dash to
the airport, that my bubbly driver, the fabulously named Lucky
Lokubalasuriya, teaches me how to eat a classic lunch packet of curry
and rice – perhaps the Sri Lankan equivalent of a sandwich. I buy a
couple of packets from a man on the street and we sit in the back of our
van. Unwrapping the decorative newspaper reveals a train smash of rice,
chicken curry, dhal, deep-fried crisps and a few blackened chillis that
I don’t believe are just a garnish. There’s no cutlery, just a handful
of serviettes.

After a fortnight of fending off Western wannabe
cafes (what’s with the bruschetta obsession?) and toned-down cuisine,
this is the real deal. The packet packs a punch of big spices, hot oil,
curry leaves and a hellish amount of chilli. My nose runs, my ears roar
and I admit defeat. Respect for the spice island.

MORE INFORMATION srilanka.travel
are no direct flights between Australia and Sri Lanka. The best
connections are with Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Thai
GETTING AROUND Banyan Tours runs five-night tours including private car, guide and accommodation, from $3500 for two people, banyanlanka.com.
STAYING THERE For luxe hotels, stay at Amangalla, Galle or Amanwella, Tangalle (from $585, amanresorts.com), opt for boutique hotels Maya Villa or The Wallawwa (from $205, mrandmrssmith.com)
or go budget at the Olde Empire Hotel, with an extra-early wake-up call
from the nearby Temple of Lord Buddha’s Tooth (from $20, oldeempirehotel.com).The sustainably-run Leopard Safari costs from $380 a night, all-inclusive, leopardsafaris.com.

The writer was a guest of Banyan Tours Lanka (banyanlanka.com), Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel) and Mr & Mrs Smith hotels (mrandmrssmith.com)

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.

Things to do in Nadi, Fiji: One day three ways

The Sri Siva Subramaniya Hindu temple in Nadi.  Photo: Alamy


Breakfast with the locals and grab a hot chicken curry roti from the
smiling sellers outside Nadi’s covered market ($1.25) then dive inside
for papaya, bananas and mangos and kava drinking etiquette tips from the
kava traders (free). Nadi is a Fijian-Indian town, so pop into a
hairdresser to have your brows threaded or hands henna’d ($6.30). Lunch
is at the little vegetarian restaurant in the wildly ornate Sri Siva
Subramaniya temple. Dress modestly (no bare thighs) or borrow a sarong
at the gate (entrance $3.75, lunch $3.15-6.30). Cool off with a dip at
Wailoaloa Beach then head to Ed’s Bar, in the Martintar district, for a
cold, pre-dinner Fiji Lager ($3.15, 51 Queens Road). Nearby, Tu’s Place
is a staple for traditional Fijian food. Don’t expect lavish decor, do
order the kokoda and rourou ($14, 37 Queens Road, tusplace.webs.com)
and then bunker down in Nadi Downtown Hotel, the only hotel on Main
Street. The hotel is clean, with its own restaurant and bar and is a
good source of budget travel advice ($45 a double, fijidowntownhotel.com).
TOTAL $76.60


Kick off with quality coffee, house-made brioche and honey from the farm of Bulaccino Cafe (Queen’s Road, $5.80, bulaccino.com).
If it’s Sunday, pop in to one of the town’s many churches for the
service and some spectacular singing (free). Flower admirers and small,
jumpy children should head to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, 15
minutes from Nadi. The late Raymond Burr (aka Perry Mason) retired here
to collect orchids, there are now more than2000 varieties ($10 adults/$5
children/$25families). Afterwards, lunch and people-watch at Port
Denarau: grab a wrap and a Lulu Mix juice (beetroot, ginger and carrot,
$14.80) from Lulu’s Cafe, beside the pier, then take a spin around
Denarau on the hop-on, hop-off Bula Bus ($5 all-day, kids under 10 free,
Pick up your souvenirs on Nadi’s Main Street, check the handicraft
market and cruise Jack’s, Tappoo or Prouds for glossy coloured
freshwater pearl earrings (about $22)and a bag of Bula Coffee beans,
grown in the highlands and roasted in Sigatoka ($16.30 for 200 grams).
Kick back on an evening barbeque cruise around Nadi Bay ($82/adults,
$56/kids, captaincook.com.fj) then bed down in a beachfront spa villa at First Landing ($140 a double with breakfast, firstlandingresort.com).
TOTAL $290.90


Book out the whole day on the 64-foot catamaran Catatac for a
schmoozy island-hop around the Mamanuca. Wet a line, catch a wave,
snorkel the reefs and find the perfect beach: lunch and
cocktail-drinking included ($2260 a couple, charterboatsfiji.com).
If you’re staying on land and taking a bed at the Fiji Beach Resort
& Spa by Hilton, take their hobie cats out for a peaceful (ie,
non-motorised) glide over the calm waters (free to hotel guests), then
frock up for the Sofitel, a favourite with visiting royalty. Its
shopping gallery includes a Pure Fiji boutique: stock up on orange
blossom coconut sugar rub. It’s organic and won’t leave you smelling
like tinned fruit salad ($25, purefiji.com), then lunch poolside on grilled reef fish at its much lauded Salt restaurant ($31.40, sofitel.com).
While away the afternoon with a four-hand ayurvedic massage in Spa
Maya, at Denarau Marina ($122). Hungry? Dinner and sunset are at Peter
Kuruvita’s Flying Fish Fiji, in the Sheraton Fiji Resort. Go the
five-course degustation ($110, peterkuruvita.com) then soak up the silence of the tropical night at the Hilton’s one-bed beachfront terraces (from $255 , fijibeachresortbyhilton.com).
TOTAL $2260 or  $543.40

The writer was a guest of Nadi Downtown hotel.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.

Famous Flyer: Deborah Hutton

Hutton rates driving through Provence as her best holiday experience.

An African safari and the Maldives are on Deborah Hutton’s wish list.

a car in Paris and driving to St Tropez over four days. I stayed at
little inns and ate at great restaurants through Provence, really
getting a feel for the country. It ended with the madness of St Tropez,
which is FUN in capital letters.

Soho in London – I love the position and it has the most divine suites –
and the tiny, tiny Eichardt’s Private Hotel in Queenstown. The
interiors are by Virginia Fisher, who does all the Huka Retreats. It’s
right in the centre of Queenstown with a great little bar downstairs.
You go in for five minutes and the next day, they’re like, “Hello
Deborah, that was a pinot, wasn’t it?’ They really get you.

same as everyone else – my iPad, my earplugs, and eye mask. I do have a
little baby travel pillow I always squeeze into an air suction bag, so I
have the consistency of a good pillow.

has to be a great golf course – that’s generally what I look for first.
It’s also got to be warm, with a beach (though I can do pool), with
good friends and good restaurants.

always photocopy my passport and credit cards, and I always split my
credit cards up, leaving one in the hotel safe and one in my wallet.
It’s gotten me out of trouble before, when I had my bag stolen in Ibiza
(surprise, surprise!).

pals booked a “divine design hotel” in Koh Samui. The pool’s filtration
system was broken, and it was green. And there was no restaurant, you
ate in bures on the beach. And then the weather turned. No pool, rain
and sitting cross-legged on the beach, eating bad Thai? I booked a
flight back to Bangkok and checked into The Peninsula hotel.

it too late to pack, because I then pack too much. You just hate
yourself on long-haul trips every time you have to repack.

the top of my list is an African safari and the Maldives. I would stay
at one of the Evason resorts in the Maldives. They’re just heaven on a
stick. I see photos of the beautiful water and think, “That’s just me”.
And I want a cocktail and I want one with an umbrella. To me, that
screams “holiday!”

Deborah Hutton is an ambassador for NRMA’s Living Well Navigator, livingwellnavigator.com.au.

Interview by Belinda Jackson

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section

Walking Phuket’s old town

Just back from Phuket, I absolutely fell in love with the colours and history of Phuket old town. It’s chocked with gorgeous cafes, guesthouses and weird trinket shops wedged between mechanics, junk rooms and people’s homes. If you’re following my Instagram feed
(@global_salsa), THANK YOU and sorry, you may well be sick of these
photos. If not, here are a few of my favourites. I’ll be posting up
more in the next few days, once this vicious cold abates (thank you,
also, Thai aircon, this is not the first time you’ve done this to me).

Gorgeous guesthouse

Raya restaurant

Snapped on Yaowarat Street (also spelt Yaowarad or even Yaowaraj – go figure)
There are some truly spectacular tiles on the doorsteps of the old town’s shops and houses.
I couldn’t get my feet out of the road, so you get the lot: tiles and toes.

Traffic tears past at a manic rate, but this grand little corner seems woefully neglected.

See what I mean about these tiles? They’re just fabulous.

FIJI: Suva’s white lady sees in a new century

The Grand Pacific Hotel Photo: Belinda Jackson

In search of Suva’s old colonial soul, Belinda Jackson
pays homage to the centenarian Grand Pacific Hotel, now celebrating a
makeover that’s 22 years late.

She was dubbed “The Raffles of the South Pacific”, and her title, the
Grand Pacific Hotel, is suitably eminent. But to the locals, Suva’s
distinguished colonial hotel is simply the GPH. The GPH has always been
here, as far as living memory goes back. It’s the dictionary definition
of colonial style: deep verandas, nattily dressed doormen and a starring
role in the history of a nation. 

When the hotel first opened, on
May 23, 1914, Fiji had been a British colony for 40 years, an official
cannibal-free zone for 38 years and Suva its capital for just 32 years.
The hotel’s original layout included an array of extremely specific
rooms; for dining, smoking, playing billiards, writing and drinking.
There were electric lights and fans, and “the first-floor bedrooms have
bathrooms with both hot and cold salt and fresh water baths,” early
advertisements boasted.

Unfortunately, just a few months after
its opening, World War I broke out, stymieing its position as the
eminent Pacific hotel during the grand era of steamer-ship travel. But
the hotel regrouped and capitalised on its location on the edge of Suva
Harbour, the country’s premier port.

Queen Elizabeth II has
dropped in not once, but three times. The first time, in 1953, she was a
dewy-eyed girl, fresh to the demands of the crown, and locals sailed
traditional canoes (camakau) into Suva Harbour to meet the royal yacht,
Britannia. The Queen stayed in what is now known – unsurprisingly – as
the Queen Elizabeth suite. If she was expecting grand ocean views, she’d
have been disappointed. Her suite faces Victoria Parade, with a
massive, private balcony that juts out over the entrance, just the spot
where a beautiful, young queen could wave to her rapturous audience,
who, in return, would sing their sweet farewell song, Isa Lei, back to her.

there is a photo wall where the hotel displays its list of visiting
celebrities, who include actor Burt Lancaster and author Somerset
Maugham and our own Dame Nellie Melba, who swanned in during World War
I. In 1928, aviator Charles Kingsford Smith popped in on his way across
the Pacific, flying 36 hours from Hawaii and forcing the locals to cut
two rows of trees in Albert Park, adjacent to the hotel, to accommodate
his landing. And yes, there’s the current prime minister, Frank
Bainimarama, in between them all.

GPH personifies the era of
travelling with trunks, of Grand Tours and afternoons at leisure. Most
of the early managers were retired steamer stewards and its 35 rooms
were never enough to satisfy demand. The American author James A
Michener wrote in his 1992 memoir that “the barefoot Indians who served
the meals had a grace that few hotels in the world could offer and none
surpass”. Michener had stayed in the hotel as a US soldier during WWII,
when it was turned over to the army, and returned after the war.

Fifties did nothing good for the GPH: it turned an ignoble shade of
pink, following the lead of The Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach,
also built in in the 1920s and dubbed “the Pink Palace of the Pacific”.
The period is captured in highly coloured postcards, an aquamarine pool
surrounded by groovers and beach umbrellas, male waiters serving in
sulus, the Fijian sarong and official uniform.  And the Eighties were
even worse: by 1992, the GPH was abandoned even by the army, left to the
mercy of scrap metal dealers and a corrosive tropical climate. Having a
volatile parliament house didn’t help, either.

But, like the
Queen, the GPH is a stayer, this year celebrating her centenary. A
three-year, $90 million redevelopment has bulldozed any signs of the
GPH’s ageing, funded by a consortium of superannuation funds from PNG,
New Zealand and Fiji.

Once again the gracious hostess, this
Friday night, GPH is the place to be seen in Suva. The massive new
ballroom is hosting Fiji Fashion Week, and the island’s most influential
women are trooping through the doors in an array of glamorous gowns.

it’s really all happening on the terrace, where a local band has set
the pace, with a racy sprint through the early evening set before
slowing down to flip into Lovesongs-and-Memories mode. Did you know that
Lionel Richie has actually been reborn as a Fijian crooner? And the
crowd loves it.
It all starts with a bang – well, the ringing of a
large bell – at 6pm, when the first of the night’s two happy hours
kicks off. The first happy hour runs for two hours, then the drinkers
and bar staff have a break until the second happy hour kicks the night
along from 10pm.

Fashionistas, local movers and shakers, a few
tourists and plenty of expats lounge on white cane chairs ordering long,
frosty glasses of Fiji Bitter. The general manager, Swiss-born Eugene
Diethelm, now on his 16th hotel opening, estimates the crowd at between
500 and 600 people each Friday night.

There’s formal dining inside
in the air-con, filling bar snacks out by the pool. This being Fiji,
where imported wine and red meat come at a premium, the best buy on the
menu is excellent local fish, that is wahoo, walu or mahimahi. However,
if you came over all traditional, you could call for a saddle of venison
with red cabbage and brussels sprouts, or go nouveau-riche with a cut
of beef from exclusive Wakaya Island, off Suva’s coast. The view from
the terrace is of the long infinity pool, lit royal blue against the
darkening sky, and swathes of perfect lawn with the backdrop of Laucala
Bay. And because this is family-friendly Fiji, that perfect lawn is
dotted, without irony, with a set of plastic swings and slides.

original building has 10 suites, and the pick of the bunch is
undoubtedly No. 1, the largest Royal Suite and the only one with ocean
views. All the other original suites overlook the gardens and Suva’s
low-slung skyline, best seen from a rattan chair on the wide, private
verandah, cool drink in hand.

The rest of the accommodation is one
side in two new wings. There are 103 new rooms ranging from the most
economical, the Grand Pacific Deluxe Room rooms in its Kingsford Smith
garden wing, up to the Royal Club Rooms, in the New Wing. Yes, all the
rooms in the New Wing have views over the pool or ocean, with lush Pure
Fiji toiletries, a fruit platter, complimentary neck massage in the
little spa and a sweet present from the sparkling new Swiss bakery.
However, architecturally, this is the hotel’s downfall. From the
exterior, the new wing could be any airport hotel in any part of the
world. And while the interior is comfortable, it’s just not channelling
heritage chic.

If your budget can stretch to it – and from $720 a
night, it is a stretch – the suites capture the essence of the hotel.
If it’s an ocean view and modern luxury you’re after, you can save a
couple hundred dollars and opt for the vast Royal Club rooms, with
uninterrupted ocean views.

On a quick drive down Victoria
Parade, it’s easy to spot the GPH’s contemporaries. The Law Court,
Government  Buildings and the city’s Carnegie Library all show the same
hallmarks of the architectural era: once-white facades, gracious arches
and date stamps over the entrances.
Many of the city’s Grade A
heritage buildings are also being renovated, perhaps spiked by the
interest in GPH. Already the bridal market has thrown its bouquet into
the ring to declare it best the place for a chic, city wedding, which
comes with a night in the Queen Elizabeth suite.

Chances are the
GPH will become a destination hotel, though it certainly doesn’t come
cheap. But Suva seems to come without the hard-edged hustle of its
western rival, Nadi. Well, at least on the days there’s not a cruise
ship in town. What is undeniable is the local pride in Suva’s gleaming
white hotel, which, after a generation of neglect, has made the
transition from eyesore to elegance.


GETTING THERE Fiji Airways flies direct to Nadi from Sydney and Melbourne daily, and flies Sydney to Suva twice a week. fijiairways.com
STAYING THERE Rooms cost from $390/deluxe room (garden views) to $500/Royal Club
room for (ocean-facing). Heritage suites cost from $720 to $1000 a
night. See grandpacifichotel.com.fj. 
THINGS TO SEE & DO Five minutes’ walk will take you to the Museum of Fiji and the
Presidential Palace. Other Suva highlights include the local markets,
selling tropical flowers and the Pure Fiji natural cosmetics and spa.
The hotel also has a small, exclusive collection of shops selling Fijian
pearls and fashion. 

The writer was a guest of Fiji Airways

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.