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scUber dives into the Great Barrier Reef

It’s been a big week on the Great Barrier Reef, with the launch of the world’s first ridesharing submarine, appropriately named scUber.

Uber has teamed up with a baby sub named Barry, for a month of dives to explore the Great Barrier Reef – currently hovering around Heron Island, off Gladstone, it moves up to Cairns this coming week.

Fancy a seat? They’re $1500 a pop, book on the app.

If you think it’s just a publicity stunt, you’re right. Queensland’s tourism board has teamed up with Uber to highlight the health of the reef, to encourage people to come and see it for themselves. Hopefully, they’ll learn to love our marine icon – the world’s largest living thing – and therefore help protect it.

You can read more in my news story for the Sydney Morning Herald’s/The Age Traveller section, there’s even a competition to win a seat on the mini submarine. Click here to check it out.

Hilton Manila hotel review

Hilton Manila

Manila’s traffic is so bad a whole city of airport hotels has sprung up to service airline passengers coming into the city on their way to and from the Philippines’ fabulous islands. Newport City includes a Marriott and a Savoy, convenience stores and coffee shops, casinos and shopping malls, and now the city’s only Hilton, which opened in October 2018.
It’s the end of a tropical holiday, so of the five dining venues, it must be the swim-up bar for a lunch of mango mai tais, hot fresh pizza with buffalo mozzarella and fresh fish fingers for the small fry. Service is super-chatty and super-friendly, though not speedy, as the hotel is still polishing its act. Madison Bar & Lounge near the entrance is easy to overlook but chocophiles note: its patisserie serves excellent chocolate croissants. There’s also a well-stocked gin bar with knowledgeable staff and a jazz singer who croons into the wee hours.

Click here to read the full review, which was first published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

Perfect pitch at Port Fairy’s Drift House

Drift House, Port Fairy, Victoria

A long weekend on Victoria’s Great Ocean Drive – it’s the stuff of nightmares.

One of Australia’s most popular sightseeing drives, the drawcards are the 12 Apostles (but we all know that there are heaps less – or more? – of these famed sea stacks. I managed to evade the crowds and find my own piece of peace by continuing an hour past the tourist hubs to the prettiest town around, Port Fairy.

The destination? Drift House, which is almost more famous overseas than here in Australia for its four perfect suites, and perfectly pitched service from its owners, Colleen Guiney and John Watkinson.

Now, the Edwardian cottage next door has been transformed to add two new, equally fresh suites to the best address in town. Read my short story, which appeared in my weekly column in the Sunday Age and Sun-Herald newspapers, and online at Traveller.

How to pack – a guide

I love a good ‘how to pack’ story, I really do. I love those one-pagers in glossy magazines that have a shirt, hat, watch, book and other pieces of travel euphemia scattered about the page, organised into geographic locations:

waterproof pants and binoculars for Antarctica.
Foldable sun hat and cats-eye sunglasses for southern Italy.
Cigarette pants, black loafers and reusable coffee cup for Melbourne.

They may be cliched, but for me, they encapsulate a destination.

I chatted to uber-packer Cathy Perry, who tells me you really can pack for two weeks with just hand luggage (ok, maybe not for Antarctica). She talks up the trans-seasonal trench coat, the joy of pairing fashion runners with dresses and the rules on getting organised.

Check out my interview with Cathy, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Sunday Age’s Traveller section.

How to buy Western Desert art: an exercise in ethics

Recently, I interviewed artist and teacher Nyunmiti Burton. She is based in Tjala Arts in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, in far northern South Australia. What was striking was that the interview was conducted in English and Pitjantjatjara, the most commonly spoken of Australia’s few surviving indigenous languages. Our translator, Skye O’Meara, is the general manager of Sydney’s APY Art Centre Collective.

In the conversation, Skye and Nyunmiti pointed out that we know more about where our coffee and eggs come from than our Aboriginal art. Ethically produced art means the artist being paid appropriately, being created in a safe environment and sold by a business that has full financial transparency.

To read more about buying Central and Western Desert art, you can read my column in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section. Click here, and thanks for reading.

For more links:

See desart.com.au  the peak body for more than 40 such art centres in Central Australia.

See tjalaarts.com.au Tjalaa Arts art centre in Amata, SA

See apyartcentrecollective.com APY Art centres

Cairo in a nutshell

I’ve been poking around the back alleys and the big-ticket drawcards of Cairo for a decade now (How did that happen? One minute I was setting up this blog on a tiny little Juliet balcony in a pensione in downtown Cairo, the next minute, it’s 10 years later!)

In that time, Cairo’s fortunes have flowed, ebbed, and are now flowing again, after revolutions, currency flotations, elections and a whole vortex of world events that have shaped the old traditions and new fashions in this maniacal city of 20 million (give or take a few million).

It still blows me away, every time I visit. There’s the City of the Dead, which may be home to as many as a million undocumented (living) souls, the rock-carved cathedrals of Mokattam, the wild nights of horseriding around the Pyramids beneath a full moon, and the Nile. There’s always the Nile.

It scratches only the surface, but here are 10 of my tips on visiting the City that Sleeps In Shifts, published in this weekend’s Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

 

Chasing auroras in Tasmania

Hunting the Light

A couple of years ago, I found myself standing on the top deck of a Norwegian coastal liner, the Hurtigruten. The night was pitch black, it was way below zero degrees, and we stared at the sky, our necks cricked in the cold as we attempted to capture the Northern Lights.

Then, another Australian reemerged from the warm cabins below to show us a magnificent photo of the aurora phenomenon. Where’s this? we all asked. It’s in Tasmania, he said. The Australians in the group noted it was a good 15 degrees warmer and 23 hours closer to home. So on my list for this year is to see our own Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights.

I got in touch with one of Tassie’s best-known aurora chasers, Margaret Sonnemann, founder of the Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook group and author of The Aurora Chaser’s Handbook for her tips.

Happily, she says, you can see the Aurora Australis all year round in Tasmania, one of the landmasses closest to the South Magnetic Pole, which is where aurorae originate from. She shares camera tips as well as her favourite viewing points.

Click here to read the full story, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age‘s Traveller website.

Game on: kids in business class

ETIHAD Uniforms

Business class is out of reach of most travellers, and I had to hit my third decade before experiencing the delicious sensation of turning left on the plane.Some, however, are far luckier.

Recently, my seven-year-old daughter put Etihad Airways’ business class to the test en route to Abu Dhabi.

We’ve flown Etihad many times before, we’ve been scarred by its kids meals, most notably a long-haul economy nightmare of reoccurring cheese macaroni and UHT banana milk that comprises the kids menu – with no water served with their meals. I’ve ranted about it in the past – why load children up with a tray full of sugar, then complain when they turn into sugar-fuelled screeching monsters?

This time, in business, it’s a whole different ball game…

To read the full story on the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller website, click here

A guide to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula

Mornington Peninsula Australia

Some people have an ancestral base – it might be a castle, a city or a family home that has been in the family for generations.

Coming from a family that was always on the move, and now spread to the four corners of the earth, the closest I can come to is our beach house on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, which my grandfather built in the 1960s. It’s seen five generations holidaying here, and while it’s not a hunting lodge or a town that with streets named after us, the beach is at the end of the street and dolphins play in the waters: it’s not so bad.

Decidedly daggy (read: unhip) for decades, known only for its beachhouses and fish & chip shops (which are, still, very good), it’s now got its mojo on, and in a massive way. In just five years, we’ve got five-star hotels, artisan gin distillers, we’ve got fabulous cafes and our great coastal walking paths have been mapped out.

I wrote my 20 reasons for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section, which you can read by clicking here

The grand dame of Aswan: hotel review, Egypt

Aswan, Egypt

In Egypt’s deep south (aka ‘Upper Egypt, because it’s closer to the source of the south-north running Nile River), is the golden city of Aswan.

A world away from the smoke and insanity of Cairo, the city on the banks of the Nile is famous for its granite quarries that helped build the monuments of the ancient kingdoms, and its laid-back inhabitants, Nubians who seem more connected with the African continent than the Arabian north.

It’s also the home of one of the continent’s best grand hotels, and finally I got to visit the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract. 

The terrace, where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile.
Photo: Belle Jackson

Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile on its terrace, and I wrote my hotel review for Fairfax Media’s Traveller section (the question is, of course: which will have greater longevity? :))

With an unsurpassed setting, smooth service and the undoubtedly fabulous
history, I rate it this of my top historic stays around the world. Armchair travellers should binge on Secret of the Nile (2016), which is the first Egyptian series on Netflix. The subtitled murder
mystery was filmed in the hotel, which is the undoubted star of the show.

You can read my story, published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website, here