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.

Peppers Docklands review: Melbourne’s newest five-star hotel

A couple of weeks ago, I popped in to the newest five-star hotel in
Melbourne, Peppers Docklands. It’s right beside Etihad Stadium, at the
bottom of La Trobe St.

Loved the Melbourne tram printed
on the wall above the bed, the pool with a view and the crayfish
omelette. And if you find pancakes on the new menu, you can thank us for
the junior reviewer’s determined efforts 🙂

To read my review, published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website, click here.  

Underwater clubs, living English literature, best kids’ travel destinations: Takeoff travel news

FOOD:  Up is down in the Maldives

The Maldives likes to turn
everything on its head: take, for example, Subsix, the world’s first
underwater nightclub. The club, which is 500 metres out to sea and six
metres under water, can be found at Per Aquum Niyama resort, which has
also just opened Nest treehouse restaurant. Dining pods are suspended
above ground, with wooden walkways linking the tables amid the jungle.
The restaurant serves Asian cuisines. Niyama is set on two islands in
the Dhaalu Atoll, named Play (think adventure sports and kids’ club for
12 months-12 years) and Chill (think spa). Other ‘‘altered reality’’
experiences in the Maldives include underwater restaurants (Conrad
Maldives Rangali Island, Kihavah Anantara) to overwater spas (pretty
much everywhere) and even government cabinet meetings (OK, that was a
one-off publicity stunt). See
peraquum.com 
.

 

GEAR Lather up for Sydney

 Ease homesickness for expat friends
by sending them a little piece of Sydney. These new shower gift packs
hail from our northern beaches, and comprise a body bar, a soy candle in
a tin and loofah in three of the company’s best-selling fragrances;
French vanilla, vintage

gardenia and coconut & lime.
Palm Beach products are Australian made and owned by a local family
company. Shower gift packs cost $24.95 each. See palmbeach collection.
com.au.
 

AIRLINE Fly north for winter

Southerners chasing the sun will
welcome the news that Tigerair is increasing the number of flights from
Sydney to the Whitsunday Coast Airport at Proserpine. The north
Queensland town is a key jumping-off point for travel to Airlie Beach
and the Whitsunday Islands, including popular Hamilton Island. The new
Sunday service departs Sydney at 9.10am, and returns from Whitsunday
Coast at 11.15am with

a flight time of 2 hours 35 minutes.
The service starts October 25, priced from $89 for a Light fare, which
includes 7kg carry-on luggage. The airline has also increased flights on
its Melbourne-Gold Coast route, adding new Friday and Sunday services
from

September 18, just ahead of the term
three school holidays, with tickets from $79. The additional services
come as Tigerair cancels its Melbourne-Mackay route from September 7,
due to low demand. Tickets for the new services are on sale, see tigerair.com.
 


KIDS Have kids, will travel

Sydney Harbour has been voted
Australia’s most family-friendly destination in the newest edition of
Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children book. Sydney’s ferry rides,
picnicking on Fort Denison and catching the super-cat to Manly for a
surf lesson all add up to a top-notch staycation, says Lonely Planet.
Others in its top

10 top family-friendly destinations
include the theme parks of the Gold Coast and Canberra’s Questacon and
the National Arboretum Playground (nb: they also encourage knocking out
somersaults on the immaculate grass dome of Parliament House.) Tassie’s
ghoulish ghost tours get a guernsey, as does Brissie’s Streets Beach and
the kids’ activity rooms in

the Queensland Museum &
Sciencentre, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. The new
edition helps you take the brood to more than 80 countries, from Austria
to Zanzibar, with advice and tips for fun family travel. It costs
$29.99. See the new Lonely Planet Twitter and Facebook pages and lonelyplanetkids.com.

PICTURES In the frame

Celebrate Australian and
international photography at the month-long Ballarat International Foto
Biennale, which runs from August 22 to September 20. Central Ballarat
will host exhibitions by the 21 invited artists, with another 118 events
(and rising) in the fringe festival across the city. The festival’s
founder and creative director, Jeff Moorfoot, travels the world to bring
photographers’ work to the biennale. Those on show can be established
or emerging artists – the only criterion is that their works have not
yet been shown in Australia. Seven heritage buildings in the city centre
will host the major exhibitions, so you can skip between the Ballarat
Art Gallery and Mining Exchange to smaller galleries and bars for
projection projects and workshops, which cover subjects from light
painting to visual storytelling to Photography 101, from $79 to $475.
For the full program, see
ballaratfoto.org. For more photography festivals in the Pacific Rim, see
asiapacificphotoforum.org.
 



NEWS Crowded house

Wolf Hall, Poldark… Britain is on a
roll with silver-screen adaptations of some of its best loved
literature, showcasing its cities and villages. The latest is Thomas
Hardy’s romantic tragedy Far from the Madding Crowd, now in cinemas.
Filmed around Dorset, the novel is

set in the village of Evershot,
which Hardy renamed Evershead in his novels, a four-hour train journey
from central London. Hardy was also an architect, and in 1893 he
designed the drawing-room wing of what is now the Red Carnation’s
five-star Summer Lodge Country House hotel. Stays cost from $680,
b&b, double. Otherwise, wake from slumber in a four-poster bed to a
full English breakfast at the 16th-century Acorn Inn, mentioned in
Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Costs from $565 a night, double. See
summerlodgehotel.co.uk, acorn-inn.co.uk and visitbritain.co.uk

 The Takeoff travel news column by Belinda Jackson is published every Sunday in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.    

Victoria’s food treasures: Close to home, far from tradition

Fine fare at Shannon Bennett’s Vue De
Monde

Having a quintessentially Victorian
food experience means eating locally, eating ethically, eating mighty
well, discovers Belinda Jackson. 

 

Melbourne loves a good spread with a
great back story, from the farmers who created your feast to the
heart-warming social-enterprise stories served on the side. And you can
easily call yourself a locavore, eating within 150 kilometres of where
you stand, no beard or triangle tattoo required. In fact, it’s a
cakewalk – at times, literally.

   

Let’s start at the epicentre of the
city, downtown Melbourne, with our signature brew, cofee. Prop up the
bar with a heart-starter at much-lauded local roasters who comb the
globe to make friends with farmers, espouse ethical production and
support sustainable harvesting of the glory bean. Tis mission will see you sipping on
siphon, cogitating with cold drip or elucidating with espresso at Dukes
Cofee Roasters (247 Flinders La, dukescoffee.com.au), the iconic St
Ali ( 12-18 Yarra Pl, South Melbourne,
stali.com.au), Padre Cofee ( South Melbourne and Queen Victoria markets,
padrecoffee.com.au), or the spanking-new Sir Charles (121 Johnston St, Fitzroy), to name but a few.

  
 

Coffee at Dukes in Flinders Lane

We’re not all coffee tragics. Tea is,
of course, the new coffee, so get the pinky in the air like you don’t
care and sip Storm in a Teacup ’s beautiful fnds from across the globe,
supporting what they call artisan farmers (48A Smith St, Collingwood, storminateacup.com.au).

Otherwise, pop in to the doily-free zone of the Travelling Samovar Tea House (12 Rathdowne St, Carlton North,
travellingsamovar.com.au).

  
 

For a taste of social goodness, pull
up a pew and go crazy with Myrtleford cultured butter and Melbourne
rooftop honey on toast for breakfast, free-range chicken from Milawa for
lunch or call in for a local Dal Zotto prosecco from the King Valley at
social enterprise restaurant and slow-food champions Feast of Merit (117 Swan St, Richmond, feastofmerit.com). 

Or get of the streets and into the clouds at chef Shannon Bennett’s
Vue De Monde to revel in its lauded eco-design and organic produce (Level 55, 525 Collins St, vuedemonde.com.au ). Bennett’s Burnham Bakery
and Piggery Café are the frst phase of his culinary village Burnham
Beeches, in the Dandenongs (1 Sherbrooke Rd, Sherbrooke,
burnhambakery.com.au & piggerycafe.com.au). 
 

Lovers of a cleansing ale, discover
the world of micro-breweries with the craft beer afcionados at Slow Beer
(468 Bridge Rd, Richmond,
slowbeer.com.au) or for drink for world peace at Shebeen, which sends all its profts back to the developing world (36 Manchester La,
shebeen.com.au). 

 

So you thought it was all Victorian airs and graces south of the border? It’s time to reveal the special thing we’ve

got going on with our cows and
goats. 

Pasta and petanque at Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm

If you’re time-poor or hyperventilate at the city limits, you’re
spoilt for choice of cheese in Melbourne. Go crazy on croque monsieur at
Fitzroy’s Shifty Chèvre , which opened just before Christmas (375
Brunswick St, Fitzroy, shiftychevre. com), order a late-night fight of
cheese with wine at Milk the Cow , in St Kilda and now Carlton (milkthecow.com.au) or wrap a slab-to-go of Melbourne cheese – that’s coffee-seasoned
pressato – at Il Fornaio (2C Acland St, St Kilda ilfornaio. com.au).
The Spring Street Grocer boasts Australia’s first underground cheese
cellar ( 157 Spring St, Melbourne, springstreetgrocer.com.au), while all the cheeses in La Latteria are made using Victorian cow’s milk (104 Elgin Street, Carlton, lalatteria.com.au). And what’s not to love about the city’s go-to cheese room, the
evergreen Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder ( 48-50 Bridge Rd, Richmond, rhcl.com.au)?

  
 

If you’re playing away from the big
city, plug Apostle Whey Cheese into your GPS while cruising the Great
Ocean Road (Cooriemungle, apostlewheycheese.com.au) and the
lactose-intolerant don’t have to look away: Main Ridge Dairy and Red
Hill Cheese, on the Mornington Peninsula, both produce handcrafted
goat’s cheeses (mainridgedairy.com.au, redhillcheese.com.au).

  
 

Peppers Mineral Springs Hotel

Now pack your picnic basket and head
for the hills. Autumn and winter showcase the beauty of the Macedon
Ranges, just 90 minutes from Melbourne. Yes, it’ll be cold: you can do
it. Think chunky knits, hot spiced drinking chocolate and rich, autumnal
colours.

  
 

Go exploring on a country drive
through Daylesford and its villages: soak up a robust ragu over pasta
and play pétanque at the Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm ( Hepburn Springs,
lavandula.com.au), track down secret cideries and Victoria’s beery
beauties at Woodend Wine Store (woodendwinestore.com.au) or pack a hamper full of central Victorian charcuterie delights at too-cute Kyneton’s Piper Street Food Company ( Kyneton,
piperstfoodco.com). Thus sated, steam yourself in the region’s rich mineral waters and
splash out on an exquisite facial at the serene Hepburn Bathhouse &
Spa (hepburnbathhouse.com).

  
 

It’s not just about corporeal
pleasures: enter the wildly wonderful world of renowned artists and
eclectic collectors David and Yuge Bromley (Daylesford,
bromleyandco.com) then wind down in the irreverent penthouse of Daylesford Convent (conventgallery.com.au) or Peppers Mineral Springs Hotel. 

Expect high tea and rare-breed
meats from the hotel’s own farm in the one-hatted The Argus Dining Room (
Hepburn Springs,
mineralspringshotel.com.au).

 If you can, time your visit for the
Daylesford Macedon Produce Harvest Festival, from April 24 – May 3. Now
in its seventh year, it promises to get your hands dirty messing with
local producers, chefs and vignerons, making goat’s cheese, learning the
basics of butchery, baking sourdough or taking a martini masterclass (dmproduce.com). 

 

Organic, biodynamic, fantastic – welcome to the good life.

   

Brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. 

This feature was published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper’s Traveller section. 

Myanmar, floating whiskey bars and Australia’s cutest animal, officially: Takeoff travel news

TRENDS: Discover secrets of Myanmar

Myanmar has set our travel radars
afire since Lonely Planet named it in its top 10 must-visit destinations
back in 2012, when Australia lifted its sanctions against the country.
Now, Trafalgar becomes the first of the larger group tour companies
offering coach tours to enter the market in 2016. Its new 11-day Secrets of Myanmar tour traverses the well regarded sights of Yangon,

Inle Lake and Bagan and goes off
track to include a cooking class and local markets, visiting some of
Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, the Pa-O, Danu and Intha people. Before Trafalgar’s entry, the tourism market

had been dominated by smaller group
operators including Peregrine, which has been running tours since 2002,
World Expeditions and budget-minded Intrepid Travel. Travel pundits say
Myanmar’s infrastructure is still weak, with poor roads, a lack of ATMs
and poor communications (ie shaky Wi-Fi), though the big hotel groups
are moving in. 

Accor plans to open four new hotels in a country regarded as one of south-east Asia’s most mysterious and most beautiful.
Trafalgar’s 11-day Secrets of
Myanmar guided holiday costs from $4875, excluding airfares, with
departures between January 27 and December 7, 2016. Phone 1300 797 010,
see trafalgar.com.  
 

EXPLORE: Go with the flow

Fossick for gold, unearth a thunder
egg from an ancient lava flow or spot the rare Gouldian finch on a new
self-drive route in Far North Queensland. The new Lava Tubes, Gems and
Gorges Trail is an offshoot of the Savannah Way, which links Cairns and
Broome in an epic 3700-kilometre drive across three states and five
World Heritage sites. The new trail is a 300-kilometre circuit from
Minnamoolka to Conjuboy, inland from Queensland’s Mission Beach. En
route, take a river cruise down Cobbold Gorge, hunt for topaz at
O’Briens Creek and walk down the world’s longest lava tubes – caves
created by lava flows – at Undara Volcanic National Park. Thirsty work?
Pull in to Australia’s smallest bar at Lynd Junction to recoup. Also
check out the nearby Kirrama Range Road, which was mapped late last
year. Find the trails at visitor information centres or see
drivenorthqueensland.com.au.
 

DRINKS: Dram roll

 If you thought whisky and cruising
were uneasy bedfellows, think again as you order up at Magnums, the
first whisky bar on the Princess Cruises line. Staff at the new bar, on
board the locally based Dawn Princess, will lead you through 63 fine
whiskies, from Tasmania to Japan to the US and Scotland. You’ll find
single malts from New Zealand, American bourbons and even a Melbourne
offering. Try a nip or order the flight of the day, featuring three
different whiskies. The cruise line says the spirit is hot, and
recommends a dram after dinner or on a laidback sea day. Cruises on the
Dawn Princess include the 13-night round trip from Sydney

to New Caledonia and Vanuatu from $1399 a person, twin share, departing January 16, 2015. Phone 132 488, see princess.com

Silver fox Roy Billing.

TOUR: NZ fox trot for boomers

On your marks boomers. Your
adventure trip to New Zealand awaits. The new Silver Foxes and Foxettes
tour is aimed at baby boomers who want to live for the moment and
#saysorrylater. Check out the social media campaign, which encourages
you to SKI (Spend the Kids’ Inheritance). The ringleader of the new AAT Kings tour is actor Roy Billing (pictured), a proud Kiwi, Underbelly

and Jack Irish star and 2015
recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia. Billing helps mix New
Zealand’s heady beauty and fine tables with a dash of jet boating or
heli-wine tasting. The 10-day tours start in Billing’s hometown,
Auckland, then on to Rotorua for a hangi feast before

heading to the South Island’s
Christchurch, Franz Josef Glacier and Queenstown. Tours depart from
September 13, 2015 to May 22, 2016 and cost from $3795 a person, twin
share. Phone 131 415, see
helloworld.com.au/instore/silverfox.
 

GEAR: Stop the noise

So your carry-on bag already bulges
with laptop, camera, work gear or perhaps the accoutrements required by a
junior traveller by your side. Who has room for big headphones?
Fortunately, sound masters Bose have the answer, with their QC20 in-ear
headphones. Fully charged, these little babies offer 16 hours of noise
cancellation, and act as regular earphones even when uncharged.
The incredibly effective “noise
cancelling” mode will block out even your neighbour’s droning, while
“aware” lets you pick up traffic noise (handy when you’re on the move)
without having to corkscrew them tightly into your ears. They also
feature an inline mike and volume control. First released in 2013, the
new models come in black or white, tailored for iPhones/iPads/iPods,
Samsung Galaxy or Android devices. Includes a tidy zipup bag and earbuds in three sizes. Quiet Comfort 20 acoustic noise-cancelling headphones cost $399. See
bose.com.au.  
 

KIDS: Wild life

Australia’s cutest animal, Archer the koala.

July birthday kids will gain free
entry to Featherdale Wildlife Park, in western Sydney, which also
celebrates its birthday this month. The park is home to Archer the
Koala, officially the cutest animal in Australia, thanks to a recent
poll. Archer, who was hand-raised by

Featherdale staff, beat competition
from around Australia including gang-gang cockatoos and quokkas, and
details his life on his Facebook page @ArcherTheKoala. Featherdale includes a petting zoo
with baby lambs, goats and pigs, as well as Australia’s own baby
bilbies, wallabies, dingoes and wombats, while the fearless can sidle up
to snakes or tangle with a Tassie devil.

  
Open 9am to 5pm daily, 217 Kildare
Road, Doonside. Adults $29.50, children (3-15 years) $16, families from
$56 (1 adult, 2 kids). Phone (02) 9622 1644, see featherdale.com.au/birthday

 The Takeoff travel news column by Belinda Jackson is published every Sunday in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.   

Cruise with Margaret Atwood, train bar in Melbourne, discover Aboriginal Sydney: Takeoff travel news

CRUISE: The Arctic explorer’s tale

Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, The
Robber Bride and a dozen other novels, as well as short fiction, poetry
and children’s books, can sail through the Northwest Passage with the
celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
The cruise departs Kugluktuk, in
Nunavut, Canada, following explorers’ footsteps to one the northernmost
towns in the world, Qaannaq, Greenland. 

Other (non-human) guests include
polar bears and possibly the “unicorn of the sea”, the narwhal, a
tusked whale that lives in the Arctic waters. Highlights including
visiting Inuit communities, iceberg spotting and crossing the Arctic
Circle. “And it’s always a delight to see
the more foolhardy among us take a plunge into subzero Arctic waters,”
says Atwood, a dedicated conservationist and twitcher. This is her ninth
journey with Adventure Canada. The 17-day cruise departs September 5 and costs from $US8995 ($11,650) a person.
See
adventurecanada.com.
 



FOOD: Top spot for trainspotters

Love trains? Love Melbourne? Then
you’ll adore one of the city’s newest bars, in a Hitachi train carriage
perched atop a city block in the innercity suburb of Collingwood.
Easey’s dishes up burgers and coffee on the ground floor, but climb up
to the fifth floor into the train carriage and it’s bottoms up with
skyline views. The new burger bar is one of the few to have Melbourne
Bitter on tap, fresh from its neighbour, Carlton United Brewery. It also
serves local craft brews including

Holgate, from Woodend, and Mountain
Goat, brewed in nearby Richmond, as well as Victorian spirits such as
Melbourne Gin Company. The carriage ran on the Pakenham-Dandenong line
from 1972 until its retirement in 2012. The bar’s owner and art curator
Jeremy Gaschk says graffiti artists loved these silver Hitachi train
carriages, so it’s only fitting the train’s resting point is in the
midst of Melbourne’s street art heartland, 48 Easey St, Collingwood. See
easeys.com.au
 

TECH: Airport face-off

TripAdvisor contributors will have a
new target in their sights as the rate-and-review site launches its
airport pages this month. 
First off the ranks is Singapore’s
Changi airport, often ranked the world’s best for its shopping
galleries, efficiency and cleanliness. 

It will be followed by New York’s
John F. Kennedy and London Heathrow airports, to launch this Tuesday,
along with 10 Australian airports including regionals

Townsville, Launceston and Cairns.
In total, TripAdvisor aims to
include 200 major airports across the world on its website and app. The
company says more than 3 billion people use airports each year, with an
average time spent in them of 150 minutes. The site aims to help travellers
occupy that time with its “Near Me Now” feature, which uses the
phone’s GPS to hook you up with the airports’ facilities. See tripadvisor.com

GEAR: Real-time life in the frame

The next generation of compact
cameras makes it easy to dazzle your Instagram followers. With built-in
Wi-Fi, the new 16MP Canon PowerShot lets you snap, share to your phone
and upload instantly. It’s 50x optical zoom gets you up close and
personal, and even stretches out to 100x digital zoom, its ‘‘lock’’
function helping minimise camera shake (though a baby tripod never goes
astray). On the cute gimmick side, flip over to fish-eye mode, go
totally automatic, or take full control in the manual setting, and it’s a
one-button operation to start shooting 1080p Full HD video.

  
Hook your camera into your phone,

computer, printer or even your TV
via Wi-Fi or near field communication technology (NFC). Although it
weighs 128g, it’s 12x8cm, so it’s not a pocket camera, but will tuck
into a small handbag, and Canon also gives you 10GB in its new image
storage cloud,
irista.com 
. The PowerShot SX530 HS costs around $426.99. See canon.com.
 


TOUR: Secret treasures of our backyard

Did you know that Ku-ring-gai Chase
National Park has the world’s most concentrated collection of Indigenous
artefacts? Discover its secrets with local Aboriginal guides on a new
tour by Sydney OutBack, including the most famous, The Emu in the Sky.
The sophisticated level of Aboriginal

astronomy sees an emu carved in
sandstone match a constellation in the sky every autumn, when it’s time
to gather emu eggs. “The Guringai people were wiped out by a smallpox
epidemic in just 10 years,” Sydney OutBack’s Paul Pickering says, “but
they’ve left us a legacy to tell their story.” The full-day “Wilderness &
Aboriginal” explorer tour cruises on a private 15-metre motor cruiser
through the setting of The Secret River, the Kate Grenville novel and
recent ABC drama (film buffs note: it was filmed mostly in East
Gippsland’s untouched Lake Tyers). Cost $199 adults/ $149 concession
including Sydney CBD transfers and a bush tucker-inspired lunch. Phone (02) 9099 4249. See
sydneyoutback.com.au.
 


KIDS: Big fish meet small fry

A week into school holidays and out
of ideas? New zookeeper workshops let kids feed crocodiles and pat
pythons at the Australian Reptile Park at Somersby, on the Central
Coast, (see
reptilepark.com.au) while in the Hunter Valley, kids as young as six weeks have tickled
three-metre tawny nurse sharks at Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters,
all served up with a strong conservation message (from
$29.50/$19.50/$95, see
sharkencounters.com.au). If you’re on the Gold Coast, Whales in Paradise runs three trips a
day to witness the annual migration of 20,000 whales (from $99/$69/$267
family,
whalesinparadise.com.au), and humpbacks, minke and southern right whales are now holidaying
along the South Coast. Jervis Bay Wild runs two whale-watching tours
each day, seven days a week, departing from Huskisson, 2.5 hours from
Sydney ($65/$28/$165,
jervisbaywild.com.au).
 

 

Cruise Antarctica, shed light on the Philippines or find feathered friends: Takeoff travel news

CRUISE: Ship in Antarctica




Norwegian cruise company Hurtigruten has turned its eyes from its Arctic homeland to Antarctica, doubling
its capacity to become the largest provider of explorer travel in the
deep south. Currently, its small expedition ship MS Fram sails from
Ushuaia, Argentina, but in 2016/17 it will be joined by sister ship MS
Midnatsol. Carrying 500 passengers, the larger Midnatsol will start and
end its journeys in Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia, and will include
an interactive science lab and tailored children’s programs. Next
season, MS Fram will carry just 200 guests, seeking new locations and
extreme nature experiences such as camping among penguins and kayaking
in seal and whale habitats. More than 36,000 people visited Antarctica
in 2014-2015, the British base at Port Lockroy (and its famous post
office) receiving more than 10,000 visitors. Australians make up the
second-largest nationality of visitors to Antarctica after US citizens.
Journeys on the MS Midnatsol are 18 days. See
hurtigruten.com. 


GEAR: Shine a light on poverty

Help light the lives of those living
on less than a dollar a day when you buy a new Mandarin 2 solar light.
Australian manufacturer Illumination will donate one solar light to a
family

in poverty for every light sold. The
social enterprise company says a billion people don’t have access to
electricity, instead using kerosene lamps to work and study by.

“Buying fuel for a kerosene lamp can
take a third of their income, the kerosene fumes are toxic and
polluting, and the lanterns often start fires,” says inventor and
economist Shane Thatcher, whose BOGO (buy one, give one) offer gives
safe, clean, free light to Filipino families, in conjunction with
Kadasig Aid and Development (kadasigaid.com.au 
). 

Ideal for travellers going off the
beaten track, the pocket-sized Mandarin 2 weighs 160g, lasts up to 16
hours on a single charge and can be hung or stands as a table lamp.
Costs $25. 
See illumination.solar.
 


TECH: Daydreaming? Do it!

Sleep hanging from a tree in a
suspended tent, snooze in a Swedish silver mine or doss in a pop-up
hotel in a former prison. The new

Crooked Compass travel app lists
more than 1000 unusual experiences across 134 countries, with maps,
booking info and your own bucket-list creator. Developed by avid
Australian traveller Lisa Pagotto, it also hooks up to Facebook and
Twitter for instabrag capabilities and its ‘‘Experience of the Day’’ is a
wild card that may set you on the path to underwater photography
classes in Guam or horse-riding in Mongolia. The Crooked Compass app is
available for iPhone and Android platforms, free. See
crooked-compass.com.
 


FOOD: Cocktails at the ready

London is enjoying a torrid affair
with prebottled cocktails, in the swankiest possible way. For those of
us on the paying side of the bar, that means less construction noise
from blenders, a consistent drink and shorter waits. Leading the pre-mix
cocktail charge is London light Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, whose
third bar, Dandelyan, is in the Tom Dixon-designed Mondrian London (morganshotelgroup.com). In a stroke of genius, his little gems also appear in the hotel
rooms’ minibars – did someone say, ‘‘Martinis in bed’’? Other
bottled-cocktail bars to try while you’re in town include Grown-Ups,
which pairs World of Zing’s bottled cocktails and gelato in Greenwich (black-vanilla.com), and The London Cocktail Club in Shaftesbury Ave
(londoncocktailclub.co.uk). Otherwise, check yourself in to Artesian at
The Langham, three times named Drinks International’s world’s best bar.
Artesian launches its new cocktail list on July 2. The theme?
Surrealism. See artesian-bar.co.uk. 


KIDS: Bunker down with feathered friends

Warning: cute alert. Get down at eye
level with Phillip Island’s most famous residents, its Little Penguins,
in a new underground bunker that opens in mid-November. The tiny penguins stand about 30cm fully grown, and you’ll be able to eyeball them

one-way glass – as they come ashore at sunset after a hard day’s fishing. There’s also new above-ground
seating for 400 people being built into the dunes as part of a
five-year, $1 million investment by RACV into the not-for-profit Phillip
Island Nature

Parks. More than 600,000 people
visited the eco-tourism venture last year, with profits invested back
into conservation, research and education. The close-up Penguin Plus area won’t
be available during the construction period, so with fewer seats
available, visitors should pre-purchase tickets,

especially during school holidays.
The Penguin Parade is 90 minutes from Melbourne. General tickets cost
from $25.40 adults, $12.25 children 4-12 years, and $61.25 families. See

penguins.org.au.
 

AIRLINES: Leave your heart in San Francisco

Skip Los Angeles and head directly
for the Golden Gate city as Qantas brings back direct flights between
Sydney and San Francisco from December 20. The airline cut the route in May
2011, opting instead to fly to its hub at Dallas, Texas. Qantas says the
direct flights will be welcomed by Silicon Valley’s corporate
customers, but San Fran is also beloved by Australian holidaymakers.
Around 20 per cent of the 1.2 million Australians to visit the US pop in
to San Francisco, which

is our fifth most popular city after Honolulu, New York, LA and Vegas. Qantas will fly Boeing 747s to San
Fran six times a week, with lie-flat beds in business and a premium
economy section. The flight is estimated at around 14 hours, and goes
head-to-head with United Airlines’ daily flight. Meanwhile, Qantas’
partner and oneworld friend American Airlines will pick up an LASydney
route from December 17. See
qantas.com,
aa.com,
visitcalifornia.com.

 

The Takeoff travel news column by Belinda Jackson is published every Sunday in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.  

Exploring Bray: England’s most famous home county

Oakley Court hotel Bray Berkshire. Photo: Alamy

The river boat hums down the Thames. Lush green gardens and gabled
houses line the riverbanks as we pootle down towards one of Britain’s
most desirable villages: Bray, in Royal County of Berkshire. 

Tudor mansions and neo-Gothic piles; if the digs aren’t fabulous,
their present and former owners make up for it, from Sir Michael
Parkinson to Elton John’s mum. There are embassies of Far Eastern
kingdoms and off-duty houses for foreign royalty (the queen, of course,
lives in nearby Windsor) and you may spot residents from neighbouring
villages, including Terry Wogan, Natalia Imbruglia or Michael Palin.

Steve
Harris, our captain and owner of the 34-foot  Dutch motor
yacht Fringilla, delights in blowing our mind with deliciously colourful
real estate gossip: “There is no public money in Bray” and “Yes, £8
million for that one” as we cruise the ancient waterway.

Our river
journey starts at the ingloriously named Maidenhead Railway Bridge,
designed by the gloriously named railway engineer Isambard Kingdom
Brunel. Also known as the Sounding Arch, which sounds much better, the
brick bridge was created by Brunel with what was, in 1838, the world’s
widest arches. Its two broad spans inspired Turner to paint it in 1844
and London-bound trains still thunder over the bridge today.

The
natural end to the two-hour cruise down this little elbow of the Thames
is one of Bray’s three-Michelin-starred restaurants, of which there are
only four in Britain. There are two in the village of 5000: Michel
Roux’s Waterside Inn, which has a handy wharf out front, and Heston
Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck.

Bray is determinedly a village. Not a
town, not a civic centre but a bona fide parish, with hamlets and
greens, as mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. There are crests
galore atop the pubs, on private houses, through the picturesque
graveyard of St Michael’s Church, which looks like it’s auditioning for Midsomer Murders.

There’s
the sprawling red-brick Jesus Hospital, sporting a plaque that
describes how the almshouse was founded in 1627 by a loaded London
fishmonger who left it in trust to his guild, the Worshipful Company of
Fishmongers. Bray was also home to Hammer Films, and its neighbour, a
gargoyle-riddled Gothic folly, became Frank-N-Furter’s mansion and
hosted several zombie films. It’s now the very nice Oakley Court Hotel,
its car park exit sign reads a perky “Toodle pip!” We’re in Wind in the Willows territory here.

Then there’s the Heston factor.

Look,
I know you can buy his ham pies and puddings in Coles now, but that
doesn’t detract from going back to the master’s back yard. Heston owns
three eateries in the village: The Crown – think pub grub of fine fish
and designer salty chips; The Hinds Head – another 15th-century pub but
more refined, dishing up hashes of snails; and the
three-Michelin-star The Fat Duck. The world-acclaimed restaurant has
just finished its successful sabbatical in Melbourne’s Crown Towers
hotel, though it won’t reopen from its refit and antipodean sojourn
until later this year.

This wintry November eve we’re checking
into Lavender Cottage, the newest property by Malaysian group YTL
Hotels.Its Malaysian properties, Pangkor Laut and Tanjong Jara Resort,
do a mean line in super-luxury, so look past the doilies-and-fust
misnomer because this little three-bedroom cottage sleeps six in
top-of-the-line style.

Listing its features reads like an interior
design magazine: sounds by Bang & Olufsen, Peter Reed Egyptian
cotton bed linen, Turkish carpets and a Gaggenau wine fridge. The
massive food fridge is stocked with organic goods – cheeses, antipasto
and wine – despite Bray’s embarrassment of restaurant riches being a
three-minute walk away. The cottage even offers to send a chef in to
whip up brekkie. The bartender in the Hinds Head, across the road, sends
a couple of cocktails, which are the perfect end to our arrival
canapes of delicate smoked salmon and sandwiches, petit fours, perfect
strawberries and pots of afternoon tea.

Heston’s own Early Grey
gin is in the cupboard (and, I discover later, in the posh Waitrose
supermarkets) and I have a passionate affair with butter churned with
Anglesey sea salt from the Prince of Wales’ own organic label, Duchy
Foods.

Lavender Cottage is painted a dove grey, with exposed red
brick walls and a glass conservatory built onto the original 1600s
building. A fire crackles in the fireplace, lighting great beams
revealed and renewed after an ignominious 1980s renovation, slate floors
are warmed underfoot, the bedrooms glow with ivory silks, and there is
nothing wanting in the kitchen. In the garden, there’s even a little
greenhouse for spa treatments. If, for some bizarre reason, you find
yourself in England in November, there is no finer cottage to call
home.

Its sister properties are flamboyant party house Bray
House, the former stables of Manor House of Bray, built in the
1780s; and the tiny, beautiful, couples-only Dormer Cottage. Each is 
worth a night’s stay purely to see the envy on day trippers’ faces. We
waltz in for lunch at one pub, have dinner at another, walk through tiny
Tudor gatehouse, the 15th-century Lych Gate, to the mossy village
graveyard and take a day trip to Windsor, to check out the locals.
Later, I discover the M4 motorway roars just minutes away from Bray but
the village pays no heed: it just continues with its mission to achieve
professional cuteness.

After two days of bucolic luxury, it takes
but an hour to be jettisoned back into fever-pitch London. Sure,
there’s a king’s ransom of beauty in the capital but it’s tempered by
rashes of high-street betting shops, dilapidated curry houses and grim
public housing. If the capital has taken its toll on me, Bray is the
ultimate antidote.

Belinda Jackson was a guest of YTL Hotels. 

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION visitbritain.com

GETTING THERE Bray is 10 minutes from Maidenhead, three stops from Ealing Broadway,
on the London Tube’s Central and District lines. Alternatively, hire a
car from Heathrow airport for the 27-kilometre journey to Bray. 

SEE + DO Take a two-hour cruise downriver on the Fringilla, a renovated 34-foot Dutch motor yacht. See boathiremaidenhead.co.uk.  
STAYING THERE Lavender Cottage costs £1000 a night; see muse-hotels.com/braycottages/en/lavender-house.php 

FIVE MORE DAY TRIPS AROUND BRAY
1 EXPLORE WINDSOR Wander around Windsor for the cutest old-world cafes and a classic British High Street.
2 SAFE BET Have a flutter on the horses at either Windsor or Ascot racecourses.
3  ROYAL TOUR Go
all-out royalist with a visit to the 900-year-old Windsor Castle’s
State Apartments and the tomb of Henry VIII and see the Changing of the
Guard.
4  PLAYTIME Legoland Windsor is aimed at kids 2-12 years: its Driving School is the most popular attraction.
5  CLASS ACT Even
princes have to go to school: take a tour of historic Eton College,
which taught  princes William and Harry their three Rs, and was the
backdrop for the WWI epic Chariots of Fire.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published on the Fairfax Traveller website.

Art in Melbourne: Big guns and local heroes

David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover (1973)PICTURE: BRIAN DUFFY
© DUFFY ARCHIVE & THE DAVID BOWIE


Think big. Really big. Big as
Beijing, Bowie or the Great War. Yes, that big. And they’re all coming
to Melbourne for a calendar packed with blockbuster storylines,
intriguing characters and high drama galore.

  
 

The National Gallery of Victoria 
loves to steal the limelight, and
the line-up over the next six months gives it ample reason to preen a
little. Priceless Ming and Qing dynasty treasures from Beijing’s Palace
Museum, in the Forbidden City, are on display in A Golden Age of China:
Qianlong Emperor,

1736–1795 (until June 21) . 

Hot on
its heels, the riches of Russia’s Hermitage Museum are this year’s
Melbourne Winter Masterpieces coup. Fresh from St Petersburg,
Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherin the Great is a rich, lush
extravaganza of 400 works from the personal collection of the
long-ruling queen. Expect works from Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens and
Titian. Both are Australian exclusives and the frst time these
exhibitions have left their respective homes.

  
 

Balance all this international
action with a dose of Australiana. Tap into your inner petrolhead to
ogle the world’s fastest car back in 1971, the Chrysler Valiant Charger
E49, or enjoy a fashback to your time in a Holden Monaro or Torana.
Shifting Gear: Design, Innovation and the Australian Car is a
celebration of our classic car designs, with 

23 iconic, rare and prototype
vehicles on show (until July 12) . 

It’s not all looking backward,
either. Transmission: Legacies of the Television Age explores how TV has
infuenced art and contemporary culture, and looks forward to new
technologies. It also includes a major new acquisition by Ryan Trecartin
& Lizzie Fitch (May 15 – Sept 13) . Smaller fry are also catered
for with a hyper-interactive kids’ show, Tromarama (May 23 – Oct 18, see

nvg.vic.gov.au)  . 

Like most of the world, Melbourne
remembers the 100th anniversary of the Great War but has a world-frst
exhibition of more than 350 artefacts drawn from the vast collections of
London’s Imperial War Museums. The WW1 Centenary Exhibition is now
showing at the Melbourne Museum (until October 4, see museumvictoria.com.au) . 

Melbourne’s Shrine of remembrancePICTURE: CRAIG RIDLEY

Tie it in with a visit to
the Shrine of Remembrance, which has undergone a timely $45million
renovation and now has several permanent and temporary exhibitions
focusing on Australians in war and peacekeeping roles.

  
 

If you prefer to fick your hips
during art exhibitions, catch the only Australasian showing of David
Bowie Is
. Hailing from London’s Albert & Victoria Museum, this
exhibition allows visitors to watch rare film, peruse album artwork and
admire the wildly fabulous costumes worn by Bowie as he morphs from
Brixton teen to supersonic

superstar. Showing at ACMI in Federation Square (July 16 – Nov 1, see
acmi.net.au/bowie) .

  
 

But Melbourne’s art scene is not all
of-the-scale blockbusters. Shh. Focus. And there, in the small spaces,
in the hidden doorways and the unassuming rooms, Melburnians are quietly
creating beautiful objects and thought-provoking conceptions. Find a
detailed map of the city and navigate your way into independent
galleries and artist-run initiatives across the city.

  
 

With its curved, pink wall tiles and
ornate signposting to long-dead public telephone rooms, the Degraves
Street subway
(also known as Campbell Arcade) was built to help workers
coming from Flinders Street Station skip the crowds during the 1956
Olympics. Keep an eye on the walls for the Platform Artists Group’s
regular exhibitions and performance art. Ten nip into nearby
fortyfivedownstairs for performance art and two permanent galleries (45
Flinders La, Melbourne, see fortyfivedownstairs.com)

Make time to spot the Next
Big Thing, see the latest sculpture or taste new media at Flinders Lane
Gallery
(137 Flinders La, see
flg.com.au) . Set amid some of the city’s hidden street art, the Dark Horse
Experiment artist studios are an unruly delight (110 Franklin St,
Melbourne, see darkhorseexperiment.com), while Twenty by Thirty
Gallery
is Melbourne’s smallest artist-run gallery. You’ve got to be on
your toes to spot it. Located outside Melbourne’s smallest bar, Bar
Americano, its exhibitions change on the first day of the month (20
Presgrave Place, Melbourne, of

  
Little Collins St) . 

And step out of
the city grid to anarchic Collingwood’s The Compound Interest for a
creative commune of publishers and print, fashion and lighting designers
(15-25 Keele St,
thecompoundinterest.com)

   

Blow away the Big City smoke with a
drive into the country. Turn the wheel and aim for the Mornington
Peninsula, just an hour from Melbourne’s GPO, for a seaside escapade.
For a small town, Mornington sure steals a lot of air in the art world. 

McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery

Keep your eyes peeled on the drive for three gargantuan sculptures along
the Peninsula Link freeway, commissioned by the McClelland Sculpture
Park+Gallery
, in Langwarrin.

Set on a 16-hectare block of
bushland, the gallery ofers Australia’s richest sculpture prize. Te 2015
Montalto Sculpture Prize, worth $100,000, was won by Melbourne-based
artist Matthew Harding. His award-winning sculpture, Void, is on display
with 32 other works in an outdoor exhibition (until July 19, see
mcclellandgallery.com).

   

It doesn’t stop there. Put the
unassuming Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery , just 20 minutes away,
on your must-stop list. Its modest frontage belies thoughtful curation,
with esoteric art and ethereal seascapes on show in the upcoming
exhibitions, Windows to the Sacred and Jo Scicluna’s Where We Begin (May
15 – July 12, 350 Dunns Rd, Mornington).

   
  
And what is art without wine? Taste
your way through some of the oldest vineyards in the region at the new
Crittenden Estate Wine Centre, then fnd a little villa to call you own –
at least for the night – on Crittenden’s serene grounds (25 Harrisons
Rd, Dromana, see
crittendenwines.com.au) . 

Or pull up a pew in the bistro
of a chic Red Hill jewel, Polperro Wines , with its new cellar door and
villas, complete with open fres and vineyard views (150 Red Hill Rd,
Red Hill, see
polperrowines.com.au) . Perfect for a blend of good dining and great contemplation.

  
 

Brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. 

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section. 

KNOW IT ALL: Singapore Five essential things to consider before you go…

Haji Lane, Singapore. Photo: Belinda Jackson
KNOW IT ALL: Singapore
1.      
Eat cheap on the street: hawker (street food)
stalls are carefully audited by the government and the people – a whiff of grit
or one bad review  and they’re toast.
2.      
Grab an MRT-bus card and skim the city like a
local. The metro system is super-fast and super-efficient, the only choice in
peak hour.
3.      
Forget devil-may-care Asia, it’s all seatbelts
and waiting at the traffic lights. Singaporeans also love a good, orderly
queue
4.      
The Singapore Sling turns 100 this year,
appropriate given Singapore is currently in the grip of cocktail fever, with
sleek new bars playing with everything from sake to bourbon. Pack a glossy
outfit, charge up the credit card and hit the chic strips of Ann Siang Hill and
Haji Lane (to name a few)…
5.      
…and if you overdo it, the tap water is
perfectly safe to drink. 
This article by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald Traveller section.