Chatting about Chile’s Atacama Desert

atacama desert
If you’re after some travel ear candy, I’ll be chatting about my recent adventures in Chile’s Atacama Desert with Ross & Kate on radio 3AW this morning from 11am.
Tune in to hear about guanacos, geysers and the world’s driest landscape (which also has plenty of flamingos).
Hosted by Ross Stevenson and Kate Stevenson “A Moveable Feast” is an hour-long program broadcast on 3AW every Saturday from 11am, focusing on local and international food and travel stories.

Healthy hiking holidays: from Patagonia to Tasmania and Spain’s classic Camino

Hiking in Patagonia, Chile

Last month, I found myself hiking along a section of Chilean Patagonia’s most famous walking route, the W.

The route curls around the Paine Massif, a majestic family of jagged peaks, whose tops were shrouded in cloud and cloaked in snow. Condors hunted between their teeth, and the air jolted to the sound of avalanches, hundreds of meters above me.

It all taps into the recent story I wrote for Prevention magazine, a women’s health publication, about five great hiking holidays. In it, I included the W, but also Tasmania’s new Three Capes Walk and the Larapinta Trail in Australia’s Northern Territory, as well as the Kumano Kodo in Japan and the Spanish classic ultra-long walk, the Camino de Santiago.

Why do we walk? To get fit? To slow down? To go on pilgrimage?

The benefits include better health and spending time in nature, while some walks, like the Kumano Kodo and the Camino, were very deliberately designed to create time to clear your head and sift and sort through the bigger problems in life,  says Di Westaway, founder of Wild Women On Top.

“Finishing a trek that takes you outside your comfort zone is a confidence-building exercise. It might be really arduous at high altitude, with plenty of “OMG, what was I thinking?” moments, but that exhilaration and achievement afterwards is a huge personal lift,” Diane adds.

You can read the story online, or you can just pull your hiking boots on now…

The ever-growing travel list: lodges to love in Peru, Tanzania, and Brando in French Polynesia

I’ve confessed already to being a list tragic, and now I have yet another new travel list, thanks to National Geographic
Their new Unique Lodges of
the World collection has 24 good reasons to get out of town and head for the wilderness. 
I stayed in Zhiwa Ling Hotel in Paro, at the foot of the Tiger’s Nest  monastery in Bhutan, and it’s absolutely charming, with the most spectacular views from its windows, as you can see. Minimalists would have a hard time in this hotel, which is decorated in wildly colourful Bhutanese motifs, and built in amongst the rooms is a temple made from 450-year-old timbers from the Gangtey Monastery, and its resident monk. It’s also the country’s sole 100 percent locally owned five-star hotel.  
It’s also pleasing to note that Australia is punching well above its weight, with three beautiful properties on board. 

The full list of lodges is:
 

·      
Fogo Island Inn, Canada
·      
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
·      
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru
·      
Kapari Natural Resort, Greece
·      
Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco
·      
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge, Costa Rica
·      
Lizard Island, Australia
·      
Longitude 131°, Australia
·      
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
·      
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, Canada
·      
Pacuare Lodge, Costa Rica
·      
Rosalie Bay Resort, Dominica
·      
Rubondo Island Camp, Tanzania
·      
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, South Africa
·      
Sayari Camp, Tanzania
·      
Southern Ocean Lodge, Australia
·      
Sukau Rainforest Lodge, Malaysian Borneo
·      
The Brando, French Polynesia
·      
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana, United
States
·      
Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia
·      
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, Chile
·      
Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa, Chile
·      
Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa
·      
Zhiwa Ling Hotel, Bhutan

For more
information about National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, visit www.nationalgeographiclodges.com.  

Travel deals: French Polynesia

A local woman from the Sacred Valley, Peru.

Take me to… Tahiti! Or Peru. I’m not fussy. Or perhaps one of the fabulous new hotels of the world, including the Sofitel So Singapore or Australia’s own new regional art hotel, The Schaller Studio in Bendigo. 

Check out their opening specials, as well as a Kids Do Paris tour, in this week’s international and domestic travel deals.

GO NOW
VICTORIA
Ski two days free at Mount Buller with a seven-night package
at Buller Central hotel. Get a seven-day lift pass for the price of five
days, daily breakfast and one dinner. Book by August 31, travel June
28-September 7. From $1405 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 019 130, see
studentflights.com.au.

Moorea Pearl Resort, French Polynesia

FRENCH POLYNESIA

Spend 10 nights in an overwater suite for under $5000.
Includes five nights in the Moorea Pearl Resort, five in the Tikehau
Pearl Beach Resort, two in Tahiti and international flights. Travel
November 1-December 10, January 10-March 31, 2015. From $4790 a person,
12 nights. Phone 1300 858 305, see airtahitinui.com.au.

Bendigo’s The Schaller Studio, Victoria, Australia

GO SOON
VICTORIA
Stay at Bendigo’s The Schaller Studio and save $55 with its
opening special, from $125 a night, until August 30. A Stay & See
package includes tickets to Bendigo Art Gallery exhibitions and midday
checkout. From $195, August 2-November 9. Phone 1800 278 468, see artserieshotels.com.au/schaller.

SINGAPORE
Check into the new Sofitel So Singapore, pictured, and save
40 per cent with a Weekends@So offer, which includes a Saturday-night
stay in the 19th-century French-style rooms, Saturday champagne brunch
and Sunday all-day breakfast. From $515 until December 31.See sofitel.com.

Sofitel So Singapore

GO LATER
SOUTH AMERICA
Grab a friend and book a South American holiday with flights
and your friend flies free with LATAM, saving up to $2800. Tours include
the 20-day Highlights of South America, from Santiago to Lima, from
$8695 a person, twin share. Book by September 30. Phone 1300 196 420,
see travelmarvel.com.au.

QUEENSLAND
Book a two-night midweek stay at the four-star Pelican Waters
resort on the Sunshine Coast and pay half price until November 30.
Includes a free night and a round on a Greg Norman championship golf
course. From $310, quote PEL019. Phone 1800 213 422, see pelicanwatersgolfresortandspa.com.au.

Tourwatch: Life in the Himalayas

Experience mountain life in the Indian Himalayas with a
high-altitude stay in Ladakh. Base yourself in one of six traditional
village houses, renovated to rustic luxury, and walk between local
villages, visiting schools, markets and monasteries.

Raft on glacial rivers the Indus and Zanskar and lose
yourself in a landscape of snowy mountains and serene lakes until end
September. Includes meals, private chef, guides, tours and private car.
From $5670 a person, twin share, seven nights. See shaktihimalaya.com.

Kids do Paris

Let your kids see what all the fuss is about on Paris’ famous
Left Bank with a three-hour family walking tour. Run by a Parisian
mum, options include pastimes such as sailing toy boats and riding the
merry-go-round in le Jardin du Luxembourg and a visit to the national
history museum. Join your kids or leave them with the qualified guide.
$164 for kids seven-12 years (max five children on a tour) and adults,
$128 for kids three-seven years. Search code 3151_KIDSRIGHT on viator.com.

This travel deals column by Belinda Jackson is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper every Sunday.    

Get going: a new Shangri-La

Sule Shangri-La, Yangon, Myanmar

To all ends of the world, from  Chilean Patagonia to the new frontier of
Myanmar, in this week’s Sun-Herald travel deals. Closer to home, eat and sleep all
things Manfredi on the NSW Central Coast or snap up the Novotel St
Kilda’s six-bottle special. Enjoy!

GO NOW
MYANMAR
Stay two nights at the newly rebranded Sule Shangri-La,
Yangon, and get $40 hotel credit and a one-way airport transfer until
July 31. The former Traders Hotel is in walking distance of the
2000-year-old Sule Pagoda. “Celebration packages” from $265 a night,
deluxe room. shangri-la.com.

NEW SOUTH WALES
Bushwalk, read, eat at hatted restaurants: stay three nights
and pay for just two on an escape to the Central Coast at Bells at
Killcare. Includes a Manfredi continental breakfast until June 30. From
$700 for the king spa suite for three nights. (02) 4349 7000, bellsatkillcare.com.au.

Novotel St Kilda

GO SOONER
VICTORIA
The Novotel St Kilda’s famous “wine and wind down” deal is
back: book a standard non-bayview room from $209 a night and get six
bottles of wine worth $200. Includes car parking and breakfast. Until
December 30, quote “wine and wind down”. (03) 9525 5522, novotelstkilda.com.au.

SINGAPORE
Transit passengers on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir passing
through Singapore’s Changi Airport can get $34 of vouchers to spend in
the airport’s shops, or to use the Ambassador Transit Lounges in
Terminals 2 and 3 for up to six hours. The offer is available until
September 30. See singaporeair.com.

GO LATER
CHILE
Book eight nights in two of Abercrombie & Kent’s Chilean
lodges on Easter Island, in Patagonia and in the Atacama desert, and get
two free nights in Santiago’s Lastarria Boutique Hotel, worth $1140 a
couple, until October 31. From $6484 a person, twin share. 1300 590 317,
abercrombiekent.com.au.

Patagonia’s Explora Lodge

WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Catch a “last seat superdeal” in the Kimberley and save on
15-day trips from June to September. Save $500 on the 15-day 4WD
Kimberley Complete tour, $8295 a person twin share including a
helicopter ride over Mitchell Falls and cattle station tour. Book by May
31. 1300 196 420, aptouring.com.au.

Tourwatch

ANZAC CENTENARY
Missed out on tickets to the 2015 Gallipoli centenary
commemoration? Tempo Holidays’ two tours let you watch it on large
screens from a ferry offshore. The tour starts in Istanbul and takes in
the ruins of Troy and Anzac Cove, Lone Pine Australian Memorial and
Chunuk-Bair New Zealand Memorial accompanied by military historians.
Departs from Istanbul on April 19, 2015 (eight days) and April 22, 2015
(nine days), from $3700 a person, twin share. 1300 558 987, tempoholidays.com.

CYCLE OF LIFE CAMBODIA & VIETNAM
Combine cycling, culture and kids in a new mountain bike
adventure from Angkor to Saigon. The seven-day trip covers an almost
flat 275 kilometres, departing Siem Reap monthly from July 19. The
journey includes a boat cruise down the Mekong River, visit to Can
Tho’s floating markets and the support van carries your gear and weary
travellers. Best for bike-riding kids from 10 years, with tag-alongs
and bike seats available. Costs $1930 for adults, $1544 for kids under
12, (03) 9016 3172, grasshopperadventures.com


This travel deals column by Belinda Jackson is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper every Sunday.

Boasters with the mostest: ultimate travel experiences

The world’s highest bar, Ozone, in the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

 Biggest, highest, most blindingly expensive. Belinda Jackson
rounds up the ultimate travel experiences, from super-luxe to just plain
boastful. 

LAND
Longest walking track

The Pacific Crest Trail runs 4264 kilometres from the US-Mexico
border to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. Budget five
months to walk it entirely, or you can jump a pony, as the trail is also
open to equestrians. Yep, there are bears in there (pcta.org).

Longest train journey
The legendary Trans-Siberian generally wins this category,
with the 9289km journey from Moscow to Vladivostok via Lake Baikal
taking seven days. But as train guru the Man in Seat 61 points out (seat61.com),
the honour for the longest continual journey should go to the No. 53
Kharkiv (Ukraine)-Vladivostok route, about 9714km, another seven-day
epic.

The world’s highest train journey, on the Qinghai-Tibet railway

Highest train journey
More than 550km of the 1956km Qinghai-Tibet railway is laid
on permafrost. Every train has a doctor and enough oxygen for every
passenger, and the highest point is Tanggula Pass, at 5072m. It also
passes through the world’s highest and longest rail tunnels.

Highest bar

Drink in the views of Victoria Harbour at Ozone bar in the
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, Kowloon side. Set on level 118, it’s 468.8
metres above sea level (ritzcarlton.com).

Biggest building
Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building at 828
metres, with 124 levels. It also has the world’s fastest elevators and
highest restaurant (At.mosphere on level 122, 442m) (burjkhalifa.ae).

It holds the crown until 2018, when the 1000-metre Kingdom Tower in
Jeddah, in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, is complete. Another design by
Burj architect Adrian Smith, expect fewer nightclubs (kingdomtowerskyscraper.com).

Noma restaurant, Copenhagen

Best restaurant
Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant (noma.dk)
is back on top, bumping Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca off the perch as
the 2014 winner of the authoritative San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants (theworlds50best.com). Judges name the winter potato cooked in fermented barley as chef-owner Rene Redzepi’s standout dish.


Best ethical travel destination
The Bahamas has been named Ethical Traveler’s greenest
destination, taking into account its environmental protection, social
welfare and human rights.
Others in the top 10 include Chile, Latvia and Mauritius (ethicaltraveler.org).


Most expensive tours
With a spare million dollars, you can spot 18 endangered
species in 12 countries, with one-tenth going toward conservation
projects (naturalworldsafaris.com). Otherwise, $1.5 million will let couples visit all 962 UNESCO
World Heritage sites. Put aside two years. Its other tours include the
10 best photo spots, for $130,000 (includes cameras), and the 10 most
luxurious suites in 21 days for $359,000 (veryfirstto.com).


AIR
Biggest airport
The busiest airport by passenger numbers is
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, US, handling 92
million travellers a year, but yet again, Dubai gets in on the act: on
completion in 2027, its $32-billion Al-Maktoum International airport
will be able to accommodate 160 million passengers a year (dwc.ae).

Best airport
Singapore’s Changi airport consistently rates one of the
world’s best, taking out first place in Skytrax 2014 World Airport
Awards, followed by Incheon (Seoul) and Munich airports.
Sydney Airport was ranked Australia’s best, at No. 21 (worldairportawards.com).

Best airline
Air New Zealand was named AirlineRatings.com’s 2014 airline
of the year, with Qantas the best economy airline, while Skytrax 2013
World Airline Awards rates Emirates as the world’s best, followed by
Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines, with Qantas coming in at No. 10. (worldairlineawards.com).

Safest airline
Qantas holds the record as the world’s safest airline, with a
fatality-free record since 1951, says airlineratings.com, rivalled by
Air New Zealand, according to jacdec.de.

Most luxurious airline lounge
For those of us fortunate enough to get a look in, Lufthansa
first class lounges were named the world’s best first-class lounges
while Qatar Airways took the business class gong at Skytrax’ 2013 World
Airline Awards (worldairlineawards.com).

Longest flight
Like to watch movies? Qantas’ ultra long-haul flight from Sydney-Dallas is the longest flight by distance, at 13,804km (qantas.com.au).
Should Turkish Airlines enact its plans for an Istanbul-Sydney route,
it would take the crown for its 17-hour, 14,956km flight (turkishairlines.com).

Ultimate airline travel experience: A three-hour flight on
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo will cost $260,000, taking you 100km
above the earth, travelling at three times the speed of sound. Includes three days’ space training (virgingalactic.com). For a more modest $128,300, you can fly around the world in 24 days on Four Seasons’ new Boeing 757 private jets (fourseasons.com/jet).

SEA

Allure of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International ship

Biggest cruise ship
The godmother of Allure of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International ship, is super-sized Shrek ogress Princess Fiona. At 362 metres long and more than 225,000 tonnes, it can take
6295 passengers. The liner has 24 elevators, the first Starbucks at sea
and Broadway hit Chicago on show.
Its position will be usurped by another RCI ship, as yet unnamed, in 2016 (royalcaribbean.com).

Largest superyacht
With two helipads and a missile defence system, you can hire
Eclipse, owned by Russian oligarch and Chelsea football club owner Roman
Abramovich, for $2 million a week, excluding running costs.
At 162.5 metres, it’s the world’s second-biggest private
yacht after UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s new
180-metre yacht, Azzam, complete with armour-plated master suite.
The Azzam is not for hire.

Best beach
Brazil’s Sancho Bay on the remote island of Fernando de Noronha wins best beach, according to TripAdvisor.com.

Longest beach
Brazil wins again, with the 241km Praia do Cassino Beach. Gippsland’s Ninety-Mile Beach comes in fourth place. Whitest sand beach in the world: One for the home team,
according to the Guinness Book of Records, the whitest beach is Hyams
Beach in Jervis Bay, 2½ hours from Sydney.

Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay, NSW Australia

Best island
If money is your measure, you can rent the Caribbean’s
Calivigny Island in Grenada, for a cool $1.55 million a week. Sleeping
50 guests, it comes with a 173-metre yacht for your use (calivigny-island.com).More accessibly, the TripAdvisor community has voted Ambergris Caye, in Belize, its top island for the second year running (tripadvisor.com).

World’s highest pool
The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong’s pool, is the world’s highest at 490 metres (ritzcarlton.com), towering over Marina Bay Sands’ dizzying infinity pool, 55 storeys, or 198 metres, above Singapore (marinabaysands.com).

World’s biggest pool
Running alongside the ocean, the lagoon pool at the San
Alfonso del Mar resort, in Valparaiso, Chile, is 1013 metres long,
earning its Guinness Book of Records entry. The 8 hectare, 250
million-litre saltwater pool is a pleasant 26 degrees and has a
100-metre waterslide (sanalfonso.cl).
Its sister lagoon, in the Egyptian resort city Sharm el-Sheikh,
reportedly covers 12 hectares and a Dubai project, under way, will cover
40 hectares.

The world’s largest pool, San Alfonsa del Mar, Chile

BEDS
Largest hotel
By room count, the three-star Izmailovo Hotel in Moscow,
Russia, with 7500 rooms, is largest. Most of the world’s mega-hotels,
with 4000-plus rooms, are in Las Vegas.

Most expensive hotel room
At $73,177 a night, the Royal Penthouse Suite at the Hotel
President Wilson is on the banks of Lake Geneva, with views of Mont
Blanc. There are 12 rooms, 12 bathrooms, a Steinway grand piano and yes,
it’s bulletproof. More modest rooms start at $483 (hotelpresidentwilson.com).

Tallest hotel
Six of the top 10 tallest hotels are in Dubai, including the tallest, the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, which tops 355 metres (marriott.com). At 488 metres, the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong is taller but is ruled out as the building is not solely a hotel.

Smallest hotel
Central Hotel, Copenhagen, 2.4m by 3m, including a minibar and photos of Ronnie Barker (the owner’s a fan), $360 a night. (centralhotelogcafe.dk).


This article by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.