The mighty Murray spins a winning yarn

I’m so pleased to say that my yarn about boating through the backwaters of the Murray River, in South Australia’s Riverland, has won 2018 Best Australian Story under 1000 words at Saturday’s Australian Society of Travel Writers’ pomp-and-glitter awards in Bangkok. It was an equal first, I’m sharing the award with Andrew Bain, whose work is damned fantastic.

My story was published in Fairfax’s Traveller section, and while I was there, my host Rick Edmonds, from The Frames asked me why the tourism boards don’t promote the mighty Murray as an Australian icon, as they do Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef.

I don’t have the answer, but at a time when rural Australia needs our support, I hope that can change, and the Murray receives its due recognition. Thank you to Tourism Australia for sponsoring this award, and for supporting the ASTW. In the words of another Aussie icon, the immortal Jeff Fenech, I love youse all.

Murray River at sunset. Photo: Belle Jackson

You can read the story here: http://www.traveller.com.au/murray-river-cruise-along-the-h…

Mystic river: cruise along the hidden waterways of the Murray

“Why isn’t the Murray promoted as an icon, like Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef?”

If you’re not Australian, you probably don’t know the mighty Murray River (the ‘mighty’ is an unofficial sobriquet). It is Australia’s longest river, at 2,530km (about seven times longer than the Thames, but who’s counting?) It runs through four states, and is even a state border for 1880km and is estimated at about 60 million years old. 

In short, it’s a pretty impressive natural formation, and it’s damned pretty, as well.

So you can see why I didn’t have an answer to the question above, asked by Rick Edmonds, a proud Riverlands man and owner of the luxury The Frames property, which perches over the river near Renmark, in South Australia.

Perhaps we should adopt a French word, instead of “back creeks”, to describe this labyrinth of creeks, lagoons and inlets that cobweb the strong, flowing River Murray, here at the corner of three states.

Click here to read my story about pootling along the Murray, spotting emus, kangaroos and kingfishers, with Rick, his wife Cathy and Captain Willow (pictured above).

The story was published in the Traveller section of the Sun-Herald (Sydney) and Sunday Age (Melbourne). 

Belinda Jackson was a guest of The Frames.

Of pharaohs and heroes: Journey to Egypt

Giza Pyramids.JPG
The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.Photo: Belinda Jackson

I am so pleased to publish this blog about my recent article in Luxury Travel magazine. This is the first story I’ve written for a mainstream publication about Egypt since its revolution, back in 2011. The feature had the invaluable support of Abercrombie & Kent, which maintains its Cairo office, staffed by charming, knowledgeable Cairenes.

While other countries affected by civil unrest and terrorism events have slipped back onto the travel pages within weeks of the events, I feel Egypt – where I have lived and continue to return to every year – has been punished too harshly, and it suffers deeply the loss of one of its key sources of income.

The people lean heavily on tourism with good reason: their undeniable treasures include the Pyramids of Giza, the colossi at Abu Simbel, the gracious and eternal Nile. And they’re just three of its riches.

Egyptians say that once you’ve drunk from the Nile, you’ll always return. Maybe you’re not up for a cup of river water, hopefully this article will inspire you to visit -or to return.

We come to visit the gods. Stern of face, empty of eye, they stare. Blank, sightless eyes see nothing, yet see everything in the future and back to the ancient world. The colossal sculptures of Abu Simbel are in Egypt’s deep south, touching on the border with Sudan, and are the jewel of the appropriately named Nile in Style journey with Abercrombie & Kent.

“Nowhere are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world beside are there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness,” wrote Herodotus of Egypt in the fifth century BC. Fifteen centuries later, he’s still on the money.

Click here to read on about my journey down the Nile.

 

 

Of pharaohs and heroes: Journey to Egypt

The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.
Photo: Belinda Jackson

I am so pleased to publish this blog about my recent article in Luxury Travel magazine. This is the first story I’ve written for a mainstream publication about Egypt since its revolution, back in 2011. The feature had the invaluable support of Abercrombie & Kent, which maintains
its Cairo office, staffed by charming, knowledgeable Cairenes.


While
other countries affected by civil unrest and terrorism events have
slipped back onto the travel pages within weeks of the events, I feel
Egypt – where I have lived and continue to return to every year – has
been punished too harshly, and it suffers deeply the loss of one of its
key sources of income.


The people lean heavily on
tourism with good reason: their undeniable treasures include the Pyramids
of Giza, the colossi at Abu Simbel, the gracious and eternal Nile. And
they’re just three of its riches.


Egyptians
say that once you’ve drunk from the Nile, you’ll always return.

Maybe
you’re not up for a cup of river water, hopefully this article will
inspire you to visit – or to return.


‘We
come to visit the gods. Stern of face, empty of eye, they stare. Blank,
sightless eyes see nothing, yet see everything in the future and back to
the ancient world. The colossal sculptures of Abu Simbel are in Egypt’s deep south, touching on the border with Sudan, and are the jewel of the appropriately named Nile in Style journey with Abercrombie & Kent.

“Nowhere
are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world beside are
there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness,” wrote
Herodotus of Egypt in the fifth century BC. Fifteen centuries later,
he’s still on the money.’

Click here to read on about my journey down the Nile.

Just the tonic: blending health and hedonism on the Dawn Princess

Thick and rich, the mud seems to pulsate with a life of its own, like an extra from Doctor Who. Scooping a hearty handful, it’s just begging to be slapped on your face.

Standing
in a green paddock in rural Fiji, clad only in swimmers and smothered
from ponytail to toenail in the green-grey goop that smells like cattle
dip, it’s not what I had in mind when I signed up for a seaward jaunt on
board Australia’s best-loved ship, the Dawn Princess. Don’t get me
wrong: it’s great fun, just greatly unexpected.

To read more about life on the good ship Dawn Princess, click here.

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

Whales, worship and weird cabaret: the Tongan triumvirate

Humpback whales bring their (very big) babies into the
safe waters of Tonga each year, from July to October.
Photo: Belle Jackson

We’ve all been lamenting the devastation in Fiji from the recent Cyclone Winston, but spare a thought for Tonga, which was in the cyclone’s frontline, and is still picking up the pieces. 

The Vava’u archipelago, where I spent most of my time on my recent Tongan visit, was hardest hit.

So if you’re not a Fiji aficionado, preferring something a little more laid back and – to use the word of the decade- ‘authentic’, why not skip one country further east from Australia for whale swimming, a spot of choral singing and the funniest drag shows I’ve seen for many a year.

And if you are a Fiji fan, from this month (April 2016) you can now fly from Australia to Nadi (Fiji) for a little five-star R&R, then fly Nadi direct to Vava’u (Tonga) for said pleasures, with Fiji Airways.

You can read my story about whales, worship and weird cabaret in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section by clicking here.

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 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.