Traveller: Takeoff travel news 20 July 2014

AIRLINE: Fresh bite of the Big Apple

Our passionate affair with New York gets
extra oomph when China Southern Airlines starts flying to the Big Apple via
Guangzhou, in southern China, from August 6. The service will run four times a
week on new generation Boeing B777-300ER aircraft to JFK airport, featuring cutting-edge
touchscreens in the pointy end and a new Premium Economy class with a 38-inch seat
pitch, up from the 32-inch pitch on standard economy seats. Use any layover
time to explore old Canton/new Guangzhou with its new
free 72-hour transit visas. China Southern now has two US hubs, New York and
LA, and codeshares with Delta from LA to eight cities including Atlanta, Boston,
Fort Lauderdale and Honolulu. The airline says the US is ‘earmarked for
expansion’. Stay tuned. 1300 889 628,

KIT: Soft-shoe shuffle

If you’ve ever used ‘too bulky’ as a
reason not to pack runners, your lame excuse is no longer valid with
the discovery of Skechers GOwalk 2 travel shoes. A pair of average woman’s size
7 weighs just 226 grams and the mesh upper lets them squish down to fit even in
your carry-on, with no need for socks, so there’s more packing space for
shopping finds. Flexible and lightweight, the slip-ons are suitable for walking
the town and ideal for foxing airport x-ray scanners and shimmying down the
aisle on long-haul flights. Available in women’s, children’s and the men’s
GOwalk 2 – Maine. $99.95. 1800 655 154,

SITES: Road warriors
World Heritage Sites buffs should have
Peru in their sights as it now has 12 sites on its books, following the
addition of the Incan Great Trail to Machu Picchu. The UNESCO-listed Qhapaq Ñan (literally, ‘beautiful road’)
was the Incan empire’s super-highway, running 30,000km along the spine of the
Andes. Archeologists have also recently uncovered another ancient road leading
to Machu Picchu, opening up new views (think: new camera angles!) of the
citadel, which was built around 1450 but remained hidden until its rediscovery
by a US historian in 1911. Other sites in Peru’s top 12 include the sacred city
of Caral-Supe and the Chavín Archaeological Site.

KIDS: Marking time 
the kids to draw on the walls at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, on
St Kilda Rd. In the dynamic Pastello – Draw Act playroom, kids can strap on helmets or shoes loaded with crayons and
run at the (paper-covered) walls to leave their anarchic
mark. There are also gigantic crayon pendulums and
a long drawing table with ‘cutlery crayons’ for small-scale masterpieces. The focus is on the movement and the act of drawing, not the
outcome, say Pastello’s creators, Italian design duo Erika Zorzi and
Matteo Sangalli. The interactive play space is also a
good time-out space for tattered tots. Open daily, 10am-5pm, until August 31. Free.

FOOD: State on a plate 
Put your city on a plate with the new Tapastry concept by feted chef and Pullman culinary ambassador Justin North. The sharing plates, devised by
North and the five-star hotels’ executive chefs, showcase
regional ingredients: we’re
talking Hawkesbury calamari, slow-cooked pork belly from the Northern Rivers or
single-origin chocolate by Zokoko, in the Blue Mountains. If you’re not leaving town, taste Tapastry at the Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour or
Sydney Olympic Park, or go further afield at the Pullman Palm Cove Sea Temple
Resort in Palm Cove or Sails in the Desert, in Ayres Rock. The Tapastry concept is being rolled out
throughout the group’s 12 Australian five-star properties. 1300 656 565,

GADGET: Cool runnings 
You’re always running late, and your friends
know it. Skip the tedious ‘I’m on the train’ mobile call and give them get a
glimpse of your ETA with The travel tracker pops your headshot up
on a dynamic, real-time map that you can share with nominated friends from
email, text, Facebook or Twitter. The info is available only for a designated
amount of time, up to four hours maximum, for added security. Best of all, the
app is free, with no accounts, passwords or logins, and you don’t even need to
have it installed to receive a glimpse.  Available
for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry users and now updated for Windows Phone 8.

FAMILY TRAVEL: Fiji for Teens
Kids too big for kids’ club? Let your teens explore Fiji
with the locals at the eco-friendly, five-star Jean-Michel Cousteau
Resort, recently voted best overseas family resort by Luxury Travel
magazine. The resort is up in the country’s wild northern island, Vanua
Levu, which teens can explore with a “buddy” from the activities
staff. Make a billi billi (bamboo raft) and head off swimming, hike
through the rainforest, go river tubing or snorkelling and finish off
with a beach bonfire. Free for teen guests 13 years and up. Stays cost
from $372 a person, twin share on a six-night stay from October 6 until
March 31 (excluding Christmas). 1300 306 171,

You may have noticed there are no deals on my website lately – I’m now writing the travel news for the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section each week. To keep an eye on great deals, visit 

Travel deals: Indonesia’s Gili islands

Flying to Fiji’s Mamanucas with the kids.

Those looking beyond Bali into the rest of Indonesia’s archipelago are finding themselves in the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok, a two-hour fast ferry from Bali. Otherwise, we love Noos-aaah or pootling around Fiji by seaplane. 

If you’d prefer to play winter princess, check out a tour from Helsinki to St Petersburg, WWI battlefields or (dare we say it) Victoria’s Philip Island? It’s all here, in this week’s best international and domestic travel deals.
Get two nights free when you book a seven-night holiday,
worth $950, at the absolute beachfront apartments at Seahaven Noosa until July
31. The 4.5-star property includes four heated pools, spa, gym and bbq. From $2375,
seven nights. (07) 5447 3422,
Travel by coach and rail from Helsinki to St Petersburg
and Moscow on the nine-day Tsar Route tour and save $225. Includes transport,
accommodation in first-class hotels, breakfast and sightseeing. Available  August-September 2014. Costs $1891 a person,
twin share. 1300 668 844,
The glamour of the Russian empire
Take a
break on Phillip Island and get $200 of extras including dinner, wine and a
three-parks pass that includes the Penguin Parade when you stay two nights in a
studio spa room at the Ramada Resort Phillip Island. Costs $484, two nights,
until August 31. (03) 5952 8000,
The new Karma Reef hotel on Gili Meno, Lombok
Tiny Gili Meno is one of a trio of hip isles of the coast
of Lombok, two hours by boat from Bali. The new boutique resort Karma Reef’s low-season
special runs from October 1, 2014 – March 31, 2015 (excludes Christmas).
Normally $315 a night, from $170 B&B for two. +62 370 642 340,
spring by reconnecting with nature at the eco-accredited Paperbark Camp near
Jervis Bay, and save up to $440 throughout September and midweek
(Sunday-Thursday) in October. From $500, two nights, with gourmet breakfast,
bikes, kayaks and stand-up paddling. 1300 668 167,
Discover the Roman ruins, Crusader castles and ancient
Nabataen civilisation of Petra on an 11-night tour through this beautiful
desert country. Book by September 30 and receive all entrance fees to sites
free. Departs March 30, 2015. From $4989 a person, twin share. (07) 3372
Petra, Jordan
Travel is half the adventure, especially when you catch a
family fly-in, fly-out package to Fiji’s Castaway Island in the Mamanucas. The
five-night offer includes helicopter and sea plane transfers for two adults and
two kids from Nadi airport to the island. There’s also plenty of water action,
with snorkelling, a dolphin safari, sunset cruise and a ride on a banana boat
included. From $5470 for a family of four, available until March 31, 2015. +679 666 1233,
Follow a soldier’s footsteps on a guided tour of Europe’s
most poignant battlefields during the centenary years of WWI. The 12-day tour travels from London to Amsterdam
via France and Belgium to the D-Day landing beaches of Normandy, the
battlefields of the Somme and Ypres’ Menin Gate. Highlights include the new
First World War Galleries in the Imperial War Museum in London, and lighter
moments are found in a wine tasting in Reims and dinner in a local’s home in
Amsterdam. From $3775 a person, twin share. 1300
663 043,

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

Get going: trek to Tibet

The new Shangri-La, Tibet

 From Tibet to Canberra, we’ve got it all covered this weekend for the best travel deals around. Obviously, the theme is to get high: in the Adelaide Hills, the Blue Mountains or Peru’s Machu Picchu.

Make the trek to the hotel everyone is talking about, the new
Shangri-La Lhasa, at 3650 metres above sea level, which opens on April
17. Its opening offer includes breakfast and dinner, mini-bar and 3pm
checkout, until June 30. From $498 a night. 1800 222 448,

Check in to the five-star Mount Lofty House MGallery, overlooking
Adelaide, and get a bottle of wine and country breakfast included with
midweek bookings (Sunday-Thursday) until September 26. From $169 a
night. 1300 132 799,

Celebrate autumn in the Blue Mountains at the premier
Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa. Stay two nights midweek in a
suite with a private pool, all meals, two nature activities and $100 spa
credit, until June 30. From $1250 a person, two nights. (02) 9290 9733,

Cook up a hot shopping trip in bargain-friendly Kuala Lumpur and stay
at the city’s newest hotel, Pullman Kuala Lumpur Bangsar, for $90 a
night. Book by May 31 for stays in the chic suburb until September 30.

Spend 20 days discovering the icons of South America in 2015,
from Peru’s Machu Picchu to Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer, and
your companion gets free flights from Australia. Book by September 30.
From $11,995 a person, twin share. 1300 723 642,

The Novotel St Kilda’s “wine and wind down” deal is back.
Book a 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,


Heli-safari on Fiji’s Sigatoka River

Hell-raising on a heli-safari

Fast and fabulous adrenaline-seekers have a new home in
southern Fiji. Take a 15-minute helicopter or 30-minute small plane
flight over tropical mountains and the Coral Coast then jet boat down
the river on a half-day Sigatoka River safari tour, visiting
traditional villages for a kava ceremony and lunch. Costs $365
(heli-jet boat combo), $535 (small plane-jet boat combo), see

Kids deal

Questacon, Canberra

Act up in the act

Discover a miniature village, experience an earthquake and
meet an elite athlete with the Canberra City YHA’s Family Fun
three-in-one package, which includes entry to Cockington Green,
Questacon and the Australian Institute of Sport. Save 15 per cent, from
$484 for two nights in a family en suite room until October 30, (02) 6248 9155, YHA membership to more than 4000 hostels worldwide costs $32
adults, kids under 18 join free with a parent. Non-members pay 10 per
cent extra.

Travel deals: Free Fiji



Stay eight nights at the five-star Outrigger on the Lagoon
with return airfares, $600 resort credit, butler service, spa treatment
and kids stay and eat free, saving $2000. Book by February 28; travel
until March 31. Worth $2790, from $1990 a person. Phone 1300 003 454, see

Be one of the first to stay in the newly refurbished
apartments and suites of Seahaven Noosa, set between Hastings Street and
the beachfront. Save $25 a night, with 2pm checkout, on stays until
March 30. From $175 a night, studio. Phone (07) 5447 3422, see



Book a historic mansion in Marais, five minutes’ walk from
the Musee Picasso, and save $70 a night. The large guest suite of
Apartment 268 includes a private terrace and breakfast served by your
Parisian host. Costs from $272 a night, double, until March 30. See


Cosy up in a country cottage in Hall and pay half price until
July 31. Book two nights at the 4.5-star Gooromon Park Cottages and get
champagne and chocolates, breakfast and Wi-Fi. From $380, two nights,
quote “Elegance” or “Silhouette”. Phone 1300 88 7979, see



Just 15 minutes from Angkor Wat’s temples, the new 30-room
Angkor Heritage Boutique hotel’s opening special cuts 35 per cent off
room rates until September 30. From $86 a night, includes breakfast,
Wi-Fi and airport transfers. Phone 855 63 966 660, see


Book a 19-day West Coast Discovery Tour from Darwin to Perth
by March 31 to get discounts and your friend flies free. Discover
Litchfield, Kakadu and Monkey Mia. Departs July 9, August 6 and 27. From
$7395 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 383 747, see

TOURWATCH: Top End angling
Snap up a fishy tale in the Top End as luxury lodge Bamurru
Plains transforms into a fishing lodge until April 28, with metre-long
barramundi up for grabs. Three hours from Darwin on the NT’s Mary River floodplains,
cast a line from Bamurru’s airboats with fishing guides. The
all-inclusive eco-camp has nine safari suites, operates on a
catch-and-release ethos and includes all meals, drinks and fishing
tours. From $2350 a person, twin share, three nights. Phone 1300 790 561. See

KIDS’ DEALS: In the zone


Kids run the show at the new Cool Zones and Adventure Zones
in 11 Asia-Pacific Shangri-La properties including Kerry Hotel, Beijing,
which has just completed a $6.5 million renovation. Its Adventure Zone
has three slides including the Demon Drop, net towers, ball pits, a
wading pool and village complete with dress-ups for toddlers, free for
kids four to 12 years. (Psst, parents! The hotel’s new wine bar opens
June 2014.) Deluxe rooms cost from $274 plus taxes; see

This column by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sun-Herald newspaper. 

Five Fijian resorts under $450 a night

Who doesn’t love a swim-up bar? The new $2.2m adults-only pools
at Outrigger on the Lagoon,

Sure, Mel Gibson owns an island in Fiji, but if your budget is Homebush than Hollywood, here are a few good options from the old faves of the Coral Coast to mysterious Kadavu, Fiji’s large, southern island. 

Most do packages that include flights from Australia, airport transfers and at least breakfast thrown in. Keep an eye out for specials that might snag you a free massage, dinner or kids’ club.

On the Coral Coast, southern Viti Levu (the main island). Costs from $282 a night, room only. Phone +679 650 0044; see

The Astrolabe Hideaway eco-resort on Kadavu Island. Costs from $389 a night, all-inclusive. See

A 3½-star adventure resort in Pacific Harbour. Costs from $148 a night, B&B (beachfront bure). Phone +679 345 2200, See

Newly refurbished five-star on Denarau Island, 20 minutes from the airport. Costs from $278 a night. Phone 1800 333 333; see

the Mamanuca Islands, 1½ hours by boat from Denarau Marina. Costs from
$270 a night, B&B (garden room) or $438 a night (beachfront bure).
Phone +679 672 3620; see

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sydney Morning Herald/The Age

Fabulous Fiji and hot air in Canberra: travel deals March 31, 2013

Walk through three countries in a week, blow hot air in Canberra or just lay down amidst beauty in Fiji, in this week’s international and domestic travel deals.

Celebrate Easter
in Canberra, making your own Easter egg with a Canberra Glasswork artist on
hand to help out at the Crowne Plaza Canberra. The hotel’s ‘Discover More’
offer cuts 20 per cent off the room rate and includes breakfast for two at its
recently refurbished restaurant.  Book
until April 28 for stays until April 30, quote ‘Discover More’. Costs from $165
a night, minimum two nights. 138 888,
Long lunchers are heading to Port Douglas for its Carnivale ( in May 17-26, and the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas’ ‘Longest Lunch’ on May 17.The three-course meal showcases local produce and all proceeds go to The Leukaemia Foundation. Fly to Port Douglas, stay seven nights in a deluxe garden view room and get over $1200 of bonuses including a room upgrade, two-for-one golf and $500 Wine & Dine credit. Book by April 12. Costs from $1590 a person, twin share. 1300 003 454,

It’s starting to get chilly in Tassie: what better excuse than to try the state’s whiskeys? Stay three nights, pay for just two from April 1 to September 30 at Somerset Serviced Residences’ two properties. The apartments are on Salamanca Place and in a 1930s pier building overlooking the Derwent River and include full kitchens and separate bedrooms. Costs from $440. 1800 766 377,

Hilton Sydney
If you prefer your Easter eggs Benedict, rather than
chocolate, check in to the Hilton Sydney for a chic city weekend getaway, and
check out their refurbished guest rooms, the Marble Bar and the views from the
Zeta bar. The hotel’s ‘Treasure Moments’ deal 
cuts 20 per cent of their best available rate, and 20 per cent off its
brasserie breakfast for your eggs, however you like ‘em. Bookings must be made
five days in advance until April 30 for stays until December 31. Costs from
$208 a room. 1300 445 866,
time to stop and smell the flowers on this seven-day Wildflower and Nature
expedition which includes a cruise to Woody Island in the Recherche Archipelago
off Esperance see the White Chested Sea Eagle and a visit to Cape Arid at the
edge of the Great Australian Bight. The tour is for just four people, hunting
for the elusive Queen of Sheba orchid and the endangered ground parrot.
Departs September 3 and October 4. Book four months in advance and save up to
$160. Costs from $4135 a person, twin share. (08) 93856422,
Start planning for your British summer jaunts and get a
free day’s travel on its trains when you book a BritRail travel pass by April
15. Tickets have six months’ validity from date of issue. Three-day
second-class tickets cost from $115/children, $185/youth travellers,
Walk through three countries in one week, on the
seven-day Mont Blanc Guided Walk, an alpine tour through France, Italy and
Switzerland on the Mont Blanc massif. Bring a friend and save 20 per cent on
this trip and all UTrack’s Alps 2013 walking trips made between April 1-30. The
tour, which departs every Sunday until September 15, includes all meals,
accommodation, guides and mule baggage transfers. Costs from $798 a person. 1300 303 368,
For luxury in the South Pacific, Fiji’s adults-only
Tadrai Island Resort, in the Mamanucas, comprises just five private villas.
Stay three nights and get a free one-way helicopter transfer, saving $538. Stay
five nights, and they’ll include return transfers. Costs from $4363 a couple,
three nights in a private pool villa which includes all meals and snacks,
butlers, delicious Pure Fiji toiletries and all resort activities such as sea
kayaking and diving. Book until July 16, travel between April 1, 2013 and March
31, 2014. +1 866 783 1840,
This trip through Belize, Guatemala and Mexico promises
to teach you the essential differences between Mayans and Aztecs: Mayans made
their kids cross-eyed, Aztecs would eat their dead enemies when there was
nothing else on the table.  Get 15 per
cent off most Gecko trips including this one, a 23-day It’s worth the Human
Sacrifice trip. Save $644 when you book by April 12 for trips departing until
August 31, quote code ‘1360’. Costs from $1931 a person, twin share. 1300 791
Kung fu, terracotta warriors and the Forbidden City are among
the highlights of Helen Wong’s 14-day China Wonders tour, which traverses the
country from Beijing’s hutongs to Shanghai’s glamorous Bund and the warriors’
home in Xian. Save $400 a person when you travel in the hot summer months, from
early June to late August. The package includes international airfares,
four-star accommodation, guides and visas. Book by May 31. Costs from $3650 a
person. 1300 788328,
Champagne devotees will go back to the source in the
first tour through the famed French region lead by Australian ‘Champagne Dame’
Kyla Kirkpatrick. Kyla lives, breathes and works for the bubbled beverage, conducting
champagne masterclasses here and abroad. “This will be an intimate, red carpet
sojourn which will enable fellow champagne lovers to enjoy indulgent soirees
with the owners and winemakers,” she promises. The 12 guests will visit 15 prestigious
estates, many closed to the public while staying in the 17th-century Chateau de
Mairie. The tour starts in Paris on June 23 with a private champagne and
perfume masterclass, where you’ll receive a custom-made scent. Costs from $4990
a person, twin share, 0403 149 809,

Swing and sing across Texas: travel deals 27 January 2013

Do glamour, Gregory Peck and gelato in Italy, swim with dolphins in Western Australia or hit the road, Jack, and swing across Texas, in this week’s round-up of domestic and international travel deals.

Canberra’s centenary calendar is hotting up, with the National Archives of Australia showing exhibitions by photographer Max Dupain and on Britain’s Child Migrants, there are the best political cartoons on show at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House and, of course, Toulouse Lautrec in the National Gallery. Stay at the five-star Hotel Realm, within the parliamentary triangle, until end June and save 54 per cent on the full rate with its ‘Love Notes’ package, which includes accommodation, a mini Moet, dessert platter, breakfast and late check-out. Costs from $375 for two people, one night, quote ‘Love Notes’. 1300 88 7979,

You don’t have to leave the state to find one of the
world’s longest resort swimming pools: coming in at 485 metres long, it’s at
the Oaks Pacific Blue Resort in Port Stephens, 160km north of Sydney. The quiet
coastal region is a magnet for fisherfolk, dolphin spotters and those who just
like rolling down sand dunes, while the resort facilities include tennis
courts, a gym and a Japanese steam room.  Save up to $25 a night on when you book a
two-night stay from January 27-June 30. Costs from $258, studio room, two
nights. 1300 669 978,

You’ll be praying for hot weather with a deal at QT Gold
Coast hotel’s SpaQ, which knocks the price of the day’s top temperature off
your midweek one-hour spa treatment. So if it’s 29 degrees, you’ll get $29 off the
cost of the treatment. Valid until February 28, Mondays-Thursdays and quote
‘I’m hot’.  07 5584 1108,
The dolphins of Monkey Mia, WA.
Set foot on the most westerly tip of Australia, at Cape Leeuwin, walk through the Valley of the Giants, watched over by towering forests, and journey into Kalgoorlie’s Super Pit on a 15-day coach tour of WA’s south east. Starting and finishing in Perth, the tour includes lunch at Palandri Winery in the Margaret Valley, a walking tour of Fremantle and a meet-and-greet with Monkey Mia’s dolphins. Book during the wildflower season, from August to November, to see WA’s desert plains flushed with colour. Book with a deposit by February 15, and your friend saves 25 percent. Costs from $4550 for the first person, $3413 for your friend. 1300 228 546,

Visit some of the most beautiful
gardens surrounding Melbourne on a three-night tour just in time for Mother’s
Day. Staying at the Sofitel Melbourne, the small group tour starts with high
tea at The Hotel Windsor, followed by a street art tour through the city’s
laneways, for an edgy touch. The gardens on tour include Cranbourne Botanic
Gardens’ Australian garden, Heronswood on the Mornington Peninsula and the
William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenong Ranges. Book by February 28
and save $100. Includes  most meals,
botanical guides and airport transfers. Costs from $1695 a person, twin share.
1300 305 202,
Hotel Aviatic, Paris
Soak up the Parisian vibe at a discount price at the
Hotel Aviatic, on the Left Bank, close by the bars and restaurants of Saint-Germain
des Prés and Montparnasse. Save E135 ($171) on a traditional room or E165 on a
prestige room, and get breakfast, a bottle of wine and chocolates on stays
until February 28. Costs from E160 (traditional room) or E195 (prestige room).
1800 667 731,
The islands of the Pacific are renowned for their
welcoming arms, and those travelling to Rarotonga with Air New Zealand will
receive NZ$100 (A$75) to spend, for a very warm welcome, indeed.  You could do an Aitutaki Lagoon tour, enjoy
an hour-long massage, get two days’ car hire or buy 20 papaya smoothies! Book
by March 4 for travel until June 3, Passengers traveling
Air New Zealand from Sydney to Rarotonga direct on Saturday nights get an
additional round of discounts on activities on the islands. Flights depart
Sydney 8.30pm Fridays, arrive Rarotonga 5.30am Saturdays. 132 476,

Spend Valentine’s Day at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, in
Hawke’s Bay, voted one of the world’s top lodges and save 15 percent off the
standard high season rate. The package includes one night in a luxury suite, a
bottle of champagne, rose petals, bath oil and candles. There’s also a
five-course dinner, breakfast, mini-bar and, importantly, late check-out.
What’s not to love? Valid February 10-17. Costs from $855 a person, twin share
(naturally).  +64 6 875 1900,

The sunny islands of Fiji are on the rebound after last
year’s Cyclone Evan, with deals to be had. Stay seven nights at the Sofitel
Fiji Resort & Spa on the five-star strip on Denarau Island, get return
airfares from Sydney, $535 in wine, dine and spa credit, a full-day island
cruise, a cultural heritage tour, airport transfers, breakfast, free kids food
and kids’ club. Costs from $1690 a person, twin share. Similar deals are
available at the Sheraton Fiji Resort and Outrigger on the Lagoon. 1300 00 34

Glamour, Gregory Peck and gelato: do Italy like Audrey
Hepburn, swanning through Tuscany, Rome and the Amalfi coast. Diva alert: join
a handful of other fabulous travellers and cruise Italy in the ultimate girls’
getaway of shopping, spas and Vespas. Book and deposit the 14-day ‘Do it like
Audrey Hepburn’ tour by February 22 for departure on June 23, and get a free
night in a 4-star Florence hotel before or after the tour. Costs from $6959 a person, twin share, quote
‘SHDIVAS’. 0408 721
San Antonio, Fort
Worth, Memphis, Texarkana … if these names resonate with your soul, it’s time
to hit the American West – in a Mustang convertible, of course – for a musical
road trip across the USA, from LA to Nashville. The Swing Across Texas
self-drive tour is fully escorted and departs June 15, hitting Route 66, Vegas
and Buddy Holly’s birthplace in Lubbock County, Texas, with the Grand Canyon in
there for good measure. The clincher is there’s a live act or entertainment in
every city, every night of the 22-day tour, which is included in the price
along with car hire and insurance. Costs from $7350 a person, twin share. (07)
5577 4655,

Escape the office

The Sukosol, Bangkok

Be it shopping, flopping by the pool, an island sojourn or a city break, the neighbours can assist.


Go for the food, people and direct flights to Bangkok and Phuket. The newest hotel in Bangkok, The Sukosol, is celebrating flinging open its doors with happy-hour cocktails, free dinner at its restaurant, Patummat, late checkout and wi-fi. Choose a Club Siam deluxe room and save $120 on stays until March 30. Costs from $320 for two nights. +66 0 2247 0123,
Koh Samui, on the Gulf of Thailand, can be reached from Bangkok, Singapore, Phuket or Pattaya. Book a two-night Escape to Samui package in the top-of-the-line sanctuary pool villa at the Banyan Tree Samui and save on the best rate. You’ll get a set dinner at the Banyan’s Saffron restaurant, hydrotherapy sessions for two, a honey and milk bath, daily breakfast and transfers. Costs from 82,150 baht ($2560) a villa, which sleeps four, for two-night stays until March 31. 1800 050 019,
Trisara, a resort about 15 minutes’ drive from Phuket’s airport, is where eight people can stay in a four-bedroom ocean-front suite with chef, butler and driver, food and beverages, transfers and unlimited spa treatments. There’s a helicopter tour over Phuket and a day’s sailing on a private yacht through the beautiful Phan Nga Bay, too. Available until April 30. Costs from $25,110 for eight people for two nights. +66 76 310 100,


Jean-Michele Cousteau Resort
Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort is set on the northern island of Vanua Levu. The resident marine biologist will help you explore the beauty of Fiji’s underwater world on snorkelling trips, night dives and seashore walks. Stay six nights, pay for four in a garden-view bure, and receive six dives and three massages as well. Bures can accommodate up to two adults and two children under 13. The package includes all meals and the resort has a kids’ club. Save $3110 on stays from now until December 21 and January 7-March 31. Costs from $4296 for six nights. 1300 306 171,
Likuliku Lagoon Resort, voted Fiji’s top resort this year, is modelled on a traditional village – if villages had over-water bures, plunge pools and private bathing pavilions. Stay five nights and get the sixth night free, until March 31. Costs from $2271 a person. +679 672 0978,*Please note: Likuliku Lagoon Resort was badly damaged by Cyclone Evan and will not be reopening until March 2013.


Sinalei Reef Resort and Spa has a 30 per cent discount on seven-night stays, with breakfast and a massage thrown in, if booked by December 25 for travel until March 31. Samoa is heading into the rainy season. Costs from $1666 a villa. +685 25191,
Phuket, Thailand

Cook Islands

The Little Polynesian Resort in Rarotonga is the place from which to throw your watch into the turquoise waters and relax. The resort’s ares (villas) are by the beach and usually cost from $460 a night. Stay three nights, pay for two, if booked by December 10 for travel until May 31 (excludes stays from December 21 to January 13). Costs from $920 for three nights. +682 24280,


Villa Kubu is down a quiet gang (laneway) in the heart of Seminyak. Stay four nights, pay for three, or stay seven nights and pay for five, until March 15 (excluding December 15- January 8). Costs from $US245 ($235) a night for a one-bedroom villa with a plunge pool. +62 361 738 905,


The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa. Stay each fourth night for free, with free daily breakfast, when booking the hotel’s Sunshine on Sale deal (excludes December 26- January 4). Costs from $US1035 for four nights. 13 12 34,


The Warwick Le Lagon resort in Port Vila has a four-night deal. The package includes return economy airfares with Air Vanuatu, breakfast and spa discounts. Book now for travel until December 14, or from January 16 to March 13. Costs from $1445 a person, twin share. 13 13 81,


Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are on the itinerary of a seven-day Raw Japan tour that usually costs from $1520 a person, twin share. Book by December 31 for a January 20 departure into Japan’s rather chilly winter and the tour costs from $1064 a person. Tour begins and ends in Tokyo and includes taking the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto and two days spent in Osaka. 1300 791 485,


The Hard Rock Hotel, on Batu Ferringhi beach on the resort island of Penang, has 250 rooms, wi-fi, iPod docks, CD and DVD players and satellite TV. The hotel also has a kids’ club and club for teenagers, pool, spa and gym. Batu Ferringhi hosts a lively night market, is a popular site for parasailing and windsurfing, and has street eats and upscale dining venues aplenty. The Hard Rock’s Rockin’ Internet Deal is a discount of up to 40 per cent on the standard room rate. Costs from $167 a night.

Hong Kong

One of the hottest shopping destinations on the planet, Hong Kong is on the boil, while little sister, Macau, makes for a perfect side trip. The Mandarin Oriental’s Christmas Extravaganza package includes a two-night stay in the oriental presidential suite at its second-tier hotel, The Excelsior, and a third night free at the Mandarin Oriental, Macau. Includes massages, transfers, champagne and hampers, gift cards and bathrobes. Normally $9753, save up to 35 per cent when staying between December 20 and January 1. Costs $7173 for three nights. 1800 123 693,

Sri Lanka

Deep inside, you’re a surf goddess and yoga goddess, too. If in doubt, head to Sri Lanka to make it happen. Surf Goddess Retreats is running two eight-day programs (from January 4 to 11 and January 14-21) that include daily yoga sessions, surf lessons, all equipment, six hours of spa treatments, cultural exploration, accommodation and meals. Costs $US2595 a person, save $US500. The retreat’s villa is near Unawatuna, about five kilometres south of Galle on Sri Lanka’s south-western tip, and is a short tuk-tuk ride from several beaches (for beginner surfers) and reef breaks (for advanced surfers). Galle Harbour was the island’s key southern entry point, and its fort, built by Portuguese and then Dutch colonisers in the 16th and 17th centuries, is a World Heritage


You’ll rarely be outdone in, say, a dinner party conversation when you say you spent the Christmas break trekking remote mountain paths, crossing glaciers, traversing valleys and climbing passes to arrive at Everest Base Camp. This 15-day journey begins and ends in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, and includes a flight to Lukla, before participants trek between teahouses and monasteries to the base camp. Save $216 if booked by December 24 for travel on December 29. Costs $1219. Maximum group size is 12, minimum age of trekkers is 16 and accommodation includes 12 nights spent at teahouses. 1300 018 871,

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald 

You can can can in Canberra: travel deals 18 November 2012

The Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition opens
14 December, Canberra
You can can can in Canberra, oh yes you can. You can also go ethical in Melbourne’s Fed Square or go camel, houseboat or rickshaw riding in India, in this week’s international and Australian travel deals.
Love it or hate it, Melbourne’s Federation Square is the
city’s centre. Check out Australia’s largest fair-trade and ethical festival,
Fair@Square, from November 30-December 2, then discover the world beyond the Square with a
Laneways of Melbourne tour. You’ll find tiny galleries, boutiques and some of
the world’s best street art, and snack along the way. The tour includes
chocolate, lunch and a goodies bag. Normally $69 a person, costs from $49 a
person until December 31, 2013 (excluding public holidays). 0407380969,
Eat regional food, breathe pure air: where else but our
own Tassie? Upcoming attractions on the island include the makeover of the
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and MONA FOMA, the music and art festival
curated by Brian Ritchie (ex Violent Femmes) from January 16-20, 2013. The
4-star Mercure Hadleys Hobart hotel is in the centre of the city, a National
Trust-listed building that dates from 1834. Book until November 30 for stays
until March 31, 2013. Costs from $112 a night. 1300 888 180, .
Work your frou-frou when the Moulin Rouge comes to
Canberra, at the National Gallery of Australia’s Toulouse-Lautrec
exhibition, which opens 14 December. French artist
Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec painted the seamy side of fin
de siecle
Paris – and we’re not talking just stocking seams here. Stay at
the Mantra on Northbourne from December 14 – January 31, 2013 and they’ll
include the breakfast buffet and two adult tickets to the exhibition. Costs
from $199 until January 31, 131 517,
Concert goers and NRL
fiends have a new pad to stay at when they attend events at Sydney’s Olympic
Park with the opening of the new 4.5-star Quest at Sydney Olympic Park, which
has 140 studios, one, two and three bedroom options. Each has a fully equipped
kitchen and laundry, there’s an on-site gym and local restaurants are happy to
charge back to the hotel. Normally from $349 a night for a studio apartment,
snap up an opening rate until November 30 from $219. 1300 334 033,
The Sunshine Coast hinterland is a hotbed of galleries,
cafes and boutique food, best discovered from the town of Montville. Stay three
nights at the couples-only 4.5-star Falls Rainforest Spa cottage, pay for just
two. You’ll also get a bottle of sparkling wine and cheese on arrival, as well
as breakfast daily, on stays until March 25, 2013 (Monday-Thursday, excludes
Christmas). Costs from $279 a person, twin share, three nights. 1800 044 066,
Perth marks the start of a tour of southern WA, through
Margaret River down to Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, Albany and Esperance before
turning inland to pan for gold and oogle Kalgoorlie’s Golden Superpit. The 9-day
Southern Wonders tour includes lunch showcasing the best indigenous ingredients
at Palandri winery and takes time to stop and smell the wildflowers. Save up to
$150 a person when you book and pay for six months in advance. Costs from $3009
a person, 1300 228 546,
Currently enjoying a hotel boom, Macau is great for a
flutter, and is also ramping up its cultural gems and family entertainment. Stay
in a deluxe king room at the new Conrad Macao, in Cotai Central, and get either
a room upgrade to a deluxe suite or a complementary buffet breakfast  – featuring Portuguese-inspired Macanese
cuisine – for each night of your stay. Costs from $236 a night. +853 8113 6055,
The French Riviera hotspot of Cannes has been the star of the show, with
its film festival luring A-listers for decades. Fittingly, the InterContinental
Carlton Cannes hotels’ 39 suites are named after stars including Sean Connery,
Grace Kelly and Sharon Stone. The Belle Epoque hotel now turns 100 and the
hotel is having a party until March 31, 2013. Normally from $252, costs from $215
a night. 1800 007 697,
Sonaisali Island Resort, Fiji.
Schoolies alert! Sonaisali Island Resort is staging what
it describes as the ultimate schoolies week, with seven-night packages at half
price. The island has been chartered exclusively for schools for two weeks,
starting December 4 and December 11, and packages include return airfares,
transfers, all meals, activities, and nightly entertainment including DJs and
themed parties. There is extra security and an experienced crew who will meet
you at the airport, just 25 minutes away, and be on hand 24 hours a day. Save
$1000, costs from $999 a person. 1800 981 320,
The holistic heaven of Thailand is encapsulated in the
luxury health resort Chiva-Som, which is luring lovers of spa lusciousness with
bonus treatments between December 1-19. Stay five nights, receive seven spa
treatments, stay seven, get 10 treatments at the much-awarded resort, located
in Hua Hin, 185km south of Bangkok. Costs from $3400 a person, five nights.
1300 857 437,
Travel by camel in Shekhawati, by luxury houseboat on
Kerala’s backwaters, and by rickshaw in Jaipur on the 23-day Colours of
Mystical India tour. Journey through the southern states of Tamil Nadu and
Kerala, discovering the historic tradition maritime town of Kochi and the
French flavour of Pondicherry before heading north to Rajasthan, Delhi and
Agra. Book before March 31, 2013 and get free return flights to India with
Singapore Airlines. Costs from $12,995 a person, twin share. 1300 723 642,
Step into an unexplored world, just 500km north of
Australia, into West Timor. This new 14-day walking tour launches from Denpasar,
Bali, flying in to the West Timor capital, Kupang. Local guides will lead you
to old Dutch hill stations, markets and traditional farms, staying in local
hotels or thatch and bamboo homes in the villages, including, in one instance,
the royal family compound. The journey takes you from tropical beaches to
mountain villages, and local host Will Kadati helps with interactive
discussions with the West Timorese. Suitable for medium-level walkers, the trip
includes two days’ walking to the Biboki kingdom, discovering each region’s
unique textiles and crafts, cuisine and religions. Departs June 28, 2013. Costs
from $2865, per person, twin share, ex-Denpasar. 1300 783 188,
Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald newspaper

Baby got backpack

Me and Yasmine, en cyclo, Hanoi. PIC: Belinda Jackson

Dummy cord, check. Vegemite, check. Belinda Jackson learns the art of travelling plus one.

Last month, I travelled to Vietnam for work with a 17-month-old in tow. Newsflash: we survived. We’re always talking about making work family-friendly – so, for the travel writer, it’s a case of “have baby, will travel”. 
For a travel writer,it’s a case of ‘have baby, will travel’. 
In the years before my family went from two members to three, I’d swirled the waters of the Ganges in India, galloped with gauchos through Chilean Patagonia, camped in the western deserts of Egypt and trekked the Kashmiri Himalayas.

In contrast, my first work trip with baby Yasmine was to the kids’ paradise of Fiji, when she was five months old. “Come and do a story about our nannies,” the Outrigger hotel offered. Say “nanny” to a woman who for five months hasn’t slept more than four hours at a stretch, and she’ll jog to Fiji.
“Babies are just hand luggage,” an old travel hand told me. “Travel as much as you can with them while they’re young.”
Apart from being so portable – and, for the first nine or so months, staying put when you put them down – babies travel free on domestic and some short-haul international routes, or pay up to 25 per cent of the adult fare, before jumping to a hefty 75 per cent once they’re aged two.
If that ain’t an incentive to go directly from the delivery ward to departure gate, I don’t know what is.
Yes, travelling with a baby has been a shock to the system: my gorgeous Mandarina Duck luggage has been replaced by a far sturdier wheeled duffle bag to fit the nappies, snacks, wraps and plethora of accoutrements required by a sub-10 kilogram human. The days of travelling with only carry-on luggage are but a dream. And each flight is spent praying she will sleep during meal service, to avoid the unbearable foot-in-tea scenario.
Chi-chi hotel rooms have given way to apart-hotels, such as Oaks and Mantra, which can be as compact as the tiniest hotel room, but with a kitchenette and often a washing machine squeezed in. It saves 100 calls to housekeeping for more milk, to warm up food and could they please send a cleaner to gouge yoghurt from the crevices of the linen-covered sofa. And I now understand villas and holidays in close-by Queensland.
I have joined the ranks of Australians who travel with a tube of Vegemite for a convenient, vitamin-packed sandwich. And I have learned the importance of dummy cords: our worst places for dropped dummies are in Hanoi’s wet fish market and on the toilet floor of a plane hovering over Indonesia.
Previously, I’d seen baby bassinets only from the other side of the bulkhead – in business class – but am now a firm fan. Their capacity ranges from 10-kilogram up to 18-kilogram babies, though not all planes have them, as I recently learnt while booking a flight, with Virgin Australia back to Bali. And night flights are ideal – unless someone else’s child chooses to spend the evening shrieking. Never have I seen so many bottles of baby Nurofen and Panadol emerge so swiftly from handbags throughout the cabin.
Hitching a ride … Vietnam-style. Photo: Getty
For most Australians, the pinnacle of baby-friendly destinations is Fiji, which trades on its affinity with children. Bali is getting in on the act, with its beautiful villas and armies of nannies (see story page 27), but deliciously wallet-friendly Vietnam is a close contender.
On the eight-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City, staff on Vietnam Airlines take endless photos of Yasmine, stuff her with cake and play with her curls incessantly. It is no different throughout the country. The minute we walk into hotels, restaurants, galleries or shops, a smiling person drops to their knees and says hi to the baby, leaving me free to shop, check in, or check out the menu.
More lessons: Asia is far more patient with children than Western countries, though without the safety barriers we enjoy, which means no pool fences, and rooftop bars are dicey propositions. Pavements are generally non-existent, so baby carriers make more sense than prams. And Asian nannies tend to learn their skills through experience with their own children or siblings, rather than a TAFE course. Make of that what you will.
We’ve also discovered that exclusivity doesn’t necessarily mean anti-children, to wit the super-luxe Orpheus Island, in far north Queensland, which figured if the baby could cope with the helicopter journey to the island, she was most welcome.
We haven’t hit Europe yet, but the plan is to break the journey with a stopover on Singapore’s Sentosa Island beaches. I have to add the coda that I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a healthy baby who learnt from a very young age to sleep in the car, on a sofa, in helicopters and in the noisiest restaurants beside the wok station.
And I’m travelling with only one. I doubt it would be so simple with two, or three.
However, hope springs eternal: last week, I spotted a woman at Tullamarine airport calmly navigating the crowds with four children under eight. Nobody was crying and everyone was carrying their own luggage, save the toddler in the stroller. Woman, I salute you.
I’m now at the stage where Yasmine is walking, yet without the facility to reason or bargain with. Will it get easier? I don’t know. But life is a journey, and each journey is unique. And that’s what keeps me (or rather, us) travelling.
Top five pearls of wisdom
  1. The Baby Jogger City Mini pram pulls shut with one hand and weighs just eight kilograms. Infants can be tucked in and carried on with the excellent Phil & Ted’s Explorer cocoon and I truck Yasmine around in an Ergobaby carrier.
  2. Essential packing items: a dummy cord that connects pacifier to progeny; and a large scarf for modest breastfeeding that doubles as a handy wrap during cold flights, emergency towel, sunshade …
  3. Feeding the baby (bottle, breast, snacks) on takeoff and landing helps their ears “pop”. Sucking on a dummy also helps.
  4. Baby food tubes (Rafferty’s Garden, Heinz and so on) are unsmashable and give kids a taste of home, such as spag bol. Squirt over rice or pasta for a bigger meal.
  5. Pack a toy bag with snacks, short colouring-in pencils, books and toys. Some airlines rent out iPads loaded with kids’ games and movies for about $10.
Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald.

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