I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

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Good Weekend’s 52 weekends away

On the trail: Spring Spur Stay, Tawonga, Vic.

Sometimes in this job, you just get lucky. And getting to stay at Spring Spur was lucky indeed. I didn’t realise, but I’d ridden here, up in the Victorian Alps, years ago. The hard-working Baird family have since built new accommodation with their own bare hands.

This is my inclusion in the Good Weekend’s annual 52 Weekends Away:

COUNTRY
Tree-change chill-out, gourmet getaway or back-to-nature adventure: take
your pick – the air’s fresher, the tempo gentler. Book in, breathe out and feel
the serenity.


SPRING SPUR STAY

52 Fredas Lane, Tawonga, Vic
PHONE: (03) 5754 4849
WEB: springspurstay.com.au

The location  In the rich Kiewa Valley, Spring Spur Stay is also
the home for Bogong Horseback Adventures. This is Victoria’s dramatic high
country, with the ski resorts of Mount Hotham and Falls Creek nearby.
The place  Kath and Steve Baird have run Spring Spur Stables for
23 years and their sons, Lin and Clay, are third-generation packhorse
professionals as well as being dab hands in the kitchen. The new accommodation
wing has six double bedrooms, all with private ensuite bathrooms and
full-length windows that look up to the (sometimes snowy) peaks. The décor is a
blend of Steve’s art and rustic high country curios, and the ethos is a blend
of eco-energy meets espresso machine.
The experience  Live out your mountain fantasies on a half-day
ride up into the Alpine National Park, a tranquil journey through the bush. The
family has bred and trained most of its horses using “natural
horsemanship” principles and, like good dance partners, the Bairds’
super-responsive Australian stock horses will make you appear a far better
rider than you actually are. After a morning in the saddle, pull up a pew
(literally) at the handmade table in the cavernous new Riders Lounge and tuck
into a home-cooked Sunday lunch.
Don’t miss  On the drive up from Melbourne, jump off the Hume
Highway and onto the Snow Road (C522) for a pit-stop in cafe-tastic little
Oxley. No time for cellar doors? Clever Milawa Hotel, a little further along,
stocks a great range of local wines.
BELINDA JACKSON

Need to know
Cost: From $485 for a two-night weekend getaway.
Distance: 4.5 hours’ drive (360km) north-east of Melbourne.
Children: Yes.

This story was part of Good Weekend magazine’s annual 52 Weekends Away. To read about more great weekend escapes, click here

Tom’s in town and speed’s hit the fan

It’s all go here in Dubai. Time Out Dubai was gossiping about him only last week, then suddenly, the front page of the Khaleej Times is splashed with Tom Cruise hanging off the side of a building, shooting Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Tom was back on the front page the next day, learning how to balance a falcon on his arm, his teacher His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai (whew!)

I too went up Burj Khalifa, world’s tallest building, today. They wouldn’t let me hang off any ropes. It was all strictly controlled. You know, I’m not a real ‘tallest building’ kinda girl, as demonstrated by my apathy for the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur recently. It’s all just so obvious. The buildings are, kinda tall.

Burj Khalifa, which used to be called Burj Dubai until Dubai ran out of cash and had to suck up to its rich but daggy bro, Abu Dhabi, to bail it out with a new name, is 828 meters high. Its closest rival is not even close…Toronto’s CN Tower, at 553m.

At the base of the tower is, of course, the gift shop where you can buy ‘At the Top’ branded t-shirts, clocks and branded scented candles (of course. I wonder what they smelt like. High? Haha.)

The lift took a minute to shoot up to the observation deck, travelling about 36km/hour. My ears popped three times on the way up and I lost count on the way down.

The view from the top was extreme. It shows a city gouged out of the desert, where a forest of metal and glass buildings is coated with a layer of dust, the desert sands threatening to take back what once was theirs.

I’d show you my pix, but I left my download cable at home. Uhhhhhgggggg!


Madly Hatted, Richard does Melbourne

Where did you get that hat? Why, it’s a Richard Nylon, of course. Undeniably, marvelously kooky, the milliner Mr Nylon is hot property right now.

Of course, it’s Cup season. That’s the Melbourne Cup to those not in the know.

When I was a schoolkid in Queensland, our teachers would nick off to the staffroom to have a glass of cheap sparkling wine and a fag and throw a few bets on the horses, or we’d even have a sweep in the classroom. The state of Victoria was on holiday.

Now, it’s just the city of Melbourne that gets a holiday so it can drink champagne and bet on the horses.

Mostly, we watch the race on TV, but one year I went down to Flemington racecourse to mingle with the rest of the great unwashed. I remember the statistic: 80,000 people drank 100,000 litres of champagne and sparkling wine. Not a bad effort, people.

The reason for this post is that some of Richard’s wildest hats are on display in Melbourne’s Langham Hotel during the racing season, so I popped in to check them out and to meet the man himself. The hotel was, incidentally, also celebrating the opening of its Seafood Altar. All worship the humble lobster? My kinda bash.

If you were craving hat tips for the season, I can share a few of Richard’s gems:

  • Asymmetrical hats work best because asymmetry is dynamic and, let’s face it, our faces are asymmetrical. And if you’re going to tilt the hat, tilt over the right eye.
  • Never wear a hat that’s wider than your shoulders, ESPECIALLY if you’re short! You’re going to end up buffeted by other people all day. If you’re an Amazon standing over six feet six, do whatever you like, with your head up in those clouds.
  • Hats need stronger make-up, so don’t be afraid to lash on the slap, or be washed out by a hat with more personality than your face.

And hats aren’t just for the ladies. “Women talk to a man wearing a hat,” says Richard, encouragingly. “Hats should be whimsical, a talking point, and fabulous from all angles. Hats are meant to be seen in 3D.”

So ditch that skanky fascinator made from chook feathers, slap on a hat and let’s smash the piggy bank and make for the TAB!

(Translation: get real, get a decent hat, throw away your feathered headpiece, and let’s bet all our savings on a horse that has a snowflake’s chance in hell of winning.)


Pony trekking in Kashmir

Unfortunately, there is rather more trekking and far less pony action that I’d hoped on this pony trek in the Kashmir valley.

Not too early this morning, after a small temper tantrum about sitting on an animal whose legs are only marginally longer than mine, I team up with Balah (‘White’ in Kashmiri) and Moonti (aka ‘Pearl’), the ever-patient Salim and the ponies’ owner, Aktor, to climb up to where the snow starts on what is apparently classed as a mid-Himalayan hike.

At 19, Aktar, with his Bollywood looks, bemoans his inflamed wisdom teeth and betrothal to a girl he doesn’t like. Balah and Moonti take us down toward the village, past women collecting rare medicinal mushrooms that reap 10,000 rupees (about $250) a kilo (hmmm, that sounds SO suss when I put it like that) or balancing massive loads of firewood on their heads, then we turn right, straight up the hill.

“Come with us!” calls one of the women from a small group, energetically pacing the track in scarves and flowing trousers. They’d leave me for dead. Mind you, so do the ponies, who once Aktar decides it is too rough to ride them, run off up the mountain to leave me gasping in their wake.

It’s too early in the season to do the celebrated ridge-top circuits. The peaks are still crowned with snow that’s melting into the rushing river that passes my tent with a roar like Delhi traffic.

So we climb to the point where the snow peters out and the wildflowers start – little purple wannabe-orchids, yellow cowslips and small clusters of pretty white blooms. In another couple of weeks, the pastures will be full of gypsies and their goats, sheep and ponies. They’re on the way up here, from 600km from down south, droving their animals up to the summer grazing.

But for now, it’s just the five of us, a picnic of boiled eggs, potatoes, carrots and more fabulous macaroons, and the whoosh of the wind through the pine trees.


A quick drive in the Kashmir Valley

So we’re in the jeep gunning it to the hiking trailhead of Naranagh, in central Kashmir. We are: my guide, Salim, the driver Daba and a small white chicken from Delhi.

Daba, who’s young and cheerful, has an eye for the ladies, and the flash of a sequined dupatta (scarf) has his attention wandering from the road to the fields where such well-dressed winsome creatures are working.

Thankfully, the chicken kicks up a racket if Daba takes the corners too sharply, which send the little white bird skidding across the back seat. His rebuke makes Daba slow down, and for that I’m happy.

The fields are lined with fresh green poplars and fields of bright yellow mustard flowers and there’s still snow on the high peaks.

A hundred roadsigns flash by. Reading roadsigns in Kashmir is like reading a Forrest Gump book: “Life is a journey. Complete it.” “Mountains are for pleasure. Only if you drive at leisure.” And my favourite, obviously targeting female Punjabi tourists, “Don’t gossip, let him drive.”

For a region so torn apart by war (which of course everyone here blames on Pakistan), Kashmir is obsessed with safety.

We reach the camp and dump our gear and I check out my tent for the night. Lots of blankets. Hot water bottle. Torch. Toilet paper. Excellent. But I’m worried about the chicken. Will it survive the cold night? I should have let the guys sacrifice it on the butcher’s concrete steps the minute we bought it.

However, back in the kitchen tent for hot milky tea and macaroons, I hear a familiar squeak and it’s the chicken, nosing around the camp stove. It gets greedy for warmth and with a squawk, it’s singed its features and is running around the tent, screeching. Into your box this minute, chicken.

The village of Naranagh is dominated by an old Hindu temple, whose picturesque ruins sit on green grass nibbled to MCG levels by a battalion of trekking ponies, making it the perfect place for … a game of cricket.

All Kashmiri boys play cricket and, it appears, all Kashmiri boys can bowl. After admiring their skill while the girls are schlepping past with urns of water on their heads, we take a preparatory trek up to a local beauty spot, two hours up, an hour back along a rushing river fed by the summer thaw. It’s good to be in the clean air after the fug of Delhi, but my thighs aren’t so grateful.

That night, the scent of fragrant Kashmiri tea, with its cardamom, cinnamon and sugar, pervades the tent, the guys joke in a mix of Kashmiri and the local gypsy dialect, the chicken is having chicken dreams and chirrups in its sleep and all is well in the world.


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