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Wildlife in the Top End, new hotels for Adelaide, chop-chop, shop-shop: Takeoff travel news


NEWS: Spike in tours to Top End

Go deep into the tropical Top End to
explore the wildlife of Kakadu and the Mary River on safari with
Australia’s most decorated ecotour operator, Echidna Walkabout Nature
Tours. ‘‘This is where nature is still in charge,’’ says director and
guide Janine Duffy, who lists bustards, wallaroos and short-haired
wallabies as her favourite finds, as well as crocs, wild pigs and rare
birdlife. ‘‘It’s slow travel; you need to spend the time to discover the Top End,’’ she says.

Echidna Walkabout Tours won gold in
London last year at the World Responsible Travel Awards, named Best for
Wildlife Conservation, and recently became just one of three responsible
tourism operators in the world to be awarded the highest rating in the
Ethical Travel Guide by Tourism Concern, a charity that campaigns for
ethical and fair-trade tourism (tourismconcern.org.uk). The Wild Top End tour runs from
August 3 to August 9, 2015, and again in August 2016. The maximum group
size for the six day tour is 16 people. Costs $3300 a person. Phone (03) 9646 8249, see echidnawalkabout.com.au.  

 


FOOD: The world at your table

It’s a dreary night, so why not walk
the streets of the world with this new cookbook exploring the world’s
great street foods. Spend the night dining on Santorini’s tomato
fritters, barbecue pulled pork sandwiches from South Carolina, Iran’s
moreish jujeh kebab (saffron chicken) or kara’age chicken from the
izakayas of Tokyo. More than 150 easy recipes are drawn
from the four corners of the globe, most for four to six people,
because it’s all about sharing. Don’t miss the handy little Tricks of
the Trade section, which gives simple, straightforward advice about not
overfilling woks, roasting stock bones before you boil them and how

refrigerating dough makes your pizza crusts bubbly and chewy. This is author Jennifer Joyce’s 10th
book and she is also a food stylist for London mags, so expect beauty
on every page. My Street Food Kitchen is out on July 1 and costs $39.99.
See
murdochbooks.com.
 


KIDS: Rock on, baby

For the tiniest babes on the go, the
new Sleeper portable bassinet from Dutch-born Puckababy is a snug,
secure portable bassinet suitable for newborns and babies up to four
months, or 6.5kg and 64cm long. The soft bassinet is lightweight and
swaddles the baby with a neat crossover fold that is also a handle for
easy carrying and gentle rocking. Made from 100 per cent cotton, the
fabric is fully washable and carries a 1.0 tog rating. Ideal for planes,
trains and keeping baby safe and sound at home. Costs $179.95. See
puckababy.com.au.


GEAR: Chop, chop! Shop, shop!

Navigate China without currency woes
with a new prepaid travel card from Australia Post and Chinese firm
UnionPay, which is underwritten by the Bank of China. Charge the
Load&Go China card up with

Australian dollars and lock in a
fixed exchange rate into Chinese yuan, then it’s time to go shopping.
You can use the card at ATMs and point-of-sale terminals, paying in the
local currency. The reloadable card goes where foreign credit cards
aren’t accepted and as it’s prepaid, your bank accounts are safe and
unlinked. The card can be registered and locked with a PIN, and any
unused yuan can be converted back to Australian dollars when you come
home, without commission fees. Purchase in Australia Post offices or see

auspost.com.au/loadandgochina
 


HOTELS: Sage advice for stayers

Adelaide is the site of a new hotel
brand, with the old Grand Chifley Hotel recently rebranded as
Australia’s first Sage Hotel. The four-star hotel targets business
travellers with an eye on the balance sheet: rates include free Wi-Fi,
and laundry and minibar prices it says are comparable to convenience
stores. The property is in the prime location of South Terrace,
overlooking the city parklands, and is close to Adelaide’s free tram.
The Chifley Wollongong will rebrand to Sage in August and a new build in
Perth opens in March 2016. Sage’s parent group, the Singapore-based
SilverNeedle Hospitality, has 55 properties in the Asia-Pacific region
including the Country Comfort brand and Next Hotels, which debuted
recently in Brisbane. The Sage Hotel Adelaide has an opening special of
$99 a night, deluxe queen room only, until July 31. See
silverneedlehotels.com

TECH: Van of your dreams

So you’re listening to the call of the open road, but don’t have the vintage Airstream caravan to tow along for the ride? 

Log on to the new website for
MyCaravan.com, which hooks up would-be caravanners with the wheeled home of their

dreams, including motorhomes and
camper trailers. Owners can rent out their vans when they’re not in use,
and renters can save themselves the headache of van storage,
maintenance and registration, while paying up to half the price quoted
by commercial rental companies. The new website rates and reviews
vans as well as owners and renters, and also has a no-tow, no-woe section
for on-site vans, saving tow-bar-less renters any hauling hassles. Some owners will also relocate their vans for you, for a fuss-free, affordable holiday. See
mycaravan.com.au
 

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.  


Ski Victoria, prison sleeps and luxe trains in Ireland: Takeoff travel news

SNOW: Winter is coming

Victoria’s ski season opened on the
Queen’s Birthday long weekend (June 6), with more bang for its buck. The
state’s most popular resort, Mount Buller, begins with fireworks and
new snowmakers pumping out up to 30 per cent more snow (mtbuller.com.au) while nearby Mount Stirling’s renovated Nordic Centre ramps up its cross-country gear offerings (mtstirling.com.au). Mount Hotham has new two-hour ski and snowboard masterclasses and is
now linked with nearby Dinner Plain by the 12-kilometre Brabralung
Indigenous Interpretation Trail, a crosscountry ski trail that follows
an ancient route of the ‘‘first peoples’’ of the Alps (mthotham.com.au). Dinner Plain also has a new tubing Snow Park with night tubing,
while family-friendly Lake Mountain has expanded its Snowman’s Village,
with a fourth toboggan slope and new snowshoeing trails. Finally,
Victoria’s largest ski resort, Falls Creek, hosts the 25th year of the
annual Kangaroo Hoppet cross-country event on August 22 (fallscreek.com.au).
 


HOSTEL: Sleep tight in Freo’s lock-up

Spend the night behind bars and pay
for the privilege. However, you won’t have to rob a bank to sleep at the
new Fremantle Prison YHA, which costs from just $28 a night in a 10-bed
dorm (and half-price throughout May – that’s $14). 

The 19th-century jail first opened in 1855 and is World Heritage-listed, with the last prisoners checking out in 1991. 

You can sleep in a cell, still with
locks, spyholes, original walls and floors, in an eight-bed guard’s
cottage or in the (more spacious) new extension. Rooms range from
private twin and family rooms with en suites to dorms, with a
selfcatering

kitchen, Wi-Fi, laundry and games
rooms for all. There are also plans afoot for outdoor movie nights, a
volleyball court and giant chess. Twin-bed cells cost from $68, $120 for
a double with en suite, or $140 for family rooms. Phone (08) 9433 4305, see
yha.com.au.
 


TRAIN: The green miles

Are trains the new cruise ships?
Glide through the greenery of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern
Ireland on the Belmond Grand Hibernian, the country’s first luxury
train, which is now taking bookings for its inaugural season, in 2016.
Aboard, there are just 40 guests in 20 en suite cabins, with restaurant
and observation bar cars, kitted up for two-, four- or six-night
itineraries.

  
The train visits the island’s beautiful cities, pausing for such quintessential experiences as

kissing the Blarney Stone, catching
traditional Irish music and visiting renowned castle gardens. Like a
cruise itinerary, you can also add

extensions to the journey, such as a day on the green for a round of golf or a tour of cultural Dublin. The two-night Realm of Giants tour,
from Dublin to Belfast and Portrush, costs from $4470 a person,
including all meals, drinks and excursions including the

Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Experience. Phone 1800 000 395, see
belmond.com/grandhibernian.
 

GEAR: Keep cool with military precision

You don’t muck around getting food
from the supermarket, do you? You’re more a hunt-and-gather type,
snagging barra, snaring crabs or chasing calamari. This new bin from the hard guys of gear, Pelican Products, is a prince among wheeled portable coolers. The new elite cooler can roll over the toughest terrain with its two large wheels and sturdy pull-along handle. It has a 75.7-litre capacity with a
built-in bottle opener and a fish measure that is moulded into the lid,
so you can ensure your catch is legal. Want more tough talk? 

Its military-grade insulation is
guaranteed to keep drinks at polar temps, it’s also certified grizzly
bear resistant (though we don’t know how it would stack up against our
koalas) and comes with a lifetime guarantee. Ideal for the boat, the

beach or heading into the outback. The Pelican ProGear™ Elite 80QT Cooler costs $649.95. See
PelicanProGear.com.au.
 


TECH: Fickle pick-and-mix travellers can triple dip

Brand loyalty is so last century:
today’s travellers shop for the best prices and experiences across
brands and across the world. However, the pick-and-mix approach makes it
tough to rack up points on loyalty cards. Travel company Expedia has
launched its own loyalty program, Expedia+, which lets you collect
points on bookings made through its website. It also means you can still
claim points with your frequent flyer programs and also your credit
cards – effectively a points triple dip. Expedia+ members can get
benefits such as bar or spa discounts at hotels, and it promises to
price match lower quotes on flights, car hire, hotels, cruises and
packages. Book through its mobile app and snap up the launch promotion
of triple points. See
expedia.com.au.

KIDS: Littlest lifesavers

Teach your kids essential skills
with a First Aid for Kids class that could save your life. The one-hour
classes are hands-on to hold short attention spans, and are tailored for
kids as young as kinder age up to 13 years. Run by First Aid instructors (many of

whom are also parents), kids learn about dialing 000, managing asthma, what to do for bites or stings, CPR and blood loss. Trainers are based in all capital
cities and come to your location to teach groups (minimum 10 children).
There’s also a superhero certificate and stickers at the end of the
course. “Our age-specific kids’ courses give them self-confidence and
teach important development skills,” says director Mary Dawes. Ideal
preparation for the big round-Australia trip or backyard escapades. Costs $12 a child. Phone 1300 853 050, see
firstaidforyou.com.au. 


Art in Melbourne: Big guns and local heroes

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


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

  
 

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

1736–1795 (until June 21) . 

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

  
 

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

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

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

nvg.vic.gov.au)  . 

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

Melbourne’s Shrine of remembrancePICTURE: CRAIG RIDLEY

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

  
 

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

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

  
 

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

  
 

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

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

  
Little Collins St) . 

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

   

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

McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery

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

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

   

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

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

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

  
 

Brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. 

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


Singapore slings, Mystical India and train travel in Tassie: Takeoff travel news

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Recently, I had to sling a Singapore Sling in the historic bar of Raffles Hotel, and the history was palpable. From the ‘last tiger in Singapore found under the pool table’ stories to the gracious verandahs with their rattan chairs and high teas. It’s 100 years since the Sling was first slung – scroll down to find out more. 

TRAIN
Full steam ahead
Explore Tasmania’s remote, mountainous west coast on the restored
steam trains of the newly reopened West Coast Wilderness Railway. The copper mining
rail line closed down in 1963 before reopening as a tourist train for a decade
until 2013. A recent $12m government investment has since seen 12,000 sleepers
replaced on what is the steepest railway in the southern hemisphere, and the
full 34.5km length of the original track, from Strahan to Queenstown, is open
once again. The historical railway was built with hard labour in the 1890s by
teams of Irish workers, and serves up plenty of juicy historical tales of feuds
and swindling. You don’t have to be a trainspotter to appreciate the beauty of
the three locomotives, which date back to 1896. Choose between full or half-day
journeys through old-growth rainforest and over King River Gorge, from
$95/adult, $40 children or $220 families in the Heritage carriage, or fully
catered with High Tea and Tasmanian sparkling wine in the Wilderness Carriage. Phone
(03) 6471 0100, see wcwr.com.au

India’s mystical Brahmaputra River.
TOURS
Mystical India
Explore busy tea markets, visit silk sari weavers and sleep
on the world’s largest inhabited river island, Majuili, amidst the dramatic
Brahmaputra River on a journey through north-eastern India. The 14-day tour
begins in Guwahati and visits the tribal lands and spots the exotic wildlife of
Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. “It is the least explored, but easily the most
exotic part of India,” says John Zubrzycki, a foreign correspondent and author who
has set several historical biographies in India. Zubrzycki, a self-confessed
Indiaphile, leads the first-time Hidden Lands, Forgotten Frontiers tour from
November 19-December 3, 2015, departing from Kolkata. Costs from $7835 a person
(excluding international airfares), includes a $200 donation to the boat
medical clinics on the Brahmaputra River. travelonq.com.au.
The Singapore Sling
FOOD
Celebrating the
centenary
Singapore is in serious birthday mode: the little country
turns just 50 this year, but its national drink, the Singapore Sling, is twice
its age, celebrating 100 years since it was first slung. The pink drink was
concocted in 1915 in the Long Bar of Raffles hotel by barman Ngiam Tong Boon,
and is now served on the nation’s airlines and in bars across the city. Mix
snacking and shaking in a Singapore Sling Masterclass in the Long Bar, where
you’ll learn how to blend gin Dom Benedictine and Cointreau, snack on satay and
take home a Singapore Sling glass. Costs $83 a person. Otherwise, grab a slice
of the new SlingaPore cake – lime sponge with pineapple mousse, Singapore Sling
marmalade and cherry jelly – in the hotel’s Ah Teng Bakery. See raffles.com/Singapore.

KIDS
Iced escapades
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most practical, like
this Dripstick, which does exactly what it says on the tin – stops that lurid,
bubble-gum flavoured ice-cream from slopping down the back of the car seat. The
Dripstick’s plastic holder lets kids get a better grip on their iced treats and the
internal funnel fits pointed cones, great when the cone’s base inevitably dissolves.
But wait, there’s more: fill the hollow handle with juice and slip in the
accompanying popsicle stick, freeze and you’ve got home-made ices. An added
bonus – it’s made from BPA-free, recyclable plastic. Available in six colours,
$12. See thanksmum.com.au.

  
Papua New Guinea adventure on True North.
TECH
Online cruising
We Australians are avid cruisers, with cruising of all
persuasions the fastest-growing sector of our tourism market. Luxury travel
company Abercrombie & Kent has just launched a new cruise website in demand
for what it describes as consistent double-digit growth over the last few
years. Choose from a Papua New Guinea adventure on True North (pictured), a French barge holiday, an expedition cruise through the
High Arctic or a small-ship exploration of the Amazon. According to A&K’s
Sujata Raman, the polar regions are their guests’ most popular choice, followed
by Myanmar river cruising and the Galapagos Islands, for premier wildlife
viewing. The company’s newest product is the small luxury Sanctuary Ananda on
the Ayeyarwady river in Myanmar. See akcruising.com.au.
 
The historic foyer of The Victoria Hotel, Melbourne
HOTEL
The Vic gets slick
It’s been overrun by American troops, been a booze-free Temperance
League stronghold and been on business tycoon Christopher Skase’s assets list.
Now Australia’s largest 3.5-star hotel, the Victoria Hotel on Melbourne’s
Little Collins St, has had a $20 million facelift. Unusually, the number of
rooms in The Vic has decreased, from 464 down to 370 larger rooms, all with
free wi-fi in a tidy refurbishment across the entire hotel, including the
historic lobby and public bar (which replaced beef tea with bellinis in the
60s). The hotel turns 135 this year and kicked off Melbourne’s laneways coffee
scene as the Victoria Coffee Palace back in 1880. It joined Accor’s budget-conscious
Ibis Styles brand two years ago and is owned by the Schwartz Family Company,
who is also developing the Sofitel on Darling Harbour, to open in 2017. Rooms in
the Victoria Hotel cost from $98 a night when booked 20 days in advance. Quote
‘early booking offer’. Phone 1800 331 147, see victoriahotel.com.au.

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


Of Uluru, porridge and babes in paradise: Takeoff travel news

FOOD

The butler does
it
Lick the plates clean and eat your porridge: that’s the order when
you visit Scotland during its year-long celebration of the land and larder.
Merry May is Whisky Month, with the Isle of Harris’s first distillery opening
in Tarbert (see harrissdistillery.com), follow a seafood trail down the west
coast and discover Britain’s most remote mainland pub, The Old Forge, in
Knoydart (see theoldforge.co.uk).  Or
call on Jack Black, Scotland’s first picnic butler, dishing up the best
of Scottish fare with Forest Holidays in Ardgartan in Argyll, and Strathyre in
Perthshire. Jack lifts the
lid on your hamper to uncover Scottish smoked salmon, Arran oat cakes and the
tea cake with a cult following, Tunnocks. Drink pure Scottish springwater, the
lurid orange Irn Br soft drink or a glass of sparkling: picnics can be tailored
for couples or families. He can even help you go foraging, light fires
and survive outdoors (insider tip: you definitely won’t go hungry). See visitscotland.org, forestholidays.co.uk.
HOTEL
Uluru shines with indigenous design
Temperatures are dropping in the our central deserts as
peak tourist season approaches at Uluru. The self-contained Emu Walk Apartments greet the season with a
complete refurbishment embracing indigenous designs and artwork by local artist
Raymond Walters Japanangka. There are 40 one-bedroom and 23 two-bedroom
apartments, each with a separate kitchen and a laundry, set beside the resort
hub.  The refurbishment is part of Ayres
Rock Resort’s facilities upgrade which includes the five-star Sails in the Desert
hotel and a new reception. Travellers Uluru-bound
this week will be in time for the Tjungu Festival, with Australian indigenous fashion,
film, art and food on display, as well as an Indigenous Anzacs at War exhibition,
April 23-26. Upcoming events at Ayres Rock Resort include the Uluru Camel
Cup
in May, Australian Outback Marathon in July and the Uluru Astronomy weekend in August. Phone
1300 034 044, see ayersrockresort.com.au/emu.
MOVIES
Halls of fame
If you fancy frocking up for a right royal frolicking,
chances are you’re already glued to the BBC’s latest period drama, Wolf Hall by English author Hilary Mantel.
The series was filmed in the Welsh and English countryside, including in the
village of Lacock, in Wiltshire, south-west England, which has also starred in Pride & Prejudice and Harry
Potter
.  Explore Lacock on
Trafalgar’s six-day Best of Devon and Cornwall tour. Other highlights include
ancient Stonehenge, refined Bath, Buckfast Abbey in Devon and Tintagel
Castle, said to be the birthplace of King Arthur. It also takes in Salisbury
Cathedral, which this year celebrates 800 years since King John signed the
Magna Carta in 1215. Trips depart between April and October 2015 and cost
from $1363 a person. Phone 1300 663 043, see trafalgar.com.
KIDS
Minors in the
Maldives
Pitched as the world’s ultimate honeymoon destination, there is
still a place for the results of that honeymoon in the Maldives. Children are
welcome at Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa, which has twice been voted
the country’s most family-friendly resort. Two children can stay and eat free and
also get free return flights via seaplane between the international airport at
Male and the resort when you book a ‘summer family offer’. Stay in a beach
suite or, if booking a one-bed pool villa, you’ll be upgraded to a two-bed
villa, and enjoy free activities such as swimming with whale sharks,
snorkelling, island tours and sunset cruises. The resort also has a kid’s club
and teen zone, free of charge, for a five-star family holiday. The offer must
be booked through travel agents between April 20-October 31. Costs from $6076,
2 adults and 2 children under 12 years, five nights. See centarahotelsresorts.com.
TECH
Slide night lives
on
Those mourning the demise of travel slide nights will
welcome this slide display case, which lends new life to your favourite photos.
Devised by New Zealand homewares designer Catherine David, the meter-long case cradles
and backlights slides for easy appreciation (and less fingerprints). Hung
horizontally or vertically, it can hold up to 21 of your favourite
memories.  David has reworked the light
to run on low-energy LED bulbs, so your slides will now shine sustainably. Costs
NZ$350. See catherinedaviddesigns.com.

NEWS

Abu Dhabi pitches for halal holidaymakers
With shopping, eating, women-only and adventure tourism
well and truly catered for, Muslim holidaymakers are now in the spotlight as
Abu Dhabi launches its new halal holidays aimed at Australian Muslim tourists.
The emirate has launched 18 new self-guided holidays for thrill-seekers,
families, chilling out or catching culture, adhering to the principles of the
Islamic faith. Highlights might include ladies-only visit to Yas Waterworld,
family fun at the Formula 1 Yas Marina Circuit, a visit to the ancient city of
El Ain or tour through the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (above), which can accommodate
40,000 worshippers and has the world’s largest Persian carpet. It’s estimated
the global market for halal tourism is worth around US$140m and rising 6
percent annually, and around 2 percent of Australians have a Muslim background.
See visitabudhabi.ae.

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


Switch to island time: Escape to the South Pacific

Balmy nights, glo-bright beaches, lush greenery, and
welcoming people: the reasons for a South Pacific island holiday are as
clear as its aquamarine waters. Just follow our South Pacific island
travel guide for travelling like a pro.

The hotspots

While Fiji and Vanuatu are permanent favourites for Australian
holidaymakers, we’re now starting to discover upcoming stars, such as
the secretive Solomon Islands and PNG, while the Cook Islands and French
influences of New Caledonia are enjoying a renaissance. No matter if
you’re a diver, beachcomber or dedicated lounge lizard, it all boils
down to the beach. Kick start your island dreams at South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

Flying there

The main airlines linking the South Pacific include Fiji Airways (formerly Air Pacific,) Qantas, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia. Smaller national carriers such as PNG’s Air Niugini, Air Vanuatu , New Caledonia’s Air Calin and Solomon Airlines
hook Australia up to its nearest neighbours. Keep an eye out for sales
and you might snap up a flight from east-coast Australia to Nadi, Fiji
for around $650 return, and $250 return for kids under 12. During the
low season (November to May), $600 will get you to Noumea in New
Caledonia. Put skyscanner on your must-visit list, to compare flight prices and dates.

Cruising there

The South Pacific is our most popular cruise destination, with New
Caledonia’s Isle of Pines and Vanuatu’s Champagne Beach providing the
classic postcard backdrop to a South Pacific cruise. Choose your style:
from champagne luxury to party ships or the range of exploratory small
ships that are now discovering the hidden corners of thousands of
islands. P&O Cruises
offers wallet-friendly seven-night cruises departing Australia for New
Caledonia from $899, quad share in an interior room, which is always
cheapest, compared with $1999 a person for a suite. A good jumping-off
point for cruise comparisons is cruiseabout.

Getting around

What’s your tribe? The fly-and-flop brigade, who are content to be
spoilt poolside, or do you get out amongst the locals? The Pacific
islands each have their own special mode of transport: from PNG’s banana
boats that skip between its islands to Vanuatu’s little island-hopping
planes to the many live aboard boats that let you sleep on board,
stopping to visit a local village, get the snorkel on or take a dive. A
three-night cruise through Fiji’s Yasawa islands aboard Captain Cook Cruises
live aboard MV Reef Endeavour costs from $980 a person, twin share.
Island-hopping plane transfers are usually priced into packages. If
you’re booking them yourself, get in early as the small planes fill
quickly.

Staying there

Nothing kicks off romance like a glowing sunset over calm waters.
South Pacific island holidays have more than their fair share of
super-luxe hideaways. Fiji’s top resorts can command over $1000 a night
for a slice of private paradise. For some spectacular beach island
eye-candy, check out the all-inclusive, complete island hire at Dolphin Island and Wadigi Island, or the luxe resorts at Likuliku Lagoon and Matagi Island.

For flight-hotel packages from glam to fam, check out Creative Holidays
Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Cook Islands packages: you can pay
around $2000 a person for a week’s stay in the glam Raratonga Beach
Resort & Spa, with international flights, kids’ crèche and clubs,
daily cocktail parties and activities. Sleepy Samoa, as yet undeveloped
by the big international chains, offers good value, while going local in
a PNG village stay costs from $60 a night. Bookings.com and skyscanner.com yield unusual finds for those who prefer to wing it.

Hip pocket talk

As a rule of thumb, flight-and-hotel packages in the South Pacific
offer the best value, thanks to the big travel companies’ muscular
buying power. Check the fine print for meal packages, pay-seven,
stay-five deals and other bonuses. Kids under 12 can usually stay and
eat free when sharing with their parents, and many of the airlines offer
very reasonable kids’ air fares. Bargain hunters can slip into the
fringe of the wet, windy season to score a deal. Traditionally, the
South Pacific’s hot, rainy season runs from November to April, while May
to October is peak season, thanks to clear skies and lower humidity,
however climate change does throw a few curve balls.

Prices correct at time of publishing.

This article by Belinda Jackson was published on Art of Money blog by GE Money.


In the raw in Phuket, Tiger trims down, checking out the Flying Doctors: Takeoff travel news

FOOD
In the raw on Phuket
The luxury Sri Panwa hotel on Phuket’s southern coastline
has opened its newest dining option, an authentic Japanese restaurant called Baba
IKI. Order from the sake cocktail list and get up close and personal at the
sushi bar with head Chef Haru, who trained under Iron Chef Boontum Pakpo. Top
picks include the toro sashimi (premium tuna belly) and sake
sashimi (Norwegian salmon). Seating 60 people, Baba IKI has expansive views
over the Andaman Sea. This is the fourth restaurant at the hotel on Cape Panwa including
Baba Soul Food, which serves traditional southern Thai cuisine such as as Hell
Chicken and crab and coconut curry.  The
hotel has been named Thailand’s best resort and its Baba Nest rooftop bar one
of the world’s best beach bars. A night in the pool suite ocean view costs from $800. See sripanwa.com.

AIRLINE
Tiger trims
carry-on kilos
Low-cost airline TigerAir is dropping its free carry-on luggage
limits to 7kg a person on flights booked from March 17 for travel from April
17. Currently, passengers are allowed to bring two pieces of cabin luggage
weighing up to 10kg in total. The airline said the move will help prevent
over-filled overhead lockers and save time both on the plane and at check-in.
Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Rex Airlines have 7kg carry-on limits on their economy
domestic routes, while Qantas allows two bags of 7kg, totalling 14kg. TigerAir
passengers can buy an additional 5kg of carry-on luggage, bringing the total to
12kg, with its new Cabin+ product, which costs from $18 in advance or from $36
at check-in. See tigerair.com.

KIDS
Backyard explorers
Teach the kids a love of the great outdoors, stylishly, with
a night under canvas in the new Joey tent. Created by outdoor goods
manufacturer Homecamp, the sturdy Joey is made
from canvas, has a waterproof floor and is fire and mould resistant. Pitching
at just under a meter high and 1.4m wide, it fits in the backyard or pitch it beside
the family tent for a kids-only zone on holidays. The Joey weighs 8kg and will
sleep three little ones. So all you have to worry about now is dead torch
batteries and marshmallow overdoses. Costs $325. See homecamp.com.au. 
BOOK
Gallipoli No. 1 destination

Travellers wanting to visit the battle sites of
Gallipoli, Turkey, are being advised to avoid not only ANZAC Day, on April 25,
but also weekends until mid-June. Lonely Planet named the Gallipoli Peninsula
the world’s number one travel destination for 2015, and its new Turkey guide
advises that massive crowds are expected to visit the Gallipoli Peninsula
Historical National Park this year, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the
Gallipoli landing. Author James Bainbridge adds that weekends in September are
another peak time, when vacationing Turks visit the region. Lonely Planet
Turkey (14th Edition), $39.99.See lonelyplanet.com.


NEWS
Check-up at the Flying Doctor
The Royal Flying Doctor Service in Broken Hill has opened
a new GP clinic beside its visitor centre, where travellers heading into
central Australia can seek medical advice and ensure they’re in fine form for
the road. The RFDS has visitor centres at Broken Hill, Longreach, Alice
Springs, Kalgoorlie and Dubbo, as well as Charleville, which also as a GP
clinic. Last year, its 63 aircraft flew more than 26 million kilometres caring
for 282,000 people, and says about a quarter of its emergency medical evacuations
are road warriors driving in the outback. Broken Hill is 935km from Sydney and
725km from Melbourne, and the last medical service until Alice Springs, so plug
the new Clive Bishop Medical Centre into your GPS: it’s at the RFDS Base on
Airport Rd, next to Broken Hill Airport, open 9am to 5pm, Monday-Friday. The
Bruce Langford Visitor Centre lets you go behind the scenes and into the RFDS
airport hangar, open seven days. For medical appointments, call (08) 8080 3780.
To donate to the not-for-profit service, see flyingdoctor.org.au.
GEAR
Indigenous inspiration
Wear your country with pride with this fashion range
designed by indigenous artists. The Community Unity lifestyle bag is painted by
artist Robert Levi and measures 45×36.5cm. It’s made from polyester drill by indigenous
clothing brand Bundarra which designs, cuts and sews all its garments
here in Australia. Levi, who is from Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, says
the bag’s design shows hope for indigenous unification. It’s one of several designs across Bundarra’s range, which includes fashion leggings and its new
singlets. Bags cost $39.95. See bundarra.org.



This weekly column by Belinda Jackson is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newpaper’s Traveller section.

Build the perfect family holiday: choose from these 6 LEGOLANDs (or do them all!)

If you’ve got kids, chances are you’ve also got
crates of Denmark’s most famous export, LEGO. In a classic case of
‘build it and they will come,’ this modest toy has built an empire. And
its theme parks are about to rake over the world. 

Empire building

LEGO is older than nearly all of its fans: the plastic brick was
invented in Billund, Denmark, in 1958. Fast-forward 56 years and there
are six LEGOLAND destinations across the globe: the Danish original, two
in the US, one in the quintessentially English town of Windsor,
Germany’s LEGOLAND Deutschland and the newest (and closest to Australia)
in Johor, Malaysia. The theme parks are designed for kids 2 to 12
years, and all have Duplo Gardens, with bigger bricks for smaller kids.

Try the original

Go back to where it all began. The first LEGOLAND opened in 1968,
just beside the first Lego factory. “My oldest boy wanted to go to
Lego’s heartland,” says Jacqui Davidson, who has taken her three active
boys, aged 12, nine and six, to the original LEGOLAND in Denmark, and
visited Malaysia’s LEGOLAND three times. “LEGO is more educational than
other theme parks,” she says. “The kids do building workshops, have
competitions and even robotics courses. It’s inspiring, and it’s not
just a boy thing.”

Eat, breathe and sleep LEGO

If too much LEGO is never enough, check the family into the LEGO
Hotel attached to your LEGOLAND destination of choice. The rooms have
either a pirate, kingdom or adventure theme.  “I would definitely
recommend LEGOLAND Billund Hotel,” says Jacqui. “There’s LEGO kitsch,
LEGO soap, LEGO shampoo, LEGO pillows, and the excellent, very
child-oriented buffet in the bistro.” The four-star Hotel LEGOLAND also
specialises in corporate teambuilding using LEGO (and let’s face it, if
you can’t team-build here, then where can you?!)

Water play

In Malaysia, Jacqui’s boys give the new Star Wars section a big
thumbs-up, while the grown-ups love Miniland (which reproduces Asia’s
top landmarks, such as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and the golden temples of
Burma, in Lego). “Be prepared with water and umbrellas for shade,” she
adds. The best thing is its waterpark, she says. “If you’re in Malaysia
for more than 24 hours, you’ll need a swim.” With balmy temps also the
norm in California and Florida, both of the US theme parks conveniently
have fabulously fun waterparks.

Enter the dragon

In comparison, Bernie Jackson took his three kids, aged 10, eight and
four, to visit LEGOLAND Deutschland over two rainy days, which kept the
crowds at bay. “The kids loved it. The park was manageable enough for
the older kids to explore by themselves, and there was plenty to keep
the four-year-old in awe. The biggest hit was Captain Nick’s Splash
Battle, and while our youngest was a late-adopter on the Dragon Coaster,
he rode it until the park closed.”

What’s next?

2014 saw the launch of the Lego Movie, featuring the voices of
Hollywood greats including Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson, about an evil
tyrant’s plan to glue the LEGO universe together. There are also
another three LEGOLANDs in development, across Dubai, Japan and South
Korea.

But wait… There’s more!

Not even the 2015 Super Bowl could escape the Lego treatment. Enter the Brick Bowl
– the brainchild of British animation house A+C Studios. The
three-minute clip is a journey through nine of this year’s Super Bowl
ads edited together to make a story – and it took them an incredible 36
hours to create. Watch the video now and be amazed. Because everything is awesome.

This article by Belinda Jackson was published on Art of Money blog by GE Money.


Gone drovin’ and hanging loose: Takeoff travel news

ADVENTURE

Gone
drovin’

Turn your horse’s head to the west on a new droving experience in the
Riverina. There are just 20 places available on the new Long Paddock Cattle
Drive, which sees you droving a mob of cattle along one of Australia’s iconic
stock routes that’s still in use today. There’ll be plenty of big hats, billy
tea and bulldust, but there’s also a ready-made camp to return to each night
(with stretcher beds!) at Wanganella Creek Camp. Here, local Riverina produce is showcased at
each meal, hot showers and horse wranglers on hand to help each rider, from
beginners to seasoned hackers. The first two rides will take place from May 1-3
and May 8-10. Riders need to be 18 years and over, costs $2500 a person. See thelongpaddock.com.au/cattle-drive.


TECH
Taking care of
YourSelfie

Unfortunately for the anti-selfie-stick brigade, modern travel
is inextricably linked to technology, with split-second social media replacing
more genteel, though less timely postcards. Learn how to digitally unwind with
tech mistress Randi Zuckerberg and Celebrity Cruises. Zuckerberg is
editor-in-chief of Dot Complicated, sister to Facebook inventor Mark, and the
social medium’s former  director of
market development and spokesperson. The year-long “Take Care of
YourSelfie” campaign helps travellers navigate the delicate tech-travel
balance, surely aided by cruise ships’ traditionally steep internet charges and
limited access. But stop envisaging a bunch of rabid geeks on bandwidth withdrawal:
unplug with spa and health treatments onboard Celebrity’s 11 ships at the
Canyon Ranch SpaClub, including the InstaGlow detox ritual, fACEial Time
facial, seaweed peat wrAPP and the Texitcure manicure. Phone 1800 754 500, see celebritycruises.com.au.

GEAR
Wear your Aussie
heart on your sleeve
Take a little piece of home on your travels abroad with
this chunky eco bracelet made from Tasmanian timbers such as huon pine, myrtle
and sassafras. The timber offcuts have been polished into beads and are offset
with Tagua seeds from South American rainforests, which are collected by women
in impoverished rural communities. The jewellery is available several
colourways, and each unique piece is made by Tamika Bannister of Spotted Quoll
studio in Launceston, Tasmania. Melbourne online retailer BitsOfAustralia ships
free within Australia for purchases over $30, and $15 internationally. Spotted
Quoll eco bracelets cost $45, eco necklaces also available, $55. See bitsofaustralia.com.au.

KIDS
Hang loose in
Sydney
The school holidays are over, but Taronga Zoo makes it
easy to escape into the wilderness with its new Wild Ropes adventure. The
treetop rope course crosses suspension bridges, zip lines and rope climbs.
Happily, the ropes don’t hang over lions’ dens: you’ll be dangling over
herbivores, either Australian native animals including kangaroos and koalas or
its wetlands aviary, during the 90-minute experience, with views to our own Sydney
Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Open seven days a week, Wild Ropes costs
$35/adults, $30 children 10-17 years (minimum 1.4m tall) or $69/$45 with
Taronga Zoo entry. See taronga.org.au/wildropes.
AIRLINE
Aussies step aboard
for Hong Kong
Two Australian natural skincare brands get a sky-high
promotion when they are included in Cathay Pacific and Dragonair’s new first
and business class amenity kits. Lucky first-class passengers can now slather
on Aesop hand cream and lip balm, presented in stackable cases also by Aesop,
while business class flyers will receive a perennial Asian favourite, South
Australia’s Jurlique, whose hand, lip and day care creams are packed in a case
by hip Hong Kong bag manufacturer Seventy Eight Percent. In May, the airline
will also reopen its premium airline lounge, The Pier in Hong Kong airport,
following a redesign by British design icon Ilse Crawford’s Studioilse. Word is
that instead of an open space, it will feel more like ‘a luxurious apartment’. Cathay
Pacific launches its Hong Kong-Zurich route on March 29 and Hong Kong-Boston on
May 2, and this month adds additional seats on its Sydney-Hong Kong route when
it deploys its larger Boeing 777-300ERs on the daily service. See
cathaypacific.com.
MUSIC
I’m with the band
The Australian Chamber Choir is hitting the road on its
fifth European tour, and this time, it’s asking its friends along. Yeah, you’re
with the band. Departing on June 25, you’ll enjoy the sights of Berlin,
Copenhagen, Hamburg and Sweden’s Ystad, as well as discovering the sights and sounds
of Europe’s medieval villages. There are
choir performances in 15th-century churches, Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial
Church and at Denmark’s Sorø International Music Festival, as well as traditional
sightseeing highlights such as a visit to Beethoven’s birthplace, in Bonn. The 15-day
tour stays in four-star hotels including a converted monastery in Bavaria, and
includes coach transport, guides, admission to all the concerts and a
(non-compulsory) ‘Friends Choir’, for those who want to sing along. The Friends
Tour of Europe 2015 costs $6950 a person, twin share, excluding flights. See
auschoir.org.

 

Takeoff travel news is edited by Belinda Jackson and published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper each week. 


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