Colombo via Rum Jungle and Connemara

Flying from
Melbourne to Colombo via Kuala Lumpur, the tv map on the aircraft wall has
thrown up some gems – it’s listing Arthur’s Seat (a beauty spot on the
Mornington Peninsula), Rum Jungle near Darwin (never heard of it but its allure is undeniable), and I learn there’s a place
called Connemara somewhere near the NT-SA border. 
Crossing the country diagonally, it always seems to be five minutes to 4pm on the
wall screen, (which Yasmine uses to try to skype her uncle Berny).
We fly over
Alice Springs, the flat land broken by two long ridges that curve gently like a
dog’s spoke military-strain roads cutting into the soft pink ground. By the
time we hit the end of Australia at the Kimberley coast, it’s dark and the next
view are the lights of KL, and finally, around 1am, Colombo welcomes us with warm, thick heat and the scents of a tropical jungle.
Also, just
a short aside to praise Malaysia Airlines’ customer service line: They. Do.
Callback. Imagine! No more waiting in the queue: just a polite message telling
you your position in the queue and estimated callback time. Amazing. Australian
airlines, take note please!

See Tokyo in style and go warp-drive in Sri Lanka: travel deals 10 February 2013

Click on for Mark Jensen’s bbq octopus recipe, Noosa Food & Wine, Qld.
Beautiful people eating beautiful food: it’s Noosa in a nutshell come this May. Otherwise, Tokyo in style and knowing your warp and weft in Sri Lanka, in this week’s domestic and international travel deals.

Foodies will flock to Noosa from May 16-19 for the 10th Noosa International Food & Wine festival. Highlights
include Edible Music, which sees musicians and chefs combined, degustation
dinners, sunset concerts and a new Barefoot beach marquee for cocktail
competitions and a seafood feast. Tickets cost from $40, which include
celebrity chef cooking demos and live entertainment, up to $330 for a Weekend
Gold Pass, which includes cocktail parties and preferential concert seating.
Book before April 1 and save 10 per cent discount (excluding some events and
the Platinum Experience). (07) 5455 4455,
“Autumn is a delightful time to escape into our wonderful alpine landscape, with epic sunsets and soft meadows filled with wildflowers,” says Alan Fenner of ParkTrek. The highlight of the ‘Alpine High Plains’ wfour-day walk (March 23-26) is a trek along the Razorback from Mt Hotham to Mt Feathertop. Team it up with the four-day ‘Easter in the Victorian Alps’ walk (March 29 – April 1), which criss-crosses the high country, visiting historical huts, staying at a ski lodge in Falls Creek. Walks are graded easy to medium, averaging 12-16km daily. Book both trips and save $120. Costs $2080 a person for two trips, includes meals, accommodation and guides (03) 9877 9540,

Tassie is girding its
loins for the island’s international arts festival, Ten Days on the Island,
coming up on March 15-24 ( Get in early and hook
yourself some seriously swank digs, at the beautiful Villa Howden, 15
minute drive from Hobart on the shores of North West Bay. Comprising 10 luxury suites looking over the bay,
the setting is serene,  with wi-fi,
Australian cosmetics, full breakfast and in-suite bar included. Stay two
nights, get a third free, saving a cool $420. Book and stay by March 28. Costs
from $840 for three nights. (03) 6267 1161,
Start planning for WA’s wildflower season, which carpets the state in a rich
tapestry from June to November. Outback Spirit’s 15-day Western Wildflower
Discovery tour traverses the state’s riches, from Monkey Mia and the Shark Bay
Marina to wildlife sanctuaries as well as those beautiful stretches of native
wildflowers. Tours depart in September and October, book by February 28 and fly
Sydney-Perth return for just $199. Costs from $5595 a person, twin share. 1800
688 222,
Shangri-La Tokyo
Get to grips with Tokyo in style, with the Shangri-La Hotel’s new package, which sees you skipping about town in a private limo. Hotel stays usually cost from $740 a night, but the two-night ‘Explore Tokyo in Style’ package lets you snap your fingers and have the car whisk you on a tour, to the airport or just to take you shopping, until June 30. Costs from $1500, two nights. 1800 222 448,

Feel the rails rocking beneath you on the night journey from Paris to Rome. The Thello night trains travel up to 180km/hour and travel between Paris, Milan, Venice and now Rome with both six-berth couchette and first-class sleepers available. Book seven days in advance and save up to 50 per cent. Seats are limited, so get in early.  Costs from $52 a person in a six-berth couchette. 1300 387 245,

Get the true taste of Creole with a cooking school that
unravels the cuisine of the Deep South, with its French, Spanish, Portuguese,
Italian and Native American influences. There’s also a tour of the Jack Daniels
distillery and dinner in a Natchez mansion on this 10-day Tastes & Sounds
of the South tour. The tours depart between May 2 and October 31. Book six
months ahead and save $119. Costs from $2256 a person, twin share. 1300 663
Recovered from Christmas? It’s time to start planning for
next year, with a Canadian White Christmas tour. Have Christmas Day brunch at
Lake Louise followed by a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh, train through The
Rockies, visit the snow haven of Whistler and a take gondola ride at Banff.  Departs December 16. Book by April 30, save
up to $500 a person. Costs from $6495 a person, twin share. 1300 278 278,
Bargain hunters love Malaysia, not only for the shopping, but also for the good value on its accommodation. The Villa Samadhi is a sleek, 21-room contemporary Asian residence brimming with pools, thatch roofs and Asian antiques in central Kuala Lumpur. Stay two nights at the Relais & Chateaux property before February 28, get dinner and airport transfers and $173 off. Costs from $566 a villa, two nights. 1800 667731,

One of this year’s hot spots, the attention on Sri Lanka
is justly deserved for its spectacular beaches, lush landscapes and intriguing
culture. Textiles aficionados have the chance to explore the island’s textiles
history, from lace to embroidery, batik and handloomed cloth.  The tour is led by Melbourne embroidery
artist Cresside Colette, originally from Colombo. Highlights include private
textiles collections, weaving villages and lace workshops, as well as the
island’s main tourist sites and there’s plenty of opportunity to shop its busy
markets, with Active Travel’s wise shoppers by your side. The tour departs May
6-17. Costs from $3874 a person, twin share (excludes airfares). (02) 6249

SOURCE: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Bargains and bright ideas: from Middle Earth to Malaysia

Fantasy: Sir Ian McKellen in The Lord of the Rings, New Zealand.

Are you a shopper, a temple lover, volcano hopper and or film fan? Here’s your escapade. 

Where to? New Zealand.
The experience: Hobbit hunting on the North and South islands.
Pack for: Middle-earth adventure in four-star style.
Who goes? Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans.
HighlightsThis 10-day tour is led by one of the dwarves from the Hobbit trilogy. The tour starts in Auckland and finishes in Christchurch, visiting the Hobbiton film set in Matamata, as well as Wellington (aka Wellywood) and dramatic film locations, including Mount Victoria and the uplifting scenery of Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo.
Watch the clock: It takes three hours to fly from Sydney to Auckland with Air New Zealand (13 24 76,, Emirates (1300 303 777,, Jetstar (13 15 38,, LAN (1800 558 129, and Virgin Australia (13 67 89, It also takes three hours to fly from Christchurch to Sydney with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia.
Costs: From $4790 a person for 10 days. Includes flight from Wellington to Dunedin, guides and some meals. 1300 888 225,
For more information:
SUPping in the Cook Islands.

Where to? Cook Islands.

The experience: The islands’ first “Gathering Holiday”.
WhenMarch 16-22.
Pack forIslander glam.
Who goes? Single travellers aged 28-45ish wanting to broaden their social network.
HighlightsA mix of fun, relaxation and a few healthy activities: 4WD rallies, starlit cinema, cooking schools, a lagoon cruise, stand-up paddle boarding and a speed-friending event (like dating, but without compulsory romance). There’s also time to hit the local nightclubs and markets. The “donate time” program encourages travellers to spend a little time in the islands’ schools reading to local kids, to give back to the local community. Group size averages about 20 people.
Watch the clock: It’s a six-hour direct flight from Sydney to Rarotonga with Air New Zealand, departing every Saturday night and crossing the dateline to arrive at 5.30am, Saturday. 13 24 76,
Costs: $2399 a person, twin share, for six nights, most meals, activities and transfers.
For more information: (07) 5408 0153,
Where to? Singapore.
The experience: Larging it up in one of the world’s most iconic hotels.
Pack for: City luxe.
Who goes? History lovers and hardened shoppers.
Highlights: A three-night stay in a Palm Court suite at Raffles Hotel Singapore (established in 1887) is the last word in colonial charm. The offer includes breakfast in the Tiffin Room, dinner in Raffles Grill, personalised bathrobes, spa treatments, a bottle of 125th anniversary Billecart-Salmon champagne and airport transfers in a Bentley. There’s also a voucher for one complimentary night’s stay, a butler on call 24 hours, and a history tour by the hotel’s resident historian. The hotel is surrounded by shopping malls, and the famed 2.2-kilometre Orchard Road strip is just a hop-skip away.
Watch the clock: It’s bang-on eight hours from Sydney to Singapore with Singapore Airlines (, Scoot (, Qantas (, British Airways ( and Virgin Australia (
Costs: From $3871 a person for three nights. +800 1 7233537, Quote “Celebrating Romance”.
For more information:
Borobudur, Java, Indonesia.
Where to? Central Java, Indonesia.
The experience: Five-day “Cultured Treasures & Temples” tour.
Pack for: High-end luxury and natural beauty.
Who goes? Natural beauty and culture buffs.
Highlights: Borobudur, the world’s largest, absolutely breathtaking, Buddhist sanctuary, dating from the ninth century, and nearby Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex from about the same era. The backdrop is of mountains and volcanoes – visited at sunrise and sunset – including the “home of the gods”, the volcanic Dieng Plateau at an altitude of 2000 metres. Stay at Amanjiwo Resort or Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa to immerse yourself in the local beauty.
Watch the clock: Garuda Indonesia flies daily from Sydney to Yogyakarta via Denpasar (7hr 15min, though expect a Balinese layover). 1300 365 330,
Costs: From $US1670 ($1604) a person, twin share, for four nights. Includes private transfers and all sightseeing.
For more information: 1300 851 800,

Where to? Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The experience: Bargain hunting and tower climbing.
Pack for: Pounding the pavement.
Who goes? Hardcore shoppers.
Highlights: All of Asia knows KL packs a punch in the shopping stakes. The malls are glamorous and airconditioned – as befits the humidity – and they range from the world’s top fashion labels to fabulous local shoe designers, exceptional kids’ wear and great electronic goods. Stay for four nights and pay for only three (your first bargain before you even arrive!) at the four-star Parkroyal Hotel Kuala Lumpur in the compact city centre, close to the Petronas Twin Towers and the Bukit Bintang shopping strip.
Watch the clock: It takes 7½ hours to fly from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines ( and Air Asia (
Costs: From $349 a person, twin share, for four nights. Includes 20 per cent off spa treatments and in the restaurant, airport transfers and a half-day city tour. Book until May 31 for travel between April 1 and May 31. 1300 747 400,
For more information: (02) 9299 4441,

Mt Yasur volcano, Vanuatu.
Where to? Tanna Island, Vanuatu.
The experience: Volcano hopping.
Pack for: Five-star adventure at three-star prices.
Who goes? Those keen on white sand and big fireworks.
Highlights: Get up close to Tanna Island’s Mount Yasur volcano. Easily accessible, the volcano was seen by Captain Cook when he visited in 1774 and is most active during the wet season, from late February to April. Stay for four nights in an ocean view room at the White Grass Ocean resort in Tanna and take a volcano safari tour, then spend three nights in Port Vila to soak up the turquoise waters of the south Pacific.
Watch the clockAir Vanuatu flies from Sydney to Port Vila daily (3hr 25min), and under an hour from Port Vila to Tanna. 1300 780 737,
Costs: From $1873 a person for seven nights. Includes flights ex-Sydney. Book by February 15 for travel until March 26 and between April 23 and June 20.
For more information1300 370 792,

Hey, big spenders! Shopping holidays in Asia.

Plastic loaded and flats on feet? Experts tell Belinda Jackson where the bargains are in Asia.
It’s official: Hong Kong is the hottest shopping neighbourhood in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The food, the shopping, the views, the energy, the noise, the waterways – HK’s alive and buzzing 24/7,” says design tracker Anne-Maree Sargeant, on our panel of shopping experts who share their secret haunts and favourite hot spots in the region’s top 10 shopping cities, according to a Global Shopper survey (
The cities were chosen based on their visitor numbers – Sydney is the only Australian city to make the list – and each city was marked out of 100 based on its affordability, shops, convenience, hotels, transport, climate and culture.

1. Hong Kong, 69/100

The insider Art and design journalist and hunter Anne-Maree Sargeant (
What’s hot Best in show for its fashion, electronics, watches and jewellery. 83/100 for the shops.
What’s not Pricey hotels that are permanently booked out. 58/100 for retail affordability.
The address book Hit Cat Street Gallery for emerging and mid-career artists ( and the inaugural Hong Kong art fair (May 23- 26, 2013), run by the hugely influential new owners Art Basel and Design Miami ( Stylish superstore Lane Crawford is stacked with luxury brands and designer offerings. Check the capsule store featuring furniture and lighting from favourite Brit designer Lee Broom ( Get your fix of Harvey Nicks at The Landmark, the Asian Harvey Nichols flagship store for revered luxury and designer offerings ( Monocle Shop is the first of a new “retail/news” concept for British style tome Monocle (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Hong Kong direct with Qantas (, Cathay Pacific ( or Virgin Atlantic (
Staying there The 117-room Upper House hotel, designed by architect Andre Fu, sits above Pacific Place Shopping Mall, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island (

2. Kuala Lumpur 65/100

The insider Belinda Jackson, travel writer and former international shopping columnist.
What’s hot Low prices in great malls and off-the-scale seasonal sales. 76/100 for shops.
What’s not Sticky climate and few attractions. 50/100 for climate and culture.
The address book Malaysians do shoes, led by the master, Jimmy Choo, in luxe mall Suria KLCC ( The new Choo is said to be Lewre Lew, found in Parkson department stores ( Buy batik shoes from Jimmy’s fave designer, Fion Poon, in the Central Market ( Brothers Charles and Keith Wong’s Charles & Keith are unmissable for affordable, high-style shoes and accessories ( For stingray clutches, head to Klutched in Mid Valley Megamall ( High-energy Low Yat Plaza has every computer invention at one-third of the price of Singapore, with one floor dedicated just to repairs ( KL is justly famous for its malls – hit the strip of Bukit Bintang for big-dollar Starhill and Suria KLCC, chic Pavilion, street-smart Fahrenheit88, Lot 10 and perennial bargain fave Sungei Wang.
Getting there Fly direct from Sydney to Malaysia with Malaysia Airlines ( and Air Asia (
Staying there The Westin Kuala Lumpur is at the start of Bukit Bintang, making it ideal for shoppers (

3. Shanghai 63/100

The insiders Fashion designer Alex Zabotto-Bentley and events director Anna Patterson of AZBcreative (
What’s hot International brands, affordable hotels and long shopping hours. 84/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Nasty sales taxes. 59/100 for affordability.
The address book Spend a weekend afternoon at the iconic Dong Tai Lu Antiques Markets. Enter from Xizang Lu into Liuhe Lu, near Xintiandi, and haggle. Spin has amazing handmade ceramics: think industrial chic meets a Chinese art gallery (360 Kangding Lu, near Shanxi Bei Lu). Casa Pagoda is the ultimate in East meets West, with exotic fabrics, old lost-and-found furniture and homewares ( We love Madame Mao’s Dowry for womenswear and Chinese kitsch for the home ( The streets Xinle Lu and Changle Lu in the French Concession have amazing women’s fashion, cafes and art deco furniture. Try The Villa for high-end international fashion (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Shanghai direct with China Eastern ( or Air China (
Staying there For immaculate location and architecture, stay at the Waterhouse at South Bund (
More info

4. Beijing 61/100

The insider Still-life master and photographer Dieu Tan (
What’s hot Long shopping hours, top World Heritage sites and good hotels. 84/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Limited foreign languages spoken and few deals. 49/100 for shops.
The address book Hunt hard for genuine Chinese antiques among the reproductions at Panjiayuan antique market (21 Dongsanhuan Nanlu, Chaoyang District). Spend a day or two in Dashanzi Art District’s galleries looking at Modern Chinese art. Most work is for sale, so visit the UCCA gallery shop (2 Jiuxiangqiao Lu, Chaoyang District). Sanlitun Village is one of the hippest areas in town, with ultra-luxe brands with a Beijing edge (19 and 11 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District). The Gulou/Houhai area houses the traditional Beijing hutong style of architecture, some of which is converted into stylish shops for local art, home deco, tea, fashion and accessories (Gulou Dong Da Jie, Dongcheng District). The Sanyuanli food market is where many Western restaurants and international grocery stores buy wholesale (Shunyuan Jie, west of Sanyuan Dongqiao, Chaoyang District).
Getting there Fly Sydney to Beijing direct with Air China (
Staying there Hotel G is a 110-room hotel in the Sanlitun district. Workers’ Stadium West Road, Chaoyang District (
More info

5. Singapore 60/100

The insider “House whisperer” and stylist Megan Morton (
What’s hot Safe, culturally diverse and convenient. 71/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Pricey hotels and high transport costs. 50/100 for affordability.
The address book Expect cups, trinkets and objects you didn’t know you had to have until you saw them at gallery-store Little Drom Store ( Red Dot Design Museum’s Design Journey is an excursion to 18 of the city’s most design-oriented places ( Locals dress their spaces with Miles & Theodore’s modernistic offerings from Copenhagen’s Massproductions, France’s Revol and Carpet Reloaded floor coverings ( Go for the rose-petal tea; go for the marmalade; go for the vintage selection: Carpenter & Cook is a tea room that trades vintage curios, furniture and kitchenware (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Singapore direct with Singapore Airlines (, Scoot (, Qantas (, China Eastern (, British Airways ( and Virgin Australia (
Staying there Every room in the New Majestic Design Hotel differs, the service is great and the rooms are energising. (31-37 Bukit Pasoh,
More info

6. Sydney 58/100

The insider Style queen Melissa Penfold, author of Australian Style and co-author of Melissa Penfold’s Little Black Book: Sydney’s Shopping Secrets.
What’s hot Great weather, cultural attractions. 71/100 for climate, culture.
What’s not Short trading hours, costly hotels and tricky visas. Bargain central, it’s not. 34/100 for affordability.
The address book The Country Trader has hundreds of antique-look table accessories in silver, glass, china and wood (, while Spence & Lyda’s glam new showroom is the place for Missoni Home linen ( Double Bay’s Transvaal Avenue is hot right now: start at My Island Home for Caribbean living style, African home lovelies at Doveton Kay Interiors, or French pretties at Maison et Jardin. Jan Logan Jewellery has great taste at sensible prices ( and Anny Lada Jewellery is the celebs’ source of big, affordable, shell-based South Sea pearls (shop 37, 22 Knox Street). Top Australian fashion designers reside at The Intersection in Paddington, with Acne and Bassike for brill basics. At Robert Burton, get French Cire Trudon candles, fab Bensimon sneakers and Petit Bateau womenswear (
Getting there By cab or bus.
Staying there Everyone’s talking about Sydney’s newest hotel, QT in the heart of the city (
More info

7. Bangkok 57/100

The insider Photographer Matt Burns splits his time between Australia and Bangkok (
What’s hot Fun street markets, great hotels and spectacular food. 69/100 for affordability.
What’s not Dodgy counterfeits. 50/100 for culture and climate.
The address book Monte Carlo tailors isn’t a cheap option, but the staff do provide fantastic quality and service. Expect to pay $300-$1000 for a suit, depending on the cloth ( I can’t recommend Fotofile in the MBK Centre highly enough for its professional camera equipment and unsurpassed knowledge and service. Try and talk to Khun Kong for the best service ( Pantip Plaza has every piece of computer equipment you’ll ever need, but know your prices first (604 New Petchaburi Road). For clothes, homewares and pretty much everything in the world, visit the Chatuchak weekend market. Get in early before the heat and crowds ( and shop for Thai silk at Narai Phand in the Royal Thai Government Handicrafts Centre (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Bangkok direct with Thai Airways (, Emirates ( or Qantas (
Staying there The new, wallet-friendly Aloft Bangkok is a quick tuk-tuk trip to Bangkok’s shopping strips (
More info

8. Tokyo 56/100

The insider Melbourne/NY interiors stylist Glen Proebstel (
What’s hot A great events calendar. 92/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Few sales and super-high hotel, transport and dining costs. 20/100 for affordability.
The address book Claska Gallery and Shop is the perfect destination to sample the best of local and international design makers and crafters ( New York fashion store Opening Ceremony opened a Tokyo branch that’s a must-visit ( For beautifully chosen industrial vintage, visit Journal Standard Furniture ( As the name says, I Find Everything Tokyo ( Fog Linen Work has been a recognisable brand in many boutique homeware stores throughout Australia, but nothing compares to visiting where it all began (

Getting there Fly Sydney to Tokyo direct with Qantas ( or with Jetstar, via Gold Coast or Cairns (

Staying there The Park Hotel Tokyo is a soothing oasis amid the neon (
More info

9. Seoul 55/100

The insider Australian model Jessica Gomes, a bona fide superstar in Korea (
What’s hot Good mix of old markets and new boutiques. 66/100 for hotels and transport.
What’s not Dodgy weather and a challenging hotel scene. 43/100 for retail affordability.
The address book The Galleria Department Store, in the Apgujeong-dong retail district, is super-modern and cool for international luxury brands. Dongdaemun Shopping Market is open from midnight until early morning. I love buying from young Korean designers who provide great quality at a good price. The Hyundai Department Store has a mixture of Korean and international labels, as well as a great food market. Green Street has cool hipster cafes and boutiques. Korea has great labels such as VOV ( and really good up-and-coming designers in the boutiques in Apgujeong-dong.
Getting there Fly Sydney to Seoul direct with Korean Air ( or Asiana Airlines (
Staying there The IP Boutique Hotel is a quirky hotel in the expat Itaewon district (737-32 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu,
More information

10. Delhi 53/100

The insider Interior stylist, creative director and owner of The Society Inc, Sibella Court (
What’s hot Fabulous sights and haggling shopkeepers. 63/100 for affordability.
What’s not Weak for mall rats, tough visas and struggling transport. 40/100 for shopping.
The address book The Full Circle Bookstore has every book of every author who has ever spoken or been a part of Jaipur’s incredible literary festival ( The National Handicrafts & Handlooms Museum gives an insight into the skill and technique behind it all, and craftspeople sell their wares in the courtyard ( Anokhi is great for the travelling basics – scarves, cotton pants – all lovely and affordable ( I love the Chandni Chowk market in Old Delhi, especially the hardware section with all the vendors tinkering away. Kamayani has amazing handmade textiles from across India, selected with a superb eye (
Getting there Fly Sydney to Delhi with China Southern (via Guangzhou) (, Singapore Airlines ( and Virgin Australia via Singapore (
Staying there The Manor is a stylish boutique hotel in New Friends Colony, with just 15 rooms and a lot of luxury (
More information

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 

Judi’s India, wild things and skydiving: travel deals 16 September 2012

Judi Dench does India

Channel Judi Dench in India, throw yourself out of a plane in Torquay or take the kids to where the wild things are.


Sydney’s biggest hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton
Sydney, is celebrating a $20 million refurbishment with its new rooms
introductory package. The 682-room behemoth on Sussex St overlooks Darling
Harbour, so make sure your rooms have a water view for Friday night fireworks
followed by dinner down on the Cockle Bay strip. Save $365 a night, costs from
$235 a night on stays in its new premium rooms until December 27.Includes
accommodation for two, as well as free wi-fi and breakfast for two, worth $80.
(02) 9290 4000,
Being the start of the Bay of Fires lodge walk and the Cradle Mountain huts walk are two reasons to visit Quamby Estate. Two more great reasons may be the ten sweetly restored guest rooms of the historic 1830s Launceston hotel, and the 50 per cent discount tag. And when you learn it’s the sister property to Sir Richard Branson’s Makepeace Island, in Queensland, you know you won’t be slumming it. Expect immaculate golf links, top Tassie produce on the table and world-class local wines in the glass. Normally from $190 for a standard room, costs from $95 a room until September 30. (03) 6392 2135,

Kids go wild and free on Kangaroo Island, South Aus
Children go wild and free on Kangaroo Island during the
school holidays and October long weekend. Up to three kids between 3-14 years
travel free on the SeaLink ferry, saving up to $144 when travelling with two
paying adults and a vehicle, and the adults get a discount voucher booklet
thrown in, with savings at cellar doors, restaurants and attractions on the
island. Travel until December 14. Costs from $96 an adult return and $184 for a
car return. 131 301,
Save $1200 per couple when you book four nights at the
Kimberley’s newest resort, the Berkeley River Lodge. The only way there is by
float plane from Kununurra, and its eco-villas, fishing tours and river
cruises, included in the price, are worth the trip. For travel now until March
31 (the lodge closes for wet season October 16 –January 31, 2013). Costs $5976
a couple or $4488 for solo travellers (saving $1100) for four nights. 1300 851 800,
Skydiving above Torquay ,Victoria.
Get a birds-eye view of Victoria’s magnificent coastline – if your eyes are open – when you leap out of a perfectly good plane at 3050 meters, and save up to $225. Book an ‘Escape to the Skye’ package which includes a night in a studio room at the Peppers The Sands Resort and one or two tandem skydives, and get breakfast, a free upgrade to a view room, a bottle of wine and chocolates, noon checkout and free car parking. Available from Wednesdays to Mondays, until November 30. Costs from $550 a couple, one person jumping or $899 a couple, for two people jumping. (03) 5264 3333,

Hot chocolate, hot cheese: two good reasons to love Switzerland.
Explore both on its two-for-one deal on its four-day Swiss Pass, for unlimited
rail, bus and boat travel through the mountains in all their autumn glory. Book
until November 27 for travel between September 1 and November 30. Costs from $246
for two people for four days. From travel agents or
Feeding time at Wellington Zoo
Wellington is wooing junior jetsetters with a splash of kids’ activities during September and October. Become a world explorer at Wellington Zoo, while Zealandia takes kids through a wildlife sanctuary after dark. They can explore the planets at Carter Observatory, or go crazy at Capital E National Theatre for Children. Accommodation deals include one night at the Amora Hotel Wellington for two adults and two children, with breakfast, and a family pass to Wellington Zoo, from $199, until January 20, 2013. +64 4 473 3900,

An hour’s flight from Kuala Lumpur, looking over the
South China Sea, the newly scrubbed-up Club Med Cherating Beach offers jungle
walks and rock climbing for adults and kids. The resort now includes a new
adults-only Zen Space and a baby welcome for littlies up to 23 months. Book
until November 18, travel November 1 – April 30 2013. Adults save $345, kids
save $137. Costs from $915 for adults, $372 for children (4-11 years), twin
share, for five nights. 1800 258 263,
You can spot a toucan on this nine-day journey through Guatemala,
Mexico and Belize. There are macaws to be glimpsed, old Spanish towns and Mayan
ruins to explore and lolling in the waters of the Caribbean is compulsory.
Departs Antigua, Guatemala, on October 29, book by October 24 and save25 per
cent. Costs $1365 a person. 1300 018 871,
Walk the plains of the Kalahari Desert and cruise the
Linyanti waterways in this 11-day safari, staying in tented camps and lodges.
Book now for travel between November 10 – March 20 (excluding December
20-January 10, 2113) and save $3048 a person. 
Kids 6-14 years also get half-price accommodation in a family room.
Costs from $8994 a person, includes international flights ex-Sydney, full
board, all transport, night game drives and most drinks. 1300 363 302,
Doing India a la ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’
Do a Judi Dench and check into the ‘Best Exotic Marigold
Hotel’, which is actually a former rural palace an hour from the Rajasthani
city of Udaipur.  The hotel, which is now
an equestrian hotel, is not quite as dilapidated as in the movie of the same
name, assures TravelManagers, which is leading a 12-day private journey through
the movie’s colourful film locations. Must-see destinations are ticked off – e
Taj Mahal, Delhi’s Udaipur’s Red Fort and Udaipur’s picturesque lake, starting in Delhi before moving
to Agra, Jaipur, Pushkar and Udaipur. See elephants wandering the roadsides,
run a sea of vivid orange marigolds through your fingers at a flower market and
take a horse safari in rural Rajasthan. Costs from $2020 a person, twin share
(four-star) and $2127, twin share (five star), excluding international
Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald newspaper

Shake it, spa it, catwalk it: Travel deals 9 September 2012

Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa 
Nostalgic surfer chic meets Miami swim catwalk on the Gold Coast and learn to shake what your mama gave you at the home of samba, salsa and tango. 

Quest’s five new studio apartment properties in
inner-urban Sydney and Melbourne include a kitchenette, workspace and free
wi-fi. They’re kicking off with deals such as $175 a night, down from $300, at
Quest Studios East Melbourne, close to the shopping strip of Bridge Road and
Melbourne’s top sports arenas. Includes breakfast for two at a local café. Stay
until October 30, quote ‘SHSO’ when booking. (03)
9413 0000,
Save 40 per cent when you book a night at Launceston’s
Country Club Tasmania, on the edge of the state’s second city. A night in a 4.5-star
deluxe room for two includes a bottle of Tasmanian wine, 18 holes of golf and a
30-minute massage as well as breakfast in the Links restaurant. Go horse
riding, take a wine tour or fish for trout in its private lake. Costs $299 a
night, until September 30.  1800 635 344, 
QT Gold Coast
Get the party started on the Gold Coast with a two-night
stay in the slinky QT Gold Coast, self-described as ‘nostalgic surfer chic
meets Miami swim catwalk’. That’ll help you choose your wardrobe. On top of a
saving of $384, you’ll get breakfast, an exploratory dinner for two in its hugely
popular signature restaurant, Bazaar and $50 spa credit or a party starter at
the happening Stingray Lounge. Costs from $450 a room for two nights until
November 30.  (07) 5584 1200,
Seashells Resort Mandurah
Mandurah is only an hour south of Fremantle, which is
gearing up for the return of the replica Dutch ship Duyfken, the first European
ship to reach Australia in 1606, on Sunday 23 September. Stay three, pay for
two nights in a one-bedroom apartment at the 4.5-star Seashells Resort Mandurah
until November 30. Costs from $210 a person, three nights, twin share.  132 757,
Watch the sun rise on Uluru, discover galleries of
Aboriginal rock art and visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Book 12 months
advance for your journey into the red centre, saving up to $450 a couple on a
six-day Red Centre Discovery. Included is a dinner and a discovery tour of the
Earth Sanctuary World National Centre, airport transfers and guiding. Deal
valid on departures until December 28, 2013. Earlybird special costs from $1689 a person, twin
share. 1300 228 546,
Spring has sprung so put a wiggle in your walk with a
visit to the town of love and light, Byron Bay. Normally $780 room only, the
sleek Byron at Byron resort’s spring package gets you 10 per cent off in the
spa, restaurant and bar, as well as free yoga, wifi, daily breakfast buffet and
bike hire to cruise the rainforest trails down to the beach. Valid for stays
until December 10. Costs $794 for two nights in a standard suite. 1300 554 362,
Île Saint-Louis, Paris
You may still be shopping for the wardrobe to suit your
Parisian jaunt, but your apartment will certainly come up to scratch. Set on
the Île Saint-Louis, an island in the middle of the Seine, the B&B is on
the third floor of a traditional Haussmann building, and despite its antique
interiors, its owners welcome kids. There are two rooms, great for families or
two couples. Save from E44 a night on stays between November 1 and March 30.
Costs from E175 a night.
Hit the sands of Waikiki beach and stay eight nights at the Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa, with breakfast, flights and airport transfers. Kids under 17 stay free, under-12s get free lunch and dinner with a paying adult. Bonuses include a tour of Pearl Harbour and Honolulu city and one entertainment show or catamaran dinner cruise. Costs from $1990 a person, twin share, eight nights and return airfares with Hawaiian Airlines. 1300 00 42 92,

Semara Resort & Spa
Hot to shop and the island’s best dining strip, Seminyak
is the fast-beating heart of Bali. The Semara Resort & Spa’s Winter Escape
deal saves $438 on stays until September 30. Book a two-night stay in a
superior poolside room, get daily buffet breakfast,  dinner for two at Finns Beach Club, two hours
for two in the spa, wifi, yoga  and
meditation classes and airport transfers. Costs from $484 for two people, two
nights. +62 (361) 847 6661,
Koto Kinabalu, Malaysia
Get a double dose of the tropics and a free Darwin stopover
on your way to Malaysia’s Kota Kinabalu. Price includes return flights to KK via
Darwin with Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia, two nights at Darwin’s
Travel Lodge Mirambeena Resort and four nights at Novotel Kota Kinabalu.
They’ll throw in a free tour of Litchfield National Park, worth $149, full
breakfast daily and one free nightBook by end September, travel November 1 –
December 7. Costs from $1459 a person (land and air). 1300 747 400,
Blend African wildlife with the craziness of Cairo and
Jordan’s deserts over 26 days from Cape Town to Cairo. Book before December 31
and your friend flies free (paying only taxes of $795), saving up to $2040 per
couple. Departs August – October 2013 and includes all flights within Africa,
two charter flights in Kenya, 4WD game viewing and accommodation in private
game lodges and luxury camps. Costs from $18,995 a person, twin share. 1300 229
Learn to shake what your mama gave you, and where better
than the home of samba, salsa and tango, South America? This 14-day dance-themed tour starts in
Santiago, Chile, where you’ll tackle the cueca and rumba, lubricated with wineries
visits, before hitting Buenos Aires’ La Boca district for up-close-and-personal
tango workshops. There’s samba and salsa classes in Rio de Janeiro as well as
visits to Copacabana Beach and Corcovado Mountain, to stand at the feet of
Christ the Redeemer, and the tour includes a trip to the Argentinean and
Brazilian sides of the magnificent Iguassu Falls. Departs March 3, 2013. Costs
from $3995 a person, twin share and includes some meals and all South American
flights. 1300 558 987,
Source: Belinda Jackson Sun Herald

Champagne free-flow on sale! Travel deals: 12 August 2012

Tadrai Island Resort, Fiji

Get classy in Britain, test the champagne free-flow in Langkawi or slip into something comfortable in the Kimberley.
Some of the world’s most pure air blows through Strahan,
a fishing village on the west coast of Tassie. Base yourself here to cruise the
Gordon River, catch the West Coast Wilderness Railway or to taste the divine
wine and cheese that results from such purity. Book a hilltop
standard room at the Strahan Village and pay half price until
September 30. Costs from $55 a person a night, twin share.1800
420 155,


The seaside town of Queenscliff, an hour from Melbourne,
grooves to the tunes of the Blues Train, a steam train that shakes, rattles and
rolls over the rails to Drysdale and back, serving up dinner and a blues show.
The ‘D’ carriage is for dancing and there’s a bar on board, too. Stay two
nights at the Big4 Beacon Resort and get two tickets to the train, worth $185, transfers
to the train, a recovery brekky hamper and noon checkout. Costs from $272.50 a
person for two nights, twin share, 1800 351 152,
Tickets are also cut from $92.50 to $50 during August and September. 132 849,


Get a bird’s-eye view of the Red Centre with a balloon
flight over Alice Springs and its dramatic surrounds. Stay two nights at the
four-star Crowne Plaza Alice Springs and get upgraded to a Mountain View room
and a 30-minute balloon flight. Kids under 19 stay free, pay $209 for
ballooning. Book by 3pm October 5, stay until October 12. Costs from $439 an
adult. 1300 130 485,


Families can discover the heart of Sydney when they book
a premier room for four nights, and pay for just three at the five-star Sydney Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. The
hotel will also throw in a family pass to Taronga Zoo and free internet.  Book before January 31, stay now until
September 30, December 16-24, 2012 and January 2-31, 2013. Costs from $1074 per
family (2 adults +2 kids) for four nights. 1800 044 066,


The quiet, fern-lined pools of Zebedee Hot Springs, on El
Questro cattle station, are the most ecologically sound spa you’ll ever
encounter. Soak it up in between outback hikes, bush-bashing down the Gibb
River Road, ogling crocs in Windjana Gorge, exploring the Bungle Bungles and
ancient caves on this nine-day Wild Kimberley tour. Accom is a mix of permanent
tents and al fresco camping. Was $2195, save 20 percent on September 11
departure. Book by September 7, costs $1756 a person. 1800 018 871,

Snorkelling at Orpheus Island, Queensland


The secretive hideaway of Orpheus Island, off the coast
of Townsville, is sheer island luxury. Stay five nights, pay four, saving $1400
a couple. The package includes sensational meals from the kitchen of Cheong
Liew protégé Arie Prabowo, selected wines and beers, use of dinghies, cats, and
snorkelling equipment as well as a daily nature-based experience, be it a
sunset cruise, fishing or island tour. Stay till January 21, including the
Christmas period. Costs from $5600 for two people. (07) 4777 7377,


Oh, they know how we like it, at the Datai Langkawi. The
grand dame of Langkawi is cutting 25 percent off its regular rates with a
stay-three, pay-four deal until December 19, and includes daily breakfast with champagne
on free-flow.  Accommodation is a deluxe
or superior villa and also included are limo transfers, a private dinner on the
beach for two, 120 minutes of spa treatment per person, a mangrove tour and guided
nature walk. Costs from $2338 for four nights. +60 4 959 2500

The Datai Langkawi, Malaysia


Sometimes, a bit of class doesn’t go astray, especially
when you’re upgraded from standard to lovely first class. Buy a BritRail Flexi
Pass for four or eight days by August 30 through International Rail and get a
free upgrade to first class when you use the pass any time in 2013, travelling
through England, Scotland and Wales. Costs from $355 for a four-day pass. 1300
387 245,


If you can’t get enough of winter, now’s the time to
think about the Christmas ski season. Ski Hakuba and stay just 150 meters from
the ski lifts at High Mount Hotel. The deal includes breakfast and a six-day
lift pass. Book by 3pm September 28, travel December 14-29, January 3 – April
30.  Costs from $1099 a person, twin
share for seven nights. 1300 130 485,  

Innsbruck, Austria


The capital of the Alps, Innsbruck, has city breaks
including a three-night stay in a four-star hotel and a 48-hour Innsbruck Card,
worth E35, with E227 value. Includes a guided walk through the medieval town, rides
on seven cable cars, a sightseeing bus tour, entrance to museums including the
Ambras Castle, Swarovski crystal museum, a cocktail at the town’s casino, and
there’s coffee and cake in the clouds, at the Alpenlounge Seegrube restaurant.
Costs E219 (A$256) a person, twin share, for three nights. +43 512 56 2000,


The new adults-only Tadrai Island Resort is sleek and
chic, with the Mamanuca islands’
signature white sand beaches. Includes champagne on arrival, all meals, drinks
and butler services. Stay seven nights and get one return flight from Australia
to Nadi with Air Pacific, stay 10 nights and they’ll give you two international
return flights. Book by September 11, travel until December 16. Costs $10,077
(two people, seven nights) or $14,399 (two people, 10 nights). (07) 5524 5222,

Howe Island

When you breathe your next yoga breath, your lungs are
filled with the pure air of Lord Howe Island during this wellness retreat with
yoga teacher Charlotte Dodson. You may have spotted her recently teaching Lara
Bingle, and other radiant celebrity followers include model Miranda Kerr and
fashion designer Kit Willow. Pinetrees
Spring Wellness Retreat’s six-night packages include two daily yoga sessions
with Charlotte, daily fitness sessions, wholefood cooking classes, organic
gardening classes and wine tasting (that’s organic wine, of course!) Ayurvedic spa treatments are also available and then
there are the island’s everyday charms – snorkelling, swimming, kayaking and
mountain climbing. Runs from September 3-7 and November 17-23.  Costs from $1270 a person twin share
(excluding airfares). (02) 9262 6585,

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Cheap and full of cheer

Rejoice, oh disorganised work slaves! Bargains still abound for those who don’t book their summer holidays a year ahead.

Everything about Malaysia screams “bargain” and it’s all
done so nicely. Getting to Kuala Lumpur is cheap, thanks to respectable
Malaysian budget airline AirAsia, and the shopping is fabulous, with
Chrissy sales making it even better (psst, and heaps cheaper than
Singapore). You can snap up a city five-star hotel for as little as $100
a night but for a cheap, authentic experience, try a home stay in a
kampong (village) house with a local family, eating home cooking and
experiencing the culture. The government-monitored initiative costs from
$27 a day. In January, the holiday islands of Penang and Langkawi are
starting to dry out from their November deluge but new hotels are
keeping the competition fierce – check out the new Four Points by
Sheraton on Langkawi and Penang’s new Hard Rock Hotel.,,

Others on the budget radar include Singapore, Tahiti, Hawai’i, Cambodia, New Zealand and our own Cairns is on sale, too.
Click here to read more.

Essential guide to Kuala Lumpur

There’s more to KL than those big towers – and what are they, anyway? You go up high, you look around, you go down…

Instead, we say hit the malls for some truly fabulous shopping, and get down and dirty on the streets of Little Inida, Chinatown, the Malay quarters…

Click here for where to shop, eat, sleep and sightsee in KL…