Underwater clubs, living English literature, best kids’ travel destinations: Takeoff travel news

FOOD:  Up is down in the Maldives

The Maldives likes to turn
everything on its head: take, for example, Subsix, the world’s first
underwater nightclub. The club, which is 500 metres out to sea and six
metres under water, can be found at Per Aquum Niyama resort, which has
also just opened Nest treehouse restaurant. Dining pods are suspended
above ground, with wooden walkways linking the tables amid the jungle.
The restaurant serves Asian cuisines. Niyama is set on two islands in
the Dhaalu Atoll, named Play (think adventure sports and kids’ club for
12 months-12 years) and Chill (think spa). Other ‘‘altered reality’’
experiences in the Maldives include underwater restaurants (Conrad
Maldives Rangali Island, Kihavah Anantara) to overwater spas (pretty
much everywhere) and even government cabinet meetings (OK, that was a
one-off publicity stunt). See
peraquum.com 
.

 

GEAR Lather up for Sydney

 Ease homesickness for expat friends
by sending them a little piece of Sydney. These new shower gift packs
hail from our northern beaches, and comprise a body bar, a soy candle in
a tin and loofah in three of the company’s best-selling fragrances;
French vanilla, vintage

gardenia and coconut & lime.
Palm Beach products are Australian made and owned by a local family
company. Shower gift packs cost $24.95 each. See palmbeach collection.
com.au.
 

AIRLINE Fly north for winter

Southerners chasing the sun will
welcome the news that Tigerair is increasing the number of flights from
Sydney to the Whitsunday Coast Airport at Proserpine. The north
Queensland town is a key jumping-off point for travel to Airlie Beach
and the Whitsunday Islands, including popular Hamilton Island. The new
Sunday service departs Sydney at 9.10am, and returns from Whitsunday
Coast at 11.15am with

a flight time of 2 hours 35 minutes.
The service starts October 25, priced from $89 for a Light fare, which
includes 7kg carry-on luggage. The airline has also increased flights on
its Melbourne-Gold Coast route, adding new Friday and Sunday services
from

September 18, just ahead of the term
three school holidays, with tickets from $79. The additional services
come as Tigerair cancels its Melbourne-Mackay route from September 7,
due to low demand. Tickets for the new services are on sale, see tigerair.com.
 


KIDS Have kids, will travel

Sydney Harbour has been voted
Australia’s most family-friendly destination in the newest edition of
Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children book. Sydney’s ferry rides,
picnicking on Fort Denison and catching the super-cat to Manly for a
surf lesson all add up to a top-notch staycation, says Lonely Planet.
Others in its top

10 top family-friendly destinations
include the theme parks of the Gold Coast and Canberra’s Questacon and
the National Arboretum Playground (nb: they also encourage knocking out
somersaults on the immaculate grass dome of Parliament House.) Tassie’s
ghoulish ghost tours get a guernsey, as does Brissie’s Streets Beach and
the kids’ activity rooms in

the Queensland Museum &
Sciencentre, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. The new
edition helps you take the brood to more than 80 countries, from Austria
to Zanzibar, with advice and tips for fun family travel. It costs
$29.99. See the new Lonely Planet Twitter and Facebook pages and lonelyplanetkids.com.

PICTURES In the frame

Celebrate Australian and
international photography at the month-long Ballarat International Foto
Biennale, which runs from August 22 to September 20. Central Ballarat
will host exhibitions by the 21 invited artists, with another 118 events
(and rising) in the fringe festival across the city. The festival’s
founder and creative director, Jeff Moorfoot, travels the world to bring
photographers’ work to the biennale. Those on show can be established
or emerging artists – the only criterion is that their works have not
yet been shown in Australia. Seven heritage buildings in the city centre
will host the major exhibitions, so you can skip between the Ballarat
Art Gallery and Mining Exchange to smaller galleries and bars for
projection projects and workshops, which cover subjects from light
painting to visual storytelling to Photography 101, from $79 to $475.
For the full program, see
ballaratfoto.org. For more photography festivals in the Pacific Rim, see
asiapacificphotoforum.org.
 



NEWS Crowded house

Wolf Hall, Poldark… Britain is on a
roll with silver-screen adaptations of some of its best loved
literature, showcasing its cities and villages. The latest is Thomas
Hardy’s romantic tragedy Far from the Madding Crowd, now in cinemas.
Filmed around Dorset, the novel is

set in the village of Evershot,
which Hardy renamed Evershead in his novels, a four-hour train journey
from central London. Hardy was also an architect, and in 1893 he
designed the drawing-room wing of what is now the Red Carnation’s
five-star Summer Lodge Country House hotel. Stays cost from $680,
b&b, double. Otherwise, wake from slumber in a four-poster bed to a
full English breakfast at the 16th-century Acorn Inn, mentioned in
Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Costs from $565 a night, double. See
summerlodgehotel.co.uk, acorn-inn.co.uk and visitbritain.co.uk

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

The Maldives travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

The world’s first underwater spa is in the Maldives,
at Huvafen Fushi resort.

1.    HAIL THE TAXI

Usually other countries’ taxis are a source of great rip-off tales
for travellers. Taxis here are jaunty public ferries linking the
islands: most foreigners will use only the route between the airport on
Hulhulé Island and the capital, Male. Possibly the world’s most scenic
airport taxi rank, it’s a strip of turquoise water teeming with luxury
yachts, picturesque dhonis (sailboats) and bright tropical fish. The
10-minute trip costs   $1.30 but the people-watching is free. The
seaplane taxis offer another spectacular perspective on the Maldives.

2.    FISHY BUSINESS 

Male’s fish markets are an eye-opener, but not for the squeamish.
Giant tuna are laid out in slabs while choosy buyers shop for home and
the resorts. Once you see the fishmongers at work, you’ll pray you never
meet a cranky one in a dark alley. Expect to pay around 45 rufiyaa 
($3.80) for a kilo of quality tuna meat caught that morning. Go early –
it’s clean but refrigeration is scant.

3.    UNDERWATER DINING

Admire fish both on and off the plate at Ithaa, the world’s first
underwater restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort. The
14-seater glass dome sits five metres under the sea and serves plenty of
fish, while the wine cellar is dug  two metre down into the island’s
depths (hilton.com). Nearby Kihavah Anantara resort has followed suit
with the four-level Sea.Fire.Salt.Sky, where Sky is a rooftop bar and
Sea is under water (anantara.com)

Ithaa, the world’s first underwater
restaurant at the Conrad Maldives
Rangali Island resort. 

4.    ISLAND FARE

Rated the Maldives’ top restaurant, Ufaa is on Cocoa Island by COMO,
in the Kaafu Atoll, 30 minutes by seaplane south of Male. New
Zealand-born chef Shane Avan serves fish fresh off the boat in a blend
of Maldives-Mediterranean-Asian fusion. Book ahead if you’re planning to
drop by from another hotel (comohotels.com). Reethi Restaurant, in the One & Only Reethi Rah, on the North Male Atoll, is often quoted as its closest rival (oneandonlyresorts.com)

5.    SHARK PARK

The Maldives became a shark sanctuary in 2010 when it banned all
shark fishing: take a night dive with grey reef sharks, go hammerhead
spotting or watch whale sharks. There’s no defined season for the big
fellas,  local marine biologists, say. They just appear around bait
balls, which are great rolling masses of small, tasty fish. Check out
the snorkelling trips in the South Ari Atoll
(maldiveswhalesharkresearch.org). If paddling with predators ain’t your
thing, most lagoons are shark nurseries, and harmless baby grey tips and
little lemon sharks are easily spotted on your walk on the jetty to the
overwater spa.

6.    SCREENSAVER SCENERY

You know that picture that comes pre-loaded on your new laptop? Yes,
the one with the palm trees and toothpaste-white beaches. It’s probably
photographed in the Maldives. Add a hammock, umbrella and icy drink and
you’ll know why the little country is high up on the world’s
must-visit list. The Maldives straddles the Equator, so temps don’t
fluctuate much from the annual average of 30 degrees.

Sea.Fire.Salt.Sky at Kihavah Anantara resort. 

7.    SLEEPING OVER WATER  

Of the almost 1200 islands in the Maldivian archipelago, only about
300 are inhabited, and all with the teensiest land masses. The solution?
Sleeping over water is de rigueur here. Generally pricier than garden
rooms, you can dive straight into a blue lagoon from your over-water
living room.

8.    SENSATIONAL SPAS

Most Maldivian resort spas are over water, preferably with a glass
floor so you can watch baby sharks gambol while you’re face-down on the
massage table. Spa Cenvaree at the new adults-only Centara Ras Fushi
Resort Maldives was named  Best Luxury Emerging Spa in the Indian
Ocean at the recent 2014 World Luxury Spa Awards
(centarahotelsresorts.com), while the  Ayurvedic treatments at Six
Senses Spa Laamu (sixsenses.com) and Banyan Tree’s luxury Spa Vabbinfaru (banyantree.com) also took home silverware. And you can’t go wrong at the One & Only Reethi Rah’s ESPA (reethirah.oneandonlyresorts.com/spa.aspx) or the Jiva Grande Spa at the Taj Exotica (tajhotels.com). Of course, the world’s first underwater spa is in the Maldives, at Huvafen Fushi resort (huvafenfushi.peraquum.com).

9.    SPICE SHOPPING

Opposite the Male fish market is a real local’s market: walk past the
fishing boats and dhoni along the harbour wall till you come across
boxes and boxes of ripe papayas, chillis and enormous bunches of green
bananas slung around a rough building. Must-buy items include local
spice mixes for heart-warming curries and proto-Golden Roughs: coconut
and palm sugar rolled up in dried leaves like cigars for a quick
pick-me-up if you’re flagging in the midday heat.

One & Only Reethi Rah Spa. 

10.    ELITE RESORTS

The first tourists arrived in the Maldives in only 1972, but all the
world’s major hotel brands are now here. Recent openings include
Maalifushi by COMO by wellness pioneer Christina Ong (see comohotels.com), Club Med’s new luxury face with 52 villas (clubmed.com.au) and Atmosphere Kanifushi Maldives’ 150 villas and suites (atmosphere-kanifushi.com).
Expect royalty and rock stars at two newcomers in the Noonu Atoll,
exclusive 45-villa Cheval Blanc Randheli from the owners of Louis
Vuitton and Moet (chevalblanc.com) and super-luxe Velaa Private island, with Michelin-starred restaurants and a golf academy by José María Olazábal’s (velaaprivateisland.com). Elite, yes, but more cater to families than you’d first think.

11.    SUPERB SNORKELLING

You don’t have to kit up to the hilt to enjoy the Maldives’
spectacular marine life. Even the scardest snorkeller can spot
spectacular lionfish, parrotfish, a range of rays and weird unicorn fish
as well as oriental sweetlips and clownfish, which are endemic to the
Maldives. The archipelago is a transit zone for fish life, so expect
plenty of variety and a rainbow of colours in even the shallowest
waters.

12.    SLEEPING WITH THE LOCALS

Traditionally, the Maldives’ 300-odd inhabited islands have been
split between resort islands and local islands. The government recently
launched its new integrated resort development project, with the first
guest house islands occurring in the Laamu Atoll, in northern Maldives.
The aim is for 2100 new guesthouse beds on offer by 2017, which is good
news for travellers on lean budgets and those seeking a deeper cultural
experience.

Ari Atoll, Maldives. 
Photo: Alamy

13.    SURF’S UP

It’s all about reef breaks here, and the best-known are in Male’s
Atolls, which can get a tad crowded. The recent 2014 Asian Surfing
Championships were held at Sultan’s Point, near the Four Seasons, and
the inaugural Maldives Open 2014 ran on September 3-7 at Lohis Point, a
long, consistent lefthander near the Adaaran Hudhuran Fushi Resort. Take
a surf safari through your resort or off a live-aboard boat. Luxe surf
safari outfit Tropic Surf has set up a surf shack at the new Maalifushi
by COMO resort in the relatively unexplored Thaa Atoll, deep in the
south-west of the country. It lists Farms as its most requested break in
the area, but is still discovering new breaks (tropicsurf.net). The peak surf season runs May to October, beginning earlier in the southernmost atolls.

14.    GOING DOWN

With more than a thousand species of fish here, the Maldives’ diving
is famed. The dive season runs from January to April, with clear water,
little wind and up to 30 metres’ visibility, but year-round is still
very good. Expect it all: steep drop-offs, caves, wrecks, reefs,
channels, soft and hard corals. North and South Ari Atolls get a mention
for great manta ray and whale shark action, while quiet Lamuu Atoll is
shaping up as the new go-to spot, say the divers from theperfectdive.com.au.

15.    SHORT EATS

Get down with the locals and tuck into Maldivian snack food. While
super-spicy tuna curry tops the menu, cafes dish up short eats or
snacks, to get you over the afternoon slump. Order up on maas roshi
(little tuna and coconut patties) and kaashi bokibaa (coconut, rosewater
and palm sugar balls).

Locals fishing
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

16.    ON THE LINE

Maldivians surely can fish before they can walk. Net fishing is
illegal even for commercial operations: the locals use pole and line
fishing, as they have done for centuries, catching one fish at a time.
Make no mistake, they can bring the fish in at speed, but sustainably
and without the environmental damage of net dragging. You can chase the
big game on a tag-and-release fishing safari on liveaboard boats or
through your resort.

17.    DOLPHIN SPOTTING

One of the great joys of the Maldives are its little spinner
dolphins. They earn their names for their antics: in the late afternoon,
as they make their way out of the lagoons and into the deep ocean to
hunt, the dolphins will leap into the air to spin, just for the sheer
joy, it would appear. They’ll happily follow your boat, but don’t jump
on command.

18.    STYLE FILE

The Maldives has its own, laid-back tropical style. Expect sandy
floors in chic restaurants, open-air lobbies, thatch roofs overhead and
the swish of an overhead fan ruffling the white curtains on your rustic
timber four-poster bed. The colour scheme is turquoise lagoons, white
sandy beaches, baby-blue skies and yellow, for the big sun and the lemon
curl in your martini glass.

19.    THE BIG FIVE

Spot the Maldives’ marine Big Five: manta and eagle rays, sea
turtles, dolphins and sharks, including whale sharks. On the protected
species list are turtles, great clams, whale sharks and conch shells.
Endangered marine species  such as the whale shark, turtles, dolphins,
as well as corals, are  all protected by law.

Public taxi
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

20.    SPEAK EASY

Does your airline ticket send you to Kadhdhoo Kaadedhdhoo or Kadhdhoo
Kooddoo? The Maldivian language is Dhivehi, a mix of Arabic, Urdu and
Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese, and the script is called Thanna. To the untrained
eye, the alphabet could even resemble a series of punctuation marks.
Here’s all you need: “fushi” means “island”, and “Hingadhaan!” means
“Let’s go!”

The writer was a guest of Como Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.


This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s 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. 

Famous Flyer: Deborah Hutton

Hutton rates driving through Provence as her best holiday experience.

An African safari and the Maldives are on Deborah Hutton’s wish list.

WHICH WAS YOUR BEST HOLIDAY?
Renting
a car in Paris and driving to St Tropez over four days. I stayed at
little inns and ate at great restaurants through Provence, really
getting a feel for the country. It ended with the madness of St Tropez,
which is FUN in capital letters.

AND THE BEST HOTEL YOU’VE STAYED IN?
The
Soho in London – I love the position and it has the most divine suites –
and the tiny, tiny Eichardt’s Private Hotel in Queenstown. The
interiors are by Virginia Fisher, who does all the Huka Retreats. It’s
right in the centre of Queenstown with a great little bar downstairs.
You go in for five minutes and the next day, they’re like, “Hello
Deborah, that was a pinot, wasn’t it?’ They really get you.

WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE WITH YOU?
The
same as everyone else – my iPad, my earplugs, and eye mask. I do have a
little baby travel pillow I always squeeze into an air suction bag, so I
have the consistency of a good pillow.

WHAT DO YOU NEED FOR A PERFECT HOLIDAY?
There
has to be a great golf course – that’s generally what I look for first.
It’s also got to be warm, with a beach (though I can do pool), with
good friends and good restaurants.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST PIECE OF TRAVEL ADVICE?
I
always photocopy my passport and credit cards, and I always split my
credit cards up, leaving one in the hotel safe and one in my wallet.
It’s gotten me out of trouble before, when I had my bag stolen in Ibiza
(surprise, surprise!).

AND YOUR WORST EXPERIENCE ON HOLIDAY?
My
pals booked a “divine design hotel” in Koh Samui. The pool’s filtration
system was broken, and it was green. And there was no restaurant, you
ate in bures on the beach. And then the weather turned. No pool, rain
and sitting cross-legged on the beach, eating bad Thai? I booked a
flight back to Bangkok and checked into The Peninsula hotel.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST PACKING MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE?
Leaving
it too late to pack, because I then pack too much. You just hate
yourself on long-haul trips every time you have to repack.

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO TO NEXT?
At
the top of my list is an African safari and the Maldives. I would stay
at one of the Evason resorts in the Maldives. They’re just heaven on a
stick. I see photos of the beautiful water and think, “That’s just me”.
And I want a cocktail and I want one with an umbrella. To me, that
screams “holiday!”

Deborah Hutton is an ambassador for NRMA’s Living Well Navigator, livingwellnavigator.com.au.

Interview by Belinda Jackson

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section

The 50 best travel finds of 2014 from around the globe

Miss Moneypenny’s, Noosa

Yeah, I know it’s already 8 January, but I’m still looking back… maybe it’s because Australia really hasn’t kicked back properly into work yet. Consensus is that next Monday is the day we all turn our brains on once again. I had many great discoveries last year, including the new COMO hotel in the Maldives, Maalifushi, a villa in Lombok and the newly scrubbed Tahrir square in Cairo, but  also a few fun finds locally, in Australia. Here’s my contribution to a recent round-up by the Sun-Herald‘s brace of writers on our best travel finds in 2014.

Miss Moneypenny, Noosa, Queensland

People
watching is a delight in Noosa, when the buff and the beautiful hit the
sidewalks. Take a ringside seat at Miss Moneypenny, one of the newest additions
to Hastings Street, and order up on the seafood share boards and an 80s cruise
ship drink, their signature pina coladas – we’re in the tropics, people! The
open-air bar-cafe-restaurant spills into the street, ideal for seafood Sundays
or Saturday’s late-night supper club.missmoneypennys.com

Jean-Paul Gaultier Exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria 

Playful, cheeky, self-deprecating: not the words usually associated with
fashion. Jean Paul Gaultier delights in smashing the mould; remember the
conical bra he strapped onto Madonna in 1990? Haute couture comes alive with
moving catwalks and interactive mannequins, the exhibition has already
travelled from San Fran to Stockholm. But in Melbourne, the only showing in the
Asia Pacific, Gaultier assures us, it’s almost perfect. Make a night of it with
the NGV’s fantastic Friday Nights program, with DJs and talks, includes
admission to the exhibition. Costs $22 adults/$10 children 5-15 years
(exhibition only), $28/$10 Friday Nights at Jean Paul Gaultier. Until February
8, 2015. ngv.vic.gov.au

Seahaven Resort, Noosa

A stalwart in Hastings St, Seahaven has enjoyed a $16 million refurbishment
and is unrecognisable from its former self. The resort eclipses the big names
for blockbuster location, bang on Noosa’s Main Beach. Accommodation ranges from
studio boltholes to two-storey penthouses, with fully kitted kitchens, rain
showers and laundries. Plan drinks on your balcony, overlooking the sea.
Seahaven’s three swimming pools and its beachfront barbecue.  It’s a
two-minute trot along the beach boardwalk for morning coffee or for dinner at
Noosa’s sensational restaurants. Sunrise yoga on the beach is de rigueur. seahavennoosa.com.au

This feature was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.

The real trip advisors reveal their tips for travel in 2015

Mesmerising Myanmar: Ancient temples and an increasingly
modern infrastructure are the drawcards. Photo: Getty Images.

So – what’s the next big thing? Travel experts
reveal their tips for the coming year.
With an
eye on the hip pocket, we’re looking at hometown holidays in 2015, say travel
industry’s chiefs. And while Asia is back on top as our favourite playground,
Myanmar continues its stellar orbit as the region’s shining star.
Gary Bartelings, Captain’s Choice
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Gallipoli for the centenary, on unusual train journeys, South America,
Antarctica and our new Australian tours by private plane.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Iran and Myanmar. For safe and trusted, a British
Isles cruise or a train journey through Switzerland.
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
 An unsettled world and the weakening
Australian dollar.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Chichen Itza in Mexico, Rio, Easter Island, Tahiti, Angkor  Wat,
the Taj Mahal and the Serenas, well as the UK and Europe.
Fearless
prediction?
Keep
travelling, so people across cultures, religions and countries can connect
peacefully. See captainschoice.com.au.
Simon Westcott, Luxe City Guides 
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Myanmar: infrastructure is improving and there’s a sense it’ll all
change fast.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Bhutan: because it’s not going to change fast. A
purer and more controlled experience awaits.  
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Travel safety: the perceived threat of increased
terrorism and infectious diseases.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
London, Florence, Marrakech, Taipei, Tokyo and the USA.
Fearless
prediction?

 Wifi flights will become the norm. See luxecityguides.com.
Alan Alcock, Wendy Wu Tours
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Japan, now great value for money, and India.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Sri Lanka, which is rapidly healing after its
terrible civil war, the idyllic Maldives, and Myanmar for quaint, rustic
antiquity.
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
The potential spread of terrorism to our region, health
issues such as Ebola and the value of the Australian dollar. 
Where are
you packing your bags for?
 Vietnam, Japan and Mongolia.
Fearless
prediction?

Self-drive three-wheeled tuk-tuk tours in India! See wendywutours.com.au.
Tom Walley, Flight Centre Australia
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Philippines: budget carrier Cebu Pacific Air has just kicked off a
service departing Sydney four times weekly.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
London, for the Rugby World Cup! 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Airfares have never been more affordable and
unless the US dollar drops significantly, the only issue is choosing where to
go. 
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Whistler: snowboarding is my passion. We will thaw out on Hamilton
Island. Fearless prediction? Aussies are in a golden era of travel with more
accessible prices, services and routes. See flightcentre.com.au.
Sue Badyari, World Expeditions
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Hiking and biking Cambodia, trekking the Patagonia Ice Cap, Arctic
cruising to see the Northern Lights, Nepal’s Manaslu Circuit, walking Spain’s
Camino. 
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Trekking the Altai mountains in Mongolia, hiking
and biking in China, cycling Puglia, Italy. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Flight availability in peak seasons, more freak
storms and volatility in weather patterns due to global warming.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Italy’s Gran Paradiso Trek plus a self-guided cycling holiday from
Slovenia to Croatia!
Fearless
prediction for 2015?
The Great
Himalayan Trail – a five-month trek traversing Nepal’s high passes. See worldexpeditions.com.
Ann Sherry, Carnival Australia 
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Cruising Europe, Alaska, and the Baltics. 
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Asia, cruising from Japan and Singapore, visiting
Vietnam and Cambodia, and even Indonesia’s Komodo Island. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
The falling dollar, sharpening travellers’ focus
on value.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Stradbroke Island, maybe an African safari and a PNG and Solomon
Islands cruise to test new destinations.
Fearless
prediction?
Weekends
at sea with Australia’s best food and wine. See carnival.com.au.
Caroline Kennedy, Cox & Kings Australia
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Italy and Greece for the food, wine, history and sites and Norway for
the Northern Lights.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
ANZAC centenary commemorations in Gallipoli, with
or without ballot tickets.
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Global safety issues and natural disasters.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
I would like to do The Ultimate Travelling Camp in India.
Fearless
prediction?

Experiencing destinations in 3D, such as enjoying the view from your
(prospective) hotel’s balcony. See coxandkings.com.au.
Anton Stanish, Stayz Holiday Accommodation
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
The Gold Coast, Darwin and fringe CBD; homeowners are realising the
viability of short-term rentals while travellers can immerse themselves in the
local neighbourhood.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Dunsborough, Western Australia. Definitely a new
hot spot.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
A holiday rental in Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand, near golf courses,
vineyards and beaches. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Low-cost air carriers continuing to open up new
markets, particularly in Asia.
Fearless
prediction?
Holiday
rentals becoming bookable online, like hotels. See stayz.com.au.
Karin Sheppard, InterContinental Hotels Group 
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
South-east Asia and the Asia Pacific, for snorkelling safaris, stunning
beaches.   
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
On ‘staycation,’ exploring your own city. Sydney’s
Double Bay has new eateries, bars, shops and the new InterContinental Sydney
Double Bay. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Truly personalised and local experiences. 
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival, a diving holiday to Fiji and skiing in
Queenstown. 
Fearless
prediction?
More
marketing aimed at locals through social media, and brands rewarding guests for
publicising their trips via social media. See ihg.com.
Dave Boyte, Skyscanner
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Safe, affordable Nicaragua, Central America and Mykonos, Greece. 
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Colombo, Sri Lanka is reinventing itself as a cool
foodie paradise. Flight searches to Bhutan are also on the rise.  
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Online travel companies becoming mobile savvy, as
travellers use mobile phones to research, plan and book holidays.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
The coolest little capital, Wellington, and Tasmania.  
Fearless
prediction?

Meta-search websites – websites that aggregate information from all over the
web into one site – being an essential planning tool. See skyscanner.com.au.
This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveller.

Como Maalifushi Maldives: Pint-sized paradise

This new, luxury resort in the Maldives delivers a world of
pleasure, writes Belinda Jackson.
It took me three days to realise I’d lost my shoes. I’d kicked
them off the day I hit the Maldives and never put them back on again until I
crash-landed into the howling winds of a Melbourne winter, tragic in glittery,
strappy sandals. I think the shoes are still on Maalifushi, a remote island
resort in the south-west of the remote island nation.
Let me share some fashion advice about packing for the
Maldives. The first point is: don’t bother bringing heels. They get stuck in
the sand, and every resort worth its sea salt has a sand floor restaurant, lobby
or walkway. The second fashion tip is: unless you’re going to sweat it out on a
treadmill, leave your runners behind, too. Preferred sports on these balmy
isles are barefoot – swimming, yoga and messing about in boats.
 The new Maalifushi by COMO is the Singaporean hotel group’s
second Maldivian resort. The first, Cocoa Island by COMO, is 40 minutes by
speedboat from Male airport, past a plethora of single-resort islands. In
comparison, Maalifushi is the only hotel in the isolated Thaa Atoll, deep in
the vast Indian Ocean.
An aerial view of the tiny resort. 
Getting to Maalifushi is half the adventure. At Male airport,
we learn that the closest airport, Thimarafushi, is closed because ocean swells
have engulfed the runway. “It’s a very, very low atoll,” a local
tells me. “Very good for surfing, very bad for flying.”
Instead, we fly to tiny Kadhdhoo airport then board a very
white, very luxurious pleasure cruiser. Flying fish skip alongside the boat,
and the water changes abruptly from deep ocean blue to pinch-me-I’m-dreaming
turquoise as, after two hours, we pull up at the island. It is a study in green
coconut palms and raked yellow sand, tiny crabs scattering at our footfalls.
Maalifushi is tiny: even by Sydney standards, 800 by 200
metres ain’t a lot of real estate. To compensate, the spa’s eight treatment
rooms, Japanese restaurant Tai and 33 suites and villas are off land and over
water, connected by timber boardwalks. Absolute beachfront is claimed by 22
suites and the two-bedroom, 296-metre-square COMO residence, at almost $7000 a
night in peak season.
My room is, quite simply, breathtaking. Forget shiny surfaces,
this is a decorating exercise in island chic. White curtains billow from the
four-poster bed, the high-pitched ceiling is thatched, the deep bath is
unpolished marble, and the timber deck leads out to a thatched bale beside my
plunge pool. There are indoor and outdoor rain showers, daybeds and sofas. In
fact, there are so many places to sit, I don’t know where to start. Ripping off
clothes and leaping into the pool seems a good start. Shy? Think twice about
skinny-dipping – the deck’s not as private as you’d first think.
Island chic decor sets the tone for a blissful break.

Banish any notion that all this gorgeousness is reserved only
for lovestruck couples. The kids’ club is a jaunty affair with swings and
climbing apparatus, and there are six very private garden suites targeted at
families who don’t want to mix young children and plunge pools. The
well-equipped dive centre has quality Japanese masks for all shapes and sizes,
and the kitchen promises to cater for all tastes and dietary persuasions.

The COMO brand is all about luxury pampering: the signature
scent is a cool blend of peppermint and eucalyptus best served on cold towels.
The spa is a palatial affair and COMO’s signature Shambala spa cuisine offers
an array of organic deliciousness featuring seed breads, healthful juices and
sublime local raw fish, which is unsurprising given the country’s national fish
is the yellowfin tuna, its national tree the coconut palm. The weekly seafood
barbecue is an extravaganza of local lobster, a carpaccio of kingfish, trout
and tuna, and sweet rock shrimp.
Unfortunately, I realise the food is actually too good, when
breakfast comprises saffron-poached pears with papaya and lime, watermelon
juice, eggwhite omelette, French toast with fresh mango and a lavish porridge
made from crushed almonds. It’s all healthy, I tell myself (OK, maybe not the
French toast).
I try burning off the excess with a healing, Shambala
signature massage and join marine biologist Francesco on a tiny speedboat to
play with happy little spinner dolphins who gambol alongside us, occasionally
thrusting into the air to spin once, twice, thrice, just for sheer joy. There’s
talk of year-round whale shark spotting.
One evening, three of us take a pre-dinner night snorkelling
safari. It’s a first for all of us, and we lower ourselves gingerly into the
dark water. Call me unAustralian, but the marine life in the Maldives makes our
reef look like a jaded nightclub at the end of the night, just a few old
groupers hanging out, trying their tired old lines. A young green turtle glides
beneath us, which I find slightly disconcerting but completely exhilarating.
Nocturnal surgeonfish are everywhere and the most beautiful purple spotted
starfish are surely the mirrorballs of the Maldivian seas.
Marine life aside, the big drawcard for Maalifushi is its surf
breaks. The luxury surf safari group TropicSurf has a shack on the island and
the staff are constantly discovering new reef breaks. Farms is the best-known,
which TropicSurf calls “the perfect right-hander” in peak season,
from April to October.
Back on my villa’s deck, I discover a set of stairs that lead
down into the island’s lagoon. Moments later, I’m swimming with some rather
nonchalant little black-and-white striped reef fish called Moorish idols.
Professor Google tells me Africa’s Moors considered them “bringers of
happiness”. The sky overhead is clear and blue, the water I’m swimming in
is clear and blue. Their mission is accomplished.
The writer travelled as a guest of COMO Hotels.
TRIP NOTES 
GETTING THERE There are no direct flights from Australia to the Maldives.
Fly via Kuala Lumpur or Singapore with Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines or
Virgin Australia. Australians are issued a free visa on their arrival in the
Maldives. See malaysiaairlines.com, singaporeair.com, virginaustralia.com.
GETTING AROUND Maalifushi is a 50-minute flight from Male Airport to
Thimarafushi, followed by a 25-minute boat ride. COMO Resorts plans to operate
a seaplane between its two resorts.
STAYING THERE Maalifushi’s “soft-opening” special allows for
low-season rates until December 26. Garden suites from $820 a night, water
suites from $1400 a night. COMO Villas are open for bookings. See website
(left).
MORE INFORMATION visitmaldives.comcomohotels.com.
This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

Crossing the Maldives (while also dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s’)

Photo: Belinda Jackson

Endless beautiful islands, endless sun (except for the occasional monsoon), endless luxury. Immerse in all this fabulousness, it’s easy to miss Maldivian culture when you’re holidaying on the exclusive isles in the Laccadive Sea.
So here’s a quick fact hit: the local language
of the Maldives is Dhivehi. It draws on Arabic, Urdu and Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese. The alphabet, when printed on official signs, looks as though
someone’s been too lazy to finish writing their Arabic script, and not
imaginative enough to make it decorative. To the untrained eye, it could even
resemble a series of punctuation marks.

But what words you can create with its
25-letter alphabet! We’re trying to jump from the luxury resort of
Cocoa Island by COMO, famed for its diving, to its new sister property, Maalifushi by COMO, further
south and an up-and-coming star in the surf arena. If we had a sea plane, we
could skip between the two in a matter of hours.
But we don’t. 

Instead, we take Cocoa’s boat
40 minutes up to the capital Male’s airport, where we will take a commercial
flight south to Thimarafushi, and then another boat to Maalifushi. Lost yet?

(Incidentally, the island of Male is so
small, at just 4sqm, and so densely populated, with around 200,000 people – about half the nation’s population – that the airport is on the next island,
and linked by a taxi rank of public dhonis (local boats), who charge 15 rufiyya, or US$1, to
cross the water.)
Photo: Belinda Jackson
At Male airport, we learn that Thimarafushi airport is closed because ocean swells have
engulfed the runway. “It’s a very, very low atoll,” a local tells me. “Very
good for surfing, very bad for flying.”
For a Maldivian to say something’s low, it
must be very, very low indeed. The highest point in the Maldives, incidentally,
is a towering 2.4m. The lowest official point is 1.5m. I’m tipping that point
is somewhere near Thimarafushi airport. 
So, back to language, instead of aiming for Thimarafushi,
we’re going to Kadhdhoo Kaadedhdhoo airport. Or so we think. Then we learn
we’re actually going to Kadhdhoo Kooddoo airport. 
Imagine trying to do a Maldivian crossword!

My fantasy island: Rangali Island, the Maldives

Conrad Maldives Rangli Island’s twin bed overwater villa,
plunge pool, deck & glass floor,

At
the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, there’s no floor in
the lobby: it’s a desk on white sand. The sand continues through the
restaurant, and all the way down to the water’s edge.

 There, a little
12-seater Japanese grill restaurant dug into the beach, beneath the
stars.

The first night, I watched as men arrived for dinner dressed in
white linen and leather slides while the ladies were bedecked in
glittering jewels and gowns that swished over the sand, revealing a
flicker of perfectly manicured toes, not a shoe in sight.

I also forgot
about shoes for four days, reminded only as I hot-footed it along the
jetty to the spa dangling over the Laccadive Sea. The fish were there
again down in Ithaa, the resort’s underwater restaurant. Set 4.9 metres
below sea level, a glass semi-sphere holds the oceans back. Fish is on
the menu and also on the other side of the glass.

Getting there: Singapore
Airlines and Malaysian Airlines fly to the capital of the Maldives,
Male. The resort is reached by a 30-minute seaplane journey.

Staying there: The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island comprises two islands (one is adults-only). 1800 446 667, tinyurl.com/835b2s3.

 
Source: Sun Herald