Chasing auroras in Tasmania

Hunting the Light

A couple of years ago, I found myself standing on the top deck of a Norwegian coastal liner, the Hurtigruten. The night was pitch black, it was way below zero degrees, and we stared at the sky, our necks cricked in the cold as we attempted to capture the Northern Lights.

Then, another Australian reemerged from the warm cabins below to show us a magnificent photo of the aurora phenomenon. Where’s this? we all asked. It’s in Tasmania, he said. The Australians in the group noted it was a good 15 degrees warmer and 23 hours closer to home. So on my list for this year is to see our own Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights.

I got in touch with one of Tassie’s best-known aurora chasers, Margaret Sonnemann, founder of the Aurora Australis Tasmania Facebook group and author of The Aurora Chaser’s Handbook for her tips.

Happily, she says, you can see the Aurora Australis all year round in Tasmania, one of the landmasses closest to the South Magnetic Pole, which is where aurorae originate from. She shares camera tips as well as her favourite viewing points.

Click here to read the full story, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age‘s Traveller website.

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.    

Art in Melbourne: Big guns and local heroes

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


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

  
 

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

1736–1795 (until June 21) . 

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

  
 

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

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

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

nvg.vic.gov.au)  . 

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

Melbourne’s Shrine of remembrancePICTURE: CRAIG RIDLEY

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

  
 

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

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

  
 

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

  
 

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

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

  
Little Collins St) . 

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

   

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

McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery

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

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

   

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

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

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

  
 

Brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. 

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

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.

Guide to a three-day trip to Melbourne

Caffe e Torta.
Caffe e Torta, 314 Little Collins St, Melbourne.
Photo: Belinda Jackson

Want to drink coffee, sip martinis, frequent the best
eateries and shop like a true local? Melburnian Belinda Jackson shows
you how to pack it all into a three-day extravaganza.

 Sure, Melbourne’s got Vespas parked outside sidewalk cafes and your
tailored winter coat will always get a workout here, but this town is no
poor man’s Europe. The star of the south is home to the world’s best
baristas, quality late-night dining and truly great shoe shopping,
without wowsery curfews, iced pavements or a $1000 airfare. This season,
expect great coups in the art exhibition world, affordable eats from
the brightest chefs and gorgeous indie fashion.

DAY ONE

Good morning, Melbourne! Swan down the Paris end of town where
Euro-fash Doc Martin’s fires up the espresso machine at 7.30am (86
Collins St, see collinsquarter.com)
so you’re ready for Melbourne’s power block of shopping, from Bourke
Street Mall to Lonsdale St. Sparkly new Emporium leads into the
made-over Strand Melbourne Arcade and onto Melbourne’s GPO, home of
Australia’s first H&M. The antidote for all this gorgeousness is the
Grand Trailer Park Taverna. Pull up a caravan and order the Chunk
Double-Double with a boozy milkshake (87 Bourke St, see grandtrailerpark.com.au)
then say hi to Casey Jenkins (she of Vagina Knitting), waiting in the
Dark Horse Experiment artist studios to do whatever you want. The rules:
she doesn’t leave the gallery “and you have to leave her body the way
you found it” (110 Franklin St, see darkhorseexperiment.com)
Need a drink? Wander down Melbourne’s Chinatown, push open a
nondescript door and tell the guys in Union Electric Bar you’d like a
West Winds gin and fresh apple juice, please (13 Heffernan La). Now snag
an upstairs booth in new Magic Mountain Saloon, of Cookie pedigree.
Oooh, that Thai is spicy. Pair with a Tom Thumb mocktail or espresso
martini with cold-pour coffee (62 Lt Collins St, see magicmountainsaloon.com.au).

DAY TWO

Possibly Australia’s first cereal restaurant, Cereal Anytime pops up
in Richmond’s Swan Street Chamber of Commerce alongside the fine teas of
Storm in a Teacup (214 Swan St, Richmond) but if it’s cookin’ you’re
lookin’ for, mosey down to social enterprise Feast of Merit for
shakshuka and a warm glow (117 Swan St, Richmond, see feastofmerit.com).
Follow with a lazy 2.25km parklands stroll to the treasures of the
Forbidden City’s Palace Museum in The Golden Age of China Qianlong
Emperor, 1736–1795 (180 St Kilda Road, see ngv.vic.gov.au)
then explore St Kilda’s most happening pocket, 56-72 Acland St: eke out
a rum-and-tapas lunch in The Nelson, real Peruvian in Buena Vista
Peruvian Kitchen, inhale manchego and leek croquetas at Lona Pintxos Bar
or call for shisha and Middle Eastern mezze in 40 Thieves & Co.
Crush the calories on a City Sights Kayak guided tour down the Yarra,
good with kids from eight years ($78pp, see urbanadventures.com) Now you can indulge at the effortlessly French L’Hotel Gitan. Do oysters and champagne, do the Cape Grim porterhouse (see lhotelgitan.com.au).
Wind down with Australia’s best cocktails at oddball Bar Exuberante.
Expect typos on the menu, expect a knock-back if its 14 seats are
already occupied (438 Church Street, Richmond, see facebook.com/BarExuberante).

DAY THREE

Savour the flavour of a bagel that’s taken a New Jersey local two days to create at 5 and Dime Bagels (16 Katherine Pl, City, 5dimebagel.com.au)
or experience true coffee geekery at First Pour cafe, home to
Victoria’s 2015 barista champ, Craig Simon (26 Bond St, Abbotsford).
Blow the city for a breath of country air at Heide Museum of Modern Art.
Explore the contemporary collections and sculpture gardens with a Cafe
Vue lunch box by super-chef Shannon Bennett (7 Templestowe Rd, Bulleen, heide.com.au).
On the way back into town, take a quick prance into Lupa to flick the
racks for local indie fashion designers (77 Smith St, Fitzroy, lupa.com.au) Nicely timed, you’ll make happy hour and a gin high tea at new G&Tea (100 Kerr St, Fitzroy, gandtea.com.au)
Don’t go overboard: you’ve got dinner booked in at Fatto Cantina,
beloved for its late-night Sicilian dining and city views from the
terrace. Finish with a stroll across the river on the love-locked Yarra
footbridge and back into the city’s heart.

Emporium Shopping Centre.
Emporium Shopping Centre.

FIVE MORE MELBOURNE MUST-DOs

1. Taste authentic Ethiopian, Vietnamese and Greek cuisines on a Footscray food tour with expert Alan Campion, $110, see melbournefoodtours.com.
2. Stretch with the locals at hip hop yoga in South Yarra (yoga213.com.au). If you don’t dig downward dog to Snoop Dogg, slap on the bling and shimmy round The Tan, 3.8km around the Botanic Gardens.

3. Go anti-establishment in Northcote at
the new Estelle Bistro. Chef Scott Pickett tips the Cantabrian anchovies
with romesco, with a Clarence House pinot blanc (243 High Street,
Northcote, estellebistro.com)
4. The Monash Gallery of Art was designed by starchitect Harry Seidler and shows 2000 works of Australian photography, see mga.org.au.
5. Do the Signature Kitya Karnu scrub, massage, cleanse and river stone ritual in the Aurora Spa (The Prince hotel, St Kilda, see aurorasparetreat.com.au)

Degraves Lane.
Degraves Lane. 

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

visitmelbourne.com/

GETTING THERE

Virgin Australia, Qantas, Tigerair and Jetstar have many flights between the two capitals. Compare fares with skyscanner.com.

STAYING THERE

New city digs include Coppersmith (South Melbourne, see coppersmithhotel.com.au), Doubletree Hilton (city, see melbourne.doubletree.com), Larwill Studio (Parkville, see artserieshotels.com.au), Mantra City Central (city, see mantra.com.au) and Jasper Hotel (city, see jasperhotel.com.au)

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

Getting snappy in the Arctic, trans-Australian training: Takeoff travel news

It’s been extremely quiet on the blog front, so excuse me while I drag the last couple of Takeoff columns up online. In particular, this photography competition, which will win you a $10,000 polar adventure, closes soon. So make it snappy!

Cold snaps

If ice is the spice of your life, enter Aurora
Expeditions’ new Facebook photography competition as the adventure company hunts
for its next Official Arctic Photographer. Open to all comers, from phone
snappers to professional photographers, the winner will sail from Scotland to
Spitsbergen spotting great whales and polar bears, massive icebergs and wild
landforms on a 14-day adventure. The prize includes airfares, an expedition
cruise and all expenses paid, worth $10,000. To enter, ‘like’ Aurora
Expeditions’ Facebook page, add your best travel photo and write 50 words  on why you should become the official Arctic
photographer. Entries close March 3. See facebook.com/auroraex.

GEAR 
Pack for
adventure

Sometimes, hard-shell suitcases just won’t cut it when
you’re strapped for space: such as when you’re boating or taking a light plane. Hit
the road with Australian company Paklite, whose new Escape rolling duffle bags
are practical and sturdy, ideal for the traveller who likes to pack in plenty
of adventure. The bags come in three sizes for overnighters (1.9kg, 32l),
weekends away (2.4kg, 50l) and longer getaways (2.kg, 72l) in Spring Green,
Rust and black. Each has a lockable trolley handle and wheels, and the smaller
bags can slot over the handle of the larger case, to keep one hand free. Cost
from $159-$199. See paklite.com.au.

TRAINS

Cross country
Central Australia is on show with a new advertising
campaign for the cross-continent trains The Ghan, the Indian Pacific and The
Overland, which links Adelaide and Melbourne. The campaign, ‘Journey Beyond,’
took a year to create and urges travellers to explore some of Australia’s most
evocative and remote landscapes, such as Coober Pedy in South Australia and the
Northern Territory’s Katherine Gorge. “We welcome you to step off the train in the middle of
nowhere to witness an Outback sunrise,” says Steve Kernaghan of Great Southern
Rail. “You can dig for opals, take a river cruise, linger over a long lunch,
board a scenic flight to Uluru.” Current specials include saving up to $992 on
an eight-day Wildman Kakadu Adventure package or a Perth and Margaret River
package on its all-inclusive Gold Service. Book by February 28 for travel from
May 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016. To watch the new TV advertisment, see http://youtu.be/57ZjnxL5eUI, greatsouthernrail.com.au.

WILDLIFE

Songs of the ocean
If you’ve swum with sharks, tuna or seals, it’s time to
play with the big boys, whales, on the first sing-and-swim tour in Tonga. This
tour is the first of its kind to combine swimming with humpback whales and
Tonga’s singing culture. Led by Sydney choir director Stuart Davis, who has
conducted singing tours to Cuba, Morocco and Spain, the 12-day adventure
includes a traditional Tongan song workshop, beach feast, listening and joining
village church choirs as well as five days in the water with the singing
whales. “Their song is ancient and resounds through all your senses,” says
Stuart. “If you are above them, you can experience the sound vibrating through
your body – it’s truly unforgettable. And even the male humpbacks sing.” The tour departs September 9-22 and costs
$3108, twin share, which includes 12 nights’ accommodation. Budget around $1000
for airfares: Virgin Airlines flies direct from Sydney to the Tongan capital,
Nuku’alofa. Contact Stuart Davis on 0403 869 405, singup@optusnet.com.au.
AIRLINE
Kits that means
business
Qantas has brought Australian luxury leathergoods
designer Oroton on board with a collaboration on its new business class
inflight amenity kit. Available only on Qantas flights to Asia, the pro-Australian kits are packed with Aurora Spa ASPAR
toiletries and Qantas pyjamas by Peter Morrissey,
emblazoned with the airline’s logo. Oroton, which has been creating
envy-inducing handbags since 1938, designed the limited edition Business Sleep
Collection kit to help celebrate Qantas’ new A330 business suites. 
These were designed by another key Australian designer, Marc Newson. If your budget hasn’t
stretched up a class, economy passengers travelling on the
refurbished A330s also get broader seats with
power, 11-inch screens and, as across the rest of its aircraft, larger
meals with more dining choices. The A330 aircraft refits are being undertaken
by more than 200 staff in Qantas’ Brisbane hangar and are expected to be
complete by end 2016. Qantas also recently announced it will conduct one-off
flights from Sydney to Istanbul via Perth for the ANZAC centenary
commemorations at Gallipoli. Flights depart April 21, returning April 28. See qantas.com.au.  

TECH
Austria
shells out
If Vienna isn’t within your reach right now, cheat and
see the best of the city here in Sydney, or online. On February 4, the Sydney
Opera House will host a classic Viennese tradition,  a free public concert. Conducted by Ola Rudner
and featuring soprano  Elisabeth Flechl,
the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will play the Greatest Hits from Vienna, with
works by  Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven and
Schubert. During the second half of the concert, our opera house’s sails will
be transformed by scenes of Vienna and artworks such as Gustav Klimt’s The Tree of Life. Watch the concert with
ticketed seats inside, enjoy the the free concert from a public viewing area at
Campbells Cove, near Circular Quay station, or watch it live online from 8.30-10.15pm,
at visions.vienna.info. Upload and tag your photos with #VisionsOfVienna to
enter a competition to win a week in Vienna, with flights by Emirates Airline.

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday.  

The sky’s the limit in Sydney: travel news

NEWS

The
sky’s the limit
Forget
jostling for camera space out a bus window, Australia’s first glass-roof
coaches are now on the road with AAT Kings
launching two new buses. The glass-roofed coaches give a panoramic view of Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The coachline’s
Sydney Day Tours
route also crosses the Sydney Harbour Bridge. AAT Kings has also recently linked up with some of Australia’s most
iconic experiences, from a train journey on the Indian Pacific to a six-day
walk through Tasmania’s Bay of Fires through Great Walks of Australia, as part
of its new Australia brochure. The half-day Bondi Beach & Sydney Sights
tour costs from $59 adults, $30 children. Phone 1300 228 546,
see aatkings.com.

AIRLINE
Take a spa on board
Australia’s spa
culture gets a sky-high promotions boost when Qantas packs ASPAR spa products
in its new Kate Spade and Jack Spade inflight amenity kits. The new kits are
available initially for business-class passengers on A380 services between
Australia, London, Dubai, LA and Dallas, and include an ultra-hydrating face moisturiser and vanilla & orange lip moisturiser to help counteract skin
dehydration while airborne. If you’re not in the air, you can find Aurora Spas
in the Gold Coast’s Palazzo Versace and The Prince hotel in Melbourne and, since
June this year, also in the First Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne. ASPAR
products are paraben and SLS free, and are not tested on animals. See aurorasparetreat.com.au and qantas.com.au.

GEAR
In bed with the
artist
Take Australian artist John Olsen to bed (metaphorically, of course) with these new
pyjamas from his namesake art hotel, The Olsen, in Melbourne’s South Yarra. The
limited-edition, 100 percent cotton pyjamas by Australian designers Masini & Chern are emblazoned
with Olsen’s ‘Jumping Frog’ motif, and are the heroes of a new range of
lifestyle goods by the Art Series hotel group.

Each of the six art hotels will
have its signature products, which you can snap up during your stay, or, on its
new online shop, Artefact, which launches later this month. One thing’s for
sure: there’ll be no blushing if you get caught in a hotel corridor in this
sleepwear. Cost $190 for the set or $80 for the shorts. See artserieshotels.com.au.

KIDS

Building a perfect cruise
Lego just got a whole lot more mobile with new playrooms on
all 12 ships in the MSC Cruises fleet. In a bid to woo cruising families, the
new Lego rooms, aimed at kids up to 12 years, come on board this month. The MSC
Orchestra will be the first of the fleet to arrive in Australia from Dubai on
her maiden voyage on February 21. The Renaissance ships have separate four
separate kids’ clubs, from the Baby class for under-threes up to the Teens, from
15 to 17 years. The Lego upgrades are part of a E200m renovation program across
the entire fleet. Phone 1300 028502, see msccruises.com.au.

GEAR

Modern retro

If you can’t bring yourself to lug around a chunky DSLR,
but are frustrated by the limits of most compact cameras, Fujifilm’s new X100T aims
to bridge the gap. Don’t be fooled by its retro styling, the 16MP camera has a
fixed 35mm-equivalent, f/2 lens that can snap a 3×2-meter jpeg for those
billboard statements and the world’s first electronic rangefinder. It also
shoots RAW files, has a stealth-mode silent shutter, lets you change the
aperture by a third (rather than a full stop), focuses manually or with
high-speed auto-focus and has a large, 3-inch monitor for easy viewing. It can
produce full HD video, has wi-fi and, in an of-the-moment quirk, can apply
filters to achieve that 70s look, for those who think they were born too late. Available
in black or silver and weighing 440g, the X100T is available this month, costs RRP
$1749. See fujifilm.com.au.

FOOD

Worldly food wisdom
Maeve O’Mara shares the wisdom of the world’s kitchens in
her fourth cookbook in the SBS TV Food Safari series, Complete Food Safari:
delicious adventures through 44 cuisines. The book will teach you the tricks of
the perfect Kabuli pulao from Afghanistan to Danish gravat lax or crowd-pleasing
salt and pepper squid, as China sees it.

Each country has an explanation of its
food culture, a fascinating array of home cooks and a breakout of essential
flavours, from humble Clive of India curry powder (thank you, Broome), to
Brazil’s malagueta chillies and Syria’s seven-spice mix, baharat, used in over
400 recipes. Costs $59.95, out now. See hardiegrant.com.au.

Macaron madness: a food photography taster

The Mr Darcy of macarons: black sesame
and blackberry fill. Photo: Belinda Jackson.
‘Light, in abundance,’ was the motto today, thanks to top editorial photographer Ewen Bell. 
I’m not quite sure, then, how I ended up with this study in grey (left), the result of a day’s food photography taster with Ewen, fellow photographer Ian Rolfe and food stylist and photographer Iron Chef Shellie, aka Michèle Froidevaux.
I call it: Vermeer Macaron, because it’s got that whole grey Dutch thing going on (and there were tulips originally in the shot, but I went minimalist to the point of monochromatic).
In case you’re interested, this photo was shot with my modest Canon 600D with a super-fabulous Sigma 35mm f/1.4 whacked on and a Bowens studio flash set-up. Lavish.
I learned that most people shoot up too close, losing the story (guilty), that shooting with the light behind you will make your photos groan with dreariness and that tilt-shift lenses are just crazy animals. 
Sweetness & light. Photo: Belinda Jackson.

Other tips included shooting food portrait, not landscape, and to make a mess with food photography – it’s more real (but I wonder if that means you’re allowed to stick your fingers in the icing).

This fantastic, one-day food photography taster was held at the offices of gear gurus CR Kennedy in Port Melbourne (who have taught me the definition of ‘want’, since putting that 35mm lens in my hands).
Check out this talented team’s travel photography tours through the links below.
ironchefshellie.com 
www.photographyfortravellers.com

PS: the black sesame and blackberry macarons, Shellie’s creation, tasted as good as they look.

Trading places: Sri Lanka

Winter is happily settling in to Melbourne: it’s got its squalls, sharp winds and drizzle and is setting up shop quite nicely, thank you very much.

If I could trade places, my choice (today, anyway) would be Sri Lanka, specifically on the banks of the gracious Tissa wewa (tank, or man-made reservoir), said to have been constructed in 250-210 BC as part of a network of reservoirs across the country. Tissa wewa is beside the town of Tissamaharama, the gateway to the leopard-rich Yala National Park. 

The town pumps with a frontier vibe, as sticky touts peddle jeep safari tours, but the serenity of the tanks nearby give no indication of the hustling and hard sell going on behind your back.
Herons fish, lily pads float languidly and spectacular rain trees (Albizia?) curve in perfect formation.