Myanmar, floating whiskey bars and Australia’s cutest animal, officially: Takeoff travel news

TRENDS: Discover secrets of Myanmar

Myanmar has set our travel radars
afire since Lonely Planet named it in its top 10 must-visit destinations
back in 2012, when Australia lifted its sanctions against the country.
Now, Trafalgar becomes the first of the larger group tour companies
offering coach tours to enter the market in 2016. Its new 11-day Secrets of Myanmar tour traverses the well regarded sights of Yangon,

Inle Lake and Bagan and goes off
track to include a cooking class and local markets, visiting some of
Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, the Pa-O, Danu and Intha people. Before Trafalgar’s entry, the tourism market

had been dominated by smaller group
operators including Peregrine, which has been running tours since 2002,
World Expeditions and budget-minded Intrepid Travel. Travel pundits say
Myanmar’s infrastructure is still weak, with poor roads, a lack of ATMs
and poor communications (ie shaky Wi-Fi), though the big hotel groups
are moving in. 

Accor plans to open four new hotels in a country regarded as one of south-east Asia’s most mysterious and most beautiful.
Trafalgar’s 11-day Secrets of
Myanmar guided holiday costs from $4875, excluding airfares, with
departures between January 27 and December 7, 2016. Phone 1300 797 010,
see trafalgar.com.  
 

EXPLORE: Go with the flow

Fossick for gold, unearth a thunder
egg from an ancient lava flow or spot the rare Gouldian finch on a new
self-drive route in Far North Queensland. The new Lava Tubes, Gems and
Gorges Trail is an offshoot of the Savannah Way, which links Cairns and
Broome in an epic 3700-kilometre drive across three states and five
World Heritage sites. The new trail is a 300-kilometre circuit from
Minnamoolka to Conjuboy, inland from Queensland’s Mission Beach. En
route, take a river cruise down Cobbold Gorge, hunt for topaz at
O’Briens Creek and walk down the world’s longest lava tubes – caves
created by lava flows – at Undara Volcanic National Park. Thirsty work?
Pull in to Australia’s smallest bar at Lynd Junction to recoup. Also
check out the nearby Kirrama Range Road, which was mapped late last
year. Find the trails at visitor information centres or see
drivenorthqueensland.com.au.
 

DRINKS: Dram roll

 If you thought whisky and cruising
were uneasy bedfellows, think again as you order up at Magnums, the
first whisky bar on the Princess Cruises line. Staff at the new bar, on
board the locally based Dawn Princess, will lead you through 63 fine
whiskies, from Tasmania to Japan to the US and Scotland. You’ll find
single malts from New Zealand, American bourbons and even a Melbourne
offering. Try a nip or order the flight of the day, featuring three
different whiskies. The cruise line says the spirit is hot, and
recommends a dram after dinner or on a laidback sea day. Cruises on the
Dawn Princess include the 13-night round trip from Sydney

to New Caledonia and Vanuatu from $1399 a person, twin share, departing January 16, 2015. Phone 132 488, see princess.com

Silver fox Roy Billing.

TOUR: NZ fox trot for boomers

On your marks boomers. Your
adventure trip to New Zealand awaits. The new Silver Foxes and Foxettes
tour is aimed at baby boomers who want to live for the moment and
#saysorrylater. Check out the social media campaign, which encourages
you to SKI (Spend the Kids’ Inheritance). The ringleader of the new AAT Kings tour is actor Roy Billing (pictured), a proud Kiwi, Underbelly

and Jack Irish star and 2015
recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia. Billing helps mix New
Zealand’s heady beauty and fine tables with a dash of jet boating or
heli-wine tasting. The 10-day tours start in Billing’s hometown,
Auckland, then on to Rotorua for a hangi feast before

heading to the South Island’s
Christchurch, Franz Josef Glacier and Queenstown. Tours depart from
September 13, 2015 to May 22, 2016 and cost from $3795 a person, twin
share. Phone 131 415, see
helloworld.com.au/instore/silverfox.
 

GEAR: Stop the noise

So your carry-on bag already bulges
with laptop, camera, work gear or perhaps the accoutrements required by a
junior traveller by your side. Who has room for big headphones?
Fortunately, sound masters Bose have the answer, with their QC20 in-ear
headphones. Fully charged, these little babies offer 16 hours of noise
cancellation, and act as regular earphones even when uncharged.
The incredibly effective “noise
cancelling” mode will block out even your neighbour’s droning, while
“aware” lets you pick up traffic noise (handy when you’re on the move)
without having to corkscrew them tightly into your ears. They also
feature an inline mike and volume control. First released in 2013, the
new models come in black or white, tailored for iPhones/iPads/iPods,
Samsung Galaxy or Android devices. Includes a tidy zipup bag and earbuds in three sizes. Quiet Comfort 20 acoustic noise-cancelling headphones cost $399. See
bose.com.au.  
 

KIDS: Wild life

Australia’s cutest animal, Archer the koala.

July birthday kids will gain free
entry to Featherdale Wildlife Park, in western Sydney, which also
celebrates its birthday this month. The park is home to Archer the
Koala, officially the cutest animal in Australia, thanks to a recent
poll. Archer, who was hand-raised by

Featherdale staff, beat competition
from around Australia including gang-gang cockatoos and quokkas, and
details his life on his Facebook page @ArcherTheKoala. Featherdale includes a petting zoo
with baby lambs, goats and pigs, as well as Australia’s own baby
bilbies, wallabies, dingoes and wombats, while the fearless can sidle up
to snakes or tangle with a Tassie devil.

  
Open 9am to 5pm daily, 217 Kildare
Road, Doonside. Adults $29.50, children (3-15 years) $16, families from
$56 (1 adult, 2 kids). Phone (02) 9622 1644, see featherdale.com.au/birthday

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

Great trails, pub grub and shooting on safari : Takeoff travel news

Port Campbell National Park. Photo: Mark Watson

TECH: Talk the walk


Hit the road on foot or by bike
throughout Victoria with a new website that shows 15 great walking,
cycling and mountain-bike routes, ranging from the iconic (Great Ocean
Road or Wilson’s Promontory) to the obscure (Gippsland Plains Rail Trail
or the Goldfields Track). The new website provides GPS data,
interactive mapping, beauty spots, trail descriptions and degrees of
difficulty. You can also click for accommodation, gear hire and, of
course, great restaurants, because trail mix doesn’t always cut it. See greattrailsvictoria.com.au.
 


FOOD: Best grub for pub lovers

Fight back against the demise of the
great English public house by settling in for lunch at Britain’s oldest
pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, in the Hertfordshire city of St Albans.
The pub’s kitchen is now headed up by chef Ian Baulsh, a St Albans local
recently returned from two years in Australia working with Melbourne
celeb chef Ian Curley.
Founded in the eighth century, the
pub’s signature dishes are freerange, house-made pork sausages and beef
burgers sourced by a master butcher, and a British cheeseboard, all
using local produce. Baulsh has added a summery touch,

with chicken liver pate, pan-roasted
monkfish and chargrilled tuna nicoise. St Alban was Britain’s first
Christian martyr, Oliver Cromwell sank pints in the pub, and it’s been
called home by Stanley Kubrick and Stephen Hawking.
The city is 25 minutes by train from London’s St Pancras station on the Thameslink line. See
visitbritain.org.


AIRLINE: Planes, gains and automobiles

Passengers flying Qantas can now
earn as well as redeem points on car hire with Budget and Avis in
Australia and New Zealand. And in a move that will have points
collectors smiling, travellers also will earn frequent flyer points even
when they are paying with points. ‘‘Members will still continue to earn
points for that booking at the same rate as they would if they were
paying with cash,’’ says the airline. Its rival, Virgin Australia, lets
you earn points with Hertz, Europcar and Thrifty car rentals through its
Velocity Frequent Flyer program, but allows you to use points to book a
car only with Europcar; see
virginaustralia.com.au 
. In other news, Qantas is ramping up flights to Hamilton Island,
including a new, twice-weekly Melbourne-Hamilton Island service from
June 27. See
qantas.com.au

SAFARI: Ready, set, shoot

Photographers of all abilities will
know the frustration of snapping a safari through sticky windows or
around a badly placed safety pole.
The new safari jeep at South
Africa’s Sabi Sabi private reserve has been customised for photography
tours, with tiered seating and swivel chairs, fixed camera mounts for
additional stability and cut-out side panels. The tours are guided by professional photographers and include tuition on shutter speeds and action shots, held over sundowners

back at the lodge. Would-be lion
paparazzi can also hire additional equipment including the big guns –
such as a 200-400-millimetre lens – to pap the Big Five as they roam the
fence-free range on the edge of the Kruger National Park.
Photography safaris at Sabi Sabi run on

demand, all year round and cost from
$1800, two days, includes photographer and vehicle for up to four
people. Stays at Sabi Sabi’s Bush lodge cost from $1030 a person,
sharing. See sabisabi.com.
 

AIRPORTS: Flying, beautifully

Life spent in airports is quite
possibly life wasted. Instead, use that time when your flight’s delayed
to become beautiful (within reason) at AMUSE Beauty Studio, which has
opened recently at Sydney Airport. The new store stocks some of the most
desirable names in the industry, including Tom Ford, Jo Malone and
Amouage. It also offers

free beauty quickies for brows and nails, and an express make-up service for that emergency smoky eye.
As well, it’s home to Australia’s first Hermes concept shop-within-a-store, stocking its homewares range, which has

never been available outside its
branded stores. The beauty store, run by the parents of the Newslink
chain, is now open in Sydney Airport’s domestic terminals, T2 and T3,
and comes to Melbourne in August.
See
amusebeauty.com.au.
 


BOOK: Propaganda paradise

So North Korea’s on your bucket
list? Get a taste for its altered reality with Anna Broinowski’s witty
book, The Director is the Commander. The filmmaker wanted to make a
movie that would stop the creation of a coalseam gas mine near her home,
in Sydney Park, so she

turned to the master of propaganda,
Kim Jong-il, the former leader of North Korea and author of the
manifesto The Cinema and Directing. 

The only Western filmmaker in the
world to gain total access to North Korea’s film industry, Broinowski
worked with local directors, actors and crews to create Aim High in
Creation! The Director is the Commander, $32.99,
penguin.com.au. NSW-based Guidepost Tours books
tours of North Korea with British-based Koryo Tours. A five-day tour
(including visa processing) costs from $2000 a person, departing from
Beijing.
See guideposttours.com.au.
 

Savour the flavour of Australia: Food experiences across Australia

Tasmania’s Red Feather
has been serving patrons since 1842.

Unleash your hunter-gatherer instinct with a do-it-yourself food
adventure in Australia.

So you think you can eat? Oh, much neglected blog, this is what I’ve been up to lately. This story was published by Tourism Australia, who is inviting the world to dinner with its newest campaign, Restaurant Australia

Design a wine in the famed Barossa Valley or
hook a big barramundi on a day’s fishing in the wild, remote north.
There are truffles to hunt in Canberra, mudcrabbing in Queensland,
coffees to pour in Melbourne and once you learn the indigenous
Australians’ secrets of finding bush tucker, you’ll never starve. If
you’re not sure how to put it all together, go with the pros and sign up
to a cooking school, where they’ll teach you the tricks of the trade to
create the perfect Aussie feast, with food and wine matching. Savour
the flavour of Australia.

Wine blending in South Australia

Step into the home of Australia’s most prestigious wine, Penfolds
Grange Shiraz. Think you can match it? Roll up the shirtsleeves and make
your own red wine blend using Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre grapes, a
great souvenir to take home with you. Tours run daily at Penfolds
historic Barossa Valley cellar door in Nuriootpa, one and a half hours’
drive north of Adelaide amidst rolling farmlands and vineyards. While
you’re there, be sure to taste Penfolds’ extensive range, from the famed
Grange to its everyday drinking range of reds and whites.

Barramundi fishing in Western Australia

High on the Western Australian coastline, the Kimberley Coastal Camp
is a tiny cluster of ecologically sustainable bures reached only by
helicopter or boat. Visitors are lured by ancient Aboriginal rock art,
birdwatching and the mighty barramundi – ‘barra’ if you’re talking to a
local. You can fish barra all year round up here, though they’re more
active in the warmer months of April and May, and again in August. The
camp’s experienced fishing guides will kit you out with quality
equipment and teach you the tricks of thinking like a barra to make the
catch.

Truffle Hunting in Australian Capital Territory

Rug up for a wintery morning in an oak forest on the outskirts of
Canberra, and you’ll be rewarded with the jewels of the kitchen:
truffles. Snuffle the truffle dog and owners Sherry and Gavin
McArdle-English will teach you how to hunt and handle French black
truffles that will make their way to market and be served in Australia’s
best restaurants. The hunt ends in the warm truffle shed with a
weight-guessing competition and truffle crème brulee. Truffle hunts run in winter, from June to August.

Mudcrabbing in Queensland

So you love crab? Learn to wrangle them on a two-and-a-half-hour
cruise down the Tweed River, about 10 minutes south of Queensland’s Gold
Coast. The daily tours
let you trap live crabs, hauling crab pots and tieing them up for a
great photo op. You can also hand-feed massive, ever-hungry pelicans and
throw a hopeful fishing line in the river. They’ll supply the gear, you
bring the luck.

Finding bush tucker in the Northern Territory

Go on safari
in one of the world’s great wildernesses to find turtles and snakes,
gather fruits and yams and celebrate with a bush feast around the
campfire. An open safari truck takes you through Kakadu National Park,
three hours’ drive from Darwin in the Northern Territory. Meet Kakadu’s
Aboriginal community, learn about their languages, bush lore and their
“dreamings” and witness birds massing at the Gindjala wetland. You’ll
finish at sunset with a cup of billy tea, hot damper (bread cooked in
the fire’s embers) and the results of your day’s hunting and gathering.

Game fishing in New South Wales

Get your Hemingway on and chase the big fish of the deep blue sea in
the rich waters off the south coast of New South Wales. There’s mighty
marlin to lure as well as yellow fin, albacore and striped tuna. You may
spot some powerful broadbill swordfish and sharks, and while they’re
not for anglers, majestic Humpback whales use this corridor on their
annual journey to and from Antarctica. Keep your eyes open for seals,
sea eagles and penguins, too. Freedom Charters
supply all equipment and you can catch and release, or capture your
haul. Eden’s thrilling game fishing season runs from November till
July.

Making coffee in Victoria

Nobody drinks coffee like Melburnians drink, and its fabulous café
society just keeps evolving. If you love the bean and want to try this
at home, Sensory Lab‘s
45-minute one-on-one barista classes will have you frothing, tamping,
grinding and pouring like a pro. Start as a beginner, learning all the
skills to flatter with your latte, or caress with your capuccino. Take
it to the next level and get serious with milk texturing and making
those pretty little hearts and ferns on the top of the cup or go into
syphoning.

Cooking class in Tasmania

Roll up your sleeves and cook Tasmania’s top produce, much of it
sourced from the markets on the morning of your cooking class. The Red Feather
has been serving patrons since 1842, when it was built as a coaching
inn by convicts sent to “Van Diemen’s Land” from the United Kingdom. The
beautiful sandstone buildings are just south of Launceston, Australia’s
third oldest city. You’ll learn the secrets of perfect baking, smoking
and curing meats and whatever the markets offer that day. And the best
part? You get to eat the fabulous fruits of your labour (with a little
help from a chef, of course).

This story by Belinda Jackson was first published by Tourism Australia, who is inviting the world to dinner. 

To read more about Australia’s fantastic food culture, best restaurants, wineries and producers, visit the brand, spanking new Restaurant Australia website.