Just the tonic: blending health and hedonism on the Dawn Princess

Thick and rich, the mud seems to pulsate with a life of its own, like an extra from Doctor Who. Scooping a hearty handful, it’s just begging to be slapped on your face.

Standing
in a green paddock in rural Fiji, clad only in swimmers and smothered
from ponytail to toenail in the green-grey goop that smells like cattle
dip, it’s not what I had in mind when I signed up for a seaward jaunt on
board Australia’s best-loved ship, the Dawn Princess. Don’t get me
wrong: it’s great fun, just greatly unexpected.

To read more about life on the good ship Dawn Princess, click here.

 This story was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section. 

Switch to island time: Escape to the South Pacific

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

The hotspots

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

Flying there

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

Cruising there

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

Getting around

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

Staying there

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

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

Hip pocket talk

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

Prices correct at time of publishing.

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

Get going: dreams can come true

Daydream Island

GO NOW

QUEENSLAND

Lie back on Daydream Island and save $180 on a four-night
stay until April 30. Includes return ferry transfers from the Great
Barrier Reef airport and water sports. Kids under 14 stay and eat free.
From $598 a person, twin share. Phone 1800 075 040, see daydreamisland.com.

BALI

Save up to 40 per cent on a Balinese holiday until March 31.
Staying in the three-star Centra Taum Seminyak, get breakfast, Wi-Fi and
a pool-view room on Seminyak’s hippest street, Petitenget. From $274 a
person, twin share, seven nights. Phone 1800 359 769, see lowcostholidays.com.au.

GO SOON

Ayers Rock Resort, NT

NORTHERN TERRITORY

Stay at the Ayers Rock Resort on April 24-27 and get free
entry to the inaugural Tjungu festival celebrating indigenous culture,
breakfast, airport transfers and kids under 15 stay and eat free. Quote
“Tjungu”. From $326 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 134 004, see ayersrockresort.com.au.

NEW ZEALAND

Book two nights at The Rees Hotel, Queenstown, on April
25-27, save 20 per cent and get tickets to the town’s first Blues &
Roots festival on April 26. Includes a jet boat ride down the Kawarau
River, breakfast and late checkout. From $866 a couple. Phone +64 3450 1100, see therees.co.nz.

Lake Crackenback
Resort & Spa, NSW Snowy Mountains

GO LATER

NEW SOUTH WALES

Sick of summer? Plan a winter escape at Lake Crackenback
Resort & Spa in the Snowy Mountains and save $226. Stay five nights
with breakfast daily, three dinners and ski hire and spa discounts, June
6 to October 6. From $1629, two adults, five nights. Phone 1800 020 524, see lakecrackenback.com.au.

VANUATU

Pay just $19 for kids under 9 to stay and eat free when you
book five nights in four-star accommodation in Vanuatu. Book by March 17
for stays April 26 to June 27, July 15 to September 21, October 8 to
December 19. Adults from $655, five nights. Phone 1300 301 711, see creativeholidays.com.au.

TOURWATCH
Top tastes

Discover the best of West Australian produce with a
seven-day Paddock to Plate tour through Margaret River and beyond.
Unearth truffles in Manjimup, take a chef’s masterclass in Denmark,
dine from a long table in a wheat paddock and shop at the Albany
Farmers’ Market. The tour departs June 24. From $4945 a person, twin
share. Phone 0429 385 642, see perthwatours.com.au.

KIDS

PLAY AT PARADISE

The Gold Coast’s Paradise Resort – voted Holidays with Kids’
2013 best family resort in Australia – teams up with Dreamworld and
WhiteWater World to offer a stay-and-play package. Stay five nights at
the resort, with its new ice-skating rink and waterpark, and get a
three-day family pass to the two theme parks, four hours of kids club
each day and discount vouchers, saving up to $640. Available until
December 24, 2014, from $995 a room, five nights. Phone 1800 074 111, see paradiseresort.com.au.

Going, going, gone: last-minute summer holiday ideas

Still stuck for a trip this summer? Let us tell you where to
go with these last-second holiday ideas compiled by Belinda Jackson.

Throw the schedule out the window and cut loose. There’s
still time to plan and book a holiday this summer. Really. What about a
fancy weekend on the Gold Coast, or a touch of luxury in Bali?
Auckland’s sparkling harbour is calling or go on the hunt for powder in
the Japanese alps. Adelaide’s festival scene is about to kick off and
there are bargains to be had in the South Pacific’s off-season.

Cheer
up, slackers, the early bird doesn’t always catch the worm, but you’d
better get your skates, fins or walking boots on, quick smart.

GOLD COAST HINTERLAND
Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, Tallebudgera Valley

The deal Who doesn’t dream about getting away from it all?
Organic, low-tech, wellness, but with a hefty dose of gorgeousness.
Internationally recognised for its luxury spa offering, five-star a
weekend escape at Gwinganna includes all-organic meals, and activities –
think bosu balance training, indoor cycling, hiking or creative dance –
and a massage in its 33-room Spa Sanctuary. Save 15 per cent on
selected weekends from January 17 to March 30.

How much From $948 a person, twin share in an Orchards Suite.

Getting there Tiger Airways, Jetstar and Virgin Australia fly Sydney-Gold Coast.

More details 1800 219 272, gwinganna.com.

CANBERRA

Five hotels including Novotel Canberra and Ibis Budget Canberra

The deal The National Gallery of Australia’s blockbuster
exhibit Gold and the Incas: Lost Worlds of Peru is now showing. Book a
Cultural Getaway package at one of Accor’s five hotels, with breakfast
and two adults untimed tickets thrown in, until April 21.

How much from $119 a night at Ibis Budget Canberra, from $165 at Mercure Canberra and from $195 a night at Novotel Canberra.

Getting there It takes less than three hours to drive from Sydney to Canberra.

More details 1300 656 565, accorhotels.com/canberra-art.

VICTORIAN ALPS

Dinner Plain village

The deal Summer in the Australian Alps is free from the
madness of ski season, which means plenty of seats in Bright’s shining
restaurants and cooking schools and discounted accommodation. Stay
three, pay for two, nights in a self-contained apartment. They’ll throw
in local wine and cheese and a 90-minute horse ride with Dinner Plain
Trail Rides.

How much From $235 a person, twin share. Save $70 until April 30.

Getting there Qantas, Virgin Australia and Rex fly Sydney-Albury (1½ hours). Dinner Plain is two hours’ drive into the mountains.

More details (03) 5159 6556, skiholidays.com.au.

THAILAND

Radisson Blu Plaza Resort, Phuket Panwa Beach

The deal Phuket is so hot right now, with sleek properties
giving it an injection of fab, including oceanfront beauties.. Some
things stay the same: there’s still the great beaches, fun shopping,
bars and fabulous Thai cuisine to soak up. Save 20 per cent on two-night
stays on Radisson’s Asia Pacific hotels, including Sydney for a little
stay, until December 30 when booked by February 21.

How much From $244 for two nights.

Getting there Jetstar flies Sydney to Phuket.

More details 1800 333 333, radissonblu.com.

CAMBODIA, VIETNAM AND THAILAND

From Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok, via Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang

River life, Cambodia

The deal The nine-day adventure takes in the glory of Angkor
Wat’s temples and Battambang, where French Colonial and Khmer
architecture mix, not to mention racy Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok’s
great shopping. Trips depart January 19, 22 and 29, 2014. Book by
January 12.

How much from $791 a person (was $1055)

Getting there Vietnam Airlines flies direct Sydney-Ho Chi Minh City.

More details 1300 018 871, intrepidtravel.com/tkse.

MALAYSIA, MALACCA, IPOH AND PANGKOR ISLAND

The deal Named one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 must-visit
countries for 2014, a good starting point in Malaysia to explore is the
UNESCO-listed heart of Malacca, once a kingdom, then a Portuguese
colony. Save $200 on travel on this seven-day journey with private car
until March 31, 2015. The tour departs daily from Kuala Lumpur.

How much From $1260 a person, twin share.

Getting there Air Asia, Malaysia Airlines fly Sydney to Kuala Lumpur.

More details 1300 295 049, adventureworld.com.au.

HAWAII

Shoreline Hotel, Waikiki

The deal With a 64 kilogram luggage allowance (oh, hello!)
Hawaii’s famed shopping is yours for the taking home. Stay six nights at
the newly renovated Shoreline from January 17 to March 25 (with more
dates later in the year) and get more than $550 in bonuses. Book by
January 31. We suggest upgrading to an ocean view.

How much From $1690 a person, including airfares with Hawaiian Airlines.

Getting there Hawaiian Airlines, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Qantas fly Sydney-Honolulu.

More details 1300 004 292, myhawaii.com.au.

BLUE MOUNTAINS

Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa

The deal Voted the best hotel in Australia in 2013 on
TripAdvisor, stay two nights in a Heritage Suite with a private pool,
all meals, some drinks and two activities a day, including horse riding
and save $390 a couple. They’ll also include pre-dinner cocktails and
canapes one night, and souvenir pool towels. Midweek guests get 25 per
cent off spa treatments, from January 6-March 31.

How much from $1680 a person for two nights (two-night minimum stay).

Getting there 2½ hours’ drive from Sydney.

More details (02) 9290 9733, wolganvalley.com.

NEW ZEALAND

Huka Lodge, Taupo

The deal The world’s biggest movers and shakers have
luxuriated in Huka Lodge, from Queen Elizabeth II (mover) to Bette
Midler (shaker), but the lodge loves families, too. It’s offering four
nights for the price of three in its suites or cottages, ideal for
multi-generational festivities, until August 31 (excluding Christmas
until January 5).

How much from $4125 a person, four nights, includes all meals, drinks, activities and transfers.

Getting there Air New Zealand, Jetstar,
Virgin Australia, Emirates, China Airlines, LAN Airlines and Qantas fly
Sydney-Auckland. Taupo is three hours’ drive from Auckland.

More details + 64 7378 579, hukalodge.co.nz.

Family getaways

BALI

Semara Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia

Semara Seminyak

The deal Petitenget is Seminyak’s coolest strip of
restaurants, bars and boutiques and Semara Seminyak is on the golden
strip between Ku De Ta and Potato Head Beach Club. Its spacious
executive suites are great for families, sleeping up to four, and gold
stars for the kids’ Cubby House throwing a New Year’s Eve party, so you
can kick up your heels. Save 70 per cent on stays until January 31.

How much From $134 plus 15 per cent a room, a night.

Getting there Virgin Australia, Garuda International and Jetstar fly direct to Denpasar.

More details +62 361 847 6661, semaraseminyak.com.

ADELAIDE

Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury
The deal Adelaide goes off in summer, with the Tour Down
Under in January and the fabulous Adelaide Festival. Stay three nights
and save 15 per cent until February 28. They’ll give you a picnic
blanket, so stock up at the Central Markets and head to the Botanical
Gardens for a lazy lunch.

How much From $185 a night.

Getting there Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia fly direct Sydney-Adelaide.

More details 1300 633 462, adinahotels.com.au.

Skiing at Hakuba, Japan

JAPAN

Wagaya Chalet, Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture

The deal Spring skiing in the Japanese Alps means
deliciously blue skies, no crowds and an average snow depth of 2.5
metres. This new three-bedroom chalet sleeps up to eight and is 500
metres to the lifts, with runs from beginner to Warren Miller. Save 40
per cent on this and other Hakuba accommodation in March: get seven
nights’ stay, five-day multi-resort lift pass, airport transfers and
breakfast.

How much From $1200 a person, six adults sharing. Children’s discounts available.

Getting there Qantas, Japan Airlines fly
Sydney-Tokyo direct. Jetstar flies (via Gold Coast, Uluru). About four
hours bullet train and bus, Tokyo to Hakuba.

More details (02) 9905 6162, ski-resorts-japan.com.

GOLD COAST

Soul Surfers Paradise

The deal Soul shoots 77 storeys up and its luxe pool is
where all the chic families are soaking up the Queensland sun this
summer (when they’re not on the beach out front). Make time for its
two-hat restaurant, Seaduction by Steve Szabo, of Palazzo Versace fame.
Stay four nights, pay for three in a two-bedroom ocean view apartment
until March 31.

How much from $1437 for four nights.

Getting there Tiger Airways, Jetstar and Virgin Australia fly Sydney-Gold Coast.

More details 1800 737 444, peppers.com.au.

 

Soul Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast, Queensland.


VANUATU

Coconut Palms Resort, Port Vila

The deal A South Pacific getaway without busting the budget,
and only 3½ hours’ flight time. True, January is the wettest month,
but regardless of weather or budget, the waters are warm, the markets
are bustling and the islands are for hopping. Stay five nights, pay
four when booked by January 31, available until March 31. Includes
return airfares and breakfasts.

How much From $945 for five nights.

Getting there Air Vanuatu and Qantas fly Sydney-Port Vila direct and Virgin Australia (via Brisbane).

More details 1300 747 400, creativeholidays.com.

AUCKLAND

The Heritage Auckland

The deal Tap into Auckland’s Polynesian vibe, picnic at a
volcano’s feet and kick off your exploration of Middle-Earth as NZ goes
into Hobbit overdrive with the launch of The Hobbit: The Desolation of
Smaug this month. The art deco hotel offers a stay in a family deluxe
suite with free parking, breakfast for two adults and two kids, free
Wi-Fi and drinks until February 9.

How much From $NZ209 a room.

Getting there Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Virgin Australia, China Airlines, Emirates, LAN Airlines and Qantas fly Sydney-Auckland.

More details 1800 141 780, heritagehotels.co.nz.


This article by Belinda Jackson was first published in the Sun-Herald newspaper.

Bargains and bright ideas: from Middle Earth to Malaysia

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

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

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

Where to? Cook Islands.

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

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

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