I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

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Travelling in Oman: chat with 2GB Sydney radio

I’m recently back from travelling in Oman, the quietest little country in the Middle East. So quiet, you may never have thought of it, or thought to visit.

You’re missing out.

Today, I chatted with radio 2GB Sydney host Michael McLaren about Oman. About walking through the narrow streets of a mudbrick town, where you’ll pass men in the classic Omani dishdasha, a long, white robe topped with a kumar, an embroidered cap worn nowhere else but Oman. It is unmistakably different. It is unmistakably Omani.

Travelling in Oman is easy, safe and the people are welcoming – and this is the most fragrant country, the land of frankincense, myrrh, of cardamon-scented coffee and pure rosewater, which I watched distilled in the hill towns of Al Jabal Al Akhdar.

To listen to my chat with Michael McLaren, click here.

Otherwise, you can tune into my podcast, The World Awaits, where I caught up with co-host Kirstie Bedford on my return, to talk about travelling from Muscat to Nizwa to the mountains and the fjords of the Musandam peninsula as well as the deserts – the lovely, lonely, great sand deserts of Arabia.

2GB interview https://omny.fm/shows/2gb-afternoons/travel-oman

The World Awaits podcast https://open.spotify.com/episode/4yGJB2Gu4axrPJJhWgDlhw


Dubai floods & my eyewitness reports

Dubai floods – do those two words even belong together? It’s been a big couple of days, travelling from Melbourne to Muscat via Dubai.

I had 36 hours in Dubai – most of that spent at the airport – as the emirate was smashed by tumultuous rain and ensuing floods, which I saw first hand when I left the airport on a long layover.

I thought I would be the only one checking into my hotel barefoot, but most of the city is running around with their shoes off, as the water is so deep on the streets.

Dubai residents were told to stay at home, and we were not permitted to leave the airport, as the roads have been destroyed, so there was no way to get anywhere, should we choose to leave.

After 18 hours waiting for flights that were constantly cancelled, I slapped on the red lip for a live TV cross with  Joe O’Brien of ACB TV News channel  @abcnews_au while sitting on the floor of the business class lounge at @flydubai in Terminal 2.

And sending huge thanks to Hind and the rest of the team at the lounge for letting me in for a quiet place to talk to Joe, and for maintaining their calm even when passengers turned abusive.

Here’s another report for the Sydney Morning Herald, with all my footage of the wild ride from my hotel, Al Seef, back to the airport.


My slices of heaven: travel in Turkey & Egypt

Nisanyan was a stone house in rural Turkey, forgotten or ignored for generations and demoted to a lowly stable before its reincarnation into a small, family hotel.

Now, the hotel is its own village outside Selçuk; a series of hand made, whitewash-and-stone cottages, inns and villas along the tree-lined laneway, which I visited on a women’s-only expedition with @intrepidtravel

I wrote about the hotel recently for a cover story in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, where we were asked to describe our own idea of heaven.

The nights here are cool and silent, save the toll of a goat’s bell and the final call to prayer from a mosque down in the valley. In my cottage, deep red rugs are thrown over stone floors, handstitched coverlets and cushions adorn well-worn armchairs and my daybed, where I languish, the’ bells and the muezzin’s voice carried to me on the jasmine-scented night air.

Why heaven? Turkish breakfasts are the best on earth – here, the tables are laden with locally pressed olive oil, deep red tomatoes, fresh eggs, honey, handmade cheeses.
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I also have an affinity with oases – their sense of remoteness and salvation for the traveller.

It may be remote – on the edge of the Great Sand Sea and just 50km from the Egypt-Libya border – but Siwa’s log book of visitors cannot fail to impress; top of the list is Alexander the Great, who came to consult the Oracle of Amun in 332AD as part of his campaign to rule this rich land.

A mudbrick Bedouin town, it sits on the edge of the Great Sand Sea. It is filled with palm gardens, and surrounded by perfectly clear salt lakes, while freshwater springs bubble up from the hot sands. The local Bedouin culture is very different from the rest of Egypt, with the warmth and hospitality that befits an oasis town.

It is my slice of heaven on earth.

On the flip side, my idea of HELL ON EARTH is The Wall in Bethlehem, Palestine. Hot, dusty, fume-filled streets are dominated by the paint-spattered topped by watchtowers, which epitomises everything that is broken in the current conflict.

Also, anywhere you witness injustice to people, animals or the environment. The street dogs of Cairo break my heart. As does the dumping of chemical waste on the Israel-Palestinian border.  And the plein-air butchers’ markets of Kashmir, where the fly-to-customer ratio is inordinately high.


Best new architecture openings in 2024

From Paris to Seoul, Notre-Dame cathedral to a robot-built museum about robots, architecture perves are in for a treat this year.

In my round-up of new architecture openings in 2024 for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers, I suggest you book tickets to Albania or Saudi Arabia, to China or hit New York City to see some of the best new designs in the world.

If, like me, you’re here in Australia, you don’t have to go far to find some of the best – the iconic Sydney Fish Market is a glittering addition by Danish architects 3XN to Blackwattle Bay, while Victoria’s Great Ocean Road gets a piece of man-made architecture that finally matches the natural beauty of the 12 Apostles.

Click the link below to read my story on some of the best new architecture openings for 2024.

https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/world-s-most-incredible-buildings-to-have-on-your-radar-in-2024-20231110-p5ej38.html


Winner: ASTW Travel Writer of the Year!

I am so very, very, very pleased to tell you that I have been named Travel Writer of the Year 2023 by the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW)!

The ASTW made the announcement at its awards ceremony in Sydney this weekend, a glittering occasion (not least because I decided to emulate a human mirrorball for the evening). It was one of three awards I received:

  • Best accommodation story; for my review of The Benev spa hotel in Beechworth, in Victoria’s High Country
  • The Jack Butters Award for outstanding contribution to the ASTW; and, of course,
  • Travel Writer of the Year 2023.

The Travel Writer of the Year entry requires submission of three features; I took a turn off the beaten path to include my solo travel in Saudi Arabia for Traveller.com.au, another women-only travel in Islamic countries, for the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age and a third story on journeying through the Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, for Gourmet Traveller magazine.

The Jack Butters Award is named after the first president of the ASTW, and recognises outstanding service to the ASTW. It’s a tricky one to talk about without sounding boastful – I organise the Victorian events for the ASTW, and in the past have managed its social media, encourage networking and connection within the industry and generally get my hands mucky on the job. I am very proud of this award, as it requires nomination from fellow members. So, thank you to those who thought of me at this time.

I send thanks to my editors, particularly Craig Platt for going out on a limb and running my women-in-Saudi piece on traveller.com.au, and for Anthony Dennis for seeing the need for a cover story on women-only travel in Islamic countries in the Sydney Morning Herald. Neither can be described mainstream topics. And sending thanks to Sarah Maguire, editor of the Explore section of Aust Community Media/Canberra Times/ Newcastle Herald, for indulging my love of raw linen and bush fragrances of The Benev in Beechworth.

I’m equally thankful for the sponsors who make such travel, especially Experience AlUla in Saudi Arabia, North East Tourism here in Victoria, Tourism Malaysia and the countless people who have helped and guided me on my years of travels in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

Thanks also to the sponsors for each award – Virgin Australia who sponsors the Travel Writer of the Year award, and the lovely Victorian company Lancemore Hotels, who sponsored of the accommodation award, and finally, the ASTW itself and in particular, its board and awards committee. Without the ASTW, I would not have the friendships, the connections, the support and encouragement of the many, many talented people in its ranks.

And to end, here are the links for each piece:

Solo woman’s travel in Saudi Arabia – https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/visiting-saudia-arabia-as-a-woman-i-went-to-the-notoriously-sexist-country-as-a-solo-female-tourist-20220705-h24v9q.html

Women-only travel in Islamic countries – https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/travel-guide-for-women-travellers-in-the-middle-east-tips-and-advice-20220624-h24nad.html

Lore of the jungle: adventuring in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo – https://www.magzter.com/de/stories/travel/Gourmet-Traveller/LORE-OF-THE-JUNGLE

Slow road to a blissful state: The Benev, Beechworth, Australia – https://www.exploretravel.com.au/story/8124768/slow-road-to-a-blissful-state/


Saudi Arabia on a plate

Camel kebabs, gold-flecked savoury porridge, shakshuka, mint tea, green coffee and lots and lots of dates. Eating in Saudi Arabia is an adventure in its own right.

I recently wrote a story about food in Saudi Arabia for Gourmet Traveller magazine, detailing my delicious meanderings amongst oases, deserts and desserts.

Click to read
about street eats and Michelin-starred restaurants serving up food beneath the stars, on desert sands and in the mudbrick town of oasis AlUla and seaside city of Jeddah.

All this takes place as Saudi Arabia transforms from secretive kingdom to global leader of luxury travel, with the money and imagination to make even the most incredible projects manifest.

In a whiplash reversal of protocol that took place just before the global pandemic, non-religious tourists are now welcomed into the Kingdom.

Women don’t need to cover their hair and while I admire and covet Saudi women’s dramatic abayas – long, often beautifully embroidered cloaks – there is no requirement for me to be so covered; simply modest clothing is just fine.

What to learn more about travelling in Saudi Arabia? Click to read more of my stories, such as travelling solo as a woman in Saudi Arabia.


Nominations for the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ awards 2023

Good things come in – whatever size, shape or form you’d like. But today, I have news of two very good things, I’ve received two nominations in the 2023 Australian  Society of Travel Writers’ Awards; for Travel Writer of the Year (yep, the big one!) and Best Accommodation Story.

Some years are tough for those of us working in the creative industries: pandemics, deaths of loved ones, that sort of thing takes a toll on your creativity. Then there are the times where the light is golden, the stories pour into your lap and the words flow like sweet honey.

My three stories for the Travel Writer of the Year award are from far afield – from the deserts of Saudi Arabia and the jungles of Borneo – while my accommodation story is far closer to home, from lovely Beechworth, in north-eastern Victoria.

I’ve shared the links to my stories, if you’d like a read, and send especial thanks to my editors, who continue to commission me and are willing to listen to stories from these remote corners of the world.

2023 Travel Writer of the Year nomination:

Solo travel in Saudi Arabia (Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Traveller) : https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/visiting-saudia-arabia-as-a-woman-i-went-to-the-notoriously-sexist-country-as-a-solo-female-tourist-20220705-h24v9q.html

Women travellers in the Middle East (Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Traveller): https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/travel-guide-for-women-travellers-in-the-middle-east-tips-and-advice-20220624-h24nad.html

Lore of the Jungle (Gourmet Traveller) https://www.magzter.com/de/stories/travel/Gourmet-Traveller/LORE-OF-THE-JUNGLE

2023 Best Accommodation Story nomination:

Slow Road to a Blissful State (Explore/Canberra Times) https://www.exploretravel.com.au/story/8124768/slow-road-to-a-blissful-state/

 


AIRPORT LOUNGE REVIEW: Etihad business class lounge, Abu Dhabi, UAE

THE LOCATION This Etihad business class lounge is located near gate 35 in Abu Dhabi international airport.

A haven for long layovers, it’s obvious this lounge is winding down ahead of the new airport terminal opening in November.

Arabic cookies

Etihad business class lounge, Abu Dhabi, UAE

THE VIBE Very, very low key, with light muzak in the background, but this is forgiven as we arrived in the lounge at an unholy 5am, on a stopover from Melbourne to Cairo. In keeping with the low-key mood, this is a no-notification zone, so it’s up to you to keep an eye out for your flight’s boarding time from the many boards around the lounge, spooling in English and Arabic. The décor is in muted chocolate, cream and aqua.

THE FACILITIES If you’re not a long-haul traveller (and let’s face it, almost every Australian who’s left the country qualifies for this title), you don’t understand the beauty of a mid-journey shower after 13 hours in a pressurised tin can, before you board for the next leg of your adventure. There are six showers in the lounge, with a dedicated concierge who creates the wait list and gives you a buzzer to notify you when it’s your turn. Towels and toiletries are supplied, and the wait at 7am is just 10 minutes. The downside – that buzzer is SUPER loud and cannot be switched off, expect baleful glares from your (once-were) snoozing neighbours if you don’t nip to the showers quick smart.

THE FOOD At 5am, the food is limited to a small buffet of cold cuts, cheese, juices and – for a nice local touch – cardamom-spiced Arabic coffee, dates and traditional pistachio cookies and baklava. However, over the next hour, the full buffet cranks up, with loads of regional foods including masala-spiced eggs, ful (fava beans – the Arabian take on baked beans), a super delicious lamb and potato keema and plenty of mezze and paratha on the side. It’s finished off with the fruit station, and self-serve fridges with soft drinks and the local Al Ain water. I do spot a Western businessman searching in vain for bacon and eggs; happy to report it’s far more exciting than that tired fare. Walk past the self-serve coffee machine and ask the bar staff to crank their gleaming white La Marzocco machine up for a creamy brew. At this hour, there’s only one intrepid traveller sitting at the bar stools, nursing a glass of champagne.

THE SERVICES There is a bag concierge at the entrance where you can drop your gear, and beside it, a dedicated children’s room with toys and nest seats that little ones can curl up in. In better times, Etihad’s famed nannies ran this room, which meant you could drop your children and run off to the shower/buffet/bar . It was an amazing service that gave me sanity on long-haul travel with a toddler, let’s hope that better times see the London-trained nannies return.

Airport lounge

Etihad business class lounge, Abu Dhabi airport, UAE

The business hub has a line of computers with charging stations, and The Den has a series of single alcoves with a comfy leather armchair facing a tv, for those who need a news update or somewhere quiet to take a call. Regional magazines and The National newspaper are on offer at the entrance.

THE DOWNSIDE I’m going to preface this part by saying that the brand new, $3bn Midfield terminal opens in the next couple of months, with Etihad Airways, amongst others, moving to the new terminal the minute it opens. So it’s painfully obvious they’ve let this lounge run down – this is Etihad’s home ground, and this should be its flagship lounge. But the decor is tired and it misses the gloss and glamour of its regional rivals.
The biggest bugbear is the inability to charge your devices. You’ve got to search to find a chair close to a powerpoint, and the first couple I try simply don’t work, or the usb slots are actually broken. The wireless printer in the business hub isn’t working, though the staff smoothly proffer the front desk email, and have my docs printed in no time.

THE VERDICT For a five-hour layover, having a lounge to hide away in is bliss. If you’re not eligible to enter the Etihad lounge, Terminal 1 has a pay-as-you-go Priority Pass lounge. Every staff member I speak to is charming and helpful (although occasionally clueless, like the waiter who doesn’t know the correct name of the Arabian cookies – they’re ghraybeh), and everyone is dying to move to the new terminal. Me included.

See Etihad.com

Disclaimer: I paid for my own flight, but was hosted by Etihad to visit the lounge. This review aims to give fair and balanced coverage of the facilities.

September 2023


Food of Saudi Arabia: Gourmet Traveller

Hot off the press, my travel feature in this month’s Gourmet Traveller magazine tells of the food of Saudi Arabia, and the landscapes that created it. Focusing on the sublime oasis of AlUla, in northern Saudi Arabia.

It’s mid-morning, and our camels are resting in the shade of a stone pillar. It’s a gharameel, the remnant of an ancient mountain, eroded by time, on this desert plain in north-western Saudi Arabia.

Like the camels, I’m also resting, but on long, embroidered cushions atop richly coloured rugs, drinking sweet mint tea as my mount is saddled.

To one side of the cameleer’s camp, the cook is browning cuts of tender lamb in an enormous stockpot, and I watch as he creates the classic Saudi lamb-and-rice dish, kabsa. Earthy cumin, fragrant orange blossom water and citrusy coriander are all added to the browning meat, and what looks like turmeric, for colour.

Do I detect a flicker of disdain across the cook’s face?

“It’s not turmeric,” he corrects me. “That’s saffron.” Of course it’s saffron – here in the desert, with a kitchen on the back of a truck, a couple of grumbling camels nearby. Using the most expensive spice is a reminder that, while we dine alone in a remote desert, we are still in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. A world away from clichéd Arabian bling, this is desert luxury.

On newsstands now, if you like a delicious read!

 


Six of the best historic hotels in Egypt

Fancy splashing out on a luxury hotel for your Egyptian holiday? I’ve been to a few in my time, and let me say that this fabulous country is interwoven with blockbuster stories, best tapped into with a stay in one of its great historic hotels.

Who’s your historical hero? Ramses II? Agatha Christie? Alexander the Great or maybe Winston Churchill?

I’ve rounded up six of the best historic hotels in Egypt, from up in the north in Alexandria to the deep south, in the heart of Nubia, in Aswan. I’ve headed out into the Sahara to the impossibly exotic oasis town of Siwa, where a mudbrick marvel awaits, and onto the shores of the Nile in Luxor with these six stays.

Click here to read the story, which I wrote for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

https://www.theage.com.au/traveller/inspiration/six-of-the-best-historic-hotels-in-egypt-20230424-p5d2uw.html


Global Salsa

Well, you’ve scrolled this far. What do you think? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

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