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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A city sleeps: Melbourne moves into Lockdown #6

Last night, I walked through the heart of Melbourne as we went into our sixth lockdown.

The city’s laneways rang with the sound of shutters going down as the city locked itself up.

It was a pretty crazy time to be editing a guidebook for the city. But there I found myself, sitting in little Shandong Mama Mini, eating its fabulous mackerel dumplings with manager Gin, taking notes and talking optimistically about when New Yorkers are going to roam freely through our little laneways once again…maybe next June.

Walking the darkening streets, I saw a woman at the gates of Gucci, pleading, pleading to make a last purchase before lockdown – only to be turned away by staff. The cash registers are closed, she was told, night is falling and lockdown looms.

The doorman at Society, the hottest new restaurant in town, told me all the late bookings had been shunted into earlier time slots, with diners ushered back onto the streets before the stroke of 8pm.

A cheery Big Issue seller chatted about his business model falling apart: with few office workers and less city dwellers, his magazines remain unsold. But he was fully vaccinated, he told me. Was I?

“These lockdowns are killing us,” said the waiter in Pellegrini where, for the first time in living memory, I could get a seat at the bar and a chat with the black apron clad waiters. Snapping a photo of the luscious cakes of the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the glittering Block Arcade – normally a false hope due to the hordes of drooling instagrammers – was but a cinch, and the Royal Arcade remains empty of its traditional shoppers, down on a day trip from the country.

Street cafes were being packed up, outdoor furniture stacked away, kitchen staff clearing the benches, glass of wine in hand. Music played in empty hotel lobbies, with no-one to listen to it.

The streets emptied so completely they could double as a setting for an apocalyptic zombie movie.

Food delivery drivers tore down empty footpaths on their scooters with impunity.

Traffic lights clicked uselessly as an ambulance careened unimpeded through a red light – lights flashing but the sirens silent in the darkening night.


Camp Island the Great Barrier Reef’s newest private island escape, Queensland Australia

On a quiet Sunday afternoon in locked-down Melbourne,  my beautiful daydream is of Camp Island, on the Great Barrier Reef.

The little island is at the top of the Whitsunday Islands group, and when you take it, you take the whole island. To get there, I had to dodge two cyclones, a COVID outbreak and several COVID scares, but it was worth it. While the island is located in the curve of Abbot Bay, in between Airlie Beach and Townsville, there was almost no sight of another human.

To discover more about Camp Island, click here to read my story in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age‘s Traveller section.


First look: new Next Hotel Melbourne

Next Hotel Melbourne. I love hotels. I love the time warp that hotels lead us into: suddenly, there’s a different view from the window, my toiletries all smell more exotic, I have far better bed linen.

It’s bizarre to think that, in the midst of a global pandemic, hotels would still be opening. But life still goes on, and here in Australia, we’re luckier than most.

Recently, I embraced the call to arms to #letsMelbourneAgain, and took a staycation in my own city, Melbourne.

The sparkling, new Next Hotel Melbourne is located in the hottest piece of real estate in town, 80 Collins Street, “up the Paris end of Collins St,” as we say. Not just because that’s where all the boutiques are (Dior, Chanel, Vuitton etc), but also because that’s where you’ll find a lot of the glamorous, turn-of-the-century architecture built with the flush of gold-rush money. In between the ornate street lights and those funny old-fashioned bathrooms that were built beneath the pavements, rise the glossiest skyscrapers – all cunning angles and unexpected entrances.

Compressed tomato

Compressed tomato in white soy stuffed with stracciatella with basil. Photo supplied.

The entrance to Next is next-level discreet. Entered from Little Collins Street, you’ll first see Ingresso, a little coffee and Campari bar, with little fixed stools inside and out, for a touch of laneway chic. (Ingresso means ‘entrance’ – see what they did there?)

The Clef d’Or concierge at the door is a hint of things to come – the hotel is embedded in the DNA of the CBD (if you fancy a few acronyms), with a restaurant and cocktail bar worthy of a visit in their own right, not just as accoutrements to your guest room.  Sicily meets Hong Kong as chefs Daniel Natoli and Adrian Li rule La Madonna, which set the pace with a fabulous compressed tomato with white soy, stracciatella and basil entree, and ended admirably with a cannoli spiked with Fernet-Branca bitters and pistachio.

Follow me to the bedroom: firstly, there are 255 of them, each looking out to a cityscape, be it a cafe-filled laneway you never knew existed, or bigger views across the tops of skyscrapers. From my eyrie, I spy champagne bars, Mexican restaurants, jewellers and designer sneaker shops all tucked into the angled architecture of the 80 Collins St precinct.

Back in the room, toiletries are supplied by Melbourne brand Hunter – the body wash blends grapefruit, tangerine peel and rum, for a spicy scent, and the hairdryers are top-of-the-line Dyson which cost more than a room night, for top marks in the bathroom. There’s also a Bose sound system, if you’re going to order a cocktail made with the hotel’s own barrel-aged spirits. Otherwise, pull a stool up at the bar for a romp through Negroni nirvana, and listen to Phil, the Master of Spirits, wax lyrical about the spirit world.

Next Hotel Melbourne guestroom. Photo supplied.

The next morning, I did pop into the gym for a little stretch, but really, the whole point is to hit the city streets again. So an early jog down quiet Little Collins is an easy heartstarter, and will make you feel better about ordering the black pudding for breakfast (chef Adrian’s special recommendation).

What it is not: it’s not splashy. You won’t find here is a signature rooftop pool or a pair of neon angel wings in which to photograph yourself in front of.

What it is: tricky to find, with a dark and moody palette and serious food and drink credentials – Next fits this city like a glove.

From $289 a night. 103 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, nexthotelmelbourne.com


The Fullerton Sydney Hotel: the best high tea in Sydney?

Don your smartest, stretchiest pants and get ready for a truly extravagant afternoon tea.

As one who has devoured afternoon and high teas from London to Luxor, I can confidently report The Fullerton Hotel Sydney’s tiered tower shames most comers.

The two-tiered tower needed to be super sturdy, laden as it was with duck rillettes, white truffle egg mayonnaise sandwiches, layered smoked salmon mille-feuille topped with caviar, and lobster cosied up in a Boston Cornet a l’Oriental. It paraded a profusion of mini bagels and perfectly cut sandwich squares, and a pretty green pandan kaya lamington in a Sydney-Singapore mash-up.

Click here to read more about how to get a Singapore tang into your Sydney-bound life.


Airline review: FlyDubai to the Silk Road city of Almaty, Kazakhstan

It might seem weird posting a flight review in the midst of a global lockdown, but irrepressible travellers are already looking and booking deals around the world for travel late in 2020 and throughout 2021.

If it’s not on your radar, FlyDubai operates a fleet of Boeing 737-800s out of Dubai Airport’s Terminal 2. It’s currently still on the ground, but when in the skies, its destination list includes some intriguing cities including Prague, Naples and Dubrovnik in Europe, Tbilisi in Georgia and its new route from Dubai to Finland’s fun little capital, Helsinki. It also services the ancient cities along the Silk Road including the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat and Almaty in Kazakhstan, which is where I was headed on this journey.

The UAE is already opening back up, with sister airline Emirates flying from its Dubai base to Sydney and Melbourne, sprinkling hygiene kits around its cabins, which includes masks, gloves, wipes and hand santiser. Like Emirates, FlyDubai is owned by the Dubai government, and the two often codeshare.

Click here to read my review, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers. The print edition is currently in slumber, dreaming of its next destination.


How to go camping (and love it): tips & tricks

Easter in Australia is traditionally spent camping – I know Victoria looks forward to what’s usually our last gasp of good weather. I had every intention of going camping this long weekend: the trip to Vietnam had been cancelled for months, to be replaced with a bit of camping on our roadtrip up northern NSW.

Before the virus hit the fan, I interviewed a camping pro from outdoor gear supplier Anaconda: you might think, why are we talking about camping when we can’t go anywhere? For those of us lucky enough to have a back yard, there’s your campsite right there! And some of camping pro Damian Kennedy’s tips are still perfectly relevant, such as buying the right tent with the right accessories. I’m a big fan of balconies that hang from the apex of the tent, so you can reach up and grab your torch when you (inevitably) hear something go bump in the night.

So treat this time to dust off the tent, get your pegging practise in and start planning when life eventually returns to normality.

Click here to read Damian’s top tips on how to go camping and love it, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers. The print section is currently in slumber, dreaming of its next destination.

 


Bringing Finnish Lapland to Helsinki, Finland

During winter, snow-laden winds sweep across lakes and tundras of Finnish Lapland, freezing all in their wake. Reindeer forage for lichen in the chilled earth, and the brief minutes the sun rises above the horizon are bookended by a deep blue twilight that heralds the return of the polar night.

A thousand kilometres south, there’s no snow on the footpaths of the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but it retains its connection with the drama of the deep north through Lapland Hotel Bulevardi, in the chic Design District.

Let me tell you: breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few. But this one – inspired by the food of Lapland – is one of the most intriguing.

To read my story, published by Essentials Magazine, click here


Growing up with the Mornington Peninsula

There’s a photo that’s always in my kitchen, faded by sun and decades. It’s of my dad – long gone now – sitting on the chairlift that climbs to Arthur’s Seat, a beauty spot with views over the Mornington Peninsula.

You can still catch a chairlift up Arthur’s Seat, only now it’s a far safer carrier in a more precarious world. The new Eagle gondolas still skim the top of the eucalypts. You can still spy kangaroos, and hear the birds calling to each other in the state forest below. I always wanted to live in one of the houses hidden among the trees, but I was never homeless on the peninsula. My young mum took me on my first holiday here, at our family’s beach house on Safety Beach.

I still go to Safety Beach, and when I can’t, I miss it. But everyone goes there now. They’re chasing hatted chefs, renowned winemakers, that little artisan bakery… I guess I can’t blame them. The peninsula of my youth has grown up, as have I.

You can read my full story, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend, here.


Notes from a zombie zone: Turkmenistan’s Ashgabat airport

To get through the departure gates at Ashgabat airport, in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, I had to have my passport scanned.

And my fingerprints.

And my thumbprints.

And my retinas.

They’re taking no chances in this airport. Not that there would be many me look-alikes here. There just aren’t that many people, full stop. And most of the women are swanning about with impossibly high headdresses and long, vivid gowns that sweep the already immaculate white marble floors.

Should you find yourself in Ashgabat any time soon, click here to read my review in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.


Tips for visiting Cairo’s Pyramids: Egypt

Each year, I return to Egypt for so many reasons – family, kunafa, fresh, chunky mango juice and a hit of history.

This year, I teamed up with Ahmed Aziz, an Egyptologist with tour company Abercrombie & Kent, who I’ve been working with for years in Egypt. Ahmed’s been a guide through Egypt’s sites for 16 years, and together, we delved into the newly opened Bent Pyramid in Dahshour, about an hour from Cairo.

He shared some excellent advice for visitors to the Memphis necropolis, which includes the Pyramids of Giza, Saqqara and the lesser-known, little visited Dahshour, including the best places to stay, when to visit and keeping a stash of small notes to tip the haras (the temple guardians, who are drawn from the neighbouring villages).

Click here to read the full story, which appeared in the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

See abercrombiekent.com.au


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