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.


Men getting married: best buck’s parties in the Yarra Ranges

You’d think it was a divergence from travel writing – writing about ideas for buck’s parties – but this fun little story let me take a cruise through the Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges.

I found a rum distillery in Belgrave (killik.com.au), discovered a 120-meter flying fox nearby in the Tall Trees Adventures (treesadventure.com.au) and the thing I’m going to do the minute Melbourne is out of Lockdown #5, the O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail, an easy mountain-bike trail through redwood forests in the Yarra Ranges National Park.

My story on eight great ideas for buck’s parties is in the current edition of Off-Peak Wedding Magazine, produced by Yarra Ranges Tourism – click here to download the free mag.


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


In the pink: nine of Australia’s best pink lakes

What’s hot right now? Pink gin. Pink salt. Pink hair. Pink lakes. Yep, pink lakes, of which Australia has plenty.

From champagne to candy, with rose and bubblegum in between, is it any wonder we love them? The natural phenomenon occurs only with the right balance of salt, sun and some hardworking micro-organisms.

In this piece, I rounded up nine lovely pink lakes around Australia with the hottest hues, for your pink perusal. Some, like the pink lake that occasionally lives beneath Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge, are easy to find. Others, such as Western Australia’s Lake Hillier, are our most iconic, but also the hardest to reach.

Click here to read my story in Traveller about nine of Australia’s best pink lakes.


Secret seven: best places to see the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights)

Life lessons I have learned: a pitching boat in the Norwegian Sea is not the only place to see an aurora, and definitely not the best place to photograph one, as adroitly illustrated by my dodgy pic of the Northern Lights, taken from the top deck of a Hurtigruten ship off the Norwegian coast.

Far closer (and much warmer) for those of us in the antipodes, our own Aurora Australis is gearing up for a solar maximus in the coming years.

“We’re just coming out of solar minimum, building up to a solar maximus, so we can expect to see increasing solar activity to peak in the next three or four years,” forecasts Tasmanian aurora watcher Margaret Sonnemann, who I’ve interviewed several times, and is an aurora expert. Stemming from her appreciation of the southern skies, she began what’s now Australia’s biggest online Aurora Australis information group (see facebook.com/groups/auroraaustralis). 

I’ve rounded up seven best places to see the Southern Lights, from Tassie to Victoria and – travel bubbles willing – New Zealand. Find recommendations in designated dark sky sanctuaries, from a plane in the air or even in car parks. Click here to read my story for the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers’ online travel section, Traveller.

 


Egypt; The four unmissable sites of Cairo

With pyramids and gold pharaohs, towering temples and cursed tombs, it’s no wonder Egypt’s been on the tourist trail for the last 4500 years.

One of the stories in the inaugural issue of  Arrived, a new quarterly magazine by the family-owned The Travel Corporation, is about the upcoming, loooong-awaited opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). To complement it, I’ve listed a few more unmissable sights in Egypt including Coptic Cairo, with sites dating from the birth of Christ.

Built over Roman ruins, the Hanging Church (pictured above) is one of the earliest of Cairo’s churches, and definitely its most visited. But don’t bypass the nearby cave where the Holy Family sheltered from the wrath of Herod, which to my mind is far more atmospheric, hidden as it is beneath the Church of St Sergius and Bacchus. Last time I was there, there was talk that the cave was closed to visitors, but we mingled in with a government group to once again breathe the damp, sacred air in this subterranean cave. Walking through the chaotic laneways of Coptic Cairo really is the most extraordinary experience, don’t miss it.


Luxury lounging on the mighty Murray River, South Australia

‘Silver linings’ is a phrase that’s getting a good airing during this pandemic, and the silver lining for the travel industry is our eagerness to explore our own country. Take, for instance, the multitude of villages and historic towns that line our beautiful Murray River. Renmark is a case in point, with its history of paddleboats and fortified wines (surely a match made in heaven?)

Just outside Renmark, in the village of Paringa, The Frames is a luxury property comprising three completely private suites that all look out onto the slow-moving Murray. Watch the waterway from the spa, on the balcony or, one of the suites, even from bed.

I absolutely recommend a visit to the 23rd Street Distillery for a little libation, and a cruise through the backwaters of the Murray River to spy wallabies and emus, kingfishers and goannas going about life in the riverlands.

To read my review in the Good Weekend magazine, click here.

The Frames

7 Panorama Court, Paringa; (08) 8595 7217; theframesluxuryaccommodation.com.au


Walking between the palaces of medieval Cairo: new TellMeWhere2Go podcast

If Cairo’s on your travel list – as it absolutely should be – but a nasty ole pandemic is stopping you from leaping on a plane, let me help out.

Come stroll with me down Sharia al-Muizz, the thoroughfare of medieval Cairo. It’s a fascinating walk through palaces, mosques, souqs and caravanserais, some more than a thousand years old.

This is my first podcast with TellMeWhere2Go, which launched today.

Click on the Spotify link below to join me in Cairo, then take a virtual trip to some other great destinations on the podcast, from Australia’s Sunshine Coast to the wilds of Rwanda, at www.tellmewhere2go.com

Thanks for listening!


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.


Virtual wine travels to Orange

Everyone’s suffering through COVID-19, but spare a thought for us travel writers: while we’re not in the league of healthcare heroes or supermarket shelf stackers, clipped wings definitely hurt.

Easing the pain, Destination NSW has been running a fabulously successful quarantini hour, whisking us around the wine regions of New South Wales. It’s been a great way to reconnect with old friends – from Clonakilla in cold-climate Canberra, to the lush wealth of the Hunter Valley, just north of Sydney.

Most recently, I returned – virtually – to Orange in the state’s west, for a refresher on this high-altitude (for Australia, anyway) wine region, and got a masterclass on chardonnay, thanks to winemaker Tom Ward from Swinging Bridge. His 2017 Hill Park Chardonnay was the focus of this quarantini session, alongside the Swift Cuvee NV #7 from Printhie Wines.

If you’re heading that way, take a look at sommelier Louella Matthews’ recommendations for best coffee and croissants, shopping tips and late-night cocktail haunts in Orange. She also shares a few food-pairing suggestions for these two stand-out wines.

To read the full article on Essentials Magazine’s website, click here


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