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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Homecoming for Australia’s cultural treasures

Part of Kebisu’s headdress, collected in the Torres Strait
from Maino by Alfred Cort Haddon in 1888.
Photo: © The Trustees of the British Museum

The day he pressed his father’s treasured ceremonial headdress into
the hands of an Englishman, Torres Strait Islander Maino must have known
life was changing for his people. 

“Maino gave me the headdress his father King Kabagi [Kebisu]
used to wear when on the warpath and a boar’s tusk ornament!” wrote
English anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon in his journal in 1888. “We
were such good friends he … wanted them exhibited in a big museum in
England where plenty of people could see his father’s things.”

Skip forward several generations and Maino’s
great-grandson Ned David, a prominent Torres Strait traditional
owner, could not be more proud. “Maino was an absolute strategist,” Mr
David says. “He must have realised change was on the way, and [ensured]
the interests of his own people were looked after.”  

The headdress has returned to Australia for the first
time, more than 120 years later. With its thick black
cassowary feathers, it’s one of the hero objects in Encounters,
an exhibition of key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artefacts at
Canberra’s National Museum of Australia, from November 27-March 28,
2016. 

To read more of my story about this exciting exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, click here

Street art in Melbourne, Australia: The new hotspot outside the CBD

Street art by artist Smug. Photo: Belinda Jackson

Move over, Melbourne central, Fitzroy and Collingwood are the city’s street new art heartlands.

Chances are you’ve seen a tour group standing outside Movida
restaurant on Hosier Lane, camera phones working overtime, two fingers
up in the “victory” salute.

Melbourne has claimed its position as
one of the world’s premier street-art cities, rivalling Berlin, Sao
Paulo, Paris and New York, but the city’s top street artists say it’s
time street-art watchers moved out of the city centre and looked
north-east for the hottest talent on Melbourne’s walls…

Click here to read my article on Melbourne’s new streetart heartland on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website.  

See also: How to do the best of Melbourne in three days
See also: Six of the best Melbourne laneways


Connect the dots: art in the Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory, Australia

Bathurst Island Lodge.
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

Crocodiles and canvas make for a potent mix in the Tiwi Islands.

  
 

The speed boat tears down the broad
brown river, and I feel 1000 non-human eyes watching us from the
primordial mangrove-lined banks.

   

“Can you smell the flying fox?”
asks Kathy. It’s the first time I’ve been asked the question, and it
distracts me from the earlier statement that a sneaky, opportunistic
little croc lurks around the boat ramp where we boarded.

  
 

Thick and shining, the river cuts
deep into Bathurst Island. Together with its much larger neighbour,
Melville Island, and nine little uninhabited islands to the south, they
make up the Tiwi Islands 15-minute flight or 2 1/2-hour cruise north of
Darwin. Once, they were part of the landbridge that linked us to the
super-continent, Gondwanaland. Now, they’re broken and fragmented: a
giant’s lonely, lovely footprint in the Timor Sea.

   

Melville Island airport. 
Photo: Belinda Jackson

The Tiwis are but a blip on the
tourism radar. Until now, barramundi hunters and football selectors have
been pretty hushhush about their fertile hunting grounds, but a new
culture tour has lured our party of five onto the islands. We fly over
from Darwin in a Cessna 402C: the plane is so small that we all get a
window seat, and you can count the number of seats on two hands, pilot
included.

  
 

From above, the land is low, flat
and surprisingly large; Melville is our largest island after Tasmania.
The airport, however, is not large. But the first thing I see is a sign
that the Essendon Football Club proudly supports the Tiwi Bombers. It’s
unsurprising, given Kathy’s brother, Michael Long, is a Bombers’ legend,
while her son, Cyril Rioli, is a Hawthorn midfielder.

  
 

The second most striking feature of
the airport is the small concrete block that is the main building.
Actually, it’s the only building. It is painted in wildly beautiful
yellow, black and red Indigenous designs that sets the tone for the next
few days: the Tiwi art scene is strong and all pervasive. The whole
building is

about the size of a small public
loo. No ticket collectors, no customs officials, no taxi stand. Just the
humidity and silence, broken only by the arrival of our minibus and the
departure of our plane. Welcome!

  
 

Art is everywhere, on the public
building walls and in the burial grounds, where carved ironwood totems
hold the spirits of those who have died. 

Traditional art is even worn in
the supermarket, where the older Tiwi women sport rainbow-bright prints
designed and woven by the town’s “spiderwomen”, a dwindling number of
weavers and printers who now find themselves head-tohead with cheap
Chinese imports.

   

Woodcarver and artist Mario Munkara,
Tiwi Designs.
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

A quick drive through the town of
Wurrumiyanga (called Nguiu until 2010) reveals an orderly society.
There’s Meals on Wheels, a small hospital, Asian takeaway, school and
the social club, where all the island gossip is exchanged and the only
public place you can buy a drink. There’s a pool for croc-free swimming,
opened by Olympic swimmer Leisel Jones and her mum, a church and
Ngaruwanajirri, the Keeping House, a “bush cathedral” with a curved
ceiling covered in a glorious riot of the Tiwis’ distinctive,

geometric mulypinyini pwanga (lines and dots).

  
 

This art hub is where disabled
artists meet to sculpt, paint, print and sell their wares: carvings,
batik silk scarves, lino block prints

and paintings using natural ochres.
This morning, a group of men sit outside, carving elegant, long-necked
birds from dense ironwood which they’ll then paint and sell to keep the
place going, essential now its limited funding has been cut.

    

“We started this program 20 years
ago, but we’ve been unfunded the last three years, so I’m now a
volunteer,” says John Naden, a former art teacher who runs The Keeping
House with his wife Joy,

also a dedicated teacher. There’s a
small display room and the art is priced cheaply to keep it turning over
and to keep the artists busy. After all, who wants to be a starving
artist, recognised only in death? The prized artworks are sent out to be
celebrated across Australia and abroad.

  
 

Nearby, the town’s art stalwart,
Tiwi Designs, is now in its fourth decade. When we enter, we’re ushered
past racks of painted canvases and stacks of sculptured birds, past the
silk printing tables and woven baskets, and out the back to a small
fire, which is smoking with green eucalyptus leaves.

  
 

“Obviously, you ladies are from the
mainland. We don’t know what spirits you bring,” explains Vivian
Warlapinni Kerinauia delicately, waving thick smoke over us with a leafy
branch. A group of men and women dance around the smoking fire, telling
of their totems or dreaming group of crocodile, shark, warship, turtle
or buffalo. The men jump and twist, the women are more subtle, elderly
hands graceful and evocative.

   

“Now you have a good spirit,” says Vivian. “It will guide you, give you an open mind.”

   

Artist Alan John Kerinaiua at Tiwi Designs Photo: Belinda Jackson

After we are cleansed by smoke, the
artists return to their tasks. Shy and calm, Alan John Kerinaiua sits
back down by his large canvas and picks up his fine brushes, his plastic
pots the trinity of the Tiwi palette – red, white and yellow ochre
mixed with PVC glue, a fixer for flexibility and longevity.

  
 
The tour’s pace is slow, there is no
dashing in and out. We drink tea and eat hot, fresh damper, graze from
spectacular lunch boxes, chat with the artists and watch Tiwi Designs
manager Steve Anderson and gentle Vivian handprint a

spectacular, nine-metre fall of gold
silk for a Byron Bay client. After lunch, it’s our turn, and Vivian and
I imprint a drop of red cotton with a beautiful print by senior artist
Jock Puautjimi. It’s my souvenir, it’s my new heartthrob.

  
 

There’s plenty to love: Tiwi art is an absolute crowd pleaser, whether you like wood carvings, sculpture, hand-printed fabric,

ochre and acrylic on canvas, or
tunga, delicately woven bark baskets. Pinned up on the walls are photos
of famous admirers of Tiwi style, including Whoopi Goldberg and Boy
George, while the art world’s admirers include the British Museum, which
hangs several of its most celebrated artists, such as Jean Baptiste
Apuatimi, who worked here for many years before she died in 2013.

   

It’s another short plane hop to the
larger Melville Island, and once again, the Tiwis’ inherent artistic
nature greets you at another extremely modest airport.

  
 

Photo: Belinda Jackson

The men’s and women’s loos are

hand-painted in the local style:
ladies with their dilly bags, men with their spears. At Jilamara Arts
& Craft Association in Milikapiti, the happiest man on Melville
Island, Brian Farmer, endures and answers our questions with a massive
smile through his grey beard, felt cowboy hat stuffed firmly on his
head. 

“Every artist tells a story passed on by our forefathers,” he
says. ‘‘Their country, the stars, the universe … You know the stars
guide us when we’re in the dugout canoe. We follow them back to our
campsites. It’s all written there,” says Brian, who also runs a weekly
school program about the dreaming, passing it on to

the local schoolchildren.

   

“If you lose that, you lose your identity,” he says.

  
 

The light, airy gallery is full of
weavings and bark paintings, canvases including one of the Tiwis’ best
known artists, Kitty Kantilla (Kutuwalumi Purawarrumpatu). Each work is
stamped with the artist’s name, their skin and their dance – where they
fit in close-knit society. For every item of artwork sold at the Tiwis’
art centres, the bulk of the money is returned to the artist and the
remainder is put back into the operations of the Tiwi Art Network.

  
 

Over lunch at the nearby Melville Island Fishing Lodge, there are croc jokes a-plenty. A

Johnny Horton fan in Milikapiti has
named a local croc Bismarck, and Bismarck is ‘‘into dog control’’. 

There
are plans to launch a new tour that takes you to the islands’
freshwater pools (where you can definitely swim without crocs) or a spot
of spear fishing (where you’ve got to be ‘‘cautious,’’ says local
master of the understatement, Junior Guy). The big fellas are respected
for their cunning and their sheer power.

  
 

On the journey home, I unwrap my
printed fabric from Tiwi Designs and a card falls into my lap. It is a
stencil of a crocodile. Simple, sparse lines convey his lethal, sinuous
curve. In both nature and danger, there is beauty. 

 

The art is in capturing it.
FIVE OTHER ABORIGINAL ART TOURS
1  ROCK ART Kakadu-born
Sab Lord and his knowledgeable indigenous team take you into Gunbalaya,
Arnhem Land, to view its ancient rock art at Injalak Hill and the
rich Injalak Arts & Crafts centre. Day tours from Darwin cost $270
adults, $195 children, (08) 8948 2200, lords-safaris.com.
2  SOUTHERN WONDER Guests
staying at Longitude 131, overlooking Uluru, can take a rare, exclusive
Ernabella Arts Tour into the APY lands of northern South Australia. The
full-day tour costs $1000 per person, maximum 4 guests, (02) 9918 4355,
longitude131.com.au.
3  GO BUSH NSW’s Kur-ring-gai
Chase National Park has more than 1000 Aboriginal Heritage sites. Visit
them by land and water, with a 2.5 scenic cruise, a Welcome to Country
ceremony and bush-tucker inspired lunch, $199 adults, $149 children,
(02) 9099 4249, sydneyoutback.com.au.
4  GALLERY OF STARS View
magnificent rock art galleries on tiny islands off the Kimberley
coastline on the Kimberley Ultimate tour on the luxury True North
cruise, from $17,995, (08) 91921 829, northstarcruises.com.au.
5  BARK ART Journey
deep into Maningrida, in Arnhem Land, to see woven sculpture, painted
hollow logs and bark paintings. Costs from $789 a person, based on 4
sharing, including flight from Darwin, (08) 8985 3266, artconnections.com.au.

TRIP NOTES
MORE INFORMATION travelnt.com
GETTING AROUND The
three-day Ultimate Tiwi Island Tour runs until 11 September 2015. Costs
from $2425 a person, including SeaLink ferry transfers or flights from
Darwin, scenic flight to Melville Island, accommodation, meals and
non-alcoholic beverages and all tour activities (art workshop with local
artists, walking tour, wilderness adventure cruise, fishing options,
turtle tour, and a museum and art centre tour). A three night/four day
Tiwi Island tour costs from $3225 per person. Day trips to the island
run Thursdays and Fridays until December 1, cost $319, Phone 1300 130
679; see sealinknt.com.au.

VISITING ART CENTRES Jilamara
Arts & Crafts Association is in Milikapiti, Melville Island, see
jilamara.com. Tiwi Designs is in Wurrimiyanga, Bathurst Island, see tiwidesigns.com, a short distance from Ngaruwanajirri (‘helping one
another’) at The Keeping House.

Belinda Jackson was a guest of Sealink NT and Northern Territory Tourism. 


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


Victoria’s food treasures: Close to home, far from tradition

Fine fare at Shannon Bennett’s Vue De
Monde

Having a quintessentially Victorian
food experience means eating locally, eating ethically, eating mighty
well, discovers Belinda Jackson. 

 

Melbourne loves a good spread with a
great back story, from the farmers who created your feast to the
heart-warming social-enterprise stories served on the side. And you can
easily call yourself a locavore, eating within 150 kilometres of where
you stand, no beard or triangle tattoo required. In fact, it’s a
cakewalk – at times, literally.

   

Let’s start at the epicentre of the
city, downtown Melbourne, with our signature brew, cofee. Prop up the
bar with a heart-starter at much-lauded local roasters who comb the
globe to make friends with farmers, espouse ethical production and
support sustainable harvesting of the glory bean. Tis mission will see you sipping on
siphon, cogitating with cold drip or elucidating with espresso at Dukes
Cofee Roasters (247 Flinders La, dukescoffee.com.au), the iconic St
Ali ( 12-18 Yarra Pl, South Melbourne,
stali.com.au), Padre Cofee ( South Melbourne and Queen Victoria markets,
padrecoffee.com.au), or the spanking-new Sir Charles (121 Johnston St, Fitzroy), to name but a few.

  
 

Coffee at Dukes in Flinders Lane

We’re not all coffee tragics. Tea is,
of course, the new coffee, so get the pinky in the air like you don’t
care and sip Storm in a Teacup ’s beautiful fnds from across the globe,
supporting what they call artisan farmers (48A Smith St, Collingwood, storminateacup.com.au).

Otherwise, pop in to the doily-free zone of the Travelling Samovar Tea House (12 Rathdowne St, Carlton North,
travellingsamovar.com.au).

  
 

For a taste of social goodness, pull
up a pew and go crazy with Myrtleford cultured butter and Melbourne
rooftop honey on toast for breakfast, free-range chicken from Milawa for
lunch or call in for a local Dal Zotto prosecco from the King Valley at
social enterprise restaurant and slow-food champions Feast of Merit (117 Swan St, Richmond, feastofmerit.com). 

Or get of the streets and into the clouds at chef Shannon Bennett’s
Vue De Monde to revel in its lauded eco-design and organic produce (Level 55, 525 Collins St, vuedemonde.com.au ). Bennett’s Burnham Bakery
and Piggery Café are the frst phase of his culinary village Burnham
Beeches, in the Dandenongs (1 Sherbrooke Rd, Sherbrooke,
burnhambakery.com.au & piggerycafe.com.au). 
 

Lovers of a cleansing ale, discover
the world of micro-breweries with the craft beer afcionados at Slow Beer
(468 Bridge Rd, Richmond,
slowbeer.com.au) or for drink for world peace at Shebeen, which sends all its profts back to the developing world (36 Manchester La,
shebeen.com.au). 

 

So you thought it was all Victorian airs and graces south of the border? It’s time to reveal the special thing we’ve

got going on with our cows and
goats. 

Pasta and petanque at Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm

If you’re time-poor or hyperventilate at the city limits, you’re
spoilt for choice of cheese in Melbourne. Go crazy on croque monsieur at
Fitzroy’s Shifty Chèvre , which opened just before Christmas (375
Brunswick St, Fitzroy, shiftychevre. com), order a late-night fight of
cheese with wine at Milk the Cow , in St Kilda and now Carlton (milkthecow.com.au) or wrap a slab-to-go of Melbourne cheese – that’s coffee-seasoned
pressato – at Il Fornaio (2C Acland St, St Kilda ilfornaio. com.au).
The Spring Street Grocer boasts Australia’s first underground cheese
cellar ( 157 Spring St, Melbourne, springstreetgrocer.com.au), while all the cheeses in La Latteria are made using Victorian cow’s milk (104 Elgin Street, Carlton, lalatteria.com.au). And what’s not to love about the city’s go-to cheese room, the
evergreen Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder ( 48-50 Bridge Rd, Richmond, rhcl.com.au)?

  
 

If you’re playing away from the big
city, plug Apostle Whey Cheese into your GPS while cruising the Great
Ocean Road (Cooriemungle, apostlewheycheese.com.au) and the
lactose-intolerant don’t have to look away: Main Ridge Dairy and Red
Hill Cheese, on the Mornington Peninsula, both produce handcrafted
goat’s cheeses (mainridgedairy.com.au, redhillcheese.com.au).

  
 

Peppers Mineral Springs Hotel

Now pack your picnic basket and head
for the hills. Autumn and winter showcase the beauty of the Macedon
Ranges, just 90 minutes from Melbourne. Yes, it’ll be cold: you can do
it. Think chunky knits, hot spiced drinking chocolate and rich, autumnal
colours.

  
 

Go exploring on a country drive
through Daylesford and its villages: soak up a robust ragu over pasta
and play pétanque at the Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm ( Hepburn Springs,
lavandula.com.au), track down secret cideries and Victoria’s beery
beauties at Woodend Wine Store (woodendwinestore.com.au) or pack a hamper full of central Victorian charcuterie delights at too-cute Kyneton’s Piper Street Food Company ( Kyneton,
piperstfoodco.com). Thus sated, steam yourself in the region’s rich mineral waters and
splash out on an exquisite facial at the serene Hepburn Bathhouse &
Spa (hepburnbathhouse.com).

  
 

It’s not just about corporeal
pleasures: enter the wildly wonderful world of renowned artists and
eclectic collectors David and Yuge Bromley (Daylesford,
bromleyandco.com) then wind down in the irreverent penthouse of Daylesford Convent (conventgallery.com.au) or Peppers Mineral Springs Hotel. 

Expect high tea and rare-breed
meats from the hotel’s own farm in the one-hatted The Argus Dining Room (
Hepburn Springs,
mineralspringshotel.com.au).

 If you can, time your visit for the
Daylesford Macedon Produce Harvest Festival, from April 24 – May 3. Now
in its seventh year, it promises to get your hands dirty messing with
local producers, chefs and vignerons, making goat’s cheese, learning the
basics of butchery, baking sourdough or taking a martini masterclass (dmproduce.com). 

 

Organic, biodynamic, fantastic – welcome to the good life.

   

Brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. 

This feature was published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper’s Traveller section. 


Art in Melbourne: Big guns and local heroes

David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover (1973)PICTURE: BRIAN DUFFY
© DUFFY ARCHIVE & THE DAVID BOWIE


Think big. Really big. Big as
Beijing, Bowie or the Great War. Yes, that big. And they’re all coming
to Melbourne for a calendar packed with blockbuster storylines,
intriguing characters and high drama galore.

  
 

The National Gallery of Victoria 
loves to steal the limelight, and
the line-up over the next six months gives it ample reason to preen a
little. Priceless Ming and Qing dynasty treasures from Beijing’s Palace
Museum, in the Forbidden City, are on display in A Golden Age of China:
Qianlong Emperor,

1736–1795 (until June 21) . 

Hot on
its heels, the riches of Russia’s Hermitage Museum are this year’s
Melbourne Winter Masterpieces coup. Fresh from St Petersburg,
Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherin the Great is a rich, lush
extravaganza of 400 works from the personal collection of the
long-ruling queen. Expect works from Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens and
Titian. Both are Australian exclusives and the frst time these
exhibitions have left their respective homes.

  
 

Balance all this international
action with a dose of Australiana. Tap into your inner petrolhead to
ogle the world’s fastest car back in 1971, the Chrysler Valiant Charger
E49, or enjoy a fashback to your time in a Holden Monaro or Torana.
Shifting Gear: Design, Innovation and the Australian Car is a
celebration of our classic car designs, with 

23 iconic, rare and prototype
vehicles on show (until July 12) . 

It’s not all looking backward,
either. Transmission: Legacies of the Television Age explores how TV has
infuenced art and contemporary culture, and looks forward to new
technologies. It also includes a major new acquisition by Ryan Trecartin
& Lizzie Fitch (May 15 – Sept 13) . Smaller fry are also catered
for with a hyper-interactive kids’ show, Tromarama (May 23 – Oct 18, see

nvg.vic.gov.au)  . 

Like most of the world, Melbourne
remembers the 100th anniversary of the Great War but has a world-frst
exhibition of more than 350 artefacts drawn from the vast collections of
London’s Imperial War Museums. The WW1 Centenary Exhibition is now
showing at the Melbourne Museum (until October 4, see museumvictoria.com.au) . 

Melbourne’s Shrine of remembrancePICTURE: CRAIG RIDLEY

Tie it in with a visit to
the Shrine of Remembrance, which has undergone a timely $45million
renovation and now has several permanent and temporary exhibitions
focusing on Australians in war and peacekeeping roles.

  
 

If you prefer to fick your hips
during art exhibitions, catch the only Australasian showing of David
Bowie Is
. Hailing from London’s Albert & Victoria Museum, this
exhibition allows visitors to watch rare film, peruse album artwork and
admire the wildly fabulous costumes worn by Bowie as he morphs from
Brixton teen to supersonic

superstar. Showing at ACMI in Federation Square (July 16 – Nov 1, see
acmi.net.au/bowie) .

  
 

But Melbourne’s art scene is not all
of-the-scale blockbusters. Shh. Focus. And there, in the small spaces,
in the hidden doorways and the unassuming rooms, Melburnians are quietly
creating beautiful objects and thought-provoking conceptions. Find a
detailed map of the city and navigate your way into independent
galleries and artist-run initiatives across the city.

  
 

With its curved, pink wall tiles and
ornate signposting to long-dead public telephone rooms, the Degraves
Street subway
(also known as Campbell Arcade) was built to help workers
coming from Flinders Street Station skip the crowds during the 1956
Olympics. Keep an eye on the walls for the Platform Artists Group’s
regular exhibitions and performance art. Ten nip into nearby
fortyfivedownstairs for performance art and two permanent galleries (45
Flinders La, Melbourne, see fortyfivedownstairs.com)

Make time to spot the Next
Big Thing, see the latest sculpture or taste new media at Flinders Lane
Gallery
(137 Flinders La, see
flg.com.au) . Set amid some of the city’s hidden street art, the Dark Horse
Experiment artist studios are an unruly delight (110 Franklin St,
Melbourne, see darkhorseexperiment.com), while Twenty by Thirty
Gallery
is Melbourne’s smallest artist-run gallery. You’ve got to be on
your toes to spot it. Located outside Melbourne’s smallest bar, Bar
Americano, its exhibitions change on the first day of the month (20
Presgrave Place, Melbourne, of

  
Little Collins St) . 

And step out of
the city grid to anarchic Collingwood’s The Compound Interest for a
creative commune of publishers and print, fashion and lighting designers
(15-25 Keele St,
thecompoundinterest.com)

   

Blow away the Big City smoke with a
drive into the country. Turn the wheel and aim for the Mornington
Peninsula, just an hour from Melbourne’s GPO, for a seaside escapade.
For a small town, Mornington sure steals a lot of air in the art world. 

McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery

Keep your eyes peeled on the drive for three gargantuan sculptures along
the Peninsula Link freeway, commissioned by the McClelland Sculpture
Park+Gallery
, in Langwarrin.

Set on a 16-hectare block of
bushland, the gallery ofers Australia’s richest sculpture prize. Te 2015
Montalto Sculpture Prize, worth $100,000, was won by Melbourne-based
artist Matthew Harding. His award-winning sculpture, Void, is on display
with 32 other works in an outdoor exhibition (until July 19, see
mcclellandgallery.com).

   

It doesn’t stop there. Put the
unassuming Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery , just 20 minutes away,
on your must-stop list. Its modest frontage belies thoughtful curation,
with esoteric art and ethereal seascapes on show in the upcoming
exhibitions, Windows to the Sacred and Jo Scicluna’s Where We Begin (May
15 – July 12, 350 Dunns Rd, Mornington).

   
  
And what is art without wine? Taste
your way through some of the oldest vineyards in the region at the new
Crittenden Estate Wine Centre, then fnd a little villa to call you own –
at least for the night – on Crittenden’s serene grounds (25 Harrisons
Rd, Dromana, see
crittendenwines.com.au) . 

Or pull up a pew in the bistro
of a chic Red Hill jewel, Polperro Wines , with its new cellar door and
villas, complete with open fres and vineyard views (150 Red Hill Rd,
Red Hill, see
polperrowines.com.au) . Perfect for a blend of good dining and great contemplation.

  
 

Brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. 

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section. 


Singapore slings, Mystical India and train travel in Tassie: Takeoff travel news

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Recently, I had to sling a Singapore Sling in the historic bar of Raffles Hotel, and the history was palpable. From the ‘last tiger in Singapore found under the pool table’ stories to the gracious verandahs with their rattan chairs and high teas. It’s 100 years since the Sling was first slung – scroll down to find out more. 

TRAIN
Full steam ahead
Explore Tasmania’s remote, mountainous west coast on the restored
steam trains of the newly reopened West Coast Wilderness Railway. The copper mining
rail line closed down in 1963 before reopening as a tourist train for a decade
until 2013. A recent $12m government investment has since seen 12,000 sleepers
replaced on what is the steepest railway in the southern hemisphere, and the
full 34.5km length of the original track, from Strahan to Queenstown, is open
once again. The historical railway was built with hard labour in the 1890s by
teams of Irish workers, and serves up plenty of juicy historical tales of feuds
and swindling. You don’t have to be a trainspotter to appreciate the beauty of
the three locomotives, which date back to 1896. Choose between full or half-day
journeys through old-growth rainforest and over King River Gorge, from
$95/adult, $40 children or $220 families in the Heritage carriage, or fully
catered with High Tea and Tasmanian sparkling wine in the Wilderness Carriage. Phone
(03) 6471 0100, see wcwr.com.au

India’s mystical Brahmaputra River.
TOURS
Mystical India
Explore busy tea markets, visit silk sari weavers and sleep
on the world’s largest inhabited river island, Majuili, amidst the dramatic
Brahmaputra River on a journey through north-eastern India. The 14-day tour
begins in Guwahati and visits the tribal lands and spots the exotic wildlife of
Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. “It is the least explored, but easily the most
exotic part of India,” says John Zubrzycki, a foreign correspondent and author who
has set several historical biographies in India. Zubrzycki, a self-confessed
Indiaphile, leads the first-time Hidden Lands, Forgotten Frontiers tour from
November 19-December 3, 2015, departing from Kolkata. Costs from $7835 a person
(excluding international airfares), includes a $200 donation to the boat
medical clinics on the Brahmaputra River. travelonq.com.au.
The Singapore Sling
FOOD
Celebrating the
centenary
Singapore is in serious birthday mode: the little country
turns just 50 this year, but its national drink, the Singapore Sling, is twice
its age, celebrating 100 years since it was first slung. The pink drink was
concocted in 1915 in the Long Bar of Raffles hotel by barman Ngiam Tong Boon,
and is now served on the nation’s airlines and in bars across the city. Mix
snacking and shaking in a Singapore Sling Masterclass in the Long Bar, where
you’ll learn how to blend gin Dom Benedictine and Cointreau, snack on satay and
take home a Singapore Sling glass. Costs $83 a person. Otherwise, grab a slice
of the new SlingaPore cake – lime sponge with pineapple mousse, Singapore Sling
marmalade and cherry jelly – in the hotel’s Ah Teng Bakery. See raffles.com/Singapore.

KIDS
Iced escapades
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most practical, like
this Dripstick, which does exactly what it says on the tin – stops that lurid,
bubble-gum flavoured ice-cream from slopping down the back of the car seat. The
Dripstick’s plastic holder lets kids get a better grip on their iced treats and the
internal funnel fits pointed cones, great when the cone’s base inevitably dissolves.
But wait, there’s more: fill the hollow handle with juice and slip in the
accompanying popsicle stick, freeze and you’ve got home-made ices. An added
bonus – it’s made from BPA-free, recyclable plastic. Available in six colours,
$12. See thanksmum.com.au.

  
Papua New Guinea adventure on True North.
TECH
Online cruising
We Australians are avid cruisers, with cruising of all
persuasions the fastest-growing sector of our tourism market. Luxury travel
company Abercrombie & Kent has just launched a new cruise website in demand
for what it describes as consistent double-digit growth over the last few
years. Choose from a Papua New Guinea adventure on True North (pictured), a French barge holiday, an expedition cruise through the
High Arctic or a small-ship exploration of the Amazon. According to A&K’s
Sujata Raman, the polar regions are their guests’ most popular choice, followed
by Myanmar river cruising and the Galapagos Islands, for premier wildlife
viewing. The company’s newest product is the small luxury Sanctuary Ananda on
the Ayeyarwady river in Myanmar. See akcruising.com.au.
 
The historic foyer of The Victoria Hotel, Melbourne
HOTEL
The Vic gets slick
It’s been overrun by American troops, been a booze-free Temperance
League stronghold and been on business tycoon Christopher Skase’s assets list.
Now Australia’s largest 3.5-star hotel, the Victoria Hotel on Melbourne’s
Little Collins St, has had a $20 million facelift. Unusually, the number of
rooms in The Vic has decreased, from 464 down to 370 larger rooms, all with
free wi-fi in a tidy refurbishment across the entire hotel, including the
historic lobby and public bar (which replaced beef tea with bellinis in the
60s). The hotel turns 135 this year and kicked off Melbourne’s laneways coffee
scene as the Victoria Coffee Palace back in 1880. It joined Accor’s budget-conscious
Ibis Styles brand two years ago and is owned by the Schwartz Family Company,
who is also developing the Sofitel on Darling Harbour, to open in 2017. Rooms in
the Victoria Hotel cost from $98 a night when booked 20 days in advance. Quote
‘early booking offer’. Phone 1800 331 147, see victoriahotel.com.au.

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


The Maldives travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

The world’s first underwater spa is in the Maldives,
at Huvafen Fushi resort.

1.    HAIL THE TAXI

Usually other countries’ taxis are a source of great rip-off tales
for travellers. Taxis here are jaunty public ferries linking the
islands: most foreigners will use only the route between the airport on
Hulhulé Island and the capital, Male. Possibly the world’s most scenic
airport taxi rank, it’s a strip of turquoise water teeming with luxury
yachts, picturesque dhonis (sailboats) and bright tropical fish. The
10-minute trip costs   $1.30 but the people-watching is free. The
seaplane taxis offer another spectacular perspective on the Maldives.

2.    FISHY BUSINESS 

Male’s fish markets are an eye-opener, but not for the squeamish.
Giant tuna are laid out in slabs while choosy buyers shop for home and
the resorts. Once you see the fishmongers at work, you’ll pray you never
meet a cranky one in a dark alley. Expect to pay around 45 rufiyaa 
($3.80) for a kilo of quality tuna meat caught that morning. Go early –
it’s clean but refrigeration is scant.

3.    UNDERWATER DINING

Admire fish both on and off the plate at Ithaa, the world’s first
underwater restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort. The
14-seater glass dome sits five metres under the sea and serves plenty of
fish, while the wine cellar is dug  two metre down into the island’s
depths (hilton.com). Nearby Kihavah Anantara resort has followed suit
with the four-level Sea.Fire.Salt.Sky, where Sky is a rooftop bar and
Sea is under water (anantara.com)

Ithaa, the world’s first underwater
restaurant at the Conrad Maldives
Rangali Island resort. 

4.    ISLAND FARE

Rated the Maldives’ top restaurant, Ufaa is on Cocoa Island by COMO,
in the Kaafu Atoll, 30 minutes by seaplane south of Male. New
Zealand-born chef Shane Avan serves fish fresh off the boat in a blend
of Maldives-Mediterranean-Asian fusion. Book ahead if you’re planning to
drop by from another hotel (comohotels.com). Reethi Restaurant, in the One & Only Reethi Rah, on the North Male Atoll, is often quoted as its closest rival (oneandonlyresorts.com)

5.    SHARK PARK

The Maldives became a shark sanctuary in 2010 when it banned all
shark fishing: take a night dive with grey reef sharks, go hammerhead
spotting or watch whale sharks. There’s no defined season for the big
fellas,  local marine biologists, say. They just appear around bait
balls, which are great rolling masses of small, tasty fish. Check out
the snorkelling trips in the South Ari Atoll
(maldiveswhalesharkresearch.org). If paddling with predators ain’t your
thing, most lagoons are shark nurseries, and harmless baby grey tips and
little lemon sharks are easily spotted on your walk on the jetty to the
overwater spa.

6.    SCREENSAVER SCENERY

You know that picture that comes pre-loaded on your new laptop? Yes,
the one with the palm trees and toothpaste-white beaches. It’s probably
photographed in the Maldives. Add a hammock, umbrella and icy drink and
you’ll know why the little country is high up on the world’s
must-visit list. The Maldives straddles the Equator, so temps don’t
fluctuate much from the annual average of 30 degrees.

Sea.Fire.Salt.Sky at Kihavah Anantara resort. 

7.    SLEEPING OVER WATER  

Of the almost 1200 islands in the Maldivian archipelago, only about
300 are inhabited, and all with the teensiest land masses. The solution?
Sleeping over water is de rigueur here. Generally pricier than garden
rooms, you can dive straight into a blue lagoon from your over-water
living room.

8.    SENSATIONAL SPAS

Most Maldivian resort spas are over water, preferably with a glass
floor so you can watch baby sharks gambol while you’re face-down on the
massage table. Spa Cenvaree at the new adults-only Centara Ras Fushi
Resort Maldives was named  Best Luxury Emerging Spa in the Indian
Ocean at the recent 2014 World Luxury Spa Awards
(centarahotelsresorts.com), while the  Ayurvedic treatments at Six
Senses Spa Laamu (sixsenses.com) and Banyan Tree’s luxury Spa Vabbinfaru (banyantree.com) also took home silverware. And you can’t go wrong at the One & Only Reethi Rah’s ESPA (reethirah.oneandonlyresorts.com/spa.aspx) or the Jiva Grande Spa at the Taj Exotica (tajhotels.com). Of course, the world’s first underwater spa is in the Maldives, at Huvafen Fushi resort (huvafenfushi.peraquum.com).

9.    SPICE SHOPPING

Opposite the Male fish market is a real local’s market: walk past the
fishing boats and dhoni along the harbour wall till you come across
boxes and boxes of ripe papayas, chillis and enormous bunches of green
bananas slung around a rough building. Must-buy items include local
spice mixes for heart-warming curries and proto-Golden Roughs: coconut
and palm sugar rolled up in dried leaves like cigars for a quick
pick-me-up if you’re flagging in the midday heat.

One & Only Reethi Rah Spa. 

10.    ELITE RESORTS

The first tourists arrived in the Maldives in only 1972, but all the
world’s major hotel brands are now here. Recent openings include
Maalifushi by COMO by wellness pioneer Christina Ong (see comohotels.com), Club Med’s new luxury face with 52 villas (clubmed.com.au) and Atmosphere Kanifushi Maldives’ 150 villas and suites (atmosphere-kanifushi.com).
Expect royalty and rock stars at two newcomers in the Noonu Atoll,
exclusive 45-villa Cheval Blanc Randheli from the owners of Louis
Vuitton and Moet (chevalblanc.com) and super-luxe Velaa Private island, with Michelin-starred restaurants and a golf academy by José María Olazábal’s (velaaprivateisland.com). Elite, yes, but more cater to families than you’d first think.

11.    SUPERB SNORKELLING

You don’t have to kit up to the hilt to enjoy the Maldives’
spectacular marine life. Even the scardest snorkeller can spot
spectacular lionfish, parrotfish, a range of rays and weird unicorn fish
as well as oriental sweetlips and clownfish, which are endemic to the
Maldives. The archipelago is a transit zone for fish life, so expect
plenty of variety and a rainbow of colours in even the shallowest
waters.

12.    SLEEPING WITH THE LOCALS

Traditionally, the Maldives’ 300-odd inhabited islands have been
split between resort islands and local islands. The government recently
launched its new integrated resort development project, with the first
guest house islands occurring in the Laamu Atoll, in northern Maldives.
The aim is for 2100 new guesthouse beds on offer by 2017, which is good
news for travellers on lean budgets and those seeking a deeper cultural
experience.

Ari Atoll, Maldives. 
Photo: Alamy

13.    SURF’S UP

It’s all about reef breaks here, and the best-known are in Male’s
Atolls, which can get a tad crowded. The recent 2014 Asian Surfing
Championships were held at Sultan’s Point, near the Four Seasons, and
the inaugural Maldives Open 2014 ran on September 3-7 at Lohis Point, a
long, consistent lefthander near the Adaaran Hudhuran Fushi Resort. Take
a surf safari through your resort or off a live-aboard boat. Luxe surf
safari outfit Tropic Surf has set up a surf shack at the new Maalifushi
by COMO resort in the relatively unexplored Thaa Atoll, deep in the
south-west of the country. It lists Farms as its most requested break in
the area, but is still discovering new breaks (tropicsurf.net). The peak surf season runs May to October, beginning earlier in the southernmost atolls.

14.    GOING DOWN

With more than a thousand species of fish here, the Maldives’ diving
is famed. The dive season runs from January to April, with clear water,
little wind and up to 30 metres’ visibility, but year-round is still
very good. Expect it all: steep drop-offs, caves, wrecks, reefs,
channels, soft and hard corals. North and South Ari Atolls get a mention
for great manta ray and whale shark action, while quiet Lamuu Atoll is
shaping up as the new go-to spot, say the divers from theperfectdive.com.au.

15.    SHORT EATS

Get down with the locals and tuck into Maldivian snack food. While
super-spicy tuna curry tops the menu, cafes dish up short eats or
snacks, to get you over the afternoon slump. Order up on maas roshi
(little tuna and coconut patties) and kaashi bokibaa (coconut, rosewater
and palm sugar balls).

Locals fishing
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

16.    ON THE LINE

Maldivians surely can fish before they can walk. Net fishing is
illegal even for commercial operations: the locals use pole and line
fishing, as they have done for centuries, catching one fish at a time.
Make no mistake, they can bring the fish in at speed, but sustainably
and without the environmental damage of net dragging. You can chase the
big game on a tag-and-release fishing safari on liveaboard boats or
through your resort.

17.    DOLPHIN SPOTTING

One of the great joys of the Maldives are its little spinner
dolphins. They earn their names for their antics: in the late afternoon,
as they make their way out of the lagoons and into the deep ocean to
hunt, the dolphins will leap into the air to spin, just for the sheer
joy, it would appear. They’ll happily follow your boat, but don’t jump
on command.

18.    STYLE FILE

The Maldives has its own, laid-back tropical style. Expect sandy
floors in chic restaurants, open-air lobbies, thatch roofs overhead and
the swish of an overhead fan ruffling the white curtains on your rustic
timber four-poster bed. The colour scheme is turquoise lagoons, white
sandy beaches, baby-blue skies and yellow, for the big sun and the lemon
curl in your martini glass.

19.    THE BIG FIVE

Spot the Maldives’ marine Big Five: manta and eagle rays, sea
turtles, dolphins and sharks, including whale sharks. On the protected
species list are turtles, great clams, whale sharks and conch shells.
Endangered marine species  such as the whale shark, turtles, dolphins,
as well as corals, are  all protected by law.

Public taxi
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

20.    SPEAK EASY

Does your airline ticket send you to Kadhdhoo Kaadedhdhoo or Kadhdhoo
Kooddoo? The Maldivian language is Dhivehi, a mix of Arabic, Urdu and
Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese, and the script is called Thanna. To the untrained
eye, the alphabet could even resemble a series of punctuation marks.
Here’s all you need: “fushi” means “island”, and “Hingadhaan!” means
“Let’s go!”

The writer was a guest of Como Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.


This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.


Dressed to thrill: Gaultier fashion exhibition opens in Melbourne

Gaultier with Australian supermodel Alexandra Agostin.

“It’s not often an art opening turns into a discussion on trans-gender issues,” an art curator said, gleefully, to me today.

We were gossiping at the preview of the fabulous retrospective by fashion dynamo Jean Paul Gaultier.

Surrounded by conical bras (you remember Madonna in THAT bra in her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990?) and wildly elaborate, intricate, completely over-the-top fashion, what surprised me most was the man himself.

Flanked by two Australian muses, Alexandra Agostin and transgender supermodel Andreja Pejic (in her first appearance as a woman), Gaultier laughed, smiled, joked and charmed the (couture) pants off the 500+ audience who came to see him launch the exhibition, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From Sidewalk to Catwalk. 

The exhibition has already travelled across the globe, bringing more than 140 creations to the people, from San Fran to Stockholm, but this time, Gaultier assures us, it’s almost perfect.

Alexandra Agostin and Andreja Pejic in the audience
at the exhibition’s launch in Melbourne today.

As was pointed out in the press conference, it is generally very difficult for the non-fashion world (ie. the rest of us) to view couture: sure you can look at a magazine, but where’s the movement, the life?

Melbourne, you’re a lucky woman: this is the only showing of the exhibition in the Asia Pacific. Opens tomorrow at the National Gallery of Victoria until February 8, 2015.

Adult $22
*Concession $18
Child (5-15 years) $10
Family (2 adults + 3 children) $60
NGV Member Adult $17
NGV Member Family (2 adults + 3 children) $48
Additional Family Child $5

If you’re in the hood, check out the NGV’s fantastic Friday night with John Paul Gaultier program.


Eid Mubarak (and no gory photos, this year)

Kakh al-Eid. Photo: Belle Jackson

Eid Mubarak (Happy Feast), every one.

This may be my first posting during the annual celebration of Eid al-Adha that doesn’t feature a photograph of a bloody carcass. Instead, I offer you a far more genteel photo of Kahk alEid, a sweet shortbread that’s traditionally eaten during the Small Feast, Eid al-Fitr, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan.

Eid al-Adha is the Great Feast, which celebrates the occasion when God asked the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham agreed, but at the last minute, God replaced his son with a sacrificial lamb. So today, if you can afford it, you sacrifice a four-legged animal and offer a third of the meat to the poor (of which there are many in the Middle East at the moment, it’s sad to note).

Back home, here in Australia, the Lebanese bakery where I bought these kahk al-Eid told me they call the tasty pastry ma3moul. Either way, its crumbly sweetness is perfect with a glass of dust tea (no sugar). This shortbread pastry is filled with walnuts and scented with orange blossom water and dusted with icing sugar. There’s also a pistachio and rosewater version which sounds great but leaves wanting, and yet a third with dates, which is sprinkled with sesame seeds.

And instead of watching butchers across Egypt sacrifice animals, and seeing the blood-red handprints
that people use as a talisman against the evil eye, we carved an enormous leg of Australian lamb (a really, REALLY big lamb), ate salads scented with cinnamon and cumin, and the homesick amongst the Egyptian diaspora in my house talked of home, and how it has changed couple of years.

The traditional greeting during the feast is ‘Eid Mubarak,’ where ‘mubarak’ means ‘happy’ – not to be confused with the deposed military dictator Hosni Mubarak. Now, as you well know, there’s a new military dictator, Fattah al-Sisi. The question on the streets in Cairo is: should we now be saying Eid Sisi?

(Oh you’re a bloodthirsty lot, aren’t you? Yes, those links will take you to postings from previous years. Please don’t click there if you’re a squeamish type. And if you do click there, and then get upset, don’t go complaining to me. I told you so.)


Como Maalifushi Maldives: Pint-sized paradise

This new, luxury resort in the Maldives delivers a world of
pleasure, writes Belinda Jackson.
It took me three days to realise I’d lost my shoes. I’d kicked
them off the day I hit the Maldives and never put them back on again until I
crash-landed into the howling winds of a Melbourne winter, tragic in glittery,
strappy sandals. I think the shoes are still on Maalifushi, a remote island
resort in the south-west of the remote island nation.
Let me share some fashion advice about packing for the
Maldives. The first point is: don’t bother bringing heels. They get stuck in
the sand, and every resort worth its sea salt has a sand floor restaurant, lobby
or walkway. The second fashion tip is: unless you’re going to sweat it out on a
treadmill, leave your runners behind, too. Preferred sports on these balmy
isles are barefoot – swimming, yoga and messing about in boats.
 The new Maalifushi by COMO is the Singaporean hotel group’s
second Maldivian resort. The first, Cocoa Island by COMO, is 40 minutes by
speedboat from Male airport, past a plethora of single-resort islands. In
comparison, Maalifushi is the only hotel in the isolated Thaa Atoll, deep in
the vast Indian Ocean.
An aerial view of the tiny resort. 
Getting to Maalifushi is half the adventure. At Male airport,
we learn that the closest airport, Thimarafushi, is closed because ocean swells
have engulfed the runway. “It’s a very, very low atoll,” a local
tells me. “Very good for surfing, very bad for flying.”
Instead, we fly to tiny Kadhdhoo airport then board a very
white, very luxurious pleasure cruiser. Flying fish skip alongside the boat,
and the water changes abruptly from deep ocean blue to pinch-me-I’m-dreaming
turquoise as, after two hours, we pull up at the island. It is a study in green
coconut palms and raked yellow sand, tiny crabs scattering at our footfalls.
Maalifushi is tiny: even by Sydney standards, 800 by 200
metres ain’t a lot of real estate. To compensate, the spa’s eight treatment
rooms, Japanese restaurant Tai and 33 suites and villas are off land and over
water, connected by timber boardwalks. Absolute beachfront is claimed by 22
suites and the two-bedroom, 296-metre-square COMO residence, at almost $7000 a
night in peak season.
My room is, quite simply, breathtaking. Forget shiny surfaces,
this is a decorating exercise in island chic. White curtains billow from the
four-poster bed, the high-pitched ceiling is thatched, the deep bath is
unpolished marble, and the timber deck leads out to a thatched bale beside my
plunge pool. There are indoor and outdoor rain showers, daybeds and sofas. In
fact, there are so many places to sit, I don’t know where to start. Ripping off
clothes and leaping into the pool seems a good start. Shy? Think twice about
skinny-dipping – the deck’s not as private as you’d first think.
Island chic decor sets the tone for a blissful break.

Banish any notion that all this gorgeousness is reserved only
for lovestruck couples. The kids’ club is a jaunty affair with swings and
climbing apparatus, and there are six very private garden suites targeted at
families who don’t want to mix young children and plunge pools. The
well-equipped dive centre has quality Japanese masks for all shapes and sizes,
and the kitchen promises to cater for all tastes and dietary persuasions.

The COMO brand is all about luxury pampering: the signature
scent is a cool blend of peppermint and eucalyptus best served on cold towels.
The spa is a palatial affair and COMO’s signature Shambala spa cuisine offers
an array of organic deliciousness featuring seed breads, healthful juices and
sublime local raw fish, which is unsurprising given the country’s national fish
is the yellowfin tuna, its national tree the coconut palm. The weekly seafood
barbecue is an extravaganza of local lobster, a carpaccio of kingfish, trout
and tuna, and sweet rock shrimp.
Unfortunately, I realise the food is actually too good, when
breakfast comprises saffron-poached pears with papaya and lime, watermelon
juice, eggwhite omelette, French toast with fresh mango and a lavish porridge
made from crushed almonds. It’s all healthy, I tell myself (OK, maybe not the
French toast).
I try burning off the excess with a healing, Shambala
signature massage and join marine biologist Francesco on a tiny speedboat to
play with happy little spinner dolphins who gambol alongside us, occasionally
thrusting into the air to spin once, twice, thrice, just for sheer joy. There’s
talk of year-round whale shark spotting.
One evening, three of us take a pre-dinner night snorkelling
safari. It’s a first for all of us, and we lower ourselves gingerly into the
dark water. Call me unAustralian, but the marine life in the Maldives makes our
reef look like a jaded nightclub at the end of the night, just a few old
groupers hanging out, trying their tired old lines. A young green turtle glides
beneath us, which I find slightly disconcerting but completely exhilarating.
Nocturnal surgeonfish are everywhere and the most beautiful purple spotted
starfish are surely the mirrorballs of the Maldivian seas.
Marine life aside, the big drawcard for Maalifushi is its surf
breaks. The luxury surf safari group TropicSurf has a shack on the island and
the staff are constantly discovering new reef breaks. Farms is the best-known,
which TropicSurf calls “the perfect right-hander” in peak season,
from April to October.
Back on my villa’s deck, I discover a set of stairs that lead
down into the island’s lagoon. Moments later, I’m swimming with some rather
nonchalant little black-and-white striped reef fish called Moorish idols.
Professor Google tells me Africa’s Moors considered them “bringers of
happiness”. The sky overhead is clear and blue, the water I’m swimming in
is clear and blue. Their mission is accomplished.
The writer travelled as a guest of COMO Hotels.
TRIP NOTES 
GETTING THERE There are no direct flights from Australia to the Maldives.
Fly via Kuala Lumpur or Singapore with Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines or
Virgin Australia. Australians are issued a free visa on their arrival in the
Maldives. See malaysiaairlines.com, singaporeair.com, virginaustralia.com.
GETTING AROUND Maalifushi is a 50-minute flight from Male Airport to
Thimarafushi, followed by a 25-minute boat ride. COMO Resorts plans to operate
a seaplane between its two resorts.
STAYING THERE Maalifushi’s “soft-opening” special allows for
low-season rates until December 26. Garden suites from $820 a night, water
suites from $1400 a night. COMO Villas are open for bookings. See website
(left).
MORE INFORMATION visitmaldives.comcomohotels.com.
This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

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