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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Travel news: Takeoff November 9

FOOD
A moveable feast
Plan a DIY food tour around Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula on its new hop-on, hop-off sightseeing
bus, which launched yesterday. There are 18 stops on the two-hour circular route, which wends its way from Sorrento, famous for its vanilla slice, to Portsea for a pint in the Portsea pub’s scenic beer garden and down to Point Nepean National Park, where former PM Harold Holt disappeared. There are cellar doors and hot springs on the route and plenty of suggested walks to compensate for the abundant
crop of too-cute village cafes. The open-top double-decker bus runs 365
days a year, from 8am to 6pm. A 24-hour ticket costs $35/$20,
adults/children, or $60/$35 for a three-day pass. See
peninsulaexplorer.com.

GEAR
The suede persuader

You’re the girl-about-town who needs to keep her hands free for hailing taxis, making canny shopping buys and shaking on a deal with the locals. But you’re just not into backpacks. The roomy Ellie Satchel stashes all your kit into a stylish swag with plenty of internal pockets, and its detachable cross-body strap sets you free. Available in six coloured suedes including black, a blue peacoat and coffee bean (pictured), for a quintessentially Australian look. Available in Ugg Australia stores, including the new Sydney Arcade location. Costs $219.95. See uggaustralia.com.

WEBSITE
Rate and review
Know your tour before you pack your bags and head into the great unknown with the new website from travel giant Trafalgar. The tour company, which has over 230 journeys on its books, now includes feedback from past guests, who have reviewed and rated their experiences on the independent feedback behemoth feefo.com. One to watch is the reception of its new boutique
Hidden Journeys, which aim to show the secret side of some of our best-loved destinations, including Hong Kong and France, as well as Turkey’s Turquoise Coast and the little-explored Newfoundland coastline in Canada. See trafalgar.com.

NEWS
Brazilian beauty
Now that football fever has calmed down, and before the hype of the 2016 Olympics, it’s time to slip under the sheets with the Brazilian beauties Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Lovely Luxe guides promise to show you the real deal with the two new city guides. Expect Rio’s beautiful boutiques, secret shopping finds and back-door walking tours. Sao Paulo needs a little work to discover its beauty, they’ll admit: let the guides walk you through great street art and smoking hot chefs’ tables. The compact guides will cosy up easily in your back pocket. Cost $12.99 each. See luxecityguides.com.

AIRLINE
Kids get wings

The newest frequent flyer club on the market is aimed squarely at kids. Tigerair’s new Junior Captain’s Flyer Club rewards kids on the move with a club badge when they fly five times with the budget airline. Kids can get a crew member or captain on duty to sign their log book, which is included in the new Toby Activity Case, stuffed with maps, games, trivia cards, pencils. The case costs $15 for sale onboard, and another $4 will score a kids’ snack-pack from its summer inflight menu, which has vegan, gluten-free and end-of-day options (read: wine and cheese). Tigerair flies between 12 Australian cities and into south-east Asia via Perth. See tigerair.com.

KIDS 
DIY space exploration
Aspiring astronauts, your how-to handbook has arrived. The newest round of kids’ titles from Lonely Planet includes ‘How to be a Space Explorer,’ which will help your eight-year-old negotiate the freezing temperatures of deep space and navigate black holes. It’ll also help parents who are hazy on such concepts as gravity, light years and rocket-ship propulsion. Other new titles include three activities and sticker books aimed at kids three and above, ‘Adventures in Busy Places’ (think Dubai shopping malls), ‘Adventures in Cold Places’ (Sweden and Peru) and ‘Adventures in Wild Places’ (Kruger National Park). ‘How to be a Space Explorer’ costs $24.99 with an eBook also available on iBooks and Amazon. ‘The Adventures In…’ books cost $12.99 each. lonelyplanetkids.com.

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday.

Good Weekend’s 52 weekends away

On the trail: Spring Spur Stay, Tawonga, Vic.

Sometimes in this job, you just get lucky. And getting to stay at Spring Spur was lucky indeed. I didn’t realise, but I’d ridden here, up in the Victorian Alps, years ago. The hard-working Baird family have since built new accommodation with their own bare hands.

This is my inclusion in the Good Weekend’s annual 52 Weekends Away:

COUNTRY
Tree-change chill-out, gourmet getaway or back-to-nature adventure: take
your pick – the air’s fresher, the tempo gentler. Book in, breathe out and feel
the serenity.


SPRING SPUR STAY

52 Fredas Lane, Tawonga, Vic
PHONE: (03) 5754 4849
WEB: springspurstay.com.au

The location  In the rich Kiewa Valley, Spring Spur Stay is also
the home for Bogong Horseback Adventures. This is Victoria’s dramatic high
country, with the ski resorts of Mount Hotham and Falls Creek nearby.
The place  Kath and Steve Baird have run Spring Spur Stables for
23 years and their sons, Lin and Clay, are third-generation packhorse
professionals as well as being dab hands in the kitchen. The new accommodation
wing has six double bedrooms, all with private ensuite bathrooms and
full-length windows that look up to the (sometimes snowy) peaks. The décor is a
blend of Steve’s art and rustic high country curios, and the ethos is a blend
of eco-energy meets espresso machine.
The experience  Live out your mountain fantasies on a half-day
ride up into the Alpine National Park, a tranquil journey through the bush. The
family has bred and trained most of its horses using “natural
horsemanship” principles and, like good dance partners, the Bairds’
super-responsive Australian stock horses will make you appear a far better
rider than you actually are. After a morning in the saddle, pull up a pew
(literally) at the handmade table in the cavernous new Riders Lounge and tuck
into a home-cooked Sunday lunch.
Don’t miss  On the drive up from Melbourne, jump off the Hume
Highway and onto the Snow Road (C522) for a pit-stop in cafe-tastic little
Oxley. No time for cellar doors? Clever Milawa Hotel, a little further along,
stocks a great range of local wines.
BELINDA JACKSON

Need to know
Cost: From $485 for a two-night weekend getaway.
Distance: 4.5 hours’ drive (360km) north-east of Melbourne.
Children: Yes.

This story was part of Good Weekend magazine’s annual 52 Weekends Away. To read about more great weekend escapes, click here

Travel news: Freewheeling across the world

Cycling in the German Alps. Photo: Bruce Robertson
Freewheeling
Have bicycle, will travel. But if you’re not sure where
to ride, click on to this serious collection of bike tours from around the
world. At last count, the website listed 7000 tours in 123 countries for all
levels of fitness, for road bikes, mountain bikes and even electronic bikes. Website
founder and keen cyclist Bruce Robertson is currently infatuated with Korea,
where he’s going with friends for a 350km ride from Seoul to Andong. “Korea’s
cycle paths and infrastructure are incredible,” he says. “The paths follow the
rivers, not the roads.” The site also loves a best-of list, including the best
off-road tours and city tours, packing tips and a guide to choosing the best bicycle
tour. To lycra or not to lycra? That’s your call. See cycletoursglobal.com.

APARTMENTS
Sleep easy with
the locals
Dublin city, the heart of Istanbul and the jewel of the
Greek islands, Santorini, are the latest destinations in Tempo Holidays’ 2015 Apartments
& Catering Worldwide brochure. Stay in an Italian condo on Lake Como, a maison
in the Cote des Maures in France or
a villa on the Portuguese Algarve. All properties are researched by Tempo
Holidays, which is owned by the world’s longest established
travel company, Cox & Kings. Many apartments and villas include
hotel facilities such as daily or weekly servicing, but with the freedom of
your own space and 24-hour help. Great for larger families or groups, they are
priced per night, but with discounts for extended stays. Phone 1300 558 987, see tempoholidays.com.
FOOD
Of souks and spices in Morocco
Discover the soul of Morocco on a 10-day gastronomic tour
of the country with TV chef and self-described ‘gastronaut’ Geoff Jansz. The
journey starts in gritty Casablanca and travels through the ancient, regal
cities of Fes, Meknes and Rabat, finishing up in Marrakesh. You’ll taste and
learn about Morocco’s culinary traditions with local experts, shop for spices
in magnificent souks (markets), drink Berber tea in the Atlas Mountains and eat
in restaurants selected by Jansz. There’s also a visit to Roman ruins of
Volubilis, Andalusian gardens and the craziness of Marrakesh’s central square,
Djamma el Fna. The tour will accommodate 24 guests, from November 1-10, 2015.
Costs $6895 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 590 317, see abercrombiekent.com.au.

AIRLINES
Best Fiji cuisine
Taste Fiji before you even get hit the happy isles with Fiji
Airways’ new signature dish for business-class passengers. The airline offers a
charred beef fillet with masala chai tea rub, herb buttered prawns and Fijian
organic vegetables, or seared wild fish with coriander and pineapple rice pilaf
and
red papaya curry sauce. The dishes are designed by Fiji Airways’
Culinary Ambassador chef Lance Seeto, who says the menu is influenced not just
the native iTaukei cuisine but Indian, Chinese and colonial British as well.
Seeto, who is based on Fiji’s Castaway Island resort, says it’s part of a
culinary renaissance taking place across the country. Other business-class menu
additions include a Fijian rum cocktail and mocktail, and the Yadra Vinaka
(good morning) sleeper service. Phone 1800 230
150, see fijiairways.com.

KIDS
Come to mamma
Whoever thought having kids meant giving up seriously
good food and wine? The new La Dolce Vita Wine & Food Festival welcomes
kids with all of its Italian heart. Held at eight wineries in Victoria’s King
Valley, there will be jumping castles and giant sandpits, playgrounds and
circus training, and every winery will offer a kids’ menu. Meanwhile, parents
(and non-parents) can test-drive Prosecco cocktails, turn their hand at gnocchi
making, cruise the market stalls or join a Long Lunch. The festival takes place
on November 15-16. Phone 1800 801 065, see
winesofthekingvalley.com.au
 
GEAR
Clean hands, clear
conscience
If the phrase ‘life-changing hand sanitiser’ sounds a
little far-fetched, log the tracking number on the back of this antibacterial
hand sanitiser and you may find you’ve just helped provide clean water for a
village in Myanmar. These body care products are from Thankyou, a social enterprise
that channels its profits directly into health and hygiene training in
developing nations. The hand sanitiser is a trusty travel companion that comes
in a tasty grapefruit or eucalyptus mint fragrance, and at 50ml, it’s well
under the airlines’ carry-on liquids limit. Other products include hand cream
and soap, all Australian made, all without harsh chemicals and all are
ethically sourced. Available at major supermarkets. See thankyou.co.

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday.

And the popular pick is? Poland. Takeoff: Travel news

Warsaw’s Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town market square)

And the popular pick is? Poland.

Europe’s latest hot spot offers a stunning mix of history, architecture and natural attractions. Warsaw is emerging as a rising star on 2015 and 2016 travel
itineraries as Poland records a record high in tourist numbers. Key
sights in the former Eastern Bloc capital include the Old Town’s  market
square, Rynek Starego Miasta, rebuilt to its medieval design after its
destruction in World War II. The country is also famous for its
pilgrimage icon the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Krakow’s historic town
square and Wawel Castle and birdwatching in its vast central marshes.
Eastern European specialist Beyond Travel has released its largest ever
selection of tours to Poland, including a new Polish Capitals tour from
Krakow to Warsaw. A four-night tour including accommodation, guides and
transport starts from $630 a person (excluding flights). Phone 1300 363 554, see  beyondtravel.com.au

GEAR: The good oilcloth

Your destination may not be exotic but your luggage certainly can be,
with this cheery Emerald Palms overnight bag. Made from oilcloth with a
white shoulder strap and handles, it measures 60 centimetres long by 28
centimetres high –  just big enough for a sneaky overnight escape from
the daily grind. The range also includes oilcloth bath bags, a lavender
eye pillow and Serengeti-inspired vanilla and peach soap, to complete
the picture. The MOZI overnight bag costs $79.95, phone (03) 9885 9789, see mozi.com.au.

WEBSITE: Give back

It’s said that when you travel, you should take nothing but
photographs and leave nothing but footprints. However, travelgiver.com
lets you also leave a donation to a non-government, community project in
one of 50 countries across the world. Log on to the website and choose
from more than 300 projects, ranging from schooling for Liberian refugee
children to hygiene lessons in Rwanda or spina bifida support in
Melbourne, then proceed with the booking through the travel provider.
Participants include Intrepid Travel, Etihad, Expedia, Lonely Planet and
Accor, who will automatically donate up to eight per cent of the
booking to your nominated community project. Travelgiver.com gives a
comprehensive outline of each project, as well as visiting details if
you’re travelling in that region. See TravelGiver.com.

BOOKS: Fowl play

The startling Mr Chicken visits his favourite city, London, in the
new book by author and illustrator Leigh Hobbs, also the creator of
Horrible Harriet. A regular visitor to London, the gigantic, yellow bird
always stays at the Savoy Hotel and rings the Queen before popping over
for morning tea (so she has time to do some extra baking). The inside
covers include a hand-drawn map of Mr Chicken’s route through London and
his checklist of things to see and do, which includes a full English
breakfast, a walk over Tower Bridge and a ride on a red double-decker
bus. A great planner for kids who are travelling to London, have been or
just want tea with the Queen. Mr Chicken Lands in London, hardcover, $24.99. Visit allenandunwin.com.

GOLF:Tee tour

Tee off on Hawaii’s top six golf courses on a new nine-day golfing
tour of Hawaii, curated by dedicated golf tour company Teed Up. You’ll
play the Royal Hawaiian, Ted Robinson’s Ko Olina and also Kapalua
Plantation course, consistently named Hawaii’s best course with ocean
views at each hole. The tour includes four games of golf on Maui, two on
Oahu, shared motorised carts and inter-island flights as well as eight
nights’ accommodation and competition prizes at the end of the tour. Led
by PGA professional Michael Mosher, the 2015 Hawaii Golf tour departs
August 25, 2015 and costs US$5848 a person, twin share. Call (02) 8458 9000, visit teedupgolftours.com.

KIDS: Hold the crackling

Want to hear four incredibly effective words? “Peppa Pig wears
sunscreen.” The ubiquitous pig could sell ice to eskimos, and now Peppa
has collaborated with the Cancer Council to encourage pre-school and
primary school-aged kids to slap on sunscreen specifically for sensitive
skin. Yes, it’s coercion, but it’s a whole lot nicer than telling your
sunscreen-hating toddler they’ll have to cut off bits of their nose when
they hit 40. The range, which has no fragrance and no colour, includes
Kids SPF 50+ 50ml ezi clip, $9.95, Kids SPF 50+ 75ml roll on, $10.95 and
Kids SPF 50+ 200ml finger spray, $14.95 from Coles supermarkets. Visit
skinhealth.com.au.

AIRLINE: Points to share

Singapore Air and Virgin Australia have linked their frequent flyer
programs, in a first for airline loyalty programs. From November,
KrisFlyer and Velocity Frequent Flyer members can convert their miles
and points between either airline to book flights, upgrade seats and buy
non-flight merchandise. The arrangement also allows Velocity members to
book on Singapore Air’s regional carrier, Silkair, visit
singaporeair.com and virginaustralia.com. Singapore Air will also begin
codesharing with Air New Zealand from January 6, 2015, with new direct
flights between Singapore and New Zealand to create a 30 percent
increase in traffic between the two countries. Codeshare flights are now
open for bookings, visit airnewzealand.com.

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday.

Travel news: Takeoff September 28, 2014

The High Roller observation wheel, Las Vegas, USA

KIDS

What happens in
Vegas…
Can’t hold off till the kids hit 21 to visit Vegas? The
new Children’s Discovery Museum (US$12, discoverykidslv.org)
proves the desert casino town isn’t just an adult playground. The museum has a
desert-themed toddler zone, an eco city, art play and detective mysteries to
solve for primary school kids. Vegas does have non-gaming, non-smoking hotels
such as Vdara (vdara.com) and most have buffets and pools aplenty. Many hotels
also let kids under 12 stay free in their parents’ room. If your hotel is a
roller-coaster free zone, head to Caesar’s 167-meter High Roller observation wheel, which
opened in March. Family packs for Saturday
morning cost $56 (two adults, three children, caesars.com). For more
ideas, from feeding twin white tiger cubs at the Mirage to feeding sharks in Mandalay
Bay, see lasvegas.com.
HOTEL
Dial-a-room
Unlock your stay in Brisbane with your mobile phone at
the NEXT hotel, which opened this week on the Queen Street Mall. Using the
hotels’ NEXT App, you can check in, unlock your room, control air-conditioning, lights
and TV, even from outside. If that’s too prosaic, use it to call for cocktails.
Wi-Fi is free throughout the hotel and the app is available for iPhones and
Androids. Don’t have a smartphone? Each of the 304 rooms has a Samsung Galaxy S4
phone for use during your stay. Also, the free club lounge is open to guests
who arrive earlier than the 3pm check-in and includes an outdoor pool, 24-hour
gym, showers and sleep pods. Catch NEXT’s opening special, from $179 a room
(weekends) until January 21. Book direct and get a $25 food and beverage
voucher. Phone 1300 272 132, see nexthotels.com/brisbane.
The Charisma by Victorinox.

GEAR

Luggage to Love
Finally, ’s
a luggage designer realises women need to stash a lipgloss amongst
the laptops, smartphones and power pens. In stores this month, the new Victoria
Collection comes from Swiss luggage specialist Victorinox, better known as the
inventor of the ultimate travel tool, the Swiss Army knife. With names such as Aspire, Divine and Sage,
the 10 styles include tote bags, crossbody day bags, four-wheel laptop cases, a
sleek backpack and the Charisma, a carryall that whips you from work to
weekend. It packs a 15.6-inch laptop and a tablet and its micro-suede zip-up
pockets are equally ideal for sheltering sunglasses as a clutch of USB sticks
and cables. The Charisma costs $309, in orchid (pictured), sand and black. See victorinox.ch.

TECH
Cruise control
Find the boat of your dreams (or the boat of your budget)
on the GetMyBoat app, which links would-be sailors with private boat owners and
boat rental companies. The free app lists more than 17,000 boats in 90
countries, including Australia, with a heavy emphasis on the US. It enables
direct messaging between renters and owners to book a boat for an hour, a day,
a week or whatever’s your whimsy, from $20 to eye-blistering sums. All boats are
vetted for safety standards before they’re listed on the site and insurance is
available. Available for iPhones and Androids. See getmyboat.com.
Floriade, Canberra.

NEWS

Floriade frolic
Kids, pets and manicured flowerbeds are an unlikely grouping, but Canberra’s celebration of spring, Floriade, bravely mixes
dogs, wildlife and cubby houses with a million blooms. The third week of the
month-long festival welcomes wildlife warrior Bindi Irwin on October 4 and 5;
lets you take your hounds in on October 7; and unleashes the professionals –
your kids – on six architecturally designed cubby houses on October 12. The
cubbies will then be auctioned to raise funds for The Centenary Hospital for
Women and Children and the National Children’s Playground Project.
The final week of the extravaganza has an Outdoors and Adventure
theme, with sustainability workshops and DIY demos from The Living Room’s
handyman hero Barry Du Bois, on October 11 and 12. And former former Raiders captain Alan Tongue will run a Big Boot Camp, also on October 11. Visit
Floriade, in Commonwealth
Park, until October 12. Entry is free. Phone 1300 852 780, see floriadeaustralia.com.
Good Food month.

FOOD

A state of good
taste
Get out of town for good food during October in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food
Month
 and The CanberraTimes Good Food Month, presented by Citi. While Sydney will be
awash with night noodle markets and celeb chefs including our own David
Thompson of Bangkok’s celebrated Nahm restaurant, key gigs in the Blue
Mountains include the 80km-radius dinner highlighting local producers, at the
Fairmont Resort in Leura and a cider sampler lunch at Megalong’s new Cider
Barn. There are farmers’ markets by the seaside in Kiama, a long lunch down
Bowral’s Bong Bong Street and the foodie gems of Wollongong on show at TAFE
Illawarra. In Canberra,  you can bar-hop
around Braddon on gin cocktails, go country at the regional table of Le Tres
Bon Restaurant in Bungendore or step even further afield to experience Taste
Riverina, from Wagga to Griffith. See
goodfoodmonth.com.

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday.

Melbourne-bound? Here are nine cafes and restaurants your kids’ll eat up

The back end of business from the Dreamworks Animation
exhibition at ACMI, Federation Square.
Photo: Belinda Jackson
Hello, neglected blog. We had a chat recently with fellow travel writer Daniel Scott about where to hang while you’re in Melbourne with kids. 
We spilled the beans on our favourite cafes, from pram-friendly Thousand £ Bend (will they thank me?) to the wondrous National Gallery of Victoria, which has great interactive art and the Gallery Kitchen.

Daniel also dug up some cool hands-on play including Crafternoon in North Carlton and The Farm Cafe at Abbotsford Convent, in Collingwood.

A dad of two himself, here’s Daniel’s take on the top kid-friendly spots in the city at Art of Money.

Takeoff travel news: August 31

AIRLINE
Greater Goode
The movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people in the Australian Constitution has just been boosted into the
skies as Qantas adopts the RECOGNISE logo on its new QantasLink Dash 8 Q400 aircraft.
Qantas Ambassador and Australian of the Year Adam Goodes says he is thrilled by
the new livery and urges Australians to sign up to the movement at
recognise.org.au. “It’s  so  important 
that  every  one 
of  us  plays 
our  part  in 
campaigning  for  this 
referendum  and  securing 
a resounding YES vote,” he says. Qantas is adding a RECOGNISE
logo to all its 31 Q400 aircraft flying within Australia and to PNG.
SHOP
Global Glamazons
Buy the world on a ‘glamcation,’ a luxe jaunt for ladies
who shop. The girls-only trips are tailored for women over 30 and include
preening beauty sessions, insider info on the best fashion boutiques and
red-carpet entrances into A-list events fashion and sporting events, from the
races in Hong Kong to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and Broadway shows. The
tours are also timed to hit the sales, including New York’s Black Friday sales and private shopping events at Hong
Kong’s Lane Crawford
.
Led by self-confessed bagaholic, perfume tragic and organisational queen
Justine Weller, the very first glamcation, Tropics Shopaholics Honolulu, gets
underway in September 7-15, $4299, followed by Fully Loaded Hong Kong (October
5-12, $3995) and Glam Apple New York (November 22-30, $4499). Excludes
airfares. Phone 0414 753 767, see glamaramagetaways.com.

KIDS

Apple of your eye
Plan a three-day active family getaway in Tassie in two
of the island’s iconic destinations, Cradle Mountain and Freycinet Peninsula.
Tasmanian Expeditions’ two new family trips are run in the school holidays, both
departing from Launceston. The Freycinet adventure includes three days’ easy
coastal walking around the officially beautiful Wineglass Bay, whereas the more
challenging Cradle Mountain journey sees you touch highs and lows, up to the
mountain’s summit and underground in Mole Creek Karst National Park. Accommodation
is in multi-share cabins, with savings for bigger families and includes
professional walking guides, park permits, packed lunches and hot dinners for
hungry hikers. Costs $1095 for adults, $895 for kids under 16. Phone 1300 666 856,
see tasmanianexpeditions.com.au.
GEAR
Carry on
Oh, the places you’ll go, with these travel accessories
from Kikki-k. Its new ‘Adventure Awaits’ range includes leather passport
holders, cosmetics bags and onboard bags that manage cables,
paperwork and tablets, all neatly packed away. Printed with the cheeky line,
‘I’m ok, carry on’ the sturdy clear plastic ziplock bags – ideal for carry-on
liquids – might even get a smile out of the Customs crew. The pink and navy
range has just hit the shelves. Canvas luggage tag, $12.95. Canvas onboard bag,
$34.95. Plastic pouches (2 pack), $9.95. Call (03) 9645 6346, see kikki-k.com.
TECH
Destination known
Squint no more for directions, Navman’s newest GPS is
easy on the eye, with a seven-inch screen and free lifetime map updates. The new
EZY GPS is Bluetooth handsfree, lists blackspots and landmarks including service stations and has logbook capabilities, helpful for tax
calculations. It also lets you search by keyword, rather than requiring an
exact address and is pre-loaded with Australian and New Zealand maps. European
maps can be bought outright or rented for 30 days from $25. The EZY270LMT GPS
costs $279. Phone 1300 628 626, see navman.com.au.
FOOD
Indian giver
Follow celebrated chef Christine Manfield through central
and west India for a cultural and epicurian feast: admire Rajisthan’s Kumbhalgarh
fort and the ruined city of Mandu in Madhya
Pradesh
, eat street food in Ahmedabad or taste a menu specially designed by
Christine and and the chefs of Mumbai’s top restaurants. The 15-day luxury journey
includes leopard spotting in Jawai and shopping textiles made by women
in charitable trusts. Manfield has had a love affair with India for more than 20 years and this is her eighth tour of India with Epicurious Travel. There are 10 places on
the tour, which runs February 2-17, 2015. Costs US$15,980 ($17,200) a person.  Phone (03) 9486 5409, see epicurioustravel.com.au.
TRACEY SPICER KIDS
Blobbing in Fiji
Blobbing out just got a whole lot more active with the
arrival of the Water Blob, a new rocket-shaped 
floater on Fiji’s Sigatoka River. Slip on a life jacket and blast into
the river, bouncing off the giant Blob. It’s the brainchild of Australian Jay
Whyte, owner of the Sigatoka River jet boat and village safari, who says the
Blob is a way to fly and play in the Fijian way. A three-hour Blob session
costs F$59 a person (over 10 years). See waterblobfiji.com.

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday.

The hidden jewels of Sri Lanka

Ambassador House, Galle

Elegant villas dot Sri Lanka’s jungle and coast.

Petite and chic, the true gem of Sri Lanka is its rising wave
of beautiful boutique hotels and villas peppered throughout its wild,
lush interior and sublime coastal strips. The tiny island has performed a
staggering comeback – just three years after its 26-year civil war
ended in 2009, more than a million tourists came to soak up its sun, sip
its tea and savour its culture.

Sri Lanka and Bali are emerging rivals, sharing similar
climates, a guaranteed warm welcome and an innate sense of style and
design.


Many of Sri Lanka’s top villas are reinvented walauwas, the 18th and
19th-century manor houses of the ruling elite, with grand verandahs and
great halls.

You might see a Dutch colonial column, an English colonial
balcony, Portuguese whitewash and an Arabic inward-facing courtyard all
in the one building, as the country morphed from Serendip to Ceylon to
Sri Lanka.

This is also the birthplace of tropical modernism, al fresco
living invented by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa and imitated
across the tropics, from Capricorn to Cancer. Book just one room or take
the whole villa: courteous Sri Lankans will tell you to make it your
home – you’ll just wish it was, permanently.

JUNGLE GLAM:CASA HELICONIA

Halfway between Sri Lanka’s current capital, Colombo and the
ancient capital, historic Kandy, Casa Heliconia is, like all the
country’s best villas, well hidden. The property comprises two king
bedrooms in separate pavilions, the Temple Angkor and Pagoda Gold. The
new villa’s pedigree is impeccable: its stablemates include The Kandy
House and one of the country’s bastions of design, Bawa’s The Last
House.
THE LOOK The villas are hidden among acres
of lush jungle with a little path leading down to a plunge pool and sun
loungers. The look is rustic timber doors and planter lounges, yet
there’s also Wi-Fi, a home theatre and aircon.
DON’T MISS For a special Sri Lankan touch,
you share the jungle with Casa Heliconia’s household pet, a (reportedly)
extremely placid, but extremely large white Brahman bull.
Rooms at Casa Heliconia start from $115 a night for the Pagoda Gold pavilion, including breakfast and dinner. See casa-heliconia.com.

AMID THE PADDIES: MAYA VILLA

Five is a special number in Sri Lankan villas: there are five bedrooms in Maya Villa, and you can book just one or the lot.
Ten minutes’ drive from Tangalle, on the south coast, and
about an hour from happening Galle, the villa is designed by architect
Pradeep Kodikara and Hong Kong-based interior designer Niki Fairchild.
The rooms are in two pavilions set around an L-shaped pool and open-air dining pavilion and lounge, perfect for sunset drinks.
THE LOOK In a former life, Maya was a
walauwa, a 100-year-old manor house built in the traditional local
style, with ornate woodwork in the main pavilion, which houses two
rooms.
The new wing has three bedrooms designed in contemporary Sri
Lankan style using cool, polished cement for the walls and floors and
massive doors that open onto a private courtyard.
DON’T MISS The villa is surrounded by picturesque rice paddies and hammocks on the lawn – surely there is no more serene match?
Rooms start from $265 a night for a room, $1140 a night, full villa, low season, including breakfast, mayatangallesrilanka.com. See mayatangallesrilanka.com.

COLONIAL SPLENDOUR: 20 MIDDLE STREET, GALLE

Embracing Galle’s Dutch colonial history, this villa was
originally a Dutch merchant’s house built in 1750, with English
additions in the 1800s.
Recently renovated by top Sri Lankan starchitect Channa
Daswatte and interior design by George Cooper, the four-bedroom villa
maintains its teak windows and perfumed gardens.
THE LOOK The modern luxuries of plunge
pools, snooker tables and home theatres are worked into a colonial
design with sweeping staircases, a zaal (great hall) and open-air loggia
with views over the historic, red-roofed seaside town. The villa is in
the centre of the UNESCO-listed town of Galle and comes fully staffed.
DON’T MISS The villa’s neighbour, Amangalla, is the spot for high tea with champagne or drinks on the terrace.
Full villa usage stars from $955 a night, including breakfast. See villasingalle.com.

OLD WORLD, NEW WORLD: AMBASSADOR VILLA, GALLE

One of Galle’s oldest buildings, the villa is located on one
of old town’s main streets. This is the place to stay when you want to
be in the thick of the old town’s great cafes, bars and restaurants, but
able to slip home and slip into the pool when the temps start to soar.
The house is built for entertaining, with a vast dining table and reception.
THE LOOK Step out of the sun, through the
pillars of the verandah into the cool salon lined with deep sofas. The
whitewashed villa sleeps 12 in five bedrooms on two levels: three
bedrooms open directly onto the pool. The rooftop terrace is a suntrap
that soaks up the Sri Lankan rays.
DON’T MISS Make like a local and walk the
Dutch ramparts to Galle’s lighthouse in the late afternoon. It’s a
promenade, so take it slowly. Nearby Fortaleza is a great lunch stop (9
Church Cross Street, fortaleza.lk).
Costs from $560 a night, full villa, including breakfast. See ambassadorshouse.com.

COUNTRY STYLE: KALUNDEWA RETREAT, DAMBULLA

This spectacular country chalet, four hours’ drive from
Colombo, is built around the natural beauty that surrounds it: the
retreat is on 36 hectares of sustainably farmed orchards and paddies.
It sleeps four in two beautiful open bedrooms, with another new chalet opening in early November.
THE LOOK The hero is an open-air lounge
filled with snowy sofas placed for lounging and contemplation. Split
over two stories, this chalet’s two bedrooms are set among the kumbuk
trees and a private lake.
DON’T MISS Kalundewa is a twitcher’s
paradise, with hornbills, kingfishers, kites, coots and storks on the
visitor’s list. Peacocks are de rigueur (this is Sri Lanka). Take time
to watch the butterflies and natural springs, or take a nature walk with
the on-site expert. Two of the country’s top sites, Dambulla Cave
Temple and Sigiriya Rock Fortress, are nearby.
Costs from $445 a night for the two-bedroom chalet, including breakfast. See kalundewaretreat.com.

SURF SIDE: HABARADUWA HOUSE, HABARADUWA

Languishing right on the beach on Galle’s south coast, this
glamorous beach house sleeps eight in four bedrooms with en suites.
Outdoor showers allow you to revel in the warm sea breezes.
THE LOOK The beachhouse has been renovated
recently, so expect four-poster beds and a polished finish. French
windows open out to the 20-metre infinity pool and the Indian Ocean.
Don’t expect First-World pool gates – children aren’t encouraged at this
fully staffed villa: the fully kitted games room has grown-up kids in
mind.
DON’T MISS Order a massage, a yoga teacher
or a guide on a morning bike ride. Staff can also arrange visits to
local markets and boat trips. Nearby Unawatuna beach frequently rates in
the world’s top 10 strips of sand.
Costs from $955 a night, full villa, including breakfast. See villasingalle.com.

SAFFRON & BLUE: KOSGODA

Think big at this contemporary villa, halfway between Colombo
and Galle, which sits 12 for lunch and sleeps eight in four bedrooms.
Relax on the terrace by the 12-metre swimming pool, set among palm and frangipani trees, overlooking the beach.
THE LOOK The three-story villa is designed by one of Sri
Lanka’s most renowned architects, Channa Daswatte. Guests can take over
the kitchen or barbie, or leave it in the hands of the staff and hit one
of the two outdoor jacuzzis. The den is kitted out as a games room.
DON’T MISS Just 15 minutes away are the gardens of Lunuganga.
The villa is next door to Kosgoda’s marine turtle conservation project.
Costs from $245 a night for a room or $745 a night, full villa, until December 23, including breakfast. See jetwinghotels.com.

The writer was a guest of Banyan Lanka and Mr & Mrs Smith. See banyantours.com; mrandmrssmith.com.


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

Sheraton Kuta Bali review: Calm amid the chaos

Child’s play: the hotel’s infinity pool at sunset.

Kuta is known for its traffic, its touts and its tattoos, but
as Belinda Jackson finds, there are pockets where families can chill
out. 

Arrayed in white linen, the Italian hotel manager glides
between tables, chatting while the DJ eases us into the evening with a
loungy beat.

A photographer snaps the poolside model, garnished in jewels
and tiny bikini, and staff watch on as small children splash in the
toddlers’ pool, which is awash with a coloured light display.

We’re in Kuta. Yes, Kuta. The much-maligned Balinese home of tie-dye
T-shirts, cornrow braids and misspelt tattoos. But stay with me. The
Sheraton Kuta Bali is a little haven amid the insane traffic and moped
touts, right across the road from the iconic Kuta Beach.

Nanny and charge during Sunday brunch. Photo: Belinda Jackson

The open-air foyer is capped by a massive faux grass-weave
roof and looks over the ocean. Each of the 203 rooms, suites and the
penthouse has a balcony, with 64 rooms interconnecting and kitted out
for travelling families.

Now two years old, the hotel is still in a state of evolution
that defies its location, from the handpainted plates of its Bene
rooftop Italian trattoria to the low-key Sunday sunset pool parties and
newest addition, the kids’ club.

I’m a novice at this kids’ club thing. In the past, I’ve used nannies
with Small Girl, timing it with her naps to slip out for a few hours of
grown-up time. There have been good times, there have been tears.

“We decided to open a kids’ club because we were hit with a
massive number of families last holidays,” says the hotel’s general
manager and father-of-three, Dario Orsini. “Parents are travelling with
kids much earlier than they used to. And we just didn’t expect people
would bring their kids to Kuta.”

The sparkling new Play@Sheraton Kids Club opens with a pretty
dance by a local Balinese ballet class, and we admire the unblemished
sand pit, slides and the paddling pool outside. Inside, the little
dancing girls all leap onto the computers to play a pink, fluffy game,
the boys tear up to the mezzanine level to bond with the PlayStation 3.
My child, through some genetic programming glitch, merely stands in
front of a three-storey doll’s house, gasping in shock and awe.

In a clever piece of marketing, the kids’ club is free to
hotel guests but also to anyone spending more than $35 in the hotel’s
Shine spa. See what they did there?

Indonesian desserts. Photo: Belinda Jackson

With my new freedom, I take the hotel’s advice and, an hour
later, erupt from the hotel’s spa with all nails newly painted an
extremely perky orange called “A Roll in the Hague” . It is a test
drive, it is a revelation.

General manager Dario’s three beautiful children have been
instrumental in the hotel’s many kid-friendly initiatives, including the
kids’ buffet. One section of the restaurant is set with low children’s
tables, unbreakable crockery, plastic cups and pint-sized cutlery beside
the kids’ buffet, where they can pick up their own breakfast cereal,
noodles, a pastry or the cutest little ducklings made from balls of
mashed potato.

I do mention to the (possibly childless) food and beverage
manager that a little fruit or some cheese could be squeezed between the
chocolate donuts, but Small Child seems perfectly happy with the
selection. In keeping with the local expat tradition for elaborate
Sunday lunches, the main restaurant, Feast, runs a Market Brunch.

What I love best is not the free-pour drinks package
(although that’s pretty good) nor the fact that a nanny whisks your kids
away to the kids’ area to make bracelets and drawings so you can eat,
unencumbered (also exceptionally good). No, I love the strong Indonesian
bias on the buffet.

Yes, you can have your sushi, your curry, your fruit platters
and your dim sum. But there’s also a flame grill on the terrace,
overlooking busy Jalan Pantai Kuta to the beach, where your hand-picked
monster prawn or local whole fish is grilled before your hungry eyes.

At another little trolley, an aged woman makes rujak, the
classic Indonesian salad of papaya, cucumber and sweet potato, tossed in
a salty-sweet, chili palm sugar dressing, and the bebek rica-rica, a
fiery duck curry, is the best I’ve tasted.

The dessert display groans with sweetly coloured ice-creams
and petite fours, sharing the limelight with cantik manis (literally,
“beautiful dessert”), a pink banana and tapioca slice arranged beside
green dadar gulung rolls and klepon, little balls filled with liquid
palm sugar that has my Indonesian colleague reminiscing of her
childhood.

The next day, I want to experiment to see if that
happy-kids-club thing wasn’t a fluke. Small Child runs toward said club.
Looking good.

I run toward spa. Even better. The masseuse slaving over my
densely knotted shoulders nods knowingly when I mention my young
daughter (“Ah, picking her up all the time,” she diagnoses
sympathetically as she drives a thumb beneath my shoulder blade, making
it stick up like a chicken’s wing. It feels surprisingly good.)

It’s also at this hands-free time that I discover another
hotel secret: walk out the front entrance and you literally walk into
Zara, in the Beachwalk shopping mall, which shares the same block of
real estate. Zara and Top Shop not your thing? OK, head for Armani, the
surfware shops, slick cafes.

If you’re in the market for exceptional local fashion, make a
beeline for Satu, which showcases Bali’s best labels including Natasha
Gan’s floaty dresses, chic, monochromatic pants suits from Uluwatu Lace
and bags by Jakata-based Soe.Hoe.

I also pop in to the beautiful Museum Kain, Bali’s first
cloth (“kain”) museum, well curated with excellent interactive displays
on the history of Indonesian fabric design.

It’s our last day, and Small Girl has spent every waking
minute either talking about or dancing around the kids’ club. I have to
pry her out to check out.

At the reception, the three-year-old drops to the floor and
turns on a spectacular tantrum. People turn to stare, disapprovingly as
her howls echo throughout vast lobby.

“Noooo! I want to go to kids’ club! I don’t want to go home!”

Dario, the general manager, passes us with a small smile: he knows I’ll be back.

The writer was a guest of Sheraton Kuta Bali.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE Fly direct to Bali from Australia with Garuda Indonesia, Virgin Australia or Jetstar. See garuda-indonesia.com; virginaustralia.com; jetstar.com

STAYING THERE The Play@Sheraton family package includes breakfast, kids’
club, a play pack, kid’s manicure, free-flow bottle for juice or milk
and all kids’ meals from $215 a room, a night (two-night minimum) for
two adults and two kids under 12. Sunday’s Market Brunch costs from $25
for adults, $12.50 for children, and is open to non-guests. A Shine Spa
signature massage costs from $37 for an hour. Sheraton Bali Kuta, phone 1800 073 535; see sheratonbalikuta.com

MORE INFORMATION
indonesia.travel


This story by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.

Traveller: Takeoff travel news August 10, 2014

Zafara tented camp, Botswana

LANDSCAPE

Delta’s new dawn
Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a chain of lagoons and
floodplains in the Kalahari Desert, has been named UNESCO’s 1000th
World Heritage Site. From June to August, the delta trebles in size as it
floods, attracting Africa’s great wildlife. Explore on foot, game
drive, helicopter, on horseback or by dugout canoe. Best visited in the cooler
months from April to October, check out the new Dhow suites in the Zarafa tented
camp (1300 237 422, benchinternational.com.au) or the newly renovated ecological Sandibe
Okavango Safari Lodge (andBeyond.com). The
lodge reopens on September 1.
FOOD
Snuffle a truffle
Australian truffles are no flash in the pan – they’re
muscling their way onto the world’s tables, with a legion of fans including
many-Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal. Wander through the trees of Oak Valley truffle farm in Western Australia’s
Manjimup district, hunting with hounds for French black truffles. The new tour
aims to demystify the pricey fungus while you snack on freshly roasted
hazelnuts and trail a truffle dog. ‘‘People are fascinated by truffles,
particularly their rarity and expense,’’ says guide Peter Norris. Catering for up to seven guests, the tour ends  with a truffle lunch at
Watershed Premium Wines in Margaret River. The full-day tour costs $240 a
person, including lunch and wine. Phone 0411 186 430, see goinstyle.com.au.

The Paris Cat, Melbourne

APP

Drink up,
Melbourne


Let go of your Sydney sensibilities and walk down the
darkest alley in Melbourne – then go down the stairs. Basement bars are where
it’s all at in this town at the moment, from hip jazz cafes to boutique wine
bars. Half the fun is finding them (signs are for tourists), and the latest
edition of Melbourne’s Bars and Pubs is now free and spells out the dress code,
the average price of a meal, happy hours and even the average age of punters. This
is not a directory – expect a curated list that’s written and developed by
Melburnians. It’ll hook you up with the cool bar nearest you, with GPS, maps
and photos, weekly gigs and lets you check in via facebook or foursquare,
for extra bragability. Available on iPhone and Android, free. melbournesbarsandpubs.com.au.

 
KIDS

Tall tales from
small travellers
Young kids have a different perspective on the world, and
not just because they’re usually a foot shorter than you. Let local kids lead yours
around their home town, from Brisbane to Fiji or Glasgow, on the Bound Round
travel app for iPhone and iPad. In each location, kids aged eight to 12 years share
tips about great parks and sights to fun activities and food, with videos,
photos and games. Currently, there are travel guides and experiences for 20
locations worldwide, with the Pacific Islands, Darwin, Adelaide and Perth going
live by the year’s end. Next year, there’s a focus on the US and the UK, but
even if you’re not jetting off anywhere soon, it’s ideal to crack the conundrum
of what to do in school holidays in Sydney or Melbourne. Founded by Sydneysider
Janeece Keller, all content is vetted by a board of kids and the iPhone app has
also just gone live, free. See boundround.com.
The Travel Wallet by Bellroy

GEAR

Slim pickings
Pack your passport in your
pocket without ruining the line on your skinny jeans with the Travel Wallet
from Victorian designers Bellroy, who are evangelical about reinventing the
slimline wallet. The wallet is a favourite with bag aficionados and stockists
Rushfaster, who recommend it for the micro pen – essential when all the airport
pens at customs are dead.
It’s carefully designed not to crumple boarding passes. Costs $119.95. Phone (02) 8594 1100, see rushfaster.com.au.
On The Ghan

JOURNEY
Rock on over

Get right off the beaten track with the Ghan’s new
four-day journey into the heart of Australia. One of a new series of train journeys,
it departs Darwin and takes four days to reach Adelaide, stopping for a starlit
dinner in the MacDonnell Ranges and a day underground in the opal-rich town of
Coober Pedy. For an additional charge, you can even fly in to Uluru and still
have time to rejoin the train. The four-day, three-night Ghan
journey runs from May 23-August 22, 2015 and is one of the new offerings in the
2015/16 timetable.
Costs from $3199 a person, Gold twin share. Phone 1800 725 993, see greatsouthernrail.com.au.
KIDS
Creepy capers
Scaring the kids has never been so right: BIG4 Holiday
Parks is pulling out the cobwebs and pumpkins for its annual Halloween
camp-out to raise money for children’s cancer charity Camp Quality. Campsites
cost $20 in the 85 participating Big4 parks across Australia, with many
parks running additional activities such as BBQs, face painting and creepy
capers. Camp and sCare runs Friday 31 across Australia, and Friday October 24
in Victoria. Book online at BIG4.com.au.

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