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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Nominations for the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ awards 2023

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

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

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

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

2023 Travel Writer of the Year nomination:

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

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

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

2023 Best Accommodation Story nomination:

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

 


Food of Saudi Arabia: Gourmet Traveller

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

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

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

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

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

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

On newsstands now, if you like a delicious read!

 


Stars of the spa: the best spas in Victoria

Victoria is up to its neck in hot water, and loving it. And our love of balneotherapy – to give mineral-water bathing its scientific name – shows no signs of drying up. Indeed, run your finger along a map of Victoria’s coast, and you’ll find aquifers aplenty, bubbling to the surface, and that’s before you head up to the spa country of Hepburn Springs, in central Victoria.

It’s not all facials and massages: hot springs and mineral water bathing taps into the aquifers below ground, to yield mineral-rich waters that help heal and detoxify our bodies and minds.

The bellwethers are Peninsula Hot Springs and Hepburn Springs, with two newcomers opening in recent months: the sparkling, new Alba on the Mornington Peninsula and Metung Hot Springs in East Gippsland. We’ve got an eye on Phillip Island, where a new hot springs facility is being developed in conjunction with Peninsula Hot Springs, to open later this year.

This wellness journey was a tough assignment, but I visited what I’m dubbing the UnDirty Seven: the best spas in Victoria who specialise in hot springs and mineral water bathing facilities in Victoria, on the Mornington Peninsula, the Bellarine Peninsula, in Gippsland and Hepburn Springs, not forgetting Warrnambool’s sleeper hit, The Deep Blue (see thedeepblue.com.au)

Click here to read my cover story for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

See https://www.traveller.com.au/the-best-spas-in-victoria-seven-top-soaking-experiences-in-australias-spa-state-h29r0u


ABC Radio Monday Night Travel: Langkawi & Penang, Malaysia

Occasionally, I chat with ABC Radio’s Nightlife presenter Phil Clark about travel for his Monday Night Travel segment, and recently we chatted about Malaysia – specifically two of its most loved destinations, Langkawi and Penang.

Langkawi is all about getting away from it all: island-hopping in the Andaman Sea, visiting picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills, finding tranquil waterfalls.

Penang is a different animal: with a stronger Chinese influence compared with Langkawi’s greater Malay population, there’s a hustle about Penang that is undeniably contagious. Feel it in the early morning wet markets where you’re grabbing a bowl of breakfast noodles. Feel it again as you wander the streets of Little India or snap some of Penang’s well-documented street art, or when the sun goes down and the shophouses are lit up and transformed into little bars that spill out onto the footpaths and merge into the streets lined with food carts.

Click here to listen to my radio interview with Phil Clark.

Got an new appetite for travel in Malaysia?  My recent cover story asks the cheeky question: is travel in Malaysia better than Bali? Ooooh – that’s a big one to ask Bali-loving Aussies. Let me set the argument for a Malaysian holiday! https://globalsalsa.com/better-than-bali-why-malaysia-should-be-on-your-travel-radar-in-2023/

See https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/nightlife/travel-to-malaysia-belinda/101465284

See also  https://globalsalsa.com/better-than-bali-why-malaysia-should-be-on-your-travel-radar-in-2023/


Hotel review: cycling holidays at Bright Velo, Bright, Victoria Australia

Those who love cycling holidays in Australia will know that Victoria’s High Country is peak cycle territory. We’re talking lycra on the main streets, ebikes galore, kids’ tagalongs … it’s not just the pelotons who dominate the roads.

One of the main reasons this area – three hours’ drive from Melbourne, just before you hit the border with New South Wales – is such a cyclist’s paradise is that it caters for all comers, and its development of rail trails – the old train tracks that have been converted into scenic cycling roots that keep riders off the main highways.

So it makes sense that the newest hotel in the region is a cycling themed hotel. Originally built as the Empire Hotel during Bright’s crazy gold-rush days, Bright Velo is a smart renovation of this lovely building on Bright’s main street. It’s not going to bomb you out with cheezy bike paraphernalia everywhere – it’s a little more subtle than that. Stylish vintage cycling posters dotted here and there, the public bathrooms painted in the colours of the winning jerseys of the three great European tours.

There are three levels of accom – the five unique Heritage rooms, a three-bedroom apartment and the dorm accom which caters for groups. There’s also excellent eating, a whiskey bar and the amaretto sours should have cult status in this town.

Click here to read my review of the hotel for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section.

See https://www.traveller.com.au/bright-velo-the-victorian-alps-welcomes-cosy-new-cycling-themed-lodge-h29qzl


Pyramid selling: Cairo returns to the sun

This year is a bumper year for Egypt and for travel in Cairo – it’s the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb by Egyptology Howard Carter. It’s also the 200th year of the cracking of the code on the Rosetta Stone, which led us to understand Ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphics. It’s the year that Cairo’s Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) was supposed to have opened – though there is a hint that it will open partially this year, just because 2022 is such a big news year, and because we’ve all been waiting for this museum for more than eight years.

The last surprising “Wonder of the AncienPyramid Selling: travel in Cairot World”. The liveliest of lively street cultures. Fabulous and affordable historic, luxury hotels. A familiar golden backstory prominent in school curriculums around the globe. Cairo, Egypt’s chaotic but captivating capital, is the megalopolis that seems to have it all.

This city, like a colossal bowerbird, has spent millennia sequestering new treasures left in the wake of a parade of invaders from Persia to Macedonia, Assyria to Rome, more recently France and Britain, the last colonial power, to be dispatched in 1956.

Yet for reasons I can never understand, Cairo is given short shrift on travellers’ itineraries, with just a day often allocated on either side of a Nile cruise, or worse, a half day on the way to the airport. The markets! The food! The architecture! The crazy, rushing, structured chaos in which this city survives and thrives. It is one of the world’s biggest cities, it’s inexplicable in its workings, yet it continues to work – in a fashion – to be simultaneously a major Middle Eastern hub and one of the most important cities in Africa.

Summing up more than a decade of ramblings around Cairo, and looking ahead to what’s new in the city, I wrote this story for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section, titled Pyramid Selling. Click here to read my story.

I hope you enjoy, and let me know what you love – or don’t enjoy – about Cairo.

 


Take a break: short escapes in Victoria, Australia

Take two days on the Mornington Peninsula or the Yarra Valley, or three days in the Grampians? What’s your choice for your short escape this autumn?

In the Grampians, three hours north-west of Melbourne, you should hit the track on the new Grampians Peak Trail (visitgrampians.com.au), which cuts north-south through Gariwerd-Grampians National Park. You don’t have to walk the full 160kms – that’d take 13 days, but bite off a day walk or a short, scenic walks to local beauty points. For the quickest panorama hit that’s accessible by car, watch the sun rise at Boroka Lookout.

Otherwise, cruise the wineries and beaches of the Mornington Peninsula, or head an hour north of Melbourne to the green, green hills of the Yarra Valley.

Click here to read my suggestions in the cover story in the weekend Traveller section, which runs in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

 


A city sleeps: Melbourne moves into Lockdown #6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Winter in the deep north: Oulanka National Park, Finland

“What’s your favourite place in the world?” is a question often asked of travel writers. For a decade or so, the former USSR country Georgia was top of the list for its beautiful mountains, fabulous food and warm welcome, along with perennial favourite Morocco, and I wouldn’t have lived in Egypt and returned each year if I didn’t love it.

However, a latecomer is Finland. I’ve long been curious about the country, and finally, after many visits to neighbouring Sweden (and, to be honest, hearing all their mean-girl jokes about Helsinki), I took the plunge and visited, mid-winter. This time, I had my then eight-year-old in tow and through UK travel company Exodus Travels, experienced a Finnish Christmas way off the grid in Oulanka National Park, about 800km north of the capital, on the Finnish-Russian border.

‘Remote’ is one way to put it. Beautiful, serene, fairy-like and perfect are some other words easily applied to our week spent in log cabins in the national park, where we cross-country skied, sledged, snowshoed and, crazily, someone threw a pair of reins in my hand and sent me off into the snowy wilderness with brace of huskies.

I wrote the story up for Holidays with Kids, just before this whole pandemic became a thing, and I’m so proud to share it with you.

Click here to take a look at the full story and the current edition of Holidays with Kids.

Winter in the deep north, Holiday with Kids.


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

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

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

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