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Sri Lanka: platter up on the spice island

Dried red chilies are a signature ingredient of
Sri Lankan food.
 Photo: Kevin Clogstou

  

Not for the faint-hearted or the waistline obsessed, Sri
Lankan food is chili and spice-laden taste sensation and there is always
enough to feed a small army. Belinda Jackson goes to the front line to
taste the best of the best.

After a lifetime of putting (almost) everything in my mouth – dog,
toad, rotten fish and cheese so old it qualifies for the pension – Sri
Lanka, the game is on.

 Let’s not muck around, let’s go straight
to the source: Sri-Lankan born chef Peter Kuruvita is Australia’s go-to
man fzor everything edible on the Tasmania-sized island.

Kuruvita’s 
top suggestion is also possibly Sri Lanka’s top restaurant, the
officious-sounding Ministry of Crab (Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo).

It
was always going to be a hit with the locals: in cricket-mad Lanka, the
restaurant is owned by test cricketers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar
Sangakkara, along with chef Dharshan Munidasa, Sri Lanka’s answer to Our
Tetsuya. The half-Sri Lankan, half-Japanese celebrity chef is also
owner of the polished benchmark of Japanese cuisine, Nihonbashi (1 Galle
Face Tce, Colombo).

A lone stilt fisherman, Sri lanka.
A lone stilt fisherman, Sri lanka.
 
Photo: Eye Ubiquitous

Ministry is set in the Old Dutch Hospital complex, which
should be the first stop on the first-time tourist’s list for its
excellent cafe and shopping scene, a hit with locals and out-of-towners
alike.
Thank goodness Kuruvita  advises  me to book ahead.
Midweek, and Ministry is pumping on the signature cocktail, Small Island
iced tea, made with Sri Lankan tea and Old Arrack, a traditional spirit
made from the sap of coconut palm flowers. The signature dish, chilli
crab, comes out in a flurry of waiter’s whites and torturous cutlery
while the open kitchen rattles and howls, with the occasional spurt of
naked flame.

Driving around the island, fruit stands offer an unashamed abundance including Sri Lanka’s 18 types of banana.

“I went to Singapore and I ate their chilli crab,” chef Dharshan
tells me. “But Singapore has no crab, no chilli and no pepper. It’s all
from Sri Lanka. So why do they think they own it?”

He’s a man on a mission to prove Sri Lanka has its own
cuisine. “We’re not sitting in a rice paddy, smashing spices with
rocks,” he says. “We’re as sophisticated as anyone else.”

Regardless,
if you asked any traveller for their take on the local food, the first
thing that comes to mind is also its most humble.

It’s the hopper.
A hand-sized crepe made with rice flour and coconut milk and cooked in a
cupped pan, we’re not talking haute cuisine here. String hoppers are
made with rice noodles that, despite all the gaps, are ideal for soaking
up curry sauces. Early in the morning, hopper stands line the roadsides
and laneways: little carts that fuel a nation for the day ahead.

“Ask for an egg hopper and seeni sambal,” Kuruvita has recommended.

The
first place I taste hoppers probably isn’t where Kuruvita had in mind.
Forget street sellers, I’m in Galle’s top digs, the Amangalla hotel.
Specifically, I’m in the pool and breakfast is being delivered to my
poolside ambalamba (cabana) early one fine morning. Three hoppers are
beautifully presented on  china, an egg baked into the well of the fine
crepe.

Red, yellow and green bananas hanging for sale at a market, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Red, yellow and green bananas hanging for
sale at a market, Kandy, Sri Lanka. 
Photo: iStock

There’s a pot of bright Sri Lankan tea and an array of
condiments including seeni sambal – a sweet onion and chilli relish –
and pol sambal, which Ministry chef Dharshan names his quintessential
Sri Lankan dish.

“Pol sambal’s not the most expensive, it’s not the most interesting, but it’s the most important on the table,” he says.

Pol
sambal is a dish of fresh grated coconut (pol means coconut in
Sinhalese) spiced with lime, red onion, cured tuna flakes and a
blistering amount of fresh chilli. The locals ladle chilli onto hoppers
for a morning eye-opener, at lunch as a pick-me-up then at dinner, as a
tasty side to round out their chilli intake for the day.

In
between, Sri Lankans are incorrigible snackers. If you find yourself in
someone’s house at 3.30pm, chances are you’re in time for tea and butter
cake, a super-simple Madeira-style cake that kicks the country over the
afternoon slump.

Otherwise, they’re queuing at their favourite short-eats
stand. Short eats are not for the weight conscious: savoury little
calorie bombs such as deep-fried fish rolls, sausage pastries, creamy
chicken pastries or spicy vege samosa. There’s fierce competition as to
the best short-eats shop on this island, the epi-centre appearing to be
in the Colombo 3 district, home to old-timer The Fab (474 Galle Rd),
upmarket contender Sponge (347 Galle Rd) and the undying institution
that is Green Cabin (453 Galle Rd).

If you’re leery of eating on
the street, follow the trail of foreigners to one of the many, many
branches of the 100-year-old Perera & Sons, who’ve lifted the game
with sparkling shops and, let’s be practical, nice loos (pereraandsons.com).
Trucking kids with you? While you’re in there, make like a local and
grab a pack of rulang cookies, crunchy semolina and coconut biscuits
spiced with cumin seeds as a good travel snack.

In this
neighbourhood, travelling and eating are indistinguishable: at the
Hatton train station, up in the tea-growing district, men lift baskets
of steaming wadi, fried savoury snacks with chilli chutney, up to my
window, hot, deep fried lentil patties wrapped in the leaves of a
child’s old schoolbook, soaking up the tasty oils.

Market vendors selling produce in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.

Market vendors selling produce in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. Photo: PhuongPhoto

On the drive
from Galle to Yala National Park, we stop to photograph the famed stilt
fishermen of Tangalle Lake, where a retired fisherman sells us king
coconuts. He slices the top off with a machete and we sit beneath a
shade of woven leaves, drinking fresh coconut water while his sons
teeter on poles, one eye on the fish, one eye on our coin.

In
Tangalle, at the insanely luxurious Amanwella hotel, I dine on seafood
caught by local fishermen that morning. Move over, deep-fried seafood
basket, this is the real deal: prawns, mahi mahi, red mullet, seer fish
(Spanish mackerel) and calamari are served with steamed rice, mango and
papaya salad and gotukola salad.

“Gotukola makes you look younger
and helps you lose weight,” the waiter tells me helpfully. Bring me two,
please. So great are its claims, gotukola is known for its miracle
properties in the West and is also in Ayurvedic medicine, so I joyfully
wolf down the salad, which looks like chopped spinach, dressed with the
omnipresent chilli, coconut and fresh lime juice.
Amangalla breakfast with hoppers.

Amangalla breakfast with hoppers. Photo: Belinda Jackson

Driving around
the island, fruit stands offer an unashamed abundance including Sri
Lanka’s 18 types of banana, and tiny villages on the highways sell just
one food, be it Kadjugama (literally ‘cashew village’) on the
Colombo-Kandy road, Thihariya for mandarins the colour of a Buddhist
monk’s robes or buffalo curd (meekiri), served roadside in Andalla, deep
in the Southern Province, drizzled with kitul syrup, or palm-sugar
treacle. An ancient lady in a white chola, held together Liz-Hurley
style with three gigantic safety pins, carefully packs a traveller’s
picnic of curd, which is traditionally set in rough hand-thrown clay
pots that you smash back into the earth once finished. It’s a probiotic,
it’s a passive-aggression outlet.

Back in Colombo, it’s time to
try the famed black pork curry of the Gallery Cafe, contender to
Ministry of Crab for best restaurant (2 Alfred House Rd, Kollupitiya).
Cruising the menu, I’ve gone past the seer fish served with coconut
risotto, past the fish-head soup and even said no to the baked crab.

The
black pork dish is owner and entrepreneur Shanth Fernando’s baby. “I
taste it every morning,” he says, sipping espresso in his chic hotel,
Tintagel. “That’s why I’m the size I am.” He leans in to spill its
secrets: belly pork with fenugreek, curry leaves, bitter gourd, sweet
spices and the signature (chilli-free) black-roasted curry powder, which
adventurous traveller-cooks can buy at any supermarket. The curry is
served with another classic, brinjal pahl (eggplant relish), cucumber
raita and more gotukola sambal, presumably its anti-obesity properties
balancing the extravagance of the belly pork. It is divine, but also
calls for a nice lie-down afterwards.  Or maybe a tart, cleansing
cocktail. Either way, the Gallery Cafe will oblige.

Gallery Cafe.

Gallery Cafe. Photo: Belinda Jackson

Some of the
best food of this journey is served in the most unexpected location. In
the leopard-rich Yala National Park, the under-canvas kitchen of my
luxury Leopard Safari camp, fuelled only by solar energy, turns out
spectacular plantain curry and bitter gourd curry, tuned down to sate
the western palette, but not so much that it offends us: and
vegetarianism is easy in this isle.

Pre-dinner snacks are hot,
deep-fried leaves called elephant ears, tossed in salt and chilli
powder, and the all-male kitchen serves the  toddler on my hip gentle
baby potato curries, as well as two classic street foods, coconut roti
and her favourite, egg roti, the sweet coconut and egg cooked into rich,
buttery fried flatbread.

At the Kandy Muslim Hotel,
fierce-looking old men in white robes serenely serve us the staple meal
of kottu roti – chopped roti fried with strips of egg, cabbage, carrot
and whatever else comes to hand (70 Dalada Vidiya, Kandy) –  and I taste
the classic Dutch Burgher dish, lamprais, in a Colombo home kitchen,
from the generous hands of my Burgher friend Andrea.

The samba
rice and mixed meat curry are baked in a banana leaf with a prawn paste,
fried cutlet and eggplant in the mix. If you don’t have a Burgher chef
to hand, trust Colombo city guide yamu.com
and head to the colonial mansion that is the Dutch Burgher Union
(that’s DBU for those in the know) (114, Reid Avenue, Colombo 4).

“Everything
is called a curry, but not everything is pungent,” explains Andrea.
“And everything that floats in a gravy is curry.” She also notes that
Sri Lankan curries are quite dry, compared with their Indian
counterparts. “It preserves the fresh tastes, instead of drowning them,”
she adds, with a sly dig at her gargantuan neighbour.

I make the
rookie mistake of ordering ‘just a curry’ at boutique hotel The Wallawwa
and end up with a 10-plate extravaganza by the time all the
accompanying curries, sambals, salads, rice and deep-fried fillers are
laden on the table. Delicious, though slightly unfair to any dining
companions wishing to sit near me.

Asking around for the best meal
turns up some unlikely answers: “I’ve found chicken parts curry,”
confides a local artist. “It’s so good, I’ve had it twice in the past
two weeks.” I ask for the cafe’s address but he won’t tell me. “I’ve had
training,” he says delicately, then abandons all tact. “Pack the
Imodium! Hahahaha!”
 
It’s on the last day, just before we dash to
the airport, that my bubbly driver, the fabulously named Lucky
Lokubalasuriya, teaches me how to eat a classic lunch packet of curry
and rice – perhaps the Sri Lankan equivalent of a sandwich. I buy a
couple of packets from a man on the street and we sit in the back of our
van. Unwrapping the decorative newspaper reveals a train smash of rice,
chicken curry, dhal, deep-fried crisps and a few blackened chillis that
I don’t believe are just a garnish. There’s no cutlery, just a handful
of serviettes.

After a fortnight of fending off Western wannabe
cafes (what’s with the bruschetta obsession?) and toned-down cuisine,
this is the real deal. The packet packs a punch of big spices, hot oil,
curry leaves and a hellish amount of chilli. My nose runs, my ears roar
and I admit defeat. Respect for the spice island.

TRIP NOTES
MORE INFORMATION srilanka.travel
GETTING THERE There
are no direct flights between Australia and Sri Lanka. The best
connections are with Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Thai
Airways.
GETTING AROUND Banyan Tours runs five-night tours including private car, guide and accommodation, from $3500 for two people, banyanlanka.com.
STAYING THERE For luxe hotels, stay at Amangalla, Galle or Amanwella, Tangalle (from $585, amanresorts.com), opt for boutique hotels Maya Villa or The Wallawwa (from $205, mrandmrssmith.com)
or go budget at the Olde Empire Hotel, with an extra-early wake-up call
from the nearby Temple of Lord Buddha’s Tooth (from $20, oldeempirehotel.com).The sustainably-run Leopard Safari costs from $380 a night, all-inclusive, leopardsafaris.com.

The writer was a guest of Banyan Tours Lanka (banyanlanka.com), Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel) and Mr & Mrs Smith hotels (mrandmrssmith.com)

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


Things to do in Nadi, Fiji: One day three ways

The Sri Siva Subramaniya Hindu temple in Nadi.  Photo: Alamy

PENNY PINCH

Breakfast with the locals and grab a hot chicken curry roti from the
smiling sellers outside Nadi’s covered market ($1.25) then dive inside
for papaya, bananas and mangos and kava drinking etiquette tips from the
kava traders (free). Nadi is a Fijian-Indian town, so pop into a
hairdresser to have your brows threaded or hands henna’d ($6.30). Lunch
is at the little vegetarian restaurant in the wildly ornate Sri Siva
Subramaniya temple. Dress modestly (no bare thighs) or borrow a sarong
at the gate (entrance $3.75, lunch $3.15-6.30). Cool off with a dip at
Wailoaloa Beach then head to Ed’s Bar, in the Martintar district, for a
cold, pre-dinner Fiji Lager ($3.15, 51 Queens Road). Nearby, Tu’s Place
is a staple for traditional Fijian food. Don’t expect lavish decor, do
order the kokoda and rourou ($14, 37 Queens Road, tusplace.webs.com)
and then bunker down in Nadi Downtown Hotel, the only hotel on Main
Street. The hotel is clean, with its own restaurant and bar and is a
good source of budget travel advice ($45 a double, fijidowntownhotel.com).
TOTAL $76.60

EASY DOES IT

Kick off with quality coffee, house-made brioche and honey from the farm of Bulaccino Cafe (Queen’s Road, $5.80, bulaccino.com).
If it’s Sunday, pop in to one of the town’s many churches for the
service and some spectacular singing (free). Flower admirers and small,
jumpy children should head to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, 15
minutes from Nadi. The late Raymond Burr (aka Perry Mason) retired here
to collect orchids, there are now more than2000 varieties ($10 adults/$5
children/$25families). Afterwards, lunch and people-watch at Port
Denarau: grab a wrap and a Lulu Mix juice (beetroot, ginger and carrot,
$14.80) from Lulu’s Cafe, beside the pier, then take a spin around
Denarau on the hop-on, hop-off Bula Bus ($5 all-day, kids under 10 free,
bulabuses.com.fj).
Pick up your souvenirs on Nadi’s Main Street, check the handicraft
market and cruise Jack’s, Tappoo or Prouds for glossy coloured
freshwater pearl earrings (about $22)and a bag of Bula Coffee beans,
grown in the highlands and roasted in Sigatoka ($16.30 for 200 grams).
Kick back on an evening barbeque cruise around Nadi Bay ($82/adults,
$56/kids, captaincook.com.fj) then bed down in a beachfront spa villa at First Landing ($140 a double with breakfast, firstlandingresort.com).
TOTAL $290.90

SPLASH OUT

Book out the whole day on the 64-foot catamaran Catatac for a
schmoozy island-hop around the Mamanuca. Wet a line, catch a wave,
snorkel the reefs and find the perfect beach: lunch and
cocktail-drinking included ($2260 a couple, charterboatsfiji.com).
If you’re staying on land and taking a bed at the Fiji Beach Resort
& Spa by Hilton, take their hobie cats out for a peaceful (ie,
non-motorised) glide over the calm waters (free to hotel guests), then
frock up for the Sofitel, a favourite with visiting royalty. Its
shopping gallery includes a Pure Fiji boutique: stock up on orange
blossom coconut sugar rub. It’s organic and won’t leave you smelling
like tinned fruit salad ($25, purefiji.com), then lunch poolside on grilled reef fish at its much lauded Salt restaurant ($31.40, sofitel.com).
While away the afternoon with a four-hand ayurvedic massage in Spa
Maya, at Denarau Marina ($122). Hungry? Dinner and sunset are at Peter
Kuruvita’s Flying Fish Fiji, in the Sheraton Fiji Resort. Go the
five-course degustation ($110, peterkuruvita.com) then soak up the silence of the tropical night at the Hilton’s one-bed beachfront terraces (from $255 , fijibeachresortbyhilton.com).
TOTAL $2260 or  $543.40

The writer was a guest of Nadi Downtown hotel.

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


FIJI: Suva’s white lady sees in a new century

The Grand Pacific Hotel Photo: Belinda Jackson

In search of Suva’s old colonial soul, Belinda Jackson
pays homage to the centenarian Grand Pacific Hotel, now celebrating a
makeover that’s 22 years late.

She was dubbed “The Raffles of the South Pacific”, and her title, the
Grand Pacific Hotel, is suitably eminent. But to the locals, Suva’s
distinguished colonial hotel is simply the GPH. The GPH has always been
here, as far as living memory goes back. It’s the dictionary definition
of colonial style: deep verandas, nattily dressed doormen and a starring
role in the history of a nation. 

When the hotel first opened, on
May 23, 1914, Fiji had been a British colony for 40 years, an official
cannibal-free zone for 38 years and Suva its capital for just 32 years.
The hotel’s original layout included an array of extremely specific
rooms; for dining, smoking, playing billiards, writing and drinking.
There were electric lights and fans, and “the first-floor bedrooms have
bathrooms with both hot and cold salt and fresh water baths,” early
advertisements boasted.

Unfortunately, just a few months after
its opening, World War I broke out, stymieing its position as the
eminent Pacific hotel during the grand era of steamer-ship travel. But
the hotel regrouped and capitalised on its location on the edge of Suva
Harbour, the country’s premier port.

Queen Elizabeth II has
dropped in not once, but three times. The first time, in 1953, she was a
dewy-eyed girl, fresh to the demands of the crown, and locals sailed
traditional canoes (camakau) into Suva Harbour to meet the royal yacht,
Britannia. The Queen stayed in what is now known – unsurprisingly – as
the Queen Elizabeth suite. If she was expecting grand ocean views, she’d
have been disappointed. Her suite faces Victoria Parade, with a
massive, private balcony that juts out over the entrance, just the spot
where a beautiful, young queen could wave to her rapturous audience,
who, in return, would sing their sweet farewell song, Isa Lei, back to her.

Yes,
there is a photo wall where the hotel displays its list of visiting
celebrities, who include actor Burt Lancaster and author Somerset
Maugham and our own Dame Nellie Melba, who swanned in during World War
I. In 1928, aviator Charles Kingsford Smith popped in on his way across
the Pacific, flying 36 hours from Hawaii and forcing the locals to cut
two rows of trees in Albert Park, adjacent to the hotel, to accommodate
his landing. And yes, there’s the current prime minister, Frank
Bainimarama, in between them all.

GPH personifies the era of
travelling with trunks, of Grand Tours and afternoons at leisure. Most
of the early managers were retired steamer stewards and its 35 rooms
were never enough to satisfy demand. The American author James A
Michener wrote in his 1992 memoir that “the barefoot Indians who served
the meals had a grace that few hotels in the world could offer and none
surpass”. Michener had stayed in the hotel as a US soldier during WWII,
when it was turned over to the army, and returned after the war.

The
Fifties did nothing good for the GPH: it turned an ignoble shade of
pink, following the lead of The Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach,
also built in in the 1920s and dubbed “the Pink Palace of the Pacific”.
The period is captured in highly coloured postcards, an aquamarine pool
surrounded by groovers and beach umbrellas, male waiters serving in
sulus, the Fijian sarong and official uniform.  And the Eighties were
even worse: by 1992, the GPH was abandoned even by the army, left to the
mercy of scrap metal dealers and a corrosive tropical climate. Having a
volatile parliament house didn’t help, either.

But, like the
Queen, the GPH is a stayer, this year celebrating her centenary. A
three-year, $90 million redevelopment has bulldozed any signs of the
GPH’s ageing, funded by a consortium of superannuation funds from PNG,
New Zealand and Fiji.

Once again the gracious hostess, this
Friday night, GPH is the place to be seen in Suva. The massive new
ballroom is hosting Fiji Fashion Week, and the island’s most influential
women are trooping through the doors in an array of glamorous gowns.

But
it’s really all happening on the terrace, where a local band has set
the pace, with a racy sprint through the early evening set before
slowing down to flip into Lovesongs-and-Memories mode. Did you know that
Lionel Richie has actually been reborn as a Fijian crooner? And the
crowd loves it.
It all starts with a bang – well, the ringing of a
large bell – at 6pm, when the first of the night’s two happy hours
kicks off. The first happy hour runs for two hours, then the drinkers
and bar staff have a break until the second happy hour kicks the night
along from 10pm.

Fashionistas, local movers and shakers, a few
tourists and plenty of expats lounge on white cane chairs ordering long,
frosty glasses of Fiji Bitter. The general manager, Swiss-born Eugene
Diethelm, now on his 16th hotel opening, estimates the crowd at between
500 and 600 people each Friday night.

There’s formal dining inside
in the air-con, filling bar snacks out by the pool. This being Fiji,
where imported wine and red meat come at a premium, the best buy on the
menu is excellent local fish, that is wahoo, walu or mahimahi. However,
if you came over all traditional, you could call for a saddle of venison
with red cabbage and brussels sprouts, or go nouveau-riche with a cut
of beef from exclusive Wakaya Island, off Suva’s coast. The view from
the terrace is of the long infinity pool, lit royal blue against the
darkening sky, and swathes of perfect lawn with the backdrop of Laucala
Bay. And because this is family-friendly Fiji, that perfect lawn is
dotted, without irony, with a set of plastic swings and slides.

The
original building has 10 suites, and the pick of the bunch is
undoubtedly No. 1, the largest Royal Suite and the only one with ocean
views. All the other original suites overlook the gardens and Suva’s
low-slung skyline, best seen from a rattan chair on the wide, private
verandah, cool drink in hand.

The rest of the accommodation is one
side in two new wings. There are 103 new rooms ranging from the most
economical, the Grand Pacific Deluxe Room rooms in its Kingsford Smith
garden wing, up to the Royal Club Rooms, in the New Wing. Yes, all the
rooms in the New Wing have views over the pool or ocean, with lush Pure
Fiji toiletries, a fruit platter, complimentary neck massage in the
little spa and a sweet present from the sparkling new Swiss bakery.
However, architecturally, this is the hotel’s downfall. From the
exterior, the new wing could be any airport hotel in any part of the
world. And while the interior is comfortable, it’s just not channelling
heritage chic.

If your budget can stretch to it – and from $720 a
night, it is a stretch – the suites capture the essence of the hotel.
If it’s an ocean view and modern luxury you’re after, you can save a
couple hundred dollars and opt for the vast Royal Club rooms, with
uninterrupted ocean views.

On a quick drive down Victoria
Parade, it’s easy to spot the GPH’s contemporaries. The Law Court,
Government  Buildings and the city’s Carnegie Library all show the same
hallmarks of the architectural era: once-white facades, gracious arches
and date stamps over the entrances.
Many of the city’s Grade A
heritage buildings are also being renovated, perhaps spiked by the
interest in GPH. Already the bridal market has thrown its bouquet into
the ring to declare it best the place for a chic, city wedding, which
comes with a night in the Queen Elizabeth suite.

Chances are the
GPH will become a destination hotel, though it certainly doesn’t come
cheap. But Suva seems to come without the hard-edged hustle of its
western rival, Nadi. Well, at least on the days there’s not a cruise
ship in town. What is undeniable is the local pride in Suva’s gleaming
white hotel, which, after a generation of neglect, has made the
transition from eyesore to elegance.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION fiji.travel.
GETTING THERE Fiji Airways flies direct to Nadi from Sydney and Melbourne daily, and flies Sydney to Suva twice a week. fijiairways.com
STAYING THERE Rooms cost from $390/deluxe room (garden views) to $500/Royal Club
room for (ocean-facing). Heritage suites cost from $720 to $1000 a
night. See grandpacifichotel.com.fj. 
THINGS TO SEE & DO Five minutes’ walk will take you to the Museum of Fiji and the
Presidential Palace. Other Suva highlights include the local markets,
selling tropical flowers and the Pure Fiji natural cosmetics and spa.
The hotel also has a small, exclusive collection of shops selling Fijian
pearls and fashion. 

The writer was a guest of Fiji Airways

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


Buffets, I’ve had a few…

Small fry: mashed duck potatoes at the Sheraton Bali Kuta

Buffets, I’ve had a few…

I know I shouldn’t start a blog post on a negative note, but… a pet hate of mine is people who will never try eating something new.

Especially when they’re on the road. Truly, I have morphed into my mum when I hear myself saying, “But how do you know you won’t like it if you’ve never tasted it.”

Why, just today I found a list of what was sprawled across my breakfast table one bright, Balinese morning, in my recent past: admittedly I was sharing the table with a three-year-old (hence the donut, the Babybel cheese and the Vegemite).

Here’s a list of the table’s contents – it’s breakfast, remember:

Kankung (water spinach) with slices of roast duck and mushroom

I photographed it, but it may come as a surprise to learn
that I didn’t eat it. Strawberry cheesecake for breakfast? Really.

Vegemite and toast
A quail’s egg, boiled
One Babybel cheese
Pink yoghurt
Mango yoghurt
Eggs Benedict
A fruit plate
Cocoa Pops
A glass of tamarillo juice
A pot of Earl Grey tea
Churros (heavily sugared)
A flat white coffee
A chocolate donut.

What’s not to love? The hotel buffet: it’s a beautiful, dangerous beast. Where’s your favourite?


Famous Flyer: Dawn Fraser

Water and her family inspire Olympic legend Dawn Fraser.

WHICH WAS YOUR BEST HOLIDAY?

Sun Peaks in British Columbia, Canada, with my daughter and grandson,
then aged 3. He was being taught to ski by my friend, world champion
Nancy Greene, and we stayed in a self-sufficient apartment in her lodge,
which is great when you’re travelling with kids (see cahiltylodge.com).

WHAT IS THE BEST HOTEL YOU’VE STAYED IN?

The Emirates Palace is owned by the sheikh of Abu Dhabi. It’s just
unbelievable, with its gold shower taps and toilets. I played golf on
their courses and drove a new Mercedes car on their F1 racetrack. I
reached 190 miles per hour, but you’re driving a safe car, heavens
above! The other hotel is the Dorchester in London. We loved being
spoilt and that’s just what they do. And they don’t mind having children
in their dining room.

British Columbia

WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE WITH YOU?

My bathers – well, I’m a swimmer. I always have my training bathers and a two-piece, to get a sun tan. Oh, and my passport.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST PACKING MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE?

Taking too many clothes. You can always use the washing machine in
the hotel or have the laundry done, if it’s reasonable. In the early
days, I always did my own laundry, as I liked to have clean bathers and
towels. I have packed beach towels in my luggage, which of course you
don’t need in hotels.

YOUR BEST PIECE OF TRAVEL ADVICE?

Always check your hotel and air bookings. There’s nothing worse than
turning up to the hotel and finding you don’t have a booking, not that
it’s ever happened to me. I always have my bookings printed and in my
little hand.

AND YOUR WORST EXPERIENCE ON HOLIDAY?

I slipped in the bath in a hotel in Monte Carlo and broke four ribs.
We were staying right beside the racing-car circuit and the noise coming
into my room was horrific, on top of the pain.

WHAT DO YOU NEED FOR A PERFECT HOLIDAY?

Good weather and happiness. I usually take my daughter and my
grandson, now 11, with me. Recently, we were in LA and stayed at the
Lego Hotel for five days, building Lego, and spent four days at
Disneyland Anaheim in California. I never knew my grandparents, and I
said I’d always try to be the best grandparent I could, so he’s always
with me.

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO NEXT?

I’ve been pretty much everywhere, but on my bucket list is an
Antarctic cruise. I read about it every week in the papers. I believe
the colours of the water are incredible, and of course, water is my
passion.

Dawn Fraser is an ambassador for NRMA’s Living Well Navigator, livingwellnavigator.com.

This feature by Belinda Jackson appeared in the Sun-Herald’s Traveller section.


KNOW IT ALL: Five things to consider before you go to…Fiji

Dolphin Island, Fiji

A quick hitlist for those few Australians who haven’t tasted the delights of Fiji. I know you’re out there.


1. The roads are seriously slow. The maximum speed in Fiji is 80km/hour,
and 50km/hour through villages (of which there are many). Ignore Google, Nadi
to Suva, 190km, takes a full three hours.
And yes, Fiji now has speed cameras.
2. If staying in resorts, consider buying a meal package
(instead of just B&B) if your resort isn’t in a town. A la carte meals are
surprisingly expensive.
3. Stock up on mangos, pawpaw and other seasonal fruits from
the roadside stalls. They’re always super fresh, cheap and come with a friendly
chat.
4. Flight and hotel packages are usually far more
competitive than buying them separately. During school holidays, book super
early or just stay away – Fiji really is
that family friendly.
5. Get off the main island’s well-worn east coast. There are
333 islands in Fiji: find yours.

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


The ever-growing travel list: lodges to love in Peru, Tanzania, and Brando in French Polynesia

I’ve confessed already to being a list tragic, and now I have yet another new travel list, thanks to National Geographic
Their new Unique Lodges of
the World collection has 24 good reasons to get out of town and head for the wilderness. 
I stayed in Zhiwa Ling Hotel in Paro, at the foot of the Tiger’s Nest  monastery in Bhutan, and it’s absolutely charming, with the most spectacular views from its windows, as you can see. Minimalists would have a hard time in this hotel, which is decorated in wildly colourful Bhutanese motifs, and built in amongst the rooms is a temple made from 450-year-old timbers from the Gangtey Monastery, and its resident monk. It’s also the country’s sole 100 percent locally owned five-star hotel.  
It’s also pleasing to note that Australia is punching well above its weight, with three beautiful properties on board. 

The full list of lodges is:
 

·      
Fogo Island Inn, Canada
·      
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
·      
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru
·      
Kapari Natural Resort, Greece
·      
Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco
·      
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge, Costa Rica
·      
Lizard Island, Australia
·      
Longitude 131°, Australia
·      
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
·      
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, Canada
·      
Pacuare Lodge, Costa Rica
·      
Rosalie Bay Resort, Dominica
·      
Rubondo Island Camp, Tanzania
·      
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, South Africa
·      
Sayari Camp, Tanzania
·      
Southern Ocean Lodge, Australia
·      
Sukau Rainforest Lodge, Malaysian Borneo
·      
The Brando, French Polynesia
·      
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana, United
States
·      
Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia
·      
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, Chile
·      
Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa, Chile
·      
Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa
·      
Zhiwa Ling Hotel, Bhutan

For more
information about National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, visit www.nationalgeographiclodges.com.  


The 50 best travel finds of 2014 from around the globe

Miss Moneypenny’s, Noosa

Yeah, I know it’s already 8 January, but I’m still looking back… maybe it’s because Australia really hasn’t kicked back properly into work yet. Consensus is that next Monday is the day we all turn our brains on once again. I had many great discoveries last year, including the new COMO hotel in the Maldives, Maalifushi, a villa in Lombok and the newly scrubbed Tahrir square in Cairo, but  also a few fun finds locally, in Australia. Here’s my contribution to a recent round-up by the Sun-Herald‘s brace of writers on our best travel finds in 2014.

Miss Moneypenny, Noosa, Queensland

People
watching is a delight in Noosa, when the buff and the beautiful hit the
sidewalks. Take a ringside seat at Miss Moneypenny, one of the newest additions
to Hastings Street, and order up on the seafood share boards and an 80s cruise
ship drink, their signature pina coladas – we’re in the tropics, people! The
open-air bar-cafe-restaurant spills into the street, ideal for seafood Sundays
or Saturday’s late-night supper club.missmoneypennys.com

Jean-Paul Gaultier Exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria 

Playful, cheeky, self-deprecating: not the words usually associated with
fashion. Jean Paul Gaultier delights in smashing the mould; remember the
conical bra he strapped onto Madonna in 1990? Haute couture comes alive with
moving catwalks and interactive mannequins, the exhibition has already
travelled from San Fran to Stockholm. But in Melbourne, the only showing in the
Asia Pacific, Gaultier assures us, it’s almost perfect. Make a night of it with
the NGV’s fantastic Friday Nights program, with DJs and talks, includes
admission to the exhibition. Costs $22 adults/$10 children 5-15 years
(exhibition only), $28/$10 Friday Nights at Jean Paul Gaultier. Until February
8, 2015. ngv.vic.gov.au

Seahaven Resort, Noosa

A stalwart in Hastings St, Seahaven has enjoyed a $16 million refurbishment
and is unrecognisable from its former self. The resort eclipses the big names
for blockbuster location, bang on Noosa’s Main Beach. Accommodation ranges from
studio boltholes to two-storey penthouses, with fully kitted kitchens, rain
showers and laundries. Plan drinks on your balcony, overlooking the sea.
Seahaven’s three swimming pools and its beachfront barbecue.  It’s a
two-minute trot along the beach boardwalk for morning coffee or for dinner at
Noosa’s sensational restaurants. Sunrise yoga on the beach is de rigueur. seahavennoosa.com.au

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


Top 10 destinations to visit in Australia in 2015

If you can’t survive the festive season without a list to hand, here’s another one, this time for 10 planning ideas for your 2015 travels.  
 
InterContinental Hotel Double Bay, Sydney

1. Explore wild Australia in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory

Wildly remote and deeply mysterious, Arnhem Land is in the
far north-east of the Northern Territory, fringed by the Timor Sea and
Kakadu National Park. Tourists can now join a working cargo ship
and sail with their car on a cruise-drive journey from Darwin to
Nhulunbuy via Maningrida and Galiwinku on Elcho Island. Get off the
beaten track and into the beating heart of traditional Aboriginal
Australia with a new seven-day cultural tour
through the sparsely populated Cobourg Peninsula. Track sea turtles in
East Arnhem Land at the annual turtle camp on Maabayj (West) Island
(phone: +61 400 419 238) or shake it every August at the Garma Indigenous cultural festival.
Western Arnhem Land’s hot spot is Gunbalanya (Oenpelli), which lures
international collectors to its newly refurbished Injalak Art and Craft
Centre. Watch artists painting and weaving their beautiful artworks,
then climb Injalak Hill to discover breathtaking galleries of rock art.
The best time to travel is May to October.

2. Play picturesque golf and feast on freshness when you visit Tasmania’s King Island

Perched precariously in the wild waters of the Bass Strait, little King Island is
a reminder of the landbridge that once connected the Australian
mainland and our most southerly state, Tasmania. All eyes are on the new
Cape Wickham golf course,
opening March 1, 2015, on Tasmania’s north coast. Designed by US
architect Mike DeVries, Cape Wickham’s course hugs the coastline, with
surfers and a lighthouse overlooking play. King Island’s foodie
reputation far outweighs it size: it may be just 65km long and whipped
by the Roaring Forties trade winds, but its creamy bries, blue veins and
rich cheddars have a soft place in most Australians’ hearts. Order a
King Island hamper before you arrive, stocked with local crayfish and
the world’s most pure rainwater, King Island Cloud Juice. Explore its
walking trails and shipwreck history. Fly in from Tasmania or Melbourne.

3. Sample country kitchen delights on the Great Ocean Road hinterland in Victoria

Hungry? Go west, intrepid traveller, 135km from Melbourne to
Birregurra, population 700. It’s home to the new three-hatted restaurant
Brae, the pride of chef
and restauranteur Dan Hunter, who put another Victorian country town,
Dunkeld, on the map for his fare at the Royal Mail Hotel. Brae is a
30-acre property with olive groves and an organic kitchen garden. Diners
are served quality, sustainable food, showcasing the region’s
exceptional produce, from organic milk to hand-fed ducks, wallaby
tartare and stand-out shiitake. In 2016, Hunter plans to open just six
rooms to guests for an all-immersive stay in this secluded, rich corner
of Victoria that leads down to the Great Ocean Road. While you’re in the
hinterland, check out Timboon Provedore, Birregurra Provedore,
G.O.R.G.E. Chocolates, and Otway Estate brewery and cidery on the Otway Harvest Trail, then roll on to the Great Ocean Road’s 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail.

4. Immerse yourself in hipster cool among Adelaide’s restored laneways

Once upon a time, Adelaide City’s best wine cellar was a
lonely creature amidst the romantic architecture. Now, East End Cellars
has many new friends, with the reinvention of Vardon Ave and Ebenezer
Place as the top spot for a shot of espresso, a wine fix or whatever
fancy cocktail you plan to concoct. Cruise the leafy laneways for
locally designed, ethically sourced jewellery at Studio Eco, get your
sweatshop-free fashion at Nature’s Threads, artistic homewares from
Council of Objects or a restored fixie pushbike at Treadly. You wanna
eat? They’ll dish up chai and Afghan dumplings, Belgian mussels and
beer, tea and vegie pita, or simply hardcore coffee. That’s not to say
that East End Cellars themselves have been sitting still. Their
sophisticated Mother Vine wine bar is the newest on kid on two blocks
that wrap up the best of Adelaide’s food and wine into one tidy package (www.rundlestreet.com.au).

5. Stay in style at the national capital in Canberra

With a wave of sleek newcomers to Canberra’s hotel scene this
year, the question is not “Why should I go?” but “Where should I lay my
head while I’m there?” The city’s arts and culture precinct, NewActon,
is the home of two of the headliners: the chic Hotel Hotel, with a unique design inspired by the Aussie holiday shack, and slick QT Hotel, with sunny rooms and an antique-meets-chic barber shop for the well-groomed man. An old classic gets dressed with edgy art at Peppers Gallery Hotel and everyone’s waiting for the luxury hotel in theNational Zoo and Aquarium, where only a glass wall separates you from a snoozing white lion. Keep an eye out for five-star The Avenue Hotel in the city’s CBD and the remake of the heritage-listed Hotel Kurrajong Bartonin the Parliamentary Triangle, both slated for December. Business hotels in the pipeline include the four-star Little National in Barton and Vibe Canberra Airport, a hop-skip to the ACT’s new terminal.

6. Relax in Hayman Island’s luxurious seaside surrounds

The jewel of Australia’s east coast, the Great Barrier Reef, now has a new gem with the opening of One&Only Hayman Island
in July 2014. With an AUD$80 million price tag on the island’s
makeover, the result is the perfect blend of whales, wallabies and the
luxury of a private island resort. Expect toothpaste-bright beaches,
warm turquoise seas and swaying palm trees married with flowing white
curtains and come-hither daybeds. Make your home a beach villa, with its
absolute beachfront and private plunge pool, or check into the
two-bedroom Diane von Furstenberg penthouse and ask the butler to
arrange an Ocean Dreaming massage literally in the water. The journey is
half the adventure: to get to the resort, you’ll travel past
Queensland’s most beautiful beach, the 7km-strip of Whitehaven Beach, on
Whitsunday Island. Chopper over it, sail up to it, picnic on it: can
you imagine how many diamond rings have been offered here?

7. Go beyond the beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs

Double Bay and Bondi are the beach stars of Sydney’s iconic
east, and both have been blessed with fresh wave of new openings. All
the talk in this part of town is about the new InterContinental Hotel
in Sydney’s upmarket Double Bay. Opening November, expect super-modern
luxury, grill restaurants, rooftop pools, gin bars and even a kosher
kitchen. The hotel has inspired a wash of new restaurants around it,
including a second Sydney Sake, Fish Face by hot young chef Josh Niland and nightclub Casablanca.
It’s worth remembering rival Bondi Beach is only 10 minutes by taxi, so
pop over and be seen in The Hub on Hall Street, home to Mr Moustache, China Diner and A Tavola. Maurice Terzini, of Bondi Icebergs fame, has just set up shop in Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta and Sydney’s best breakfast has also moved to Bondi, with the opening of bills Bondi from one of Sydney’s most well-known chefs Bill Granger. Make like a local and order the ricotta hotcakes.

8. Eat your way across the world without leaving Brisbane’s markets

Brisbane lights up each weekend with the new Eat Street Markets
on Hamilton Wharf. Strewn with shipping containers, you can mix it up
with the locals and eat around the world, from Mexico to New York via
Singapore and, of course taste the best of Australia. Snack on
old-school Vietnamese dumplings at Dakbla or French crepes with Miss
Claude, or put a Brissy spin on an old classic with crumbed tiger prawns
and chips at Phunky Dory. Finish off with a cocktail or craft beer and a
light browse – churros in hand – through the shops selling quirky
clothing, candles, antiques and books. The best way to reach Hamilton
Wharf is down the Brisbane River. Take a CityCat river ferry to Brett’s
Wharf and it’s a leisurely 10-minute stroll to Hamilton Wharf. The
markets run every Friday and Saturday night from 4-10pm

9. Raise a glass to Italian cuisine in Victoria’s King Valley

Tucked away high in the foothills of the Victorian Alps is a
busy little community doing its own beautiful thing: smoking meats,
making cheeses, pressing wine. The King Valley
is a little slice of Italy in a quiet pocket of Australia. And when
living la dolce vita, the only drink to drink is the Italian take on
sparkling white wine, heavenly prosecco. How do you find this Australian
Arcadia? Why, follow the Prosecco Road, a food and wine trail that visits the valley’s best vineyards, restaurants, cafés and providores – with a spot of bocce
(Italian lawn bowls) thrown in for good measure. Stay the night in a
local B&B and prepare for a car boot that clinks all the way home,
thanks to your newly found love of precious prosecco. The King Valley is
about three hours’ drive north of Melbourne.

10. Hunt for exotic truffles in unlikely Manjimup, Western Australia

Achingly expensive, hard to attain and an acquired taste:
what’s not to love about truffles? The rich, earthy fungus has
traditionally been hunted in Europe’s ancient forests, but chefs’ eyes
are turning from the Old World to the New, looking to Western Australia,
now Australia’s largest producer of French black truffles. Unearthed in
truffle orchards of English oak and hazel trees with specially trained
dogs, you can take the hounds out for a winter morning’s truffle hunting
around Manjimup and Southern Forest Region, about 300km south of Perth.
Hungry hunters, stop for a truffle-infused lunch and be sure to pack a
shopping bag to haul home your truffle-infused treasures, from
chocolates, to oils and salts. WA’s fresh truffle season runs from June
to September, and out-of-season simulated hunts are available. Tour
operators include Go in Style Luxury Transport and The Truffle & Wine Co.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published by Tourism Australia.


Holiday at home in Sydney: travel news

HOTEL
Holiday at home
Staycations – holidays in your home town – are the thing to do right now. Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel in The Rocks is rolling out its new
premium hotel rooms and club lounge following an $8 million makeover. The
largest of the 90 Horizon Club rooms and suites is the two-bedroom,
242-square-meter royal suite, which includes butler and grand piano, from $4895
a night. Those staying in the Horizon rooms should make tracks to the Horizon Club Lounge,
opening December 8. The four-storey atrium looks out to our best-loved icons; the
harbour, the Bridge and the Opera House. Horizon club rooms start from $400 a night, which includes private
check-in, breakfast, afternoon tea, canapés and cocktails. If you’re not
checking in, head up to the Blu Bar on level 36 for the best water views in town.
Se shangri-la.com.
TECH
Get-around sound
Pack the party in your pocket with the MiniJamBox from US
wearable technology company Jawbone. Using Bluetooth, pair the petite speaker and
speakerphone with any phone, laptop iPod or tablet in a 10-meter radius,
without cumbersome cables. 
No Bluetooth? Hook up with a simple headphone jack.
A full charge takes 2.5 hours, but then gives you up to 10 hours’ sound, be it
your favourite playlist, movies or phone calls. Weighing in at a lightweight 255g
and 25x15cm, the MiniJamBox travels lightly and comes in nine colours, with
five different designs pressed into the aluminum shell and is compatible with both
Android and iOS platforms. The Mini Jambox costs $179.95. See jawbone.com.
GEAR
Well knotted in
Istanbul style
Canny travellers know that scarves are the easiest way to
transform your travel wardrobe from drab to fab, and the new scarf from the St
Regis hotel group is fabulous, indeed. Designed by Michelle Obama’s go-to
man, the Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu, this limited edition collection
is inspired by Istanbul, now the hottest city on the planet. The 100 per
cent silk scarf comes in three colourways, blue, beige and Wu’s signature grey.
The scarf has been released just ahead of the opening of the new St Regis
Istanbul in February 2015, an 118-room hotel is set in Nişantaşi, with views
over the Bosphorus. The Grand Tourista Scarf costs US$195. See stregis.com/boutique
or jasonwustudio.com.
The Royal Opera House at night ©Stephen McLaren
COMPETITION
Live London large
Do London in style with afternoon tea at Lord’s Cricket
Ground with butler Carson from Downton Abbey (but you can call him Jim
Carter), a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House with ballerina Darcey
Bussell, a wander through the Science Museum with Professor
Stephen Hawking or Michelin-starred meal by chef Jason Atherton at happening
Pollen Street Social. London is searching the world for a Guest of Honour to
share these experiences with celebrity guides. Hurry, you’ve
got until December 9 to enter the search for London’s Official Guest of Honour.
See visitlondon.com/guest.
CRUISE
Easy festive time
If this
Christmas is already a write-off, start planning a serene escape for 2015 with
a Christmas river cruise through Europe’s most festive towns. APT’s new
brochure offers winter sailings in Canada and Europe, including a 10-day Christmas Time Cruise
from Prague to Budapest. The itinerary includes the world’s
largest Christmas market in Nuremberg, the Old Kornmarkt Christmas market in
medieval Regensburg and Vienna, which is not shy of a bauble or two. There are
five departures in November, when the Christmas markets are already up and
running, and eight in December. Book cruises departing December 17 or December
21 if planning to spend Christmas Day on the ship. The fleet will include the
new AmaSonata, launched this year, and its sister ship the AmaPrima, launched
in 2013. The 10-day cruise costs from $4545 a person, twin share, includes two
nights in Prague and eight days on board. 
Call 1300
196 420, see aptouring.com.au.  

 

KIDS
Little Luggage
Your
kids will be the smartest travellers in the land with these hard-shell
luggage sets. The lightweight wheeled suitcase has elastic straps inside
to hold gear and a zip pouch for games and books and measures 41cm x
29cm. The hard-shell backpack has adjustable straps and a divider, and
stacks onto the suitcase to be wheeled together. And if your travelling
tot tires, the suitcase handle extends to adult height – lucky you!
Designed in Australia, there are 12 themes including the dinosaur and
newest release, the ballerina. The two-piece set costs $129.95. Call
1300 746 722, see bobbleart.com.au

 

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

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