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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Welcome to Australia’s best beach (which you’ve probably never heard of)

 

cossiesbeach

Cossies Beach, Cocos (Keling) Island. Photo: Rick Soderlund

It’s official: Australia’s best beach is …drum roll… probably nowhere you’ve ever been.

This week past saw a chat with beach expert Brad Farmer, who has ventured across Australia, boardies on, notebook in hand, to find our best beach. His new book lists the top 101 beaches in Australia.

He reckons he’s visited about 4000 of Australia’s 11,000-plus beaches, and the best beach is the newly named Cossies Beach on the tiny Cocos (Keeling) Islands, about 4.5 hours north-west of Perth. The island group is on the extreme fringe of our marine waters, and better known for border patrols than beach patrols.
Farmer’s research isn’t driven by hotel companies, website stats or private equity funds, he says. He worked with Tourism Australia, which says the value of our beaches to the economy need to be appreciated, and capitalised upon.
Also in the top 10 best beaches are strips on another distant outpost, Christmas Island. Some people will roll their eyes that the Gold Coast is underrepresented, or that Bondi should be top o’ list. But I think it’s refreshing that we explore past the everyday.
As Brad told me,”Australia is one of the last countries you can actually go and explore. Go a little further, open your eyes, explore.”
It’s a motto to live by.

Click here to read the full story, which appeared in Fairfax Media’s Traveller website.


Myanmar, floating whiskey bars and Australia’s cutest animal, officially: Takeoff travel news

TRENDS: Discover secrets of Myanmar

Myanmar has set our travel radars
afire since Lonely Planet named it in its top 10 must-visit destinations
back in 2012, when Australia lifted its sanctions against the country.
Now, Trafalgar becomes the first of the larger group tour companies
offering coach tours to enter the market in 2016. Its new 11-day Secrets of Myanmar tour traverses the well regarded sights of Yangon,

Inle Lake and Bagan and goes off
track to include a cooking class and local markets, visiting some of
Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, the Pa-O, Danu and Intha people. Before Trafalgar’s entry, the tourism market

had been dominated by smaller group
operators including Peregrine, which has been running tours since 2002,
World Expeditions and budget-minded Intrepid Travel. Travel pundits say
Myanmar’s infrastructure is still weak, with poor roads, a lack of ATMs
and poor communications (ie shaky Wi-Fi), though the big hotel groups
are moving in. 

Accor plans to open four new hotels in a country regarded as one of south-east Asia’s most mysterious and most beautiful.
Trafalgar’s 11-day Secrets of
Myanmar guided holiday costs from $4875, excluding airfares, with
departures between January 27 and December 7, 2016. Phone 1300 797 010,
see trafalgar.com.  
 

EXPLORE: Go with the flow

Fossick for gold, unearth a thunder
egg from an ancient lava flow or spot the rare Gouldian finch on a new
self-drive route in Far North Queensland. The new Lava Tubes, Gems and
Gorges Trail is an offshoot of the Savannah Way, which links Cairns and
Broome in an epic 3700-kilometre drive across three states and five
World Heritage sites. The new trail is a 300-kilometre circuit from
Minnamoolka to Conjuboy, inland from Queensland’s Mission Beach. En
route, take a river cruise down Cobbold Gorge, hunt for topaz at
O’Briens Creek and walk down the world’s longest lava tubes – caves
created by lava flows – at Undara Volcanic National Park. Thirsty work?
Pull in to Australia’s smallest bar at Lynd Junction to recoup. Also
check out the nearby Kirrama Range Road, which was mapped late last
year. Find the trails at visitor information centres or see
drivenorthqueensland.com.au.
 

DRINKS: Dram roll

 If you thought whisky and cruising
were uneasy bedfellows, think again as you order up at Magnums, the
first whisky bar on the Princess Cruises line. Staff at the new bar, on
board the locally based Dawn Princess, will lead you through 63 fine
whiskies, from Tasmania to Japan to the US and Scotland. You’ll find
single malts from New Zealand, American bourbons and even a Melbourne
offering. Try a nip or order the flight of the day, featuring three
different whiskies. The cruise line says the spirit is hot, and
recommends a dram after dinner or on a laidback sea day. Cruises on the
Dawn Princess include the 13-night round trip from Sydney

to New Caledonia and Vanuatu from $1399 a person, twin share, departing January 16, 2015. Phone 132 488, see princess.com

Silver fox Roy Billing.

TOUR: NZ fox trot for boomers

On your marks boomers. Your
adventure trip to New Zealand awaits. The new Silver Foxes and Foxettes
tour is aimed at baby boomers who want to live for the moment and
#saysorrylater. Check out the social media campaign, which encourages
you to SKI (Spend the Kids’ Inheritance). The ringleader of the new AAT Kings tour is actor Roy Billing (pictured), a proud Kiwi, Underbelly

and Jack Irish star and 2015
recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia. Billing helps mix New
Zealand’s heady beauty and fine tables with a dash of jet boating or
heli-wine tasting. The 10-day tours start in Billing’s hometown,
Auckland, then on to Rotorua for a hangi feast before

heading to the South Island’s
Christchurch, Franz Josef Glacier and Queenstown. Tours depart from
September 13, 2015 to May 22, 2016 and cost from $3795 a person, twin
share. Phone 131 415, see
helloworld.com.au/instore/silverfox.
 

GEAR: Stop the noise

So your carry-on bag already bulges
with laptop, camera, work gear or perhaps the accoutrements required by a
junior traveller by your side. Who has room for big headphones?
Fortunately, sound masters Bose have the answer, with their QC20 in-ear
headphones. Fully charged, these little babies offer 16 hours of noise
cancellation, and act as regular earphones even when uncharged.
The incredibly effective “noise
cancelling” mode will block out even your neighbour’s droning, while
“aware” lets you pick up traffic noise (handy when you’re on the move)
without having to corkscrew them tightly into your ears. They also
feature an inline mike and volume control. First released in 2013, the
new models come in black or white, tailored for iPhones/iPads/iPods,
Samsung Galaxy or Android devices. Includes a tidy zipup bag and earbuds in three sizes. Quiet Comfort 20 acoustic noise-cancelling headphones cost $399. See
bose.com.au.  
 

KIDS: Wild life

Australia’s cutest animal, Archer the koala.

July birthday kids will gain free
entry to Featherdale Wildlife Park, in western Sydney, which also
celebrates its birthday this month. The park is home to Archer the
Koala, officially the cutest animal in Australia, thanks to a recent
poll. Archer, who was hand-raised by

Featherdale staff, beat competition
from around Australia including gang-gang cockatoos and quokkas, and
details his life on his Facebook page @ArcherTheKoala. Featherdale includes a petting zoo
with baby lambs, goats and pigs, as well as Australia’s own baby
bilbies, wallabies, dingoes and wombats, while the fearless can sidle up
to snakes or tangle with a Tassie devil.

  
Open 9am to 5pm daily, 217 Kildare
Road, Doonside. Adults $29.50, children (3-15 years) $16, families from
$56 (1 adult, 2 kids). Phone (02) 9622 1644, see featherdale.com.au/birthday

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


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

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

1.    HAIL THE TAXI

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

2.    FISHY BUSINESS 

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

3.    UNDERWATER DINING

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

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

4.    ISLAND FARE

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

5.    SHARK PARK

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

6.    SCREENSAVER SCENERY

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

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

7.    SLEEPING OVER WATER  

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

8.    SENSATIONAL SPAS

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

9.    SPICE SHOPPING

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

One & Only Reethi Rah Spa. 

10.    ELITE RESORTS

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

11.    SUPERB SNORKELLING

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

12.    SLEEPING WITH THE LOCALS

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

Ari Atoll, Maldives. 
Photo: Alamy

13.    SURF’S UP

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

14.    GOING DOWN

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

15.    SHORT EATS

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

Locals fishing
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

16.    ON THE LINE

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

17.    DOLPHIN SPOTTING

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

18.    STYLE FILE

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

19.    THE BIG FIVE

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

Public taxi
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

20.    SPEAK EASY

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

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


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


Sand-sational: Traveller writers divulge their favourite beaches

Sunset over Vomo Island, Fiji Photo: Getty Images.

Happy New Year, everyone!  The sun is hot, the beach is calling. While I’ve been unashamedly Instagramming sunsets from the beaches of my childhood, on the Mornington Peninsula (click here for a peek), I recently contributed my Pacific finds to a hitlist of the best strips of sand, from city-slick to rustic romance.

PERFECT PACIFIC ISLAND BEACH
Vomo Island, Mamanuca Islands, Fiji 
WHY I
LOVE IT
Maybe
it’s the memory of skimming the waves on a little Hobie Cat or maybe it’s the
“Say it, it will happen” attitude of the private island resort, but
the beach on Vomo Island holds a special place in my heart. Most of Fiji’s best
beaches are found in the Mamanuca Islands and further north, in the Yasawa
Islands group, north-west of Nadi. After all, this is where The Blue Lagoon, the
movie that started it all, was filmed in 1980. Roll out of your beachside bure
and it’s hello, tranquil turquoise water! And prepare for your heart to melt
when you see Vomo’s baby-turtle breeding program.
WHAT TO
DO
Be sun
smart and pack a rash vest. The snorkelling is excellent, but no-one likes
burnt backs and calves. And don’t spend all day in the water or in your
hammock. The sundowners at Vomo’s Rocks Sunset Bar are a must. The dry season
is from May to October, and the rainy season from November to April.  
DON’T
MISS
If tiny
Vomo still isn’t private enough for you (it has just 30 bures and villas), get
schmoozy on uninhabited Vomo Lailai (or Little Vomo), a few minutes away.
Here’s the recipe for a perfect day: a picnic hamper, bottle of something that
sparkles and favourite person. First in gets exclusive use of the island.
NEED TO
KNOW
Vomo
Island is about 90 minutes with South Sea Cruises from Denarau Marina, or go
the luxe option, with a 15-minute flight by helicopter. Bures cost from about
$1136 a night, full board. vomofiji.com.

FIVE MORE GREAT PACIFIC ISLAND BEACHES 

TAPUAETAI (ONE FOOT ISLAND), AITUTAKI, COOK ISLANDS It’s uninhabited,
yet one of the most touristy beaches in the Cook Islands, so you may see
another boat, and the (unstaffed) post office, which sends your postcards off
with a foot stamped on them.
CHAMPAGNE BEACH, VANUATU It doesn’t get all that attention by being
ugly. White sands, swaying palms and turquoise waters make it a living
postcard. Nearby Lonnoc Beach provides more of the same with fewer people.
LONG BEACH, KADAVU ISLAND, FIJI Sensibly named, this beach is on
Fiji’s fourth-largest and little explored island. The big lure is the Great
Astrolabe Reef, with its spectacular drop-offs, but snorkelling straight off
the beach is no hardship either.
MAROVO LAGOON, NEW GEORGIA ISLANDS, SOLOMON ISLANDS This one is on my
2015 hit list, because it’s the longest saltwater lagoon on the planet, it’s
heritage listed, it’s fringed by ancient volcanos and the rainforest stops
where the sand begins.
MONU ISLAND AND MONURIKI ISLAND, FIJI They are highlights of the
Mamanuca Islands. Deserted, sandy beaches lead down to wildly colourful coral
gardens and marine life, offering sensational snorkelling. Trivia hit: Cast
Away
, starring Tom Hanks, was filmed on Monuriki.

This feature was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper. Click here to read the full story.


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.

Como Maalifushi Maldives: Pint-sized paradise

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

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

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

Crossing the Maldives (while also dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s’)

Photo: Belinda Jackson

Endless beautiful islands, endless sun (except for the occasional monsoon), endless luxury. Immerse in all this fabulousness, it’s easy to miss Maldivian culture when you’re holidaying on the exclusive isles in the Laccadive Sea.
So here’s a quick fact hit: the local language
of the Maldives is Dhivehi. It draws on Arabic, Urdu and Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese. The alphabet, when printed on official signs, looks as though
someone’s been too lazy to finish writing their Arabic script, and not
imaginative enough to make it decorative. To the untrained eye, it could even
resemble a series of punctuation marks.

But what words you can create with its
25-letter alphabet! We’re trying to jump from the luxury resort of
Cocoa Island by COMO, famed for its diving, to its new sister property, Maalifushi by COMO, further
south and an up-and-coming star in the surf arena. If we had a sea plane, we
could skip between the two in a matter of hours.
But we don’t. 

Instead, we take Cocoa’s boat
40 minutes up to the capital Male’s airport, where we will take a commercial
flight south to Thimarafushi, and then another boat to Maalifushi. Lost yet?

(Incidentally, the island of Male is so
small, at just 4sqm, and so densely populated, with around 200,000 people – about half the nation’s population – that the airport is on the next island,
and linked by a taxi rank of public dhonis (local boats), who charge 15 rufiyya, or US$1, to
cross the water.)
Photo: Belinda Jackson
At Male airport, we learn that Thimarafushi airport is closed because ocean swells have
engulfed the runway. “It’s a very, very low atoll,” a local tells me. “Very
good for surfing, very bad for flying.”
For a Maldivian to say something’s low, it
must be very, very low indeed. The highest point in the Maldives, incidentally,
is a towering 2.4m. The lowest official point is 1.5m. I’m tipping that point
is somewhere near Thimarafushi airport. 
So, back to language, instead of aiming for Thimarafushi,
we’re going to Kadhdhoo Kaadedhdhoo airport. Or so we think. Then we learn
we’re actually going to Kadhdhoo Kooddoo airport. 
Imagine trying to do a Maldivian crossword!

Travel deals: rock the lobster

Mandarin Oriental Taipei, Taiwan.

Soak up the seafood and sunshine in Perth, shop Seminyak or sip South Australia… there’s not much more alliteration left, so I’ll stop right here to leave you to read this week’s domestic and international travel deals. 

(Sorry, forgot to mention the fabulously chic baby-will-travel bag in this week’s kids’ feature – and not a tacky cartoon character in sight!)

GO NOW
WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Blow the budget on rock lobster and WA wines when you stay
two nights at Perth’s 3.5-star Alderney on Hay executive apartments. The
“two-bedroom breakfast special” includes a breakfast hamper and DVD
hire in a two-bed apartment until June 28. From $370, two nights. See lastminute.com.au/deals.

BALI
Snap up great local fashions and hit the restaurants in
happening Seminyak with a stay-five, pay-four offer at the one, two or
three-bed villas of Villa Kubu, available until August 31. From $320 a
night. See villakubu.com.

GO SOON
SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Shop for the cellar on a half-price day trip to the Barossa
Valley, then enjoy a room upgrade and late check-out when you stay two
nights at Adelaide’s refurbished Mantra Hindmarsh Square. Book by July
31, travel by October 31, quote “Mantra Winter Special”. From $149 a
night. Phone (08) 8412 3333, see mantra.com.au.

The Fairmont San Francisco, USA.

USA
Stay four nights, pay for three at The Fairmont San Francisco
and use your savings to snap up American labels on stays until
September 4. You’ll also get $108 hotel credit, breakfast, early
check-in, late check-out and a room upgrade. From $622 a night. See virtuoso.com.au.

GO LATER
VICTORIA
Set in the spectacular shopping hub of South Yarra, the new
Oaks Pinnacle’s opening “Winter Warmers” offer, with midday checkout,
costs from $139 for a one-bedroom apartment (normally $260 a night).
Minimum two-night stay until September 30. Phone 1300 660 223, see oakshotelsresorts.com.

TAIWAN
Shop Taipei for rare teas and hand-thrown ceramics during
your stay at the new Mandarin Oriental, Taipei. Its opening package,
“Stay for More” offers three nights for the price of two until September
7. From $677 for three nights. Phone 1800 123 693, see mandarinoriental.com.

Yuraygir National Park, NSW, Australia

TOURWATCH

Easy
on the soul
The beauty of isolated Yuraygir National Park, on
the Coffs coastline, is on display on a new coastal walk that links the
north-coast towns of Iluka and Coffs Harbour via paperbark swamps, clear
lagoons and wide stretches of beach. The walk, for up to 15 guests, includes
canoeing at Wooli, local oyster tasting and a walk around Muttonbird Island.
The six-day trip departs May 25, 2015. Costs $2195 a person. (03) 9530
8800, auswalk.com.au.

 

HAVE
HANDBAG, WILL TRAVEL
Travelling
stylishly doesn’t have to go (completely) out the window when you’re towing
babies along. The Budu Baby Bag packs a nappy bag into a chic leather hold-all,
hiding an insulated bottle holder, wipe-down change mat, key or nappy clip and
pram strap. There are zipped compartments for your passport and ebook. Later it
becomes a stylish woman-about-town bag. Designed and owned in Australia, $349.
See budu.com.au.

This travel deals column by Belinda Jackson is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper every Sunday.  


Great Southern Land: Our Patch, Gippsland

Melburnians, if you were stuck for a weekend away, you’d do far worse than hitting the highway for an hour to South Gippsland. Here’s what we discovered on a weekend away, visiting Inverloch, Cape Paterson, Kilkunda, Wilson’s Promontory and the lovely crossroads of Fish Creek and Koonwarra.

The shopping basket was packed with cheeses and fresh bread from Koonwarra, ‘life-changing’ biscuits thanks to Kilkunda General Store, and a fantastic shirt I snapped up in Inverloch’s Mookah designs.

The Patch: inspiredbygippsland.com.au

This content is produced by Traveller in commercial partnership with Tourism Victoria



Trading places: Sri Lanka

Winter is happily settling in to Melbourne: it’s got its squalls, sharp winds and drizzle and is setting up shop quite nicely, thank you very much.

If I could trade places, my choice (today, anyway) would be Sri Lanka, specifically on the banks of the gracious Tissa wewa (tank, or man-made reservoir), said to have been constructed in 250-210 BC as part of a network of reservoirs across the country. Tissa wewa is beside the town of Tissamaharama, the gateway to the leopard-rich Yala National Park. 

The town pumps with a frontier vibe, as sticky touts peddle jeep safari tours, but the serenity of the tanks nearby give no indication of the hustling and hard sell going on behind your back.
Herons fish, lily pads float languidly and spectacular rain trees (Albizia?) curve in perfect formation.


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