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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The hidden isles: Six of Australia’s lesser-known island adventures

The island theme continues here at GlobalSalsa – which makes sense for us Melburnians, who have just come out of 181 days (give or take) lockdown. Some of us are leaping around on the city beaches, happy to be rubbing oiled shoulders with our neighbours. Others of us are looking for anywhere but here, preferably without the threat of a pandemic. Enter the island holiday.

My latest story for Traveller suggests some lesser-known islands around Australia for holidays. So I pushed the boat out, and went to the Cocos Keeling Islands. Closer to Indonesia than Australia, the Cocos are four-hour flight west of Perth, a few wee scraps of land in the Indian Ocean. Continue left and you’ll eventually hit Mauritius (you’d hit the Maldives if you veered north)

Also in the round-up is a lighthouse stay off the NSW south coast, a tiny triangle of land off Tasmania’s Freycinet coast and the Northern Territory’s contribution, and island in the Windex-blue Arafura Sea.

If you fancy a little escapism, click here to read my low-key island stays.


Budget isles: cheap stays on Australia’s islands

This was going to be my year of the islands. My list included a food festival on Tasmania’s Flinders Island, a visit to another Bass Strait island, King Island, where my grandparents farmed the land after WWII, and  Queensland’s sparkly jewels were also on the list.

My latest story, published this week in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, is in response to a recent story that Australia’s millenials don’t enjoy travelling around their own country because it’s expensive and boring (if you want to delve more deeply into it, have a look here).

Yeah, we’re never going to be another Bali, because we have minimum wages, we try to discourage exploitation of animals etc etc. But you can still camp on Whitehaven Beach, internationally lauded as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches (that’s a debate for another time), for under $40 a night.

From Kangaroo Island in South Australia to Magnetic Island off Townsville on the Queensland coast, here are a few suggestions to get you going. One thing to remember: islands are islands and therefore take a bit more work to get to. But while you’re kayaking through turquoise waters, or flying over a pod of dolphins to get to said island, isn’t the journey as important as the destination?

 

 

 


One morning, two icons: touring the Top End, Australia

It’s a strange think to talk of lack of time when time is all we’ve got at the moment as we while away our time in self isolate.

Yet time is always precious: I wrote this short piece about a new air tour of two of the Northern Territory’s most popular national parks – Litchfield and Kakadu, just before this COVID-19 virus took hold of our country.

The little local airline – NT Air – says the best time to visit this part of the Top End is now, just after the Wet, when the territory is deluged by monsoonal rain, and everything is green and glowing.

The Wet will come again, this virus will pass. Those benefiting are not just shareholders in gold, supermarkets, toilet paper manufacturers and face mask factories. Nature, too, is benifiting from our global lockdown: she will heal as we stay away from our most loved destinations, including our national parks.

So put this trip on your inspiration list, to fly via light aircraft between the so-called Lost City rock formation in Litchfield to the billabongs and dramatic escarpments of Kakadu.

Click here to read the full story, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

 


Healthy hiking holidays: from Patagonia to Tasmania and Spain’s classic Camino

Last month, I found myself hiking along a section of Chilean Patagonia’s most famous walking route, the W.

The route curls around the Paine Massif, a majestic family of jagged peaks, whose tops were shrouded in cloud and cloaked in snow. Condors hunted between their teeth, and the air jolted to the sound of avalanches, hundreds of meters above me.

It all taps into the recent story I wrote for Prevention magazine, a women’s health publication, about five great hiking holidays. In it, I included the W, but also Tasmania’s new Three Capes Walk and the Larapinta Trail in Australia’s Northern Territory, as well as the Kumano Kodo in Japan and the Spanish classic ultra-long walk, the Camino de Santiago.

Why do we walk? To get fit? To slow down? To go on pilgrimage?

The benefits include better health and spending time in nature, while some walks, like the Kumano Kodo and the Camino, were very deliberately designed to create time to clear your head and sift and sort through the bigger problems in life,  says Di Westaway, founder of Wild Women On Top.

“Finishing a trek that takes you outside your comfort zone is a confidence-building exercise. It might be really arduous at high altitude, with plenty of “OMG, what was I thinking?” moments, but that exhilaration and achievement afterwards is a huge personal lift,” Diane adds.

You can read the story online, or you can just pull your hiking boots on now…


Hotel review: Hilton Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

It’s peak season up in Darwin, as southerners rush north to escape winter (and hey, I’m not blaming anybody here). The Hilton is the city’s only official five-star hotel, and the pool is one fine reason to check in.

The 236-room hotel has held this city-centre position for years: old Darwin hands will remember the Hilton Darwin as a Crowne Plaza. The hotel is just behind the mall, and should you feel the need to swim with crocs, the croc hotpot of Crocosaurus Cove is just a few steps away.

Click here to take a look at the review I wrote for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age.HiltonDarwin


Hotel review: Hilton Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

It’s peak season up in Darwin, as southerners rush north to escape winter (and hey, I’m not blaming anybody here – anyone notice that this is the second hotel pool shot I’ve blogged this week?)

The Hilton is the city’s only official five-star hotel, and the pool is one fine reason to check in.

The 236-room hotel has held this city-centre position for years: old Darwin hands will remember the Hilton Darwin as a Crowne Plaza. The hotel is just behind the mall, and should you feel the need to swim with crocs, the croc hotpot of Crocosaurus Cove is just a few steps away.

Click here to take a look at the review I wrote for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age.


Light shines on Red Centre

BNE magAustralia’s Red Centre is the dictionary definition of remote – scattered hamlets of humanity, vast cattle stations and long, open drives. Perfect for the baby roadtripper. No, really. It’s just a three-hour drive on sealed roads between Uluru and Ayres Rock Resort to Kings Canyon, add on another leg and you’ve hit the heady delights of our favourite outback town, Alice Springs.

If it piques your interest, take a look at my story for BNE magazine  on the Red Centre Way, a classic route for a cruisy long-weekender roadtrip, which can easily stretch out for a week.

Click here to read more.

 


Light shines on Red Centre

Australia’s Red Centre is the dictionary definition of remote – scattered hamlets of humanity, vast cattle stations and long, open drives. Perfect for the baby roadtripper.

No, really.

It’s just a three-hour drive on sealed roads between Uluru and Ayres Rock Resort to Kings Canyon, add on another leg and you’ve hit the heady delights of our favourite outback town, Alice Springs.

If it piques your interest, take a look at my story for BNE magazine  on the Red Centre Way, a classic route for a cruisy long-weekender roadtrip, which can easily stretch out for a week.

Click here to read more.


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

Bathurst Island Lodge.
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

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

  
 

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

   

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

  
 

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

   

Melville Island airport. 
Photo: Belinda Jackson

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

  
 

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

  
 

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

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

  
 

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

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

   

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

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

geometric mulypinyini pwanga (lines and dots).

  
 

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

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

    

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

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

  
 

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

  
 

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

   

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

   

Artist Alan John Kerinaiua at Tiwi Designs Photo: Belinda Jackson

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

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

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

  
 

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

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

   

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

  
 

Photo: Belinda Jackson

The men’s and women’s loos are

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

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

the local schoolchildren.

   

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

  
 

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

  
 

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

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

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

  
 

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

 

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

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

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

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


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


Elan Soho Suites review, Darwin, Northern Territory: Weekend Away

REVIEW The Getaway

Belinda Jackson checks out Darwin’s newest hotel and its ‘‘help yourself’’ attitude.

  
 

THE  PLACE 

Elan Soho Suites, Darwin.

  
 

THE LOCATION 
Darwin’s central business district, five minutes from Smith Street Mall and a 10-minute walk to the waterfront. 

THE SPACE The 4 1/2-star hotel, which opened
in December 2014, has 301 rooms. Planned as an apartment block, it
morphed into a hotel part-way through construction. Like the forest of
small high-rises around it, don’t expect any architectural masterpieces,
or even a lavish lobby, which indicates its original intention: it’s
purely business here. Choose from a hotel room or oneor two-bedroom
apartments with kitchens, laundries and balconies.

  
 

THE ROOM The two-bed apartments have two bathrooms, a good option for groups. The king bed in my hotel

room is comfortable, with great
pillows and a choice of either aircon or an overhead fan. It’s all very
pared back, in a neutral palette of grey, white and beige. The
minimalist design attitude continues into the bathroom, where only the
basics (soap and shampoo) are supplied. Anything else is on demand, to
lower costs.

   

THE KIT With a combination of sweltering
temps and croc-infested beaches, thank goodness there’s a pool. It’s
open-air and unheated, no bother for this deep southerner. Happily, as
most Territorians won’t dip a toe in until it’s above 30 degrees, you
should have the 17-metre pool to yourself for a morning dip. It’s right
beside the gym, on level six.

  
 

COMFORT Tapping in to Darwin’s very young
population, with an average age of about 30, the hotel is tech-savvy.
Manager Steve Frichot says Elan

aims to reduce clutter for a
streamlined room. I think it’s lacking by not having a clock anywhere,
but you can use the room’s phone to self-program a wake-up call. It will
shortly become just one of a handful of Australian hotels that lets you
check in and even unlock your room with your phone, and you will be
able to order room service from Seoul Food, downstairs, through the TV,
which is conveniently kitted out with a media hub with international
power points (look, Mum, no chargers!). Wi-Fi is free for the first 20
minutes but then ups to $15 a day: not a rarity in Darwin.

   

FOOD 

The 24-hour room service is supplied
by Seoul Food restaurant and cafe, right beside the streetlevel
reception. It’s a sunny breakfast spot, serving an excellent eggs
hollandaise with good coffee to go. Seoul Food touts itself as Darwin’s
first Korean

restaurant, kicked off by Choong Jae
Lee, now a Northern Territory culinary ambassador. He tips the
bibimbap, coffee-braised beef cheeks and crispy-skinned local
barramundi. Sadly, I have a prior dinner engagement, but the restaurant
is licensed: they had me at ‘‘Bombay or Hendricks?’’

  

STEPPING OUT It seems all of Darwin is at the
Mindil Beach Sunset Market, which runs every Thursday from 5pm to 10pm
and Sundays from 4pm to 9pm, until the last Thursday in October. Arrive
with an empty stomach and shop the food vans for dinner: choose from a
Sri Lankan curry or Greek souvlaki, a plate of oysters or paella, then
head down to the sand to eat while watching the sun set. See
mindil.com.au.

   

THE VERDICT
This hotel will appeal to
self caterers, small family groups and those who just want a fuss-free
room. For the best water views, go for a high corner room in the
27-floor hotel. Manager Steve Frichot tips room 2504. A warning:
Darwin’s hotels have been shamelessly pumped up by fly-in, fly-out gas
workers, with seemingly bottomless pockets to pay for accommodation; so
dry (high) season prices are double the out-of-season tariffs. The trick
is to travel in the shoulder months.

   
ESSENTIALS 

Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia
fly direct from Sydney and Melbourne. Rooms start from $299 during the
dry season, until October 31. The Dry Season package costs $339 a night
with breakfast, two drink vouchers and a late check-out. Elan Soho
Suites is at 31 Woods Street, Darwin, phone (08) 8981 0888. See
elansohosuites.com.

 

This review by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age


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