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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Glamping in Saudi Arabia wins TravMedia’s Travel Writer of the Year award

 

I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment – this week, in Sydney, I took home a new award, the inaugural TravMedia Travel Writer of the Year! Gongs galore!

The award recognises the most read story on the TravMedia platform, and it was my story on glamping in Saudi Arabia, for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers, which caught TravMedia users’ eye. It was a review of the gorgeous Habitas AlUla, hidden in a canyon in the Asher Valley, and the first five-star property to open in AlUla oasis, now the jewel of Saudi’s tourism offerings.

TravMedia is the global media network and the world’s largest online news portal for travel media and travel industry PR professionals, and holds an annual conference in Sydney, which we’ve just returned from this weekend. There was a strong Melbourne contingent, with writers from all over Australia and some international fly-ins from Bali and New Zealand. We were there to meet with tourism reps from around the world, from as far as Dubai and New York, Tokyo and the most distant islands of Australia.

A huge thanks to TravMedia founder Nick Wayland (that’s him in the photo with me) and his team, including Blake, Julie, Lauren and Gaynor!

If you’re keen to read my award-winning story, click on the url below 😀

https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/reviews-and-advice/this-amazing-glamping-resort-shows-saudi-arabia-can-be-fun-20230905-p5e21v.html


Winner: ASTW Travel Writer of the Year!

I am so very, very, very pleased to tell you that I have been named Travel Writer of the Year 2023 by the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW)!

The ASTW made the announcement at its awards ceremony in Sydney this weekend, a glittering occasion (not least because I decided to emulate a human mirrorball for the evening). It was one of three awards I received:

  • Best accommodation story; for my review of The Benev spa hotel in Beechworth, in Victoria’s High Country
  • The Jack Butters Award for outstanding contribution to the ASTW; and, of course,
  • Travel Writer of the Year 2023.

The Travel Writer of the Year entry requires submission of three features; I took a turn off the beaten path to include my solo travel in Saudi Arabia for Traveller.com.au, another women-only travel in Islamic countries, for the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age and a third story on journeying through the Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, for Gourmet Traveller magazine.

The Jack Butters Award is named after the first president of the ASTW, and recognises outstanding service to the ASTW. It’s a tricky one to talk about without sounding boastful – I organise the Victorian events for the ASTW, and in the past have managed its social media, encourage networking and connection within the industry and generally get my hands mucky on the job. I am very proud of this award, as it requires nomination from fellow members. So, thank you to those who thought of me at this time.

I send thanks to my editors, particularly Craig Platt for going out on a limb and running my women-in-Saudi piece on traveller.com.au, and for Anthony Dennis for seeing the need for a cover story on women-only travel in Islamic countries in the Sydney Morning Herald. Neither can be described mainstream topics. And sending thanks to Sarah Maguire, editor of the Explore section of Aust Community Media/Canberra Times/ Newcastle Herald, for indulging my love of raw linen and bush fragrances of The Benev in Beechworth.

I’m equally thankful for the sponsors who make such travel, especially Experience AlUla in Saudi Arabia, North East Tourism here in Victoria, Tourism Malaysia and the countless people who have helped and guided me on my years of travels in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

Thanks also to the sponsors for each award – Virgin Australia who sponsors the Travel Writer of the Year award, and the lovely Victorian company Lancemore Hotels, who sponsored of the accommodation award, and finally, the ASTW itself and in particular, its board and awards committee. Without the ASTW, I would not have the friendships, the connections, the support and encouragement of the many, many talented people in its ranks.

And to end, here are the links for each piece:

Solo woman’s travel in Saudi Arabia – https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/visiting-saudia-arabia-as-a-woman-i-went-to-the-notoriously-sexist-country-as-a-solo-female-tourist-20220705-h24v9q.html

Women-only travel in Islamic countries – https://www.smh.com.au/traveller/inspiration/travel-guide-for-women-travellers-in-the-middle-east-tips-and-advice-20220624-h24nad.html

Lore of the jungle: adventuring in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo – https://www.magzter.com/de/stories/travel/Gourmet-Traveller/LORE-OF-THE-JUNGLE

Slow road to a blissful state: The Benev, Beechworth, Australia – https://www.exploretravel.com.au/story/8124768/slow-road-to-a-blissful-state/


Saudi Arabia on a plate

Camel kebabs, gold-flecked savoury porridge, shakshuka, mint tea, green coffee and lots and lots of dates. Eating in Saudi Arabia is an adventure in its own right.

I recently wrote a story about food in Saudi Arabia for Gourmet Traveller magazine, detailing my delicious meanderings amongst oases, deserts and desserts.

Click to read
about street eats and Michelin-starred restaurants serving up food beneath the stars, on desert sands and in the mudbrick town of oasis AlUla and seaside city of Jeddah.

All this takes place as Saudi Arabia transforms from secretive kingdom to global leader of luxury travel, with the money and imagination to make even the most incredible projects manifest.

In a whiplash reversal of protocol that took place just before the global pandemic, non-religious tourists are now welcomed into the Kingdom.

Women don’t need to cover their hair and while I admire and covet Saudi women’s dramatic abayas – long, often beautifully embroidered cloaks – there is no requirement for me to be so covered; simply modest clothing is just fine.

What to learn more about travelling in Saudi Arabia? Click to read more of my stories, such as travelling solo as a woman in Saudi Arabia.


Nominations for the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ awards 2023

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

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

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

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

2023 Travel Writer of the Year nomination:

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

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

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

2023 Best Accommodation Story nomination:

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

 


Food of Saudi Arabia: Gourmet Traveller

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

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

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

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

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

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

On newsstands now, if you like a delicious read!

 


Women in Saudi Arabia

Until late 2019, I could not visit Saudi Arabia as a solo, female traveller. Only business visa holders and religious pilgrims could visit Saudi Arabia, and even then, as a woman, I would have needed to be accompanied by a male guardian. Living in Egypt in the late noughties, my father had passed away, I was unmarried and neither of my brothers wanted to visit Saudi Arabia. It remained one of a few countries I had not visited in the Middle East, yet with an all-pervasive influence in the region’s economy, politics and societal expectations, there was a Saudi-sized gap in my understanding of the region.

Then, just before COVID closed the world down, Saudi Arabia threw out its own rule book, and brought in e-visas for independent travellers, issued online and almost on the spot.

I am so proud of this story, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Melbourne) newspapers, about my adventures in the Saudi city of Jeddah and the AlUla oasis, up toward the Jordanian border. To read more about travelling as a woman, and meeting the women of Saudi Arabia, click on the link below.

https://www.traveller.com.au/visiting-saudia-arabia-as-a-woman-i-went-to-the-notoriously-sexist-country-as-a-solo-female-tourist-h24v9q

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 


Podcast: travelling in the Middle East

Recently, I went to Saudi Arabia for a holiday. Is that a weird thing to say?

Travelling in the Middle East is a guaranteed dinner party starter: travellers either love it or swear they’ll never set foot in any of its countries – from Egypt to the United Arab Emirate, Saudi Arabia to Qatar.

I love the architecture, the languages, the desert landscapes and the blue waters that fringe the Arabian peninsula. I guess that’s why I keep returning.

I chatted to host Ben Groundwater, with Lisa Pagotto, founder of the awesomely adventurous travel company Crooked Compass on the Flights of Fancy podcast to tease out travel in this most misunderstood of regions.

Click here to listen to the full podcast. Go on, you know you want to!

 


On high on the new Ain Dubai: the world’s largest ferris wheel

Hello blog! It’s been a quiet few months as I hit the road for two months in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. My first story in this fresh new year has an appropriate high note – it’s my review of Ain Dubai (in English, Dubai Eye), the world’s largest observation wheel.

Ain Dubai’s opening coincides with the world fair, Expo 2020, which is currently running in Dubai, until March 2022. Remember that when Paris hosted the world fair, Exposition Universelle, in 1889, it built the Eiffel Tower as the main attraction. And it worked.

Back in Australia, there’s welcome news that the Sunday Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers has returned after nearly two years’ snoozing, just as Australia welcomes the news that our international borders will finally be thrown open to tourists.

While we Australians were allowed to leave in November (necessitating a rush for the border – I can confirm that the few flights available were absolutely mobbed by those of us desperate to reconnect with our families, who we’d been separated from for at least two years), now, anyone vaccinated can enter the country.

Click here to read my story, which runs on the Traveller website and appeared in print in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Melbourne) newspapers.

PHOTO CAPTION: Ain Dubai is the world’s largest observation wheel. Credit: Belinda Jackson


Global Salsa

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