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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Gone drovin’ and hanging loose: Takeoff travel news

ADVENTURE

Gone
drovin’

Turn your horse’s head to the west on a new droving experience in the
Riverina. There are just 20 places available on the new Long Paddock Cattle
Drive, which sees you droving a mob of cattle along one of Australia’s iconic
stock routes that’s still in use today. There’ll be plenty of big hats, billy
tea and bulldust, but there’s also a ready-made camp to return to each night
(with stretcher beds!) at Wanganella Creek Camp. Here, local Riverina produce is showcased at
each meal, hot showers and horse wranglers on hand to help each rider, from
beginners to seasoned hackers. The first two rides will take place from May 1-3
and May 8-10. Riders need to be 18 years and over, costs $2500 a person. See thelongpaddock.com.au/cattle-drive.


TECH
Taking care of
YourSelfie

Unfortunately for the anti-selfie-stick brigade, modern travel
is inextricably linked to technology, with split-second social media replacing
more genteel, though less timely postcards. Learn how to digitally unwind with
tech mistress Randi Zuckerberg and Celebrity Cruises. Zuckerberg is
editor-in-chief of Dot Complicated, sister to Facebook inventor Mark, and the
social medium’s former  director of
market development and spokesperson. The year-long “Take Care of
YourSelfie” campaign helps travellers navigate the delicate tech-travel
balance, surely aided by cruise ships’ traditionally steep internet charges and
limited access. But stop envisaging a bunch of rabid geeks on bandwidth withdrawal:
unplug with spa and health treatments onboard Celebrity’s 11 ships at the
Canyon Ranch SpaClub, including the InstaGlow detox ritual, fACEial Time
facial, seaweed peat wrAPP and the Texitcure manicure. Phone 1800 754 500, see celebritycruises.com.au.

GEAR
Wear your Aussie
heart on your sleeve
Take a little piece of home on your travels abroad with
this chunky eco bracelet made from Tasmanian timbers such as huon pine, myrtle
and sassafras. The timber offcuts have been polished into beads and are offset
with Tagua seeds from South American rainforests, which are collected by women
in impoverished rural communities. The jewellery is available several
colourways, and each unique piece is made by Tamika Bannister of Spotted Quoll
studio in Launceston, Tasmania. Melbourne online retailer BitsOfAustralia ships
free within Australia for purchases over $30, and $15 internationally. Spotted
Quoll eco bracelets cost $45, eco necklaces also available, $55. See bitsofaustralia.com.au.

KIDS
Hang loose in
Sydney
The school holidays are over, but Taronga Zoo makes it
easy to escape into the wilderness with its new Wild Ropes adventure. The
treetop rope course crosses suspension bridges, zip lines and rope climbs.
Happily, the ropes don’t hang over lions’ dens: you’ll be dangling over
herbivores, either Australian native animals including kangaroos and koalas or
its wetlands aviary, during the 90-minute experience, with views to our own Sydney
Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Open seven days a week, Wild Ropes costs
$35/adults, $30 children 10-17 years (minimum 1.4m tall) or $69/$45 with
Taronga Zoo entry. See taronga.org.au/wildropes.
AIRLINE
Aussies step aboard
for Hong Kong
Two Australian natural skincare brands get a sky-high
promotion when they are included in Cathay Pacific and Dragonair’s new first
and business class amenity kits. Lucky first-class passengers can now slather
on Aesop hand cream and lip balm, presented in stackable cases also by Aesop,
while business class flyers will receive a perennial Asian favourite, South
Australia’s Jurlique, whose hand, lip and day care creams are packed in a case
by hip Hong Kong bag manufacturer Seventy Eight Percent. In May, the airline
will also reopen its premium airline lounge, The Pier in Hong Kong airport,
following a redesign by British design icon Ilse Crawford’s Studioilse. Word is
that instead of an open space, it will feel more like ‘a luxurious apartment’. Cathay
Pacific launches its Hong Kong-Zurich route on March 29 and Hong Kong-Boston on
May 2, and this month adds additional seats on its Sydney-Hong Kong route when
it deploys its larger Boeing 777-300ERs on the daily service. See
cathaypacific.com.
MUSIC
I’m with the band
The Australian Chamber Choir is hitting the road on its
fifth European tour, and this time, it’s asking its friends along. Yeah, you’re
with the band. Departing on June 25, you’ll enjoy the sights of Berlin,
Copenhagen, Hamburg and Sweden’s Ystad, as well as discovering the sights and sounds
of Europe’s medieval villages. There are
choir performances in 15th-century churches, Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial
Church and at Denmark’s Sorø International Music Festival, as well as traditional
sightseeing highlights such as a visit to Beethoven’s birthplace, in Bonn. The 15-day
tour stays in four-star hotels including a converted monastery in Bavaria, and
includes coach transport, guides, admission to all the concerts and a
(non-compulsory) ‘Friends Choir’, for those who want to sing along. The Friends
Tour of Europe 2015 costs $6950 a person, twin share, excluding flights. See
auschoir.org.

 

Takeoff travel news is edited by Belinda Jackson and published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper each week. 


Getting snappy in the Arctic, trans-Australian training: Takeoff travel news

It’s been extremely quiet on the blog front, so excuse me while I drag the last couple of Takeoff columns up online. In particular, this photography competition, which will win you a $10,000 polar adventure, closes soon. So make it snappy!

Cold snaps

If ice is the spice of your life, enter Aurora
Expeditions’ new Facebook photography competition as the adventure company hunts
for its next Official Arctic Photographer. Open to all comers, from phone
snappers to professional photographers, the winner will sail from Scotland to
Spitsbergen spotting great whales and polar bears, massive icebergs and wild
landforms on a 14-day adventure. The prize includes airfares, an expedition
cruise and all expenses paid, worth $10,000. To enter, ‘like’ Aurora
Expeditions’ Facebook page, add your best travel photo and write 50 words  on why you should become the official Arctic
photographer. Entries close March 3. See facebook.com/auroraex.

GEAR 
Pack for
adventure

Sometimes, hard-shell suitcases just won’t cut it when
you’re strapped for space: such as when you’re boating or taking a light plane. Hit
the road with Australian company Paklite, whose new Escape rolling duffle bags
are practical and sturdy, ideal for the traveller who likes to pack in plenty
of adventure. The bags come in three sizes for overnighters (1.9kg, 32l),
weekends away (2.4kg, 50l) and longer getaways (2.kg, 72l) in Spring Green,
Rust and black. Each has a lockable trolley handle and wheels, and the smaller
bags can slot over the handle of the larger case, to keep one hand free. Cost
from $159-$199. See paklite.com.au.

TRAINS

Cross country
Central Australia is on show with a new advertising
campaign for the cross-continent trains The Ghan, the Indian Pacific and The
Overland, which links Adelaide and Melbourne. The campaign, ‘Journey Beyond,’
took a year to create and urges travellers to explore some of Australia’s most
evocative and remote landscapes, such as Coober Pedy in South Australia and the
Northern Territory’s Katherine Gorge. “We welcome you to step off the train in the middle of
nowhere to witness an Outback sunrise,” says Steve Kernaghan of Great Southern
Rail. “You can dig for opals, take a river cruise, linger over a long lunch,
board a scenic flight to Uluru.” Current specials include saving up to $992 on
an eight-day Wildman Kakadu Adventure package or a Perth and Margaret River
package on its all-inclusive Gold Service. Book by February 28 for travel from
May 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016. To watch the new TV advertisment, see http://youtu.be/57ZjnxL5eUI, greatsouthernrail.com.au.

WILDLIFE

Songs of the ocean
If you’ve swum with sharks, tuna or seals, it’s time to
play with the big boys, whales, on the first sing-and-swim tour in Tonga. This
tour is the first of its kind to combine swimming with humpback whales and
Tonga’s singing culture. Led by Sydney choir director Stuart Davis, who has
conducted singing tours to Cuba, Morocco and Spain, the 12-day adventure
includes a traditional Tongan song workshop, beach feast, listening and joining
village church choirs as well as five days in the water with the singing
whales. “Their song is ancient and resounds through all your senses,” says
Stuart. “If you are above them, you can experience the sound vibrating through
your body – it’s truly unforgettable. And even the male humpbacks sing.” The tour departs September 9-22 and costs
$3108, twin share, which includes 12 nights’ accommodation. Budget around $1000
for airfares: Virgin Airlines flies direct from Sydney to the Tongan capital,
Nuku’alofa. Contact Stuart Davis on 0403 869 405, singup@optusnet.com.au.
AIRLINE
Kits that means
business
Qantas has brought Australian luxury leathergoods
designer Oroton on board with a collaboration on its new business class
inflight amenity kit. Available only on Qantas flights to Asia, the pro-Australian kits are packed with Aurora Spa ASPAR
toiletries and Qantas pyjamas by Peter Morrissey,
emblazoned with the airline’s logo. Oroton, which has been creating
envy-inducing handbags since 1938, designed the limited edition Business Sleep
Collection kit to help celebrate Qantas’ new A330 business suites. 
These were designed by another key Australian designer, Marc Newson. If your budget hasn’t
stretched up a class, economy passengers travelling on the
refurbished A330s also get broader seats with
power, 11-inch screens and, as across the rest of its aircraft, larger
meals with more dining choices. The A330 aircraft refits are being undertaken
by more than 200 staff in Qantas’ Brisbane hangar and are expected to be
complete by end 2016. Qantas also recently announced it will conduct one-off
flights from Sydney to Istanbul via Perth for the ANZAC centenary
commemorations at Gallipoli. Flights depart April 21, returning April 28. See qantas.com.au.  

TECH
Austria
shells out
If Vienna isn’t within your reach right now, cheat and
see the best of the city here in Sydney, or online. On February 4, the Sydney
Opera House will host a classic Viennese tradition,  a free public concert. Conducted by Ola Rudner
and featuring soprano  Elisabeth Flechl,
the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will play the Greatest Hits from Vienna, with
works by  Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven and
Schubert. During the second half of the concert, our opera house’s sails will
be transformed by scenes of Vienna and artworks such as Gustav Klimt’s The Tree of Life. Watch the concert with
ticketed seats inside, enjoy the the free concert from a public viewing area at
Campbells Cove, near Circular Quay station, or watch it live online from 8.30-10.15pm,
at visions.vienna.info. Upload and tag your photos with #VisionsOfVienna to
enter a competition to win a week in Vienna, with flights by Emirates Airline.

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


Ferry trip to northern Tasmania: The spirit of Tasmania

The Nut at Stanley, Tasmania
The
little french bulldog rolls its great eyes, a young german shepherd starts to
howl, the ship shakes free of its moorings, and we’re off.  If you thought
you had to get to the Mediterranean to go sailing, you’ve forgotten about our
own modest sea crossing, from Melbourne to Tasmania. 
Sure, you
can fly to Tassie – it’s just two hours from Sydney and but an hour from
Melbourne to Launceston. But the luxury of time and the convenience of driving
your own car obviously appeals to many, for tonight’s sailing on the Spirit of
Tasmania is a busy one. There holidaymakers with their fur families (hence all
the hounds in the hold), caravanners with kids’ car seats and those who, like
us, have a few empty eskies  waiting to be filled with Tassie’s spectacular
produce.
We set
sail on the Spirit just in time for dinner, and already the message is clear:
you’ll never starve on this island. The ship’s yet to clear Melbourne’s Port
Phillip Bay and already our dining table in the ship’s Leatherwood restaurant
is laden with smoked quail, brandied chicken pate, ocean trout all from the
island state – and that’s just entrees. The exploration of Tasmania’s 60-plus
vineyards also starts here, with a handy list of cellar doors and wines
including Ghost Rock’s hard-to-get, sparkling wine, the Catherine, and a cheery
MacForbes Riesling, both from northern Tasmania. 
Our gang
of three shares a four-berth cabin: it’s compact and comfortable with two sets
of bunk beds, and the ship rocks gently across the Bass Strait to arrive in
Devonport just on sunrise. The information booth hands out leaflets on the best
breakfast cafes open at this ungodly hour, and the recommendation is for
Anvers’ Chocolate Factory, in nearby LaTrobe (anvers-chocolate.com.au).
Bingo.
The plan
is to drive from east to west along the north coast in just a few days, seeking
out its hamlets and beauty spots, avoiding the (relatively) big smoke of
Launceston, the Bass Strait keeping us company all the way. 
I have
already drawn up a shopping list for our three-day getaway, and it’s
embarrassingly food-oriented: raspberry jam from Christmas Hills in Elizabeth
Town (raspberryfarmcafe.com),
Hellyers’ single malt whiskey in Burnie (hellyersroaddistillery.com.au),
Tasmanian wagyu pies in Devonport (wagyupiecompany.com). There are scallop pies to
be devoured, wine and cider to be drunk, berry ice-cream to be licked. Lucky
I’m also sailing home: the airlines surely would charge me excess baggage on
the return journey.
A word on
driving in Tassie:  a hundred kilometres will not take an hour: there be
many corners, there be wild animals on the road, there be the cutest little
beach just right for paddling, a pick-your-own berry farm or a glorious vista
begging to jump onto your Instagram feed. 
Scallops at Lost Farm

On the
drive east of Devonport, our journey comes to a screeching halt at a crossroad
on the B82, amid  a cluster of Australia’s top sparkling producers,
including Jansz and Piper’s Brook, and we celebrate our find with a glass of
bubbles. 

Further
along, at Bridport, the diversion is a sweet little local bakery followed by a
walk through the rolling sand dunes that stretch out in front of our room for
the night at Barnbougle Dunes, whose  golf course, The Dunes, is rated
11th in the world. We snicker at road signs warning of kangaroos and golfers, and
play “what’s that funny name”  when passing Squeaking Point and
The Dazzler Range.
Driving
west of Devonport, the diversions are many and fabulous, such as the hamlet of
Turners Beach, notable for its kid-friendly beach and the welcoming La Mar
cafe, which packs together a dinner for our night’s stay in the self-catering
The Winged House. 
Further
on, at Penguin, we stop to admire a giant (concrete) penguin, penguins painted
on shop walls and the town’s rubbish bins garnished with penguin sculptures.
The actual penguins are absent, although a smiling woman at Cocoon, one of
Penguin’s brace of remarkable homewares shops, tells me she spent the morning
watching a baby whale frolic in the warm coastal waters with its mum. It’s
lunchtime so the  order is for a couple of scallop pies from the town’s
bakery and, like every other time I’ve eaten them, I’m surprised all over again
that the fat scallops are baked in a curry sauce so thick it’s almost rigid.
Not Thai or Indian or some exotic curry, but more like a super-yellow,
English-love-it Keen’s-curry-powder curry, and I just can’t help but feel a
little sad.
La Mar cafe at Turners Beach
With a
population of 20,000, it feels like we’ve hit the big smoke at Burnie, which
has more than its fair share of great finds, including the best little drive-in
boozer in the north, with rare and wonderful ciders galore, set beside the
recently renovated Ikon Hotel, with great family-sized apartments. But if you
had to make but one stop along this coast road, make it Burnie’s Maker’s
Workshop. 
The town
is packed with art deco architecture thanks to a cash injection via the
Australian Pulp and Paper Mill in 1938, yet the Makers’ Workshop is a
super-modern construct of glass and steel, built in 2009 on the waterfront. At
any time, up to five “makers” will be creating anything from
jewellery to baskets, paintings to glassware and I strike up a conversation
with a peg dolly maker and a felt maker. 
The glass-fronted cafe lets you watch
the working waterfront from a cosy perch. The tourist information centre is
comprehensive and its gift shop, selling Tasmania’s artisan wares, really is
worth saving your pennies for. While the paper mill has since closed, they’re
still making paper here – but this time, it’s from wombat poo or apple pulp and
visitors can turn their hand to making it on the frequent paper-making tours.
But  it’s not all scones and cappuccinos. There’s also a monstrous, yellow
Elphinstone underground loader in the foyer, a reminder that Burnie is also the
home to a Caterpillar factory and the former mechanic and the state’s richest
man, Dean Elphinstone. 
The Winged House, Table Cape

Table
Cape is best known for its tulip farm, but it’s out of season, and no vivid
strips of flowers to be seen. From our architecturally intriguing  home
for the night, The Winged House, the coastline disappears into the mists, first
mapped by Matthew Flinders with his surgeon friend, George Bass, in 1798. To
the west is The Nut at Stanley and further on, Robbins Island and Cape Grim,
said to have the world’s most pure air. It’s a delight to learn that the IGA
supermarket at nearby Wynyard  does what a franchise is supposed to do,
and stocks local scallops, whole Tassie salmon fillets and the famed beef from
Cape Grim.

It’s
 invigorating here on this headland, with the Roaring Forties living up to
its name. So after photographing the coastline from the island’s last working
lighthouse, we push on to Boat Harbour, which a Tassie friend tips as a
must-visit. She’s not wrong. The tiny harbour has a sunny cafe-cum-surf
life-saving club, set on a sandy beach that curves sweetly into the headland,
every one of the village’s beach shacks has commanding water views. It’s the
same story at nearby Sisters Beach, where sea-changers and retirees are
providing brisk business for the local tradies and real estate agents. 
Despite
its location on the north-west edge of Tasmania, little Stanley is terribly
chic. Sure you can hike or catch the chairlift to the top of The Nut, a rough
volcanic bluff  but it also sports a genuinely boutique hotel, @ VDL
Stanley,  upmarket fish-and-chipperies, more fabulous homewares shops and
cafes with a dash of city slickery. 
Next time,
I’m going to juggle my days better to hit the Sunday markets at Penguin and
pretty Ulverstone, I’m going back to funny little Tomahawk to pitch my tent
once again, and I’m going to finally hike in the Tarkine wilderness.
  
On the
way home, a vivid super-moon lights the ship’s decks and I score an upgrade to
a vast deluxe cabin with a double bed, right at the very front of the ship.
Instead of portholes, there are panoramic windows, just the spot to sit and
write that list for the return journey. 
TRIP
NOTES
MORE
INFORMATION
See discovertasmania.com.au.
The
Spirit of Tasmania sails from Melbourne into Devonport. Children travel free
between March 6 and September 13, book by February 28. Costs from $96 adults in
an ocean recliner, or from $258 for two adults and two children in a four-berth
cabin, one-way. See spiritoftasmania.com.au. Virgin Australia (virginaustralia.com),
Jetstar (jetstar.com)
and Qantas (qantas.com.au)
fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Launceston. Rex Airlines flies Melbourne to
Burnie (rex.com.au
STAYING
THERE
Barnbougle
Dunes in Bridport costs from $190 a night. Phone (03) 6356 0094, see barnbougledunes.com.au.
The Winged House at Table Cape costs from $360 a night,  Table Cape. See thewingedhouse.com.au.
Ikon Hotel, Burnie  costs from $170 a night. Phone (03) 6432 4566, see ikonhotel.com.au.
EATING
THERE
Create
your own foodie drive across northern Tasmania, see cradletocoasttastingtrail.com.au
or  the food review app, see tasmanianfoodguide.com.au.
WHILE
YOU’RE THERE
Makers
Workshop, Burnie, makersworkshop.com.au is a must-see. 
FIVE MORE
GREAT TASSIE DRIVES
East
Coast
Hobart to
St Helens.
Explore
some of the island’s  best national parks, including Bay of Fires and
Maria Island. Distance: 295km.
Convict
Trail:
Hobart to
Port Arthur via Richmond. Discover our picturesque, yet brutal colonial
history. Distance: 205km.
Cradle
Country:

Devonport to Cradle Mountain. Balance farmgate snacking and shopping with
world-class hiking. Distance: 226km.
Due
South:
Hobart
to Cockle Creek. Camp at Cockle Creek and take a short walk to South East Cape,
the most southerly point on the island. Distance: 148km.
Wild
West:
Burnie
to Strahan. Drive through Australia’s largest rainforest, the Tarkine
wilderness, via Waratah to the remote west coast. Distance: 180km.


The
writer was a guest of the Spirit of Tasmania, Barnbougle Dunes and the Winged
House.  
This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sun-Herald’s Traveller section.

Alice eats England, camping kids, and learning to love London: Takeoff travel news

KIDS: Colourful cubby
Let your kids take their imagination on holiday beneath
this colorful range of teepees. Available in eight designs including Cowboys,
Montana and the multi-stripe, they are made from durable cotton canvas with a
window and tie-down door. The teepees are 155cm high and come with five metal
poles that are easy to assemble, even for the DIY-shy. Cost $99.95. See mocka.com.au.

FOOD: Alice eats England

There’s something deliciously simplistic about this new food
tour with Masterchef 2012 contestant Alice Zaslavsky: eat Stilton in Stilton,
Bakewell tarts in Bakewell, eels in Ely. The tour goes back to the heart of
rural Britain’s great food traditions, and includes lunch in The Orchard
Restaurant at HRH Prince Charles’ Highgrove estate. Even London yields,
offering British produce at Borough Markets and a Bengali dinner in Brick Lane.
There’s also cider in Somerset, pie and mash in Walthamstow and Melton Mowbray’s
famed pork pies, in between visits to Stonehenge, 16th-century
coaching inns and a light shop at Fortnum & Mason department store. The
tour runs on September 4-11, 2015 and costs $3999 a person, twin share, including
seven nights in four-star hotels. Excludes flights. Phone 1300 836 764, see mastercheftravel.com.
SAILING: Island
hopping made easy
Greek island hopping just got a whole lot simpler with
the introduction of the new Attica Pass from Eurail. The pass allows two
international ferry trips between Greece and Italy and four sailings within
Greece – including Corfu, Santorini and Mykonos – on the Superafast, Blue Star
and Anek lines. All travel must be started within six months of its purchase
date, and be completed within one month. The new pass will be available through
Melbourne-based International Rail from January 1, 2015 and must be bought in
Australia beforehand. The Attica Pass costs from $195. Phone 1300 387 245, see internationalrail.com.au.

BOOK: Hidden London

Discover hidden London, from tiny cafes to unique boutiques
with London local Saskia Graville. Graville, who writes for Traveller, pounded the pavements to bring us the London Style Guide. Forget the city’s
big guns, she’ll send to you to the upcoming contemporary art scene in the East
End’s Bethnal Green, the foodie haunts of Bermondsey  and tiny antique dealers cum tea gardens in the
A-listers’ Primrose Hill. The hand-picked list is complemented with the
favourite finds of a list of London lights, including interior designers, chefs,
boutique hotel owners and even tattoo artists – albeit, those who have
collaborated with Damien Hirst. Available from January 1, 2015. RRP $39.99
(hardback), see murdochbooks.com.au.
GEAR: Smart
It’s
time to face the fact that your
luggage may actually be smarter than you. The Bluesmart carry-on suitcase is
Bluetooth enabled, allowing you to track its progress via an iOs or Android
app. If you and your beloved bag are separated, it will lock automatically and
send you updates of its location. It also contains a battery charger
that will charge your smartphone up to six times, has built-in scales in the handle to prevent costly
surprises on check-in as well as waterproof zippers, four wheels and a padded
laptop compartment at the front of the suitcase for the quick security grab. If it sounds too good to be true, the suitcase, which is
being developed via crowdsourced funding, can be pre-ordered now, with expected
delivery of August 2015. Available in Graphite Black only. Expect to pay around
$300. See bluesmart.com/indiegogo.

TOUR: Tigers and other treasures

Travellers looking ahead of the pack should have
Bangladesh in their sights, says Peregrine Adventures, which is taking tours to
the country for the first time in 2015. 
“Bangladesh is about to be discovered,”
states Peregrine’s Ryan Turner. Highlights include spotting Bengal tigers Sundarbans National Park, negotiating the
18 million-strong population of Dhaka and exploring the recently discovered
mosques in the archeological site of Bara Bazar. 

The 12-day tour will
have four departures in 2015 and costs from $3090 a person.  See peregrineadventures.com/india.

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

Poh spice, hidden Indonesia and hotfooting it: travel news

The phinisi Alila Purnama explores hidden Indonesia.

CRUISE
Remote islands of Indonesia

Explore the rarely visited waters of West Papua on a truly luxurious sailing trip aboard the Alila Purnama. The five-star, two-masted Indonesian ship, or phinisi, sleeps just 10 guests and is owned by the Indonesian luxury hotel group Alila. The journey begins another world away, in teeming, buzzy Jakarta, before sailing through the remote Raja Ampat (Four Kings) archipelago, around 1500 islands in the Halmahera Sea. Discover golden beaches, lush jungles, expansive coral gardens and sea  life, framed by wild, beautiful scenery rarely seen by even the most intrepid adventurers. The seven-day journey departs once a month until March 2015 and costs from $14,600 a cabin (sleeps two). See alilapurnama.com.

Poh spice

AIRLINE
Poh spices it up
Taste Malaysia from the hands of one of Australia’s best-loved cooking sensations, Poh Ling Yeow, now the newest ambassador for Malaysian Airlines. The accomplished, Malaysian-born TV cook, author and artist will present her Nyonya chicken curry to economy and business class passengers on any of the 81 flights departing Australia and New Zealand to Kuala Lumpur each week. The dish features on the airline’s menus for three months from December 1. “Nyonya Chicken is such a definitive Malaysian dish and definite crowd pleaser,” says Poh, of the airline’s new signature dish. See malaysianairlines.com.

GEAR
Get off on the right foot
You know the old conundrum: pack bulky/daggy runners or find yourself jogging in unsupported ballet flats? Travel stylishly, yet still be ready to leap into a fun run at a moment’s notice with the ELLiE shoe, a hybrid fashion sneaker that is good for your sole and keeps you light on your toes all day long. Designed by Brisbane-based podiatrist Caroline McCulloch, the lace-up ELLiE has a leather upper and lower, a rubber sole, thermoplastic heel and multi-fit inserts that customise your shoe to your foot. Available in sand and black, it’s designed for the traveller who spends one day traipsing cobblestones streets and the next pacing a walkingtrail . Costs $199.95. See frankie4.com.au.

FOOD
From the kitchens in the heart of Italy

She’s not a chef, she’s not a trained cook, Silvia Collaca says she’s just Italian. But the very modest
Colloca is backed by a family of food lovers to produce her second cookbook, ‘Made in Italy’, which is released on November 11. Drawing from her homeland in Marche, Abruzzo and Molise, she shares
her family’s traditional recipes such as homemade spaghetti with stuffed mussels from Abruzzo,
while Marche yields a simple lemon-and-ricotta ring cake, ideal for dunking. Colloca is no stranger to
the spotlight: she is a trained opera singer and actress, is married to actor Richard Roxburgh and her
first television series, ‘Made in Italy with Silvia Colloca’, airs on SBS ONE on November 27. The
recipes and musings are rounded out with photography of beautiful scenery and equally beautiful
food by Carla Coulson and Chris Chen. Cost $49.99. See penguingroup.com.au.

KIDS
Bear north for a koala cluster

Hello Koalas sculpture trail, North Macquarie

Explore Port Macquarie and the surrounding hinterland with a koala as your guide – well, actually 50 koalas. The new Hello Koalas sculpture trail comprises 50 hand-painted, meter-high fibreglass koalas dotted around the region, and celebrates Port’s status as the koala capital of Australia. Visit the world’s only koala hospital, signposted by a sculpture painted by singer John Williamson and drop in on a few real, live koalas at Billabong Zoo, marked by a koala painted by artist “Shiner” Bruce Whitaker. Plans are afoot for a three-meter high Big Koala to add to Australia’s love of all things supersized, from prawns to pineapples. The trail runs until December 2015. To download a touring map, see hellokoalas.com.

TECH
It’s a wrap

Take control of your tangled jungle of cables and whip them into knot-free submission with the outrageously efficient cord wrap from Los Angeles designers This is Ground. This simple leather pouch will untangle your life as well as your headphone and usb cables, with a side pocket for stashing slimline adaptors or ear buds. Available in navy, black, tan and coral, the Ground Cordito cord wrap costs $59.95. See rushfaster.com.au.

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


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.


Catch your own fresh seafood: food adventures in Australia

Surrounded by sea, and with lakes and rivers aplenty,
Australia is a fisherman’s heaven.

Kiss the fish,  eat the fish: your call. If you’re dropping in to drop a line in, here are a few tips for fishing in Aus, part of Tourism Australia‘s campaign to invite the world to dinner with Restaurant Australia

Surrounded by sea, Australia is one of the world’s largest islands
and has more than 8,000 smaller islands around it, which means it’s a
fisherman’s heaven. Drop a line in a quiet brook, cast for trout across a
calm river or chase the big ocean fish – marlin and tuna. The locals
say you’ve got to think like a barramundi to catch Australia’s craftiest
fish. Hunt for lobster and crabs or go rock-hopping on the pools along
the continent’s shore. Seafood lovers or catch-and-release sports
fishermen, the choice is yours.

Black Marlin, Cairns, Queensland

North Queensland is the home of the legendary Black Marlin, the
fighting fish of the ocean that is found on the fringes of the Great
Barrier Reef. Departing from Cairns’ busy marina, head out for a day’s
fishing or sleep on a boat to squeeze every minute out of your holiday.
Lovers of serious luxury should snap up Cairns Reef Charters’
package that includes a stay at Lizard Island Lodge during September to
December, when the marlin are in town. Curious anglers may also be keen
to try saltwater fly fishing on the reef.

Trout and salmon fishing, Tarraleah, Tasmania

Swap the buzz of the city for the serenity of Tasmania’s highlands.
Listen to the singing of the line on the lake as you indulge in some of
the world’s best freshwater fishing.
Discover secret beauty spots where Atlantic salmon as well as brown,
rainbow and American brook trout can be found. The brown trout season
runs August to May, with early December the peak period.

Tiwi Adventures, Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory

Most anglers make the journey to chase the mighty barramundi, Australia’s great sporting fish.

If your idea of a holiday is somewhere less inhabited and remote, the Tiwi Islands
are the place. A 30-minute flight from Darwin, most anglers make the
journey to chase the mighty barramundi, Australia’s great sporting fish.
Other species that will give you a run include blue salmon, saratoga,
mangrove jacks and estuary cod. Off-shore the waters teem with another
great fighting fish, queenfish, as well as jewfish and snapper.
Australia’s first barramundi base, Bathurst Island Lodge, reopened in
March 2013. There are two other lodges on the Tiwi Islands, which are
also famous for their indigenous art and culture.

Trout Fishing, Snowy Mountains, NSW

Fishing in Western Australia, Facebook photo by True North Mark

Learn to fly fish in rivers and streams, pick up the tricks of
trolling, spin the lakes and hear the secrets of the best lures for
trout with fish guru Steve Williamson,
who has been fishing the waterways of the Snowy Mountains for 25 years.
Williamson is based in Jindabyne, two hours’ drive from Canberra. From
beginner fishing lessons to weekend adventures, it’s a year-round
fishing destination, but best during summer when the brown, rainbow and
brook trout come out to play.

Lobster Shack tours, Cervantes, Western Australia

Watch the skipper pull lobster pots from the deep blue sea and cook it up for your lunch. Lobster Shack Tours
launch from Cervantes, two hours’ drive north of Perth, to sail into
the Jurien Bay Marine Park to the isolated Cervantes Islands, home to
colonies of raucous sea lions and pods of dolphins. The locals have been
fishing these waters for generations, and are happy to share their
favourite beach fishing spots including Hangover Bay and Thirsty Point;
or just drop a line off Cervantes jetty.

Hunt and Gather Tour, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

You reap what you sow on this tour
on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. Dive for abalone, fish for salmon
straight from the beach, hunt for oysters and gather ‘pipis’ – sweet
little shellfish found on the seashore. Your personal chef will prepare
the catch of the day on this safari, staying at waterfront accommodation
in Coffin Bay. Too tame? Add a cage dive with a Great White shark, swim
with Blue Fin tuna, sea lions and dolphins, or head into the outback,
flying over Lake Eyre and the remote Oodnadatta Track.

Queenscliff fishing, Victoria

“Life’s short, fish hard” say the fishermen of the Bass Strait, the
stretch of sea that separates mainland Australia from Tasmania. Game Rec’s
charters depart from Queenscliff and Sorrento, either side of the bay
that encircles Melbourne, and your hook should snare seriously big
snapper, kingfish, barracouta and squid, not to mention delicious local
flathead. They’ll clean your catch ready for the barbecue, or you can
kiss the fish and send it back to sea.

 This story by Belinda Jackson was first published by Tourism Australia, who is inviting the world to dinner. 

To read more about Australia’s fantastic food culture, best restaurants, wineries and producers, visit the brand, spanking new Restaurant Australia website.


Search for the glow: Norway’s Northern Lights

The Aurora throws out a curtain.


EDIT: I am very pleased to note that this feature, originally
published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, has won the Australian Society of Travel
Writers’ 2014 award for Best Cruise feature.

Dodging trolls and and black ice, Belinda Jackson rugs up to hunt the Northern Lights. 

Boarding the MS Midnatsol, the first thing we see is a tall
Norwegian woman welcoming us on to the ship. The second spectacle is of a
tall English woman being stretchered off the ship.

“She slipped and fell on the ice,” reports one of the crew.
Instinctively, I want to crawl. Happily, the lady reappears several days
later, smiling but in a wheelchair. Norwegian winter cruising, it
appears, has a touch of the blood sport about it. Forget bikinis and sun
loungers: there’s a layer of difficulty travelling in the far northern
winter.

Actually, there are many layers. Going outside for anything more than
a quick photo on the promenade deck becomes an epic exercise in
wrestling with thermal underwear. And two pairs of socks. Fleece.
Waterproof jacket. And the boots with ice grips (hmmmm – the casualty).

Crown it all with a tight beanie that will resist the wind’s
insistent fingers. Some people even pull on a balaclava, but that’s all
just a little too Douglas Mawson for me, though I am sporting a dangling
pompom that holds a 90-degree angle to my head in prevailing winds.

We do it because we’re hunting the light: the Northern
Lights. Yes, there’s reindeer sledding, midnight concerts and hot
tubbing on the top deck while it snows. But right now, our sun is in the
midst of exceptional solar activity, and boffins say that this winter
and next are the best in a decade to see the elusive Aurora Borealis.

Norway is one of the world’s top viewing locations and
doesn’t require frostbitten fingers, drinking sterilised wee or eating
your own dogs to get there.

Light-hearted: the Aurora from the deck of the Midnatsol.
Photo: Bob Stephan

In fact, it’s all rather civilised on the Midnatsol, one of
12 Hurtigruten ships that undertake an 11-day round trip that traverses
the length of the Norwegian coastline. A ship sails every day.

The coastal express mail and goods run started in 1893, with
passengers hopping on and off between farming villages and port towns.
Norwegians still use the Hurtigruten as public transport, but they are
now outnumbered dramatically by tourists keen to cruise the fiords and
wild coastline as the ship pushes up into the Arctic Circle. There’s a
healthy showing of Aussies among them, forsaking a southern summer for
temperatures so low, the locals don’t even bother to say “minus”.

You can pick the Norwegians: they’re the ones glued to the
live chess tournaments on the television in the main lounge, silently
sculling black coffee from tall thermo-mugs. The rest of us have our
noses stuck to the ship’s panoramic windows, waving at fishing trawlers
and making such blindingly obvious statements as “Gosh, it’s cold!”.

Doing nothing to dispel opinions of Norwegians as a teensy
bit boring, Norway’s national TV station NRK’s home-grown programs
includes 12-hour documentaries on stacking firewood, knitting and a
minute-by-minute program of the Hurtigruten journeying down the
Norwegian coastline, from Bergen to Kirkenes. It was a 134-hour,
non-stop broadcast, and it rated!

“Did you see the program?” the urbane concierge at Oslo’s
beautiful Grand Hotel asked me several days before boarding. “It was
great!” His patriotism makes me almost forgive Norway for being so
expensive that it makes my muscular Aussie dollars wimper and
hyperventilate.

Back on the ship, it’s time to throw out all my cruising
expectations: there are no little towel animals at the end of the bed
each night, the theatre hosts astronomy lectures instead of chorus
girls, and all the staff are locals.

It’s a dramatic change from the United Nations of staff that
you meet on most cruise ships, and it’s lovely to have locals’
experience and advice (“It’s Sunday night. This town is dead. Don’t
bother getting off.”)

But hey, it does a mean buffet. Scandinavians invented the
smorgasbord. The Norwegianised breakfast buffet features caramelised
cheese, mustard herrings and salmon done three ways (roasted, smoked,
cured) every morning. There’s reindeer pate and cloudberries at
lunchtime and a local salmon served, classically, with dill steamed
potatoes at dinner. And yes, there is a gift shop, full of hideously
misshapen trolls and heart-breakingly expensive snowflake knits. The
Hurtigruten is undeniably Norwegian.

The total journey from Kirkenes to Bergen is 2465 kilometres,
stopping in at 33 ports, some as little as 15 minutes, just long enough
to sling a crate of parcels overboard. After a few days, we slip into
the routine of busy mornings exploring towns and afternoons of quiet
contemplation and panoramic viewing.

It’s dark by 4pm but we don’t care: we’re here to see the
light. The Japanese say a baby conceived beneath the lights is a special
child. The Sami believe the lights are a trail left by a fox scampering
across the sky. Everyone from ancient Chinese to American Indians have a
theory: the lights are souls, they’re a bridge to heaven, a good omen, a
bad omen.

But let me blow a few myths: if you were standing on deck in
sub-zero temperatures at midnight waiting for a ray of green light to
zap you between the eyes, you’d be waiting a long time. Guest lecturer
and British astronomer Dr John Mason says most of the colours in the
Northern Lights are invisible to our eyes: we just can’t see the red and
turquoise bands with the naked eye.

MS Midnatsol

“You probably won’t see colour, but
you will see movement.” Green is the most apparent colour, followed by
violet, but even then they’ll most likely show up as a hazy grey cloud
against the clear black sky, he warns.

Point a camera at the grey clouds and you’ll see the eerie
green rays appear in your final photo – and even then only when you open
the lens for up to 15 seconds or more.

To see the lights, the sky has to be dark, with no light
pollution. You also need a cloudless sky and your eyes also need to be
dark adapted, which can take up to 10 minutes, which is a long time on a
windswept ship’s deck in the black of a polar night. “When the lights
appear, we’ll make the announcements over the ship’s PA, and you have to
hurry,” Dr Mason says. “We don’t know how long they’ll last – You’ve
got to be ready.” We’re all so ready.

“We’ve been on six nights, from Bergen, and haven’t seen
anything yet,” says glass artist Bob Stephan, from North Carolina. Armed
with a fish-eye lens and balaclava, he helps me lash my camera to a
deck chair in lieu of my lost tripod.

There are two important things to note from this
conversation: one is that most tourists tend to stay on the ship for the
entire 11-day round journey, from Bergen up to Kirkenes and back again.
The second is that the Northern Lights are fickle.

But we strike it lucky: second night on board, and the show
is on. The deck is jam-packed as people point cameras to the sky. The
sky swirls and a soft grey-green light gusts and drifts into view. It’s
not the “hit-me” colours of the brochures, or a white night. But the
wild wind, the snow gusts and the dancing sky leave us light-hearted and
light-headed: we are but mesmerised little people dwarfed by the glory
above.

The Lofoten archipelago.

The serious photographers are rugged up and settled in for
the night, but the crowd drifts off after an hour or so. The next night,
the lights show even longer, a static display that has the astronomers
scratching their heads, though the ship is pitching wildly.

It’s also cold enough to bite your nose off.

We dash down below decks to thaw out, when one of the
astronomy tour members, Patch, pulls out his phone. The Aurora Australis
has been putting on a spectacular show in Tasmania, just an hour and
$100 from my Melbourne home. Groans from we Australians. Tasmania?
That’s next year’s plan.

The writer was a guest of Bentours.

AHOY! Norwegian Getaway has a three-storey sports complex that includes an eight-foot over-sea “walk the plank”.

FIVE MORE GREAT PLACES TO HUNT THE AURORAS
TASMANIA The Aurora Australis has been seen as close to Hobart as
Seven-Mile Beach (near Hobart Airport), on the Overland Track and Bruny
Island. Get viewing tip-offs from this local alerts page facebook.com/groups/215002295201328/.
ALASKA Fairbanks and nearby Denali National Park are Alaska’s
playground for aurora hunting, and boast an 80 per cent chance of
spotting the lights from August to April, see explorefairbanks.com.
ICELAND Make sure you’re in the glassed-in bar of the Ion Hotel when
the lights deign to shine. The new eco-hotel is an hour’s drive from
Reykjavik, see ioniceland.is.
CANADA Head for Whitehorse, Yukon, on the edge of the wilderness and
hunker down in a yurt while you wait for the performance to begin, see arcticrange.com.
FINLAND Tuck up in a snow igloo in Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, in Finnish Lapland, a thousand kilometres north of Helsinki, see kakslauttanen.fi.

TRIP NOTES
GETTING THERE Fly Sydney to Oslo via Bangkok with Thai Airways or via London with British Airways (britishairways.com). From London or Bangkok, book early to catch Norwegian Air’s cheap flights (norwegian.com).
CRUISING THERE The nine-day Best of Norway Cruise departs daily from Bergen
or Kirkenes, with astronomy tours available in winter. From $2877, twin
share (winter) to $4448 (summer), 1800 221 712, see bentours.com.au.
MORE INFORMATION visitnorway.com.


Adventure beckons: Aireys Inlet, Victoria

Rock-pool-hopping at Eagles Nest, Aireys Inlet, Victoria.
Photographer, Mark Chew.

We love a craggy, snap-tastic coastline, horse rides on the
beach, gourmet food and bush settings, which is why Aireys Inlet,
sitting pretty between the big guns of Anglesea and Lorne, is so
attractive.

Aireys is where the
artisan shop Lulu and Mr Q sells hand-made ice-cream, where the
shoreline has epic rock-pool-hopping potential to spot crabs and sea
urchins at low tide, where kids can snorkel in Mermaid Pool and where
crumbling cliffs above the sand burn a vivid ochre in the afternoon sun.

The
essential items for a summer holiday based at Aireys Inlet are a
well-stocked picnic basket and blanket: set up on the benches by the
barbecues at Moggs Creek or in a bushland setting at Sheoak Falls in the
Great Otway National Park.

If the kids whine, “But what else
are we going to do?” there’s an arsenal of off-sand activities at your
fingertips, from mountain biking around Distillery Creek to canoeing
down river where Painkalac Creek meets the ocean. See Great Ocean Road Adventure Tours; gorats.com.au.

Or
you can stretch your legs along the Surf Coast Walk from Aireys towards
Torquay, taking in sheltered nooks and windswept scenery alike. Then
there’s the White Queen – the Split Point Lighthouse – now open for
guided tours. See splitpointlighthouse.com.au.

With the kids
Under fives
* There’s sheltered swimming at Sunnymead and at Sandy Gully beaches.
* The reef at nearby Step Beach forms a swimming hole at low tide, while Aireys Inlet Beach suits experienced body surfers.
* It’s Victoria: sometimes it rains. Aireys Inlet’s Great Escape Books
hosts kids’ readings at 11am on Wednesdays in the summer school
holidays. Otherwise, order a hot chocolate and snuggle in for a read or
ransack the store’s toy box; greatescapebooks.wordpress.com.

Older children
* Explore Fairhaven Beach on horseback; blazingsaddlestrailrides.com.

Teenagers
* Take a photography walk along the coastline with a guide-teacher; surfcoastwalks.com.au.

Dining there
Pull
up a seat with water views at Aireys Inlet Foodstore & Cafe and
order home-made baked beans with Otway pork or free-range eggs. Then
stock the larder with local produce from its foodstore; aifsc.com.au.
It’s the perfect marriage: a parma and locally made beer at Aireys
Pub, which earns its stripes as a great all-rounder, with a sandpit in
the beer garden and live music every Saturday; aireyspub.com.au.
Add
a touch of the Mediterranean to your getaway with lunch at A la
Grecque. Order the seafood, order the wine – it’s your holiday;
alagrecque.com.au.

Getting there
Aireys Inlet is about a 90-minute drive west of Melbourne at the start of the Great Ocean Road.

Staying there
The
Aireys Inlet Getaway Resort has one-, two- and three-bedroom villas
with a pool, picnic spots and koalas and birds on the guest list; aireysinletgetaway.com.au.The Glen Farm Cottages are
self-contained, mud-brick stays on Old Coach Road, a few kilometres
inland from the beach; aireys.com.au.Private holiday homes are plentiful and listed on stayz.com.au. B&Bs are dotted throughout the region. Aireys
Inlet Holiday Park has cabin accommodation ranging from three-bedroom,
two-bathroom executive cabins to smaller cabins, aicp.com.au.

Camping there
Also at Aireys Inlet Holiday Park are ensuite sites with power and private bathroom, powered sites and grassed tent sites.

More information
See visitgreatoceanroad.org.au.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney Morning Herald Traveller.


A ghost in the jungle: spotting lost leopards in Sri Lanka

It’s late, I’m slogging away on a deadline about Sri Lanka. Ok, I’m not. I’m blogging instead. But to take a break from wringing words from a bleeding brain, I started hunting for photos to accompany the piece, which has a breakout on leopard spotting in Yala National Park.

And you know those weird things that get in your computer system and fidget with your photo catalogues? Yes, those. They were in there, and this is the photo they lost.

The young female leopard was standing on the side of the dirt track we were cruising in our 4WD. Noel Rodrigo, internationally hailed as Sri Lanka’s leopard whisperer, saw her and pulled up sharp. She wandered across the track in front of us, then padded along the dirt road before turning back into the scrub. Within seconds, she had disappeared from view once again, a ghost in the jungle.

Noel’s camp is located around the back entrance to the park: up to 400 trucks pour through the main gate every morning, cowboys roaring through the park, two-way radios blaring, each promising a glimpse of these elusive cats. We crept in the back gate early and slowly to find our girl. And now I’ve found her again.

www.leopardsafaris.com


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