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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Exploring Bray: England’s most famous home county

Oakley Court hotel Bray Berkshire. Photo: Alamy

The river boat hums down the Thames. Lush green gardens and gabled
houses line the riverbanks as we pootle down towards one of Britain’s
most desirable villages: Bray, in Royal County of Berkshire. 

Tudor mansions and neo-Gothic piles; if the digs aren’t fabulous,
their present and former owners make up for it, from Sir Michael
Parkinson to Elton John’s mum. There are embassies of Far Eastern
kingdoms and off-duty houses for foreign royalty (the queen, of course,
lives in nearby Windsor) and you may spot residents from neighbouring
villages, including Terry Wogan, Natalia Imbruglia or Michael Palin.

Steve
Harris, our captain and owner of the 34-foot  Dutch motor
yacht Fringilla, delights in blowing our mind with deliciously colourful
real estate gossip: “There is no public money in Bray” and “Yes, £8
million for that one” as we cruise the ancient waterway.

Our river
journey starts at the ingloriously named Maidenhead Railway Bridge,
designed by the gloriously named railway engineer Isambard Kingdom
Brunel. Also known as the Sounding Arch, which sounds much better, the
brick bridge was created by Brunel with what was, in 1838, the world’s
widest arches. Its two broad spans inspired Turner to paint it in 1844
and London-bound trains still thunder over the bridge today.

The
natural end to the two-hour cruise down this little elbow of the Thames
is one of Bray’s three-Michelin-starred restaurants, of which there are
only four in Britain. There are two in the village of 5000: Michel
Roux’s Waterside Inn, which has a handy wharf out front, and Heston
Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck.

Bray is determinedly a village. Not a
town, not a civic centre but a bona fide parish, with hamlets and
greens, as mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. There are crests
galore atop the pubs, on private houses, through the picturesque
graveyard of St Michael’s Church, which looks like it’s auditioning for Midsomer Murders.

There’s
the sprawling red-brick Jesus Hospital, sporting a plaque that
describes how the almshouse was founded in 1627 by a loaded London
fishmonger who left it in trust to his guild, the Worshipful Company of
Fishmongers. Bray was also home to Hammer Films, and its neighbour, a
gargoyle-riddled Gothic folly, became Frank-N-Furter’s mansion and
hosted several zombie films. It’s now the very nice Oakley Court Hotel,
its car park exit sign reads a perky “Toodle pip!” We’re in Wind in the Willows territory here.

Then there’s the Heston factor.

Look,
I know you can buy his ham pies and puddings in Coles now, but that
doesn’t detract from going back to the master’s back yard. Heston owns
three eateries in the village: The Crown – think pub grub of fine fish
and designer salty chips; The Hinds Head – another 15th-century pub but
more refined, dishing up hashes of snails; and the
three-Michelin-star The Fat Duck. The world-acclaimed restaurant has
just finished its successful sabbatical in Melbourne’s Crown Towers
hotel, though it won’t reopen from its refit and antipodean sojourn
until later this year.

This wintry November eve we’re checking
into Lavender Cottage, the newest property by Malaysian group YTL
Hotels.Its Malaysian properties, Pangkor Laut and Tanjong Jara Resort,
do a mean line in super-luxury, so look past the doilies-and-fust
misnomer because this little three-bedroom cottage sleeps six in
top-of-the-line style.

Listing its features reads like an interior
design magazine: sounds by Bang & Olufsen, Peter Reed Egyptian
cotton bed linen, Turkish carpets and a Gaggenau wine fridge. The
massive food fridge is stocked with organic goods – cheeses, antipasto
and wine – despite Bray’s embarrassment of restaurant riches being a
three-minute walk away. The cottage even offers to send a chef in to
whip up brekkie. The bartender in the Hinds Head, across the road, sends
a couple of cocktails, which are the perfect end to our arrival
canapes of delicate smoked salmon and sandwiches, petit fours, perfect
strawberries and pots of afternoon tea.

Heston’s own Early Grey
gin is in the cupboard (and, I discover later, in the posh Waitrose
supermarkets) and I have a passionate affair with butter churned with
Anglesey sea salt from the Prince of Wales’ own organic label, Duchy
Foods.

Lavender Cottage is painted a dove grey, with exposed red
brick walls and a glass conservatory built onto the original 1600s
building. A fire crackles in the fireplace, lighting great beams
revealed and renewed after an ignominious 1980s renovation, slate floors
are warmed underfoot, the bedrooms glow with ivory silks, and there is
nothing wanting in the kitchen. In the garden, there’s even a little
greenhouse for spa treatments. If, for some bizarre reason, you find
yourself in England in November, there is no finer cottage to call
home.

Its sister properties are flamboyant party house Bray
House, the former stables of Manor House of Bray, built in the
1780s; and the tiny, beautiful, couples-only Dormer Cottage. Each is 
worth a night’s stay purely to see the envy on day trippers’ faces. We
waltz in for lunch at one pub, have dinner at another, walk through tiny
Tudor gatehouse, the 15th-century Lych Gate, to the mossy village
graveyard and take a day trip to Windsor, to check out the locals.
Later, I discover the M4 motorway roars just minutes away from Bray but
the village pays no heed: it just continues with its mission to achieve
professional cuteness.

After two days of bucolic luxury, it takes
but an hour to be jettisoned back into fever-pitch London. Sure,
there’s a king’s ransom of beauty in the capital but it’s tempered by
rashes of high-street betting shops, dilapidated curry houses and grim
public housing. If the capital has taken its toll on me, Bray is the
ultimate antidote.

Belinda Jackson was a guest of YTL Hotels. 

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION visitbritain.com

GETTING THERE Bray is 10 minutes from Maidenhead, three stops from Ealing Broadway,
on the London Tube’s Central and District lines. Alternatively, hire a
car from Heathrow airport for the 27-kilometre journey to Bray. 

SEE + DO Take a two-hour cruise downriver on the Fringilla, a renovated 34-foot Dutch motor yacht. See boathiremaidenhead.co.uk.  
STAYING THERE Lavender Cottage costs £1000 a night; see muse-hotels.com/braycottages/en/lavender-house.php 

FIVE MORE DAY TRIPS AROUND BRAY
1 EXPLORE WINDSOR Wander around Windsor for the cutest old-world cafes and a classic British High Street.
2 SAFE BET Have a flutter on the horses at either Windsor or Ascot racecourses.
3  ROYAL TOUR Go
all-out royalist with a visit to the 900-year-old Windsor Castle’s
State Apartments and the tomb of Henry VIII and see the Changing of the
Guard.
4  PLAYTIME Legoland Windsor is aimed at kids 2-12 years: its Driving School is the most popular attraction.
5  CLASS ACT Even
princes have to go to school: take a tour of historic Eton College,
which taught  princes William and Harry their three Rs, and was the
backdrop for the WWI epic Chariots of Fire.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published on the Fairfax Traveller website.


The outlaw in the frame: Ned Kelly tourist attractions, Victoria, Australia’s ultimate hipster

Hero or villain, Ned Kelly was Australia’s original hipster, writes Belinda Jackson.

 

I’m lying in bed and a masked man
hovers nearby, clad in armour, brandishing a sawnoff rifle. And then it
comes to me: Ned Kelly was the ultimate hipster. 

Unforgiven by Adam Cullen (Ned Kelly and Constable Fitzpatrick),
2011

He had the beard. He
had the country hideaway. He definitely had the anti-establishment
attitude, and he was into designing his own clothes, which are still
distinctly his own, even 135 years later.

  
 

It’s only fitting, then, that Ned is
celebrated in Melbourne’s hipster digs, The Cullen hotel, in edgy,
inner-city Prahran. 

He’s in the lifts, he’s in the corridors, he’s on my
bedroom wall, watching over my bed, a metal can on his head, Winchester
repeater aimed high behind me.

  
 

The Cullen celebrates the work of
Archibald prize winner Adam Cullen, who died in 2014, aged 46. ‘‘Cullen
was … interested in representing other bad boys, criminals and
bushrangers,’’ says Tansy Curtin, senior curator at the Bendigo Art
Gallery.

  
 

The Cullen Stormie Suite

 
Staying on the hipster theme, I
ponder: what would Ned drink? Probably home-made rum, so the guy was
obviously a locavore, eating and drinking from within 100 kilometres of
his home.

  
 

This guy was into fashion, sporting handcrafted clothing.

  
 
Following suit, I raid the
offlicence just behind the hotel for a pinot grigio from the King
Valley, prime Kelly country, and score handmade pizza from the famed
ovens of Ladro, nearby.

  
And this guy was into fashion,
sporting hand-crafted clothing. 

‘‘Ned was a dandy,’’ says art curator
Andrew Gaynor, who leads me through the wealth of Kellyinspired art at
The Cullen.

  
 

‘‘Beneath his armour at the Siege of
Glenrowan, he wore a silk waistcoat, pin-striped trousers and a green,
silk cummerbund. The gang cut a really good figure, and Ned had plenty
of sympathisers to his cause for a new, free state.’’

  
 

Hero or cop killer? Choose your fairytale, which is now overlaid with decades of research, turning up crooked judges, botched

investigations and plenty of gloves-off England versus Ireland racism.

    

‘‘There’s so much we didn’t know until recently,’’ says Kellyphile and guide Airi Repetti, at the State Library of Victoria.

   

The stately building is home to Kelly’s original set of armour, forged from a set of ploughshares.

   However, if you went looking for the
44-kilogram suit of armour, you’d find a polite note telling you to go
to Bendigo, where it’s the hero artefact in a new exhibition that
celebrates the Kelly legend, Imagining Ned.

  
 

The exhibition brings together some
of the most memorable images of the man, from the Kelly series by Sidney
Nolan and his contemporary, Albert Tucker, to one entire room dedicated
to

Cullen’s huge, rich works of the players in the Kelly saga.

  
 

Edward’s Bag of Fruit by Adam
Cullen

There are photos of the bushranger’s
commanding, handsome face in a portrait he had taken just days before
he was hanged, sporting a full bushranger’s beard and an oiled quiff.

  
And beside it, created just days later, the impossibly sad death mask of Kelly, clean-shaven and vulnerable for eternity.

  
 

His head was cut from his body to
create several moulds and, a week after his execution, the general
public could ogle the death mask in the Bourke Street waxworks museum
owned by the maskmaker, Maximillian Kreitmayer, who used it to link
criminality and lowered brows in

the crack science of phrenology.
While his bones were interred in a country town’s cemetery in 2013,
Ned’s skull is missing still, which only adds to the legend.

   

There’s a bound manuscript of Peter
Carey’s novel, The Secret History of the Kelly Gang; a reward poster
offering the fortune of £8000 for the four men at a time when a
labourer’s annual wage tipped £50; pictures of the siege printed on
chocolate boxes; and Ned’s Snider-Enfield 0.577 calibre long rifle.

   

It’s only 135 years, or four
generations back, that Ned Kelly was hanged in Melbourne Gaol. As I’m
driving back to Melbourne from Bendigo, an angry talkback caller is
blasting the radio, comparing executed drug

smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to Ned Kelly.

  
 

‘‘It’s just this stupid Australian habit of turning criminals into heroes!’’ she fumes.

  
 

The Schaller Studio lobby, Bendigo

A week later, my child’s ballet
teacher mentions that her elderly mother knew the Kelly family. ‘‘It
seems no one wanted to know them, in the past,’’ I say. ‘‘Yes, but we
all know what the police did – the rapes, the harassment,’’ she says,
matter-of-factly.

  
 

Brought up by Irish Catholic nuns,
my sympathies can only go the way of the Kelly gang, with its backstory
of police harassment, the assault of his sister and the sentence of
three years’ hard labour for his mother, while carrying a newborn babe.

  
 

On the other side of the fence, he’s
a pathological liar, layabout criminal and unremorseful murderer,
preferring armed robbery to honest farm labour.

  
 

Criminal, anti-hero, cult leader or
Australia’s answer to Robin Hood? Despite the new exhibition and the
museums, the jury is still out.

    

Such is life. 

TRIP NOTES
STAYING THERE Images
of Ned Kelly feature throughout The Cullen hotel. Costs from $209 a night for a
studio suite, 164 Commercial Road, Prahran, thecullen.com.au. In Bendigo, its sister art hotel, The
Schaller Studio, costs from $115 a night for a Workspace Queen, cnr Lucan &
Bayne Sts, Bendigo. Phone 1800 278 468.
artserieshotels.com.au/schaller.
THINGS TO SEE AND
DO

Imagining Ned shows until June 28. Bendigo
Art Gallery (closed Mondays) has free tours at noon Wednesdays and Saturdays, $10
adults. Phone (03) 5434 6088, see bendigoartgallery.com.au.

PHOTOS: (Clockwise from main) Estate of Adam Cullen and Michael Reid Art Gallery
 

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers.  


Art in Melbourne: Big guns and local heroes

David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover (1973)PICTURE: BRIAN DUFFY
© DUFFY ARCHIVE & THE DAVID BOWIE


Think big. Really big. Big as
Beijing, Bowie or the Great War. Yes, that big. And they’re all coming
to Melbourne for a calendar packed with blockbuster storylines,
intriguing characters and high drama galore.

  
 

The National Gallery of Victoria 
loves to steal the limelight, and
the line-up over the next six months gives it ample reason to preen a
little. Priceless Ming and Qing dynasty treasures from Beijing’s Palace
Museum, in the Forbidden City, are on display in A Golden Age of China:
Qianlong Emperor,

1736–1795 (until June 21) . 

Hot on
its heels, the riches of Russia’s Hermitage Museum are this year’s
Melbourne Winter Masterpieces coup. Fresh from St Petersburg,
Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherin the Great is a rich, lush
extravaganza of 400 works from the personal collection of the
long-ruling queen. Expect works from Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens and
Titian. Both are Australian exclusives and the frst time these
exhibitions have left their respective homes.

  
 

Balance all this international
action with a dose of Australiana. Tap into your inner petrolhead to
ogle the world’s fastest car back in 1971, the Chrysler Valiant Charger
E49, or enjoy a fashback to your time in a Holden Monaro or Torana.
Shifting Gear: Design, Innovation and the Australian Car is a
celebration of our classic car designs, with 

23 iconic, rare and prototype
vehicles on show (until July 12) . 

It’s not all looking backward,
either. Transmission: Legacies of the Television Age explores how TV has
infuenced art and contemporary culture, and looks forward to new
technologies. It also includes a major new acquisition by Ryan Trecartin
& Lizzie Fitch (May 15 – Sept 13) . Smaller fry are also catered
for with a hyper-interactive kids’ show, Tromarama (May 23 – Oct 18, see

nvg.vic.gov.au)  . 

Like most of the world, Melbourne
remembers the 100th anniversary of the Great War but has a world-frst
exhibition of more than 350 artefacts drawn from the vast collections of
London’s Imperial War Museums. The WW1 Centenary Exhibition is now
showing at the Melbourne Museum (until October 4, see museumvictoria.com.au) . 

Melbourne’s Shrine of remembrancePICTURE: CRAIG RIDLEY

Tie it in with a visit to
the Shrine of Remembrance, which has undergone a timely $45million
renovation and now has several permanent and temporary exhibitions
focusing on Australians in war and peacekeeping roles.

  
 

If you prefer to fick your hips
during art exhibitions, catch the only Australasian showing of David
Bowie Is
. Hailing from London’s Albert & Victoria Museum, this
exhibition allows visitors to watch rare film, peruse album artwork and
admire the wildly fabulous costumes worn by Bowie as he morphs from
Brixton teen to supersonic

superstar. Showing at ACMI in Federation Square (July 16 – Nov 1, see
acmi.net.au/bowie) .

  
 

But Melbourne’s art scene is not all
of-the-scale blockbusters. Shh. Focus. And there, in the small spaces,
in the hidden doorways and the unassuming rooms, Melburnians are quietly
creating beautiful objects and thought-provoking conceptions. Find a
detailed map of the city and navigate your way into independent
galleries and artist-run initiatives across the city.

  
 

With its curved, pink wall tiles and
ornate signposting to long-dead public telephone rooms, the Degraves
Street subway
(also known as Campbell Arcade) was built to help workers
coming from Flinders Street Station skip the crowds during the 1956
Olympics. Keep an eye on the walls for the Platform Artists Group’s
regular exhibitions and performance art. Ten nip into nearby
fortyfivedownstairs for performance art and two permanent galleries (45
Flinders La, Melbourne, see fortyfivedownstairs.com)

Make time to spot the Next
Big Thing, see the latest sculpture or taste new media at Flinders Lane
Gallery
(137 Flinders La, see
flg.com.au) . Set amid some of the city’s hidden street art, the Dark Horse
Experiment artist studios are an unruly delight (110 Franklin St,
Melbourne, see darkhorseexperiment.com), while Twenty by Thirty
Gallery
is Melbourne’s smallest artist-run gallery. You’ve got to be on
your toes to spot it. Located outside Melbourne’s smallest bar, Bar
Americano, its exhibitions change on the first day of the month (20
Presgrave Place, Melbourne, of

  
Little Collins St) . 

And step out of
the city grid to anarchic Collingwood’s The Compound Interest for a
creative commune of publishers and print, fashion and lighting designers
(15-25 Keele St,
thecompoundinterest.com)

   

Blow away the Big City smoke with a
drive into the country. Turn the wheel and aim for the Mornington
Peninsula, just an hour from Melbourne’s GPO, for a seaside escapade.
For a small town, Mornington sure steals a lot of air in the art world. 

McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery

Keep your eyes peeled on the drive for three gargantuan sculptures along
the Peninsula Link freeway, commissioned by the McClelland Sculpture
Park+Gallery
, in Langwarrin.

Set on a 16-hectare block of
bushland, the gallery ofers Australia’s richest sculpture prize. Te 2015
Montalto Sculpture Prize, worth $100,000, was won by Melbourne-based
artist Matthew Harding. His award-winning sculpture, Void, is on display
with 32 other works in an outdoor exhibition (until July 19, see
mcclellandgallery.com).

   

It doesn’t stop there. Put the
unassuming Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery , just 20 minutes away,
on your must-stop list. Its modest frontage belies thoughtful curation,
with esoteric art and ethereal seascapes on show in the upcoming
exhibitions, Windows to the Sacred and Jo Scicluna’s Where We Begin (May
15 – July 12, 350 Dunns Rd, Mornington).

   
  
And what is art without wine? Taste
your way through some of the oldest vineyards in the region at the new
Crittenden Estate Wine Centre, then fnd a little villa to call you own –
at least for the night – on Crittenden’s serene grounds (25 Harrisons
Rd, Dromana, see
crittendenwines.com.au) . 

Or pull up a pew in the bistro
of a chic Red Hill jewel, Polperro Wines , with its new cellar door and
villas, complete with open fres and vineyard views (150 Red Hill Rd,
Red Hill, see
polperrowines.com.au) . Perfect for a blend of good dining and great contemplation.

  
 

Brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. 

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section. 


Singapore slings, Mystical India and train travel in Tassie: Takeoff travel news

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Recently, I had to sling a Singapore Sling in the historic bar of Raffles Hotel, and the history was palpable. From the ‘last tiger in Singapore found under the pool table’ stories to the gracious verandahs with their rattan chairs and high teas. It’s 100 years since the Sling was first slung – scroll down to find out more. 

TRAIN
Full steam ahead
Explore Tasmania’s remote, mountainous west coast on the restored
steam trains of the newly reopened West Coast Wilderness Railway. The copper mining
rail line closed down in 1963 before reopening as a tourist train for a decade
until 2013. A recent $12m government investment has since seen 12,000 sleepers
replaced on what is the steepest railway in the southern hemisphere, and the
full 34.5km length of the original track, from Strahan to Queenstown, is open
once again. The historical railway was built with hard labour in the 1890s by
teams of Irish workers, and serves up plenty of juicy historical tales of feuds
and swindling. You don’t have to be a trainspotter to appreciate the beauty of
the three locomotives, which date back to 1896. Choose between full or half-day
journeys through old-growth rainforest and over King River Gorge, from
$95/adult, $40 children or $220 families in the Heritage carriage, or fully
catered with High Tea and Tasmanian sparkling wine in the Wilderness Carriage. Phone
(03) 6471 0100, see wcwr.com.au

India’s mystical Brahmaputra River.
TOURS
Mystical India
Explore busy tea markets, visit silk sari weavers and sleep
on the world’s largest inhabited river island, Majuili, amidst the dramatic
Brahmaputra River on a journey through north-eastern India. The 14-day tour
begins in Guwahati and visits the tribal lands and spots the exotic wildlife of
Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. “It is the least explored, but easily the most
exotic part of India,” says John Zubrzycki, a foreign correspondent and author who
has set several historical biographies in India. Zubrzycki, a self-confessed
Indiaphile, leads the first-time Hidden Lands, Forgotten Frontiers tour from
November 19-December 3, 2015, departing from Kolkata. Costs from $7835 a person
(excluding international airfares), includes a $200 donation to the boat
medical clinics on the Brahmaputra River. travelonq.com.au.
The Singapore Sling
FOOD
Celebrating the
centenary
Singapore is in serious birthday mode: the little country
turns just 50 this year, but its national drink, the Singapore Sling, is twice
its age, celebrating 100 years since it was first slung. The pink drink was
concocted in 1915 in the Long Bar of Raffles hotel by barman Ngiam Tong Boon,
and is now served on the nation’s airlines and in bars across the city. Mix
snacking and shaking in a Singapore Sling Masterclass in the Long Bar, where
you’ll learn how to blend gin Dom Benedictine and Cointreau, snack on satay and
take home a Singapore Sling glass. Costs $83 a person. Otherwise, grab a slice
of the new SlingaPore cake – lime sponge with pineapple mousse, Singapore Sling
marmalade and cherry jelly – in the hotel’s Ah Teng Bakery. See raffles.com/Singapore.

KIDS
Iced escapades
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most practical, like
this Dripstick, which does exactly what it says on the tin – stops that lurid,
bubble-gum flavoured ice-cream from slopping down the back of the car seat. The
Dripstick’s plastic holder lets kids get a better grip on their iced treats and the
internal funnel fits pointed cones, great when the cone’s base inevitably dissolves.
But wait, there’s more: fill the hollow handle with juice and slip in the
accompanying popsicle stick, freeze and you’ve got home-made ices. An added
bonus – it’s made from BPA-free, recyclable plastic. Available in six colours,
$12. See thanksmum.com.au.

  
Papua New Guinea adventure on True North.
TECH
Online cruising
We Australians are avid cruisers, with cruising of all
persuasions the fastest-growing sector of our tourism market. Luxury travel
company Abercrombie & Kent has just launched a new cruise website in demand
for what it describes as consistent double-digit growth over the last few
years. Choose from a Papua New Guinea adventure on True North (pictured), a French barge holiday, an expedition cruise through the
High Arctic or a small-ship exploration of the Amazon. According to A&K’s
Sujata Raman, the polar regions are their guests’ most popular choice, followed
by Myanmar river cruising and the Galapagos Islands, for premier wildlife
viewing. The company’s newest product is the small luxury Sanctuary Ananda on
the Ayeyarwady river in Myanmar. See akcruising.com.au.
 
The historic foyer of The Victoria Hotel, Melbourne
HOTEL
The Vic gets slick
It’s been overrun by American troops, been a booze-free Temperance
League stronghold and been on business tycoon Christopher Skase’s assets list.
Now Australia’s largest 3.5-star hotel, the Victoria Hotel on Melbourne’s
Little Collins St, has had a $20 million facelift. Unusually, the number of
rooms in The Vic has decreased, from 464 down to 370 larger rooms, all with
free wi-fi in a tidy refurbishment across the entire hotel, including the
historic lobby and public bar (which replaced beef tea with bellinis in the
60s). The hotel turns 135 this year and kicked off Melbourne’s laneways coffee
scene as the Victoria Coffee Palace back in 1880. It joined Accor’s budget-conscious
Ibis Styles brand two years ago and is owned by the Schwartz Family Company,
who is also developing the Sofitel on Darling Harbour, to open in 2017. Rooms in
the Victoria Hotel cost from $98 a night when booked 20 days in advance. Quote
‘early booking offer’. Phone 1800 331 147, see victoriahotel.com.au.

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


Seven wonders, by the road: Australia road trips to natural wonders

A great view from the road: World Heritage-listed Uluru in
Australia’s Northern Territory. Photo: Steven Siewert

Seven great icons, seven great road trips, Belinda Jackson discovers that the journey becomes the destination.

Australia’s icons come with plenty of drama – the world’s oldest rainforest, world’s biggest monolith and it’s not called the Good
Barrier Reef, is it?

With some of the planet’s best scenery outside
your window, switch off the phone and seize the moment to explore our
most photographed beaches, our most frequently painted mountain ranges
or go it alone in the strange, remote deserts of the continent’s
interior – often easily seen through your car window. There’s no
hardship: eat our national coat of arms in South Australia, fill the
Esky on the Great Ocean Road or shop for a glass of wine at day’s end in
Tassie​. Read on to discover seven natural icons found on seven great
road trips, where the journey becomes the destination.

The icon: Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Great Ocean Road: the Twelve Apostles. Photo: Damien White

The flavour of the trip: From Torquay to Allansford,
near Warrnambool, the winding road curves along Victoria’s southern
coastline. The road was built by returned soldiers from WWI and
commemorates their fallen mates.
Get the picture: You’re
doing it to see the 12 Apostles, right? But make time to visit
Australia’s capital of surf, Torquay’s Bells Beach, spot wild koalas and
feed the parrots at little Kennett Creek. Plan a cafe and ice-cream run
at Lorne and fill the Esky from Timboon’s providores for a picnic at
Cape Otway.
Leave from: Melbourne. Torquay, the starting point, is 100km west of the capital’s CBD.

How much time to take: You can drive the GOR
straight in five hours, but why bother? Allow at least two nights to
explore. Double your driving time allowance if you’re doing it in the
summer school holidays.
Distance: 243km with plenty of hairpin bends and most of it is speed limited to 80km/hour.
See visitgreatoceanroad.org.au.

The icon: Alice Springs to Uluru, Northern Territory

The flavour of the trip: You’ve seen the ads: blood-red desert sands flank long, straight stretches of highway.
Get the picture:
Sacred Uluru is the undoubtable drawcard, but add to the list Kata
Tjuta​ (the Olgas) and Atila (Mt Connor, aka Fool-uru), another
spectacular monolith that rises up on the southern side of Lasseter
Highway: the rookie mistake is thinking it’s Uluru. To visit Atila, book
through Curtain Springs Station (curtinsprings.com)
Leave from:
Fly in to either Alice Springs or Ayres Rock airport and hire a camper
or standard car (you won’t need a 4WD if you don’t stray from the
highway). For the full immersion, drive 1500km from Darwin.
How much time to take:
Six hours without stops, but savour it with an overnighter​ en route.
It’s speed limited at up to 130km/hr, so you can put your foot down, but
don’t drive at night: you won’t see anything except that roo, camel,
cow or emu coming through the windscreen.
Distance: 462km down the Stuart Highway, then chuck a sharp right at Erldunda Roadhouse onto the Lasseter Highway. See travelnt.com.

The icon: Flinders Ranges, South Australia

The flavour of the trip: A gentle introduction to
the outback (though flashes of aquamarine waters of the Spencer Gulf
always come as a surprise). It’s hard to keep your eyes off the
watercoloured​ ranges, but watch for wild donkeys on the road.
Get the picture: Stop for a FMG (“feral mixed grill”) at the Prairie Hotel, Parachilna (prairiehotel.com.au) and a wedge-tailed eagle’s view of the ranges with a light aircraft flight from Wilpena Pound Resort (wilpenapound.com.au).
Stay overnight at tiny Arkaroola village and wilderness sanctuary to
spot elusive yellow-footed rock wallabies, take a 4WD tagalong tour and
visit the astronomical observatories (arkaroola.com.au).
Leave from: Hawker is 400km from Adelaide on the A1, which finishes at Darwin.
How much time to take: Four nights will fit in the basics, but it deserves a week’s exploration.
Distance: The
classic Flinders circuit is 230km, from Hawker to Blinman, across to
Parachilna and back to Hawker. Add on a round-trip from Hawker up to
Arkaroola, about three hours from Parachilna. See roadtrips.southaustralia.com.

The icon: Mungo National Park, New South Wales  

Big skies and bigger stories: Mungo National Park. Photo: Quentin Jones

The flavour of the trip: This is ancient land:
people have been living around Mungo for 50,000 years – gear up for big
deserts, big rivers, big skies and even bigger stories.
Get the picture:
See the skeletons of ghosts past, when Australia’s massive inland sea
receded at the end of the last ice age. Mungo Man, Australia’s oldest
human remains, were discovered here, and plan for sunset and sunrise
looking to the dramatic Walls of China. You can do a 2.5-hour tagalong
driving tour of the national park with Aboriginal Discovery Rangers and
learn about the megafauna – giant kangaroos, wombats, lions and emus –
who lived here.
Leave from: Sydney via Goulburn
and Wagga, with eyes peeled for emus on the Hay plains. Otherwise,
award-winning Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours runs tours from Melbourne
(echidnawalkabout.com.au).
How much time to take: Allow
two days to reach Mungo. If desert camping is too extreme for you,
pitch your tent by the Murrumbidgee in Balranald, 130km from Mungo, or
take a motel room in Wentworth and visit the red dunes outside the town,
148km from Mungo.
Distance: 875km from Sydney. See visitmungo.com.au.

The icon: Daintree, Queensland

The flavour of the trip: A sunny drive up the scenic
Queensland coast to visit the world’s oldest surviving tropical
rainforest, with the Great Barrier Reef served up on the side.
Get the picture:
Beach camping, twice-daily swims, sunset barbies: it’s the great
Australian holiday. For a change of scenery, take the byroads through
the lush Atherton Tablelands.
Leave from: Townsville.
The drive up to the Daintree and nearby Cape Tribulation is around
500km. Determined roadtrippers​ could start out in Brissy for an 1800km
one-way journey.
How much time to take: Allow a
week to soak up the Cairns vibe and let yourself be diverted from the
road on a boat trip out onto the reef off Townsville, staying at luxe
Orpheus Island (orpheus.com.au) or friendly Magnetic Island (magnetic-island.com.au).
Distance: 470km. See queensland.com.

The icon: Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania

The flavour of the trip: A slow drive up Tasmania’s
sleepy east coast with a day’s detour on the foot passenger ferry to the
former convict colony of Maria Bay.
Get the picture:
Constantly featured in “Top 10 world’s best beaches”, the perfect curve
of Wineglass Bay is best appreciated from its lookout.  Don’t miss the
chance to stock up on local wine on the way (winetasmania.com.au)
and make time for a short walk down to Hazards Beach on the Freycinet
Peninsula. Keep the camera ready for white-bellied sea-eagles and
adorable little paddymelons.
Leave from: Hobart via Sorrel, Orford and Swansea.
How much time to take: Three days minimum, unless you really like seafood and cool-climate wines.
Distance: 400km for a round-trip circuit. See discovertasmania.com.au.

The icon: Bungle Bungle Range, Western Australia

The flavour of the trip: Lonesome and lovely, this
drive through the Kimberley is the dictionary definition of the word
“remote”. Mind you, the Gibb River Rd does become a bit crowded in peak
(winter) season.
Get the picture: The sandstone
“beehives” known as the Bungle Bungles are in Purnululu National Park,
weathered away over 350 million years. Book a scenic flight over them
from the local caravan park (bunglebunglecaravanpark.com.au). Take a dip
in Cathedral Gorge, but stay clear of the waters of Windjana Gorge –
it’s croc territory.
Leave from: Broome and turn due east.
How much time to take:
Seven days minimum – you’re on bush time now and the roads into
Purnululu are slow. But you could fall in love with the Kimberley and
never leave.
Distance: 1100km via the Gibb River Rd. You could leave from Perth, but that is a 3000km drive, one way. See westernaustralia.com.

This article brought to you in association with Avis.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website.


Of Uluru, porridge and babes in paradise: Takeoff travel news

FOOD

The butler does
it
Lick the plates clean and eat your porridge: that’s the order when
you visit Scotland during its year-long celebration of the land and larder.
Merry May is Whisky Month, with the Isle of Harris’s first distillery opening
in Tarbert (see harrissdistillery.com), follow a seafood trail down the west
coast and discover Britain’s most remote mainland pub, The Old Forge, in
Knoydart (see theoldforge.co.uk).  Or
call on Jack Black, Scotland’s first picnic butler, dishing up the best
of Scottish fare with Forest Holidays in Ardgartan in Argyll, and Strathyre in
Perthshire. Jack lifts the
lid on your hamper to uncover Scottish smoked salmon, Arran oat cakes and the
tea cake with a cult following, Tunnocks. Drink pure Scottish springwater, the
lurid orange Irn Br soft drink or a glass of sparkling: picnics can be tailored
for couples or families. He can even help you go foraging, light fires
and survive outdoors (insider tip: you definitely won’t go hungry). See visitscotland.org, forestholidays.co.uk.
HOTEL
Uluru shines with indigenous design
Temperatures are dropping in the our central deserts as
peak tourist season approaches at Uluru. The self-contained Emu Walk Apartments greet the season with a
complete refurbishment embracing indigenous designs and artwork by local artist
Raymond Walters Japanangka. There are 40 one-bedroom and 23 two-bedroom
apartments, each with a separate kitchen and a laundry, set beside the resort
hub.  The refurbishment is part of Ayres
Rock Resort’s facilities upgrade which includes the five-star Sails in the Desert
hotel and a new reception. Travellers Uluru-bound
this week will be in time for the Tjungu Festival, with Australian indigenous fashion,
film, art and food on display, as well as an Indigenous Anzacs at War exhibition,
April 23-26. Upcoming events at Ayres Rock Resort include the Uluru Camel
Cup
in May, Australian Outback Marathon in July and the Uluru Astronomy weekend in August. Phone
1300 034 044, see ayersrockresort.com.au/emu.
MOVIES
Halls of fame
If you fancy frocking up for a right royal frolicking,
chances are you’re already glued to the BBC’s latest period drama, Wolf Hall by English author Hilary Mantel.
The series was filmed in the Welsh and English countryside, including in the
village of Lacock, in Wiltshire, south-west England, which has also starred in Pride & Prejudice and Harry
Potter
.  Explore Lacock on
Trafalgar’s six-day Best of Devon and Cornwall tour. Other highlights include
ancient Stonehenge, refined Bath, Buckfast Abbey in Devon and Tintagel
Castle, said to be the birthplace of King Arthur. It also takes in Salisbury
Cathedral, which this year celebrates 800 years since King John signed the
Magna Carta in 1215. Trips depart between April and October 2015 and cost
from $1363 a person. Phone 1300 663 043, see trafalgar.com.
KIDS
Minors in the
Maldives
Pitched as the world’s ultimate honeymoon destination, there is
still a place for the results of that honeymoon in the Maldives. Children are
welcome at Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa, which has twice been voted
the country’s most family-friendly resort. Two children can stay and eat free and
also get free return flights via seaplane between the international airport at
Male and the resort when you book a ‘summer family offer’. Stay in a beach
suite or, if booking a one-bed pool villa, you’ll be upgraded to a two-bed
villa, and enjoy free activities such as swimming with whale sharks,
snorkelling, island tours and sunset cruises. The resort also has a kid’s club
and teen zone, free of charge, for a five-star family holiday. The offer must
be booked through travel agents between April 20-October 31. Costs from $6076,
2 adults and 2 children under 12 years, five nights. See centarahotelsresorts.com.
TECH
Slide night lives
on
Those mourning the demise of travel slide nights will
welcome this slide display case, which lends new life to your favourite photos.
Devised by New Zealand homewares designer Catherine David, the meter-long case cradles
and backlights slides for easy appreciation (and less fingerprints). Hung
horizontally or vertically, it can hold up to 21 of your favourite
memories.  David has reworked the light
to run on low-energy LED bulbs, so your slides will now shine sustainably. Costs
NZ$350. See catherinedaviddesigns.com.

NEWS

Abu Dhabi pitches for halal holidaymakers
With shopping, eating, women-only and adventure tourism
well and truly catered for, Muslim holidaymakers are now in the spotlight as
Abu Dhabi launches its new halal holidays aimed at Australian Muslim tourists.
The emirate has launched 18 new self-guided holidays for thrill-seekers,
families, chilling out or catching culture, adhering to the principles of the
Islamic faith. Highlights might include ladies-only visit to Yas Waterworld,
family fun at the Formula 1 Yas Marina Circuit, a visit to the ancient city of
El Ain or tour through the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (above), which can accommodate
40,000 worshippers and has the world’s largest Persian carpet. It’s estimated
the global market for halal tourism is worth around US$140m and rising 6
percent annually, and around 2 percent of Australians have a Muslim background.
See visitabudhabi.ae.

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


Airline review: Scoot business class, Sydney to Singapore

Scoot's Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

THE PLANE Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – the airline received its first Dreamliner
this year, for the Singapore-Perth and Singapore-Hong Kong routes. By
the end of 2015, all Australian routes will be serviced by Dreamliners.
THE ROUTE Sydney to Singapore.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME Scoot joined Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer frequent flyer program in April.
CLASS
Business class, seat 1H (aisle) but before takeoff, I shimmy down to
3J (window) to score two empty seats. The flight is less than half-full
today, and quite a few people seem to have been upgraded.
DURATION 7 hours.
FREQUENCY  Scoot currently flies Sydney to Singapore non-stop five times a week,
going daily from May 1. Conveniently, the flight leaves at lunchtime to
arrive in Singapore just in time for dinner (The return flight’s 1am
departure is less convenient.)

Scoot’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo: Supplied

THE SEAT A 38-inch (96-centimetre) pitch, 22-inch (56cm) width. There are 35 seats in ScootBiz, in a 2-3-2 formation.
BAGGAGE Checked luggage up to 20 kilograms and 15kg (two pieces) of carry-on.
COMFORT A Dreamliner is still a Dreamliner, no matter if it’s sporting
full-service or low-cost livery. That means low engine noise, cleaner
air and lower fuel consumption (and hopefully, lower ticket costs). The
seats are broad and comfortable, with an extendable foot rest to help
stretch out. Be prepared to pay extra for a snooze kit, which has a
fleece blanket, eye mask and neck pillow, or bring your own. Costs $17 
pre-booked or $21.80  on board.
ENTERTAINMENT As I’m sitting up at the bulkhead and gossiping, it takes a while to
realise there are no screens. To watch a movie, you have to download an
app beforehand and they’ll send the movie to the app. It’s far easier to
load your own movies onto your tablet or laptop. AC power is available
in every seat, no adaptors required. (Economy passengers have to pay
$7.60  for power). There are no USB sockets, crazy given they’re pushing
inflight Wi-Fi. You can go online once you hit 10,000ft and costs
$11.30/one hour, $16/three hours, or $20.80/24 hours and you can use any
remaining time on the return flight. There are no download limits.
SERVICE The pleasant, dignified staff hide any indignation at being referred
to as “Scootees” and one even shares his hot tip for the best Hainanese
chicken rice on the ground in Singapore. (I may have also been warned
off ordering the western breakfast on the return leg.) The pilots are
called Scooters and announce on takeoff: “We’re getting outta here!”
FOOD Lunch arrives shortly after takeoff. We have pre-ordered the soya
sauce chicken rice – braised chicken, Chinese mushrooms and quail eggs:
no marks for presentation and “saltiness” does not equate to
“flavoursome”. The meal includes a small Toblerone chocolate and is
presented on a tray that is broader than the narrow pull-out tables, and
slides dangerously. Quick, save that Wolf Blass chardonnay! The
ScootBiz fare includes one meal and one alcoholic drink. Additional
drinks can be bought with cash or credit card. Beers cost $8, $9 for
wine or pre-mix Singapore Sling. The peckish can order cup noodles (add
an instant egg for only $2), packet soup, biscuits or ice-cream. I
learn, too late, that the classic Singapore dish, Hainanese chicken
rice, is available only as a pre-order on the Sydney-Singapore leg.
ONE MORE THING Scoot is slated to start a Melbourne-Singapore direct service in November. 
THE VERDICT Apart from the spacious Dreamliner surrounds, this is not business
class as you know it. Think of it as premium economy. I’m good with BYO
amenities and entertainment, but the big let-down is the quality of the
food and wine, especially as Singapore prides itself on its cuisine. But
any qualms are far outweighed by the price: no-frills economy fares
cost as little as $219 and ScootBiz is priced from $499, with plenty of
sales available.

Tested by Belinda Jackson, who flew courtesy of Scoot. See www.flyscoot.com.


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


Guide to a three-day trip to Melbourne

Caffe e Torta.
Caffe e Torta, 314 Little Collins St, Melbourne.
Photo: Belinda Jackson

Want to drink coffee, sip martinis, frequent the best
eateries and shop like a true local? Melburnian Belinda Jackson shows
you how to pack it all into a three-day extravaganza.

 Sure, Melbourne’s got Vespas parked outside sidewalk cafes and your
tailored winter coat will always get a workout here, but this town is no
poor man’s Europe. The star of the south is home to the world’s best
baristas, quality late-night dining and truly great shoe shopping,
without wowsery curfews, iced pavements or a $1000 airfare. This season,
expect great coups in the art exhibition world, affordable eats from
the brightest chefs and gorgeous indie fashion.

DAY ONE

Good morning, Melbourne! Swan down the Paris end of town where
Euro-fash Doc Martin’s fires up the espresso machine at 7.30am (86
Collins St, see collinsquarter.com)
so you’re ready for Melbourne’s power block of shopping, from Bourke
Street Mall to Lonsdale St. Sparkly new Emporium leads into the
made-over Strand Melbourne Arcade and onto Melbourne’s GPO, home of
Australia’s first H&M. The antidote for all this gorgeousness is the
Grand Trailer Park Taverna. Pull up a caravan and order the Chunk
Double-Double with a boozy milkshake (87 Bourke St, see grandtrailerpark.com.au)
then say hi to Casey Jenkins (she of Vagina Knitting), waiting in the
Dark Horse Experiment artist studios to do whatever you want. The rules:
she doesn’t leave the gallery “and you have to leave her body the way
you found it” (110 Franklin St, see darkhorseexperiment.com)
Need a drink? Wander down Melbourne’s Chinatown, push open a
nondescript door and tell the guys in Union Electric Bar you’d like a
West Winds gin and fresh apple juice, please (13 Heffernan La). Now snag
an upstairs booth in new Magic Mountain Saloon, of Cookie pedigree.
Oooh, that Thai is spicy. Pair with a Tom Thumb mocktail or espresso
martini with cold-pour coffee (62 Lt Collins St, see magicmountainsaloon.com.au).

DAY TWO

Possibly Australia’s first cereal restaurant, Cereal Anytime pops up
in Richmond’s Swan Street Chamber of Commerce alongside the fine teas of
Storm in a Teacup (214 Swan St, Richmond) but if it’s cookin’ you’re
lookin’ for, mosey down to social enterprise Feast of Merit for
shakshuka and a warm glow (117 Swan St, Richmond, see feastofmerit.com).
Follow with a lazy 2.25km parklands stroll to the treasures of the
Forbidden City’s Palace Museum in The Golden Age of China Qianlong
Emperor, 1736–1795 (180 St Kilda Road, see ngv.vic.gov.au)
then explore St Kilda’s most happening pocket, 56-72 Acland St: eke out
a rum-and-tapas lunch in The Nelson, real Peruvian in Buena Vista
Peruvian Kitchen, inhale manchego and leek croquetas at Lona Pintxos Bar
or call for shisha and Middle Eastern mezze in 40 Thieves & Co.
Crush the calories on a City Sights Kayak guided tour down the Yarra,
good with kids from eight years ($78pp, see urbanadventures.com) Now you can indulge at the effortlessly French L’Hotel Gitan. Do oysters and champagne, do the Cape Grim porterhouse (see lhotelgitan.com.au).
Wind down with Australia’s best cocktails at oddball Bar Exuberante.
Expect typos on the menu, expect a knock-back if its 14 seats are
already occupied (438 Church Street, Richmond, see facebook.com/BarExuberante).

DAY THREE

Savour the flavour of a bagel that’s taken a New Jersey local two days to create at 5 and Dime Bagels (16 Katherine Pl, City, 5dimebagel.com.au)
or experience true coffee geekery at First Pour cafe, home to
Victoria’s 2015 barista champ, Craig Simon (26 Bond St, Abbotsford).
Blow the city for a breath of country air at Heide Museum of Modern Art.
Explore the contemporary collections and sculpture gardens with a Cafe
Vue lunch box by super-chef Shannon Bennett (7 Templestowe Rd, Bulleen, heide.com.au).
On the way back into town, take a quick prance into Lupa to flick the
racks for local indie fashion designers (77 Smith St, Fitzroy, lupa.com.au) Nicely timed, you’ll make happy hour and a gin high tea at new G&Tea (100 Kerr St, Fitzroy, gandtea.com.au)
Don’t go overboard: you’ve got dinner booked in at Fatto Cantina,
beloved for its late-night Sicilian dining and city views from the
terrace. Finish with a stroll across the river on the love-locked Yarra
footbridge and back into the city’s heart.

Emporium Shopping Centre.
Emporium Shopping Centre.

FIVE MORE MELBOURNE MUST-DOs

1. Taste authentic Ethiopian, Vietnamese and Greek cuisines on a Footscray food tour with expert Alan Campion, $110, see melbournefoodtours.com.
2. Stretch with the locals at hip hop yoga in South Yarra (yoga213.com.au). If you don’t dig downward dog to Snoop Dogg, slap on the bling and shimmy round The Tan, 3.8km around the Botanic Gardens.

3. Go anti-establishment in Northcote at
the new Estelle Bistro. Chef Scott Pickett tips the Cantabrian anchovies
with romesco, with a Clarence House pinot blanc (243 High Street,
Northcote, estellebistro.com)
4. The Monash Gallery of Art was designed by starchitect Harry Seidler and shows 2000 works of Australian photography, see mga.org.au.
5. Do the Signature Kitya Karnu scrub, massage, cleanse and river stone ritual in the Aurora Spa (The Prince hotel, St Kilda, see aurorasparetreat.com.au)

Degraves Lane.
Degraves Lane. 

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

visitmelbourne.com/

GETTING THERE

Virgin Australia, Qantas, Tigerair and Jetstar have many flights between the two capitals. Compare fares with skyscanner.com.

STAYING THERE

New city digs include Coppersmith (South Melbourne, see coppersmithhotel.com.au), Doubletree Hilton (city, see melbourne.doubletree.com), Larwill Studio (Parkville, see artserieshotels.com.au), Mantra City Central (city, see mantra.com.au) and Jasper Hotel (city, see jasperhotel.com.au)

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


Snaptastic in Kakadu, Cape York hooked up and Queenstown communes: Takeoff travel news

TECH
Snap to it!
Ditch the hard drive of photos you’ll never look at and
go retro with Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 8 cameras, for instant gratification from instant
photos. The camera runs on two AA batteries and pops out instant pics at a wallet-friendly
62x46mm. Accept its limitations – no zoom, no macro mode and, incredibly, you
have to look through a viewfinder – it’s ideal for cute wedding snaps or of you
’n’ your bestie, and has a cult following that includes Katy Perry and Taylor
Swift.  Available in seven colours
including the new raspberry and grape, the camera come with a 10-pack of film,
and additional packs costs $15-20. Yes, it does come in macho black. The grape-coloured
camera is exclusive to Target, all other colours available in Ted’s Camera
Stores, Harvey Norman, Big W, Officeworks and Kmart, $99. See fujifilm.com.au.

AIRLINE

Cape York
Cape York once again is linked by air with Cairns following
the launch of new flights to the regional hub of Bamaga, population 1000. The
weekday flights are operated by Regional Express, running a Saab 340 to the Northern
Peninsula Area airport, 35km from the tip of Cape York. The flights will appeal
to time-poor travellers aiming for the northernmost point of mainland
Australia, choosing a two-hour flight over a two-day, 850km drive. The Cape is a
tourist hot spot in the dry winter months and renowned for its spectacular
fishing. The newly refurbished Cape York
Peninsula Lodge
(formerly the Bamaga Resort) has 44 suites, rooms
and eco-tents and is part-owned by ATSI communities, so all profits go directly
back to local schools, health programs and its hospitality training program
(from $309 a night, B&B, see cypeninsulalodge.com.au). Hire a 4WD in Bamaga, Weipa and
Lockhart, or ferry through the Torres Strait Islands and back to Cairns from
nearby Seisia, (phone 1800 424 422, see seaswift.com.au).
One-way flights from Cairns to Bamaga cost from $248. Phone 131 713, see
rex.com.au.
Photo: Paul Arnold
PHOTOGRAPHY

Shoot to thrill

Smile at a crocodile: it’s a snap with professional photographer
and bushman Paul Arnold, who is running new photography tours in Kakadu during
the dry season until November. Arnold will lead groups of seven out onto Yellow
Water Billabong for a two-hour cruise to spot crocs, learn to frame Kakadu’s
dramatic landscapes and capture its teeming birdlife ($250 a person).
Otherwise, join a two-hour walk to the billabong from Cooinda Lodge
Kakadu ($50)
or take a two-hour course that helps get your DSLR camera off auto mode ($110).
Arnold will also be holding photo nights, sharing tips and his secret locations,
at the lodge (one hour, $30). “I’ve spent the last 20 years exploring
Australia’s unique countryside, and that is where my interest in photography
began,” he says.  See paularnold.com.au or kakadutourism.com. Stays at the indigenous
owned Gagudju
Lodge Cooinda
cost from $179 a night or $41 for a campsite. See gagudju-dreaming.com. 

GEAR
Glam metallic

You can be sure that’s your luggage, shimmying down the carousel.
Amongst a sea of black, the new Altitude range from Australian luggage brand
Paklite is hard to miss, with its glossy copper or gun-metal metallic finish.
Made from lightweight polycarbonate composite, the range comes in
three sizes, large (weighs 4.2kg, packs 115l), medium (weighs 3.5kg, packs 85l)
and the cabin bag, which has a quick-access front pocket and padded laptop
compartment (weighs 2.8kg, packs 40l). All include heavy-duty handles, TSA
locks and combinations and four wheels, and the two larger bags expand generously
to accommodate in your shopping finds. Phone 1300 303 021, see
paklite.com.au.

FOOD

Beyond the cellar
door
Enter a wonderland of wine when you visit Vasse Felix, the
founding wine estate of the Margaret River region and the newest member of Ultimate
Winery Experiences Australia (UWEA).       Vasse
Felix has launched two bespoke experiences, the Vasse Felix Original tour, $45,
which goes through the history of the label and winds up with a private
tasting, and the Vasse Felix Epicurean, $185, which adds a three-course meal
with matching wines. Experiences at other wineries in the group include being a
winemaker for a day, taking a helicopter flight over Tasmania’s wine-producing
Tamar Valley or tasting and interpreting MONA. See ultimatewineryexperiences.com.au.
Vasse Felix winery, Western Australia

HOTEL
Community in
Queenstown
Recently named the top tourist destination in the South Pacific by
the TripAdvisor community (bumping off Our Sydney), Queenstown hotel newcomer
Sherwood pitches itself as a creative hub for travellers. The eco-friendly hotel’s 78 rooms welcomes
all comers, from lakeview studios to budget-conscious double-bed bunks in
dorms. Tapping into the clean, green vibe, there’s a wholefoods restaurant
fuelled by its own biodynamic garden, a yoga studio, bikes and winter ski hire.
Sherwood is unashamedly Kiwi, stocking local craft beers in the mini-bar, woollen
blankets from the South Island, manuka honey and myrtle soaps and local
artists’ work on the walls. The hotel overlooks Lake Wakatipu and the
Remarkables Mountain Range, is five minutes’ drive to the city centre and 30
minutes to the Coronet Peak ski fields. Rooms range from NZ$165 for a standard
king to NZ$285 a night for the two-bedroom terraced loft, which sleeps two
adults and up to five kids.  See
sherwoodqueenstown.nz.
Sherwood, Queenstown

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


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.

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