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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Of pharaohs and heroes: Journey to Egypt

The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.
Photo: Belinda Jackson

I am so pleased to publish this blog about my recent article in Luxury Travel magazine. This is the first story I’ve written for a mainstream publication about Egypt since its revolution, back in 2011. The feature had the invaluable support of Abercrombie & Kent, which maintains
its Cairo office, staffed by charming, knowledgeable Cairenes.


While
other countries affected by civil unrest and terrorism events have
slipped back onto the travel pages within weeks of the events, I feel
Egypt – where I have lived and continue to return to every year – has
been punished too harshly, and it suffers deeply the loss of one of its
key sources of income.


The people lean heavily on
tourism with good reason: their undeniable treasures include the Pyramids
of Giza, the colossi at Abu Simbel, the gracious and eternal Nile. And
they’re just three of its riches.


Egyptians
say that once you’ve drunk from the Nile, you’ll always return.

Maybe
you’re not up for a cup of river water, hopefully this article will
inspire you to visit – or to return.


‘We
come to visit the gods. Stern of face, empty of eye, they stare. Blank,
sightless eyes see nothing, yet see everything in the future and back to
the ancient world. The colossal sculptures of Abu Simbel are in Egypt’s deep south, touching on the border with Sudan, and are the jewel of the appropriately named Nile in Style journey with Abercrombie & Kent.

“Nowhere
are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world beside are
there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness,” wrote
Herodotus of Egypt in the fifth century BC. Fifteen centuries later,
he’s still on the money.’

Click here to read on about my journey down the Nile.


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

Bathurst Island Lodge.
 Photo: Belinda Jackson

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

  
 

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

   

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

  
 

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

   

Melville Island airport. 
Photo: Belinda Jackson

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

  
 

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

  
 

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

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

  
 

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

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

   

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

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

geometric mulypinyini pwanga (lines and dots).

  
 

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

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

    

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

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

  
 

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

  
 

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

   

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

   

Artist Alan John Kerinaiua at Tiwi Designs Photo: Belinda Jackson

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

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

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

  
 

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

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

   

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

  
 

Photo: Belinda Jackson

The men’s and women’s loos are

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

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

the local schoolchildren.

   

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

  
 

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

  
 

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

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

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

  
 

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

 

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

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

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

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


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


Como Maalifushi Maldives: Pint-sized paradise

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

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

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

The hidden jewels of Sri Lanka

Ambassador House, Galle

Elegant villas dot Sri Lanka’s jungle and coast.

Petite and chic, the true gem of Sri Lanka is its rising wave
of beautiful boutique hotels and villas peppered throughout its wild,
lush interior and sublime coastal strips. The tiny island has performed a
staggering comeback – just three years after its 26-year civil war
ended in 2009, more than a million tourists came to soak up its sun, sip
its tea and savour its culture.

Sri Lanka and Bali are emerging rivals, sharing similar
climates, a guaranteed warm welcome and an innate sense of style and
design.


Many of Sri Lanka’s top villas are reinvented walauwas, the 18th and
19th-century manor houses of the ruling elite, with grand verandahs and
great halls.

You might see a Dutch colonial column, an English colonial
balcony, Portuguese whitewash and an Arabic inward-facing courtyard all
in the one building, as the country morphed from Serendip to Ceylon to
Sri Lanka.

This is also the birthplace of tropical modernism, al fresco
living invented by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa and imitated
across the tropics, from Capricorn to Cancer. Book just one room or take
the whole villa: courteous Sri Lankans will tell you to make it your
home – you’ll just wish it was, permanently.

JUNGLE GLAM:CASA HELICONIA

Halfway between Sri Lanka’s current capital, Colombo and the
ancient capital, historic Kandy, Casa Heliconia is, like all the
country’s best villas, well hidden. The property comprises two king
bedrooms in separate pavilions, the Temple Angkor and Pagoda Gold. The
new villa’s pedigree is impeccable: its stablemates include The Kandy
House and one of the country’s bastions of design, Bawa’s The Last
House.
THE LOOK The villas are hidden among acres
of lush jungle with a little path leading down to a plunge pool and sun
loungers. The look is rustic timber doors and planter lounges, yet
there’s also Wi-Fi, a home theatre and aircon.
DON’T MISS For a special Sri Lankan touch,
you share the jungle with Casa Heliconia’s household pet, a (reportedly)
extremely placid, but extremely large white Brahman bull.
Rooms at Casa Heliconia start from $115 a night for the Pagoda Gold pavilion, including breakfast and dinner. See casa-heliconia.com.

AMID THE PADDIES: MAYA VILLA

Five is a special number in Sri Lankan villas: there are five bedrooms in Maya Villa, and you can book just one or the lot.
Ten minutes’ drive from Tangalle, on the south coast, and
about an hour from happening Galle, the villa is designed by architect
Pradeep Kodikara and Hong Kong-based interior designer Niki Fairchild.
The rooms are in two pavilions set around an L-shaped pool and open-air dining pavilion and lounge, perfect for sunset drinks.
THE LOOK In a former life, Maya was a
walauwa, a 100-year-old manor house built in the traditional local
style, with ornate woodwork in the main pavilion, which houses two
rooms.
The new wing has three bedrooms designed in contemporary Sri
Lankan style using cool, polished cement for the walls and floors and
massive doors that open onto a private courtyard.
DON’T MISS The villa is surrounded by picturesque rice paddies and hammocks on the lawn – surely there is no more serene match?
Rooms start from $265 a night for a room, $1140 a night, full villa, low season, including breakfast, mayatangallesrilanka.com. See mayatangallesrilanka.com.

COLONIAL SPLENDOUR: 20 MIDDLE STREET, GALLE

Embracing Galle’s Dutch colonial history, this villa was
originally a Dutch merchant’s house built in 1750, with English
additions in the 1800s.
Recently renovated by top Sri Lankan starchitect Channa
Daswatte and interior design by George Cooper, the four-bedroom villa
maintains its teak windows and perfumed gardens.
THE LOOK The modern luxuries of plunge
pools, snooker tables and home theatres are worked into a colonial
design with sweeping staircases, a zaal (great hall) and open-air loggia
with views over the historic, red-roofed seaside town. The villa is in
the centre of the UNESCO-listed town of Galle and comes fully staffed.
DON’T MISS The villa’s neighbour, Amangalla, is the spot for high tea with champagne or drinks on the terrace.
Full villa usage stars from $955 a night, including breakfast. See villasingalle.com.

OLD WORLD, NEW WORLD: AMBASSADOR VILLA, GALLE

One of Galle’s oldest buildings, the villa is located on one
of old town’s main streets. This is the place to stay when you want to
be in the thick of the old town’s great cafes, bars and restaurants, but
able to slip home and slip into the pool when the temps start to soar.
The house is built for entertaining, with a vast dining table and reception.
THE LOOK Step out of the sun, through the
pillars of the verandah into the cool salon lined with deep sofas. The
whitewashed villa sleeps 12 in five bedrooms on two levels: three
bedrooms open directly onto the pool. The rooftop terrace is a suntrap
that soaks up the Sri Lankan rays.
DON’T MISS Make like a local and walk the
Dutch ramparts to Galle’s lighthouse in the late afternoon. It’s a
promenade, so take it slowly. Nearby Fortaleza is a great lunch stop (9
Church Cross Street, fortaleza.lk).
Costs from $560 a night, full villa, including breakfast. See ambassadorshouse.com.

COUNTRY STYLE: KALUNDEWA RETREAT, DAMBULLA

This spectacular country chalet, four hours’ drive from
Colombo, is built around the natural beauty that surrounds it: the
retreat is on 36 hectares of sustainably farmed orchards and paddies.
It sleeps four in two beautiful open bedrooms, with another new chalet opening in early November.
THE LOOK The hero is an open-air lounge
filled with snowy sofas placed for lounging and contemplation. Split
over two stories, this chalet’s two bedrooms are set among the kumbuk
trees and a private lake.
DON’T MISS Kalundewa is a twitcher’s
paradise, with hornbills, kingfishers, kites, coots and storks on the
visitor’s list. Peacocks are de rigueur (this is Sri Lanka). Take time
to watch the butterflies and natural springs, or take a nature walk with
the on-site expert. Two of the country’s top sites, Dambulla Cave
Temple and Sigiriya Rock Fortress, are nearby.
Costs from $445 a night for the two-bedroom chalet, including breakfast. See kalundewaretreat.com.

SURF SIDE: HABARADUWA HOUSE, HABARADUWA

Languishing right on the beach on Galle’s south coast, this
glamorous beach house sleeps eight in four bedrooms with en suites.
Outdoor showers allow you to revel in the warm sea breezes.
THE LOOK The beachhouse has been renovated
recently, so expect four-poster beds and a polished finish. French
windows open out to the 20-metre infinity pool and the Indian Ocean.
Don’t expect First-World pool gates – children aren’t encouraged at this
fully staffed villa: the fully kitted games room has grown-up kids in
mind.
DON’T MISS Order a massage, a yoga teacher
or a guide on a morning bike ride. Staff can also arrange visits to
local markets and boat trips. Nearby Unawatuna beach frequently rates in
the world’s top 10 strips of sand.
Costs from $955 a night, full villa, including breakfast. See villasingalle.com.

SAFFRON & BLUE: KOSGODA

Think big at this contemporary villa, halfway between Colombo
and Galle, which sits 12 for lunch and sleeps eight in four bedrooms.
Relax on the terrace by the 12-metre swimming pool, set among palm and frangipani trees, overlooking the beach.
THE LOOK The three-story villa is designed by one of Sri
Lanka’s most renowned architects, Channa Daswatte. Guests can take over
the kitchen or barbie, or leave it in the hands of the staff and hit one
of the two outdoor jacuzzis. The den is kitted out as a games room.
DON’T MISS Just 15 minutes away are the gardens of Lunuganga.
The villa is next door to Kosgoda’s marine turtle conservation project.
Costs from $245 a night for a room or $745 a night, full villa, until December 23, including breakfast. See jetwinghotels.com.

The writer was a guest of Banyan Lanka and Mr & Mrs Smith. See banyantours.com; mrandmrssmith.com.


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

Traveller: Takeoff travel news 20 July 2014

AIRLINE: Fresh bite of the Big Apple

Our passionate affair with New York gets
extra oomph when China Southern Airlines starts flying to the Big Apple via
Guangzhou, in southern China, from August 6. The service will run four times a
week on new generation Boeing B777-300ER aircraft to JFK airport, featuring cutting-edge
touchscreens in the pointy end and a new Premium Economy class with a 38-inch seat
pitch, up from the 32-inch pitch on standard economy seats. Use any layover
time to explore old Canton/new Guangzhou with its new
free 72-hour transit visas. China Southern now has two US hubs, New York and
LA, and codeshares with Delta from LA to eight cities including Atlanta, Boston,
Fort Lauderdale and Honolulu. The airline says the US is ‘earmarked for
expansion’. Stay tuned. 1300 889 628, csair.com.au.



KIT: Soft-shoe shuffle

If you’ve ever used ‘too bulky’ as a
reason not to pack runners, your lame excuse is no longer valid with
the discovery of Skechers GOwalk 2 travel shoes. A pair of average woman’s size
7 weighs just 226 grams and the mesh upper lets them squish down to fit even in
your carry-on, with no need for socks, so there’s more packing space for
shopping finds. Flexible and lightweight, the slip-ons are suitable for walking
the town and ideal for foxing airport x-ray scanners and shimmying down the
aisle on long-haul flights. Available in women’s, children’s and the men’s
GOwalk 2 – Maine. $99.95. 1800 655 154, skechers.com.au.




SITES: Road warriors
 
World Heritage Sites buffs should have
Peru in their sights as it now has 12 sites on its books, following the
addition of the Incan Great Trail to Machu Picchu. The UNESCO-listed Qhapaq Ñan (literally, ‘beautiful road’)
was the Incan empire’s super-highway, running 30,000km along the spine of the
Andes. Archeologists have also recently uncovered another ancient road leading
to Machu Picchu, opening up new views (think: new camera angles!) of the
citadel, which was built around 1450 but remained hidden until its rediscovery
by a US historian in 1911. Other sites in Peru’s top 12 include the sacred city
of Caral-Supe and the Chavín Archaeological Site. peru.travel.



KIDS: Marking time 
Tell
the kids to draw on the walls at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, on
St Kilda Rd. In the dynamic Pastello – Draw Act playroom, kids can strap on helmets or shoes loaded with crayons and
run at the (paper-covered) walls to leave their anarchic
mark. There are also gigantic crayon pendulums and
a long drawing table with ‘cutlery crayons’ for small-scale masterpieces. The focus is on the movement and the act of drawing, not the
outcome, say Pastello’s creators, Italian design duo Erika Zorzi and
Matteo Sangalli. The interactive play space is also a
good time-out space for tattered tots. Open daily, 10am-5pm, until August 31. Free.
ngv.vic.gov.au.



FOOD: State on a plate 
Put your city on a plate with the new Tapastry concept by feted chef and Pullman culinary ambassador Justin North. The sharing plates, devised by
North and the five-star hotels’ executive chefs, showcase
regional ingredients: we’re
talking Hawkesbury calamari, slow-cooked pork belly from the Northern Rivers or
single-origin chocolate by Zokoko, in the Blue Mountains. If you’re not leaving town, taste Tapastry at the Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour or
Sydney Olympic Park, or go further afield at the Pullman Palm Cove Sea Temple
Resort in Palm Cove or Sails in the Desert, in Ayres Rock. The Tapastry concept is being rolled out
throughout the group’s 12 Australian five-star properties. 1300 656 565, pullmanhotels.com.




GADGET: Cool runnings 
You’re always running late, and your friends
know it. Skip the tedious ‘I’m on the train’ mobile call and give them get a
glimpse of your ETA with glimpse.com. The travel tracker pops your headshot up
on a dynamic, real-time map that you can share with nominated friends from
email, text, Facebook or Twitter. The info is available only for a designated
amount of time, up to four hours maximum, for added security. Best of all, the
app is free, with no accounts, passwords or logins, and you don’t even need to
have it installed to receive a glimpse.  Available
for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry users and now updated for Windows Phone 8.

FAMILY TRAVEL: Fiji for Teens
Kids too big for kids’ club? Let your teens explore Fiji
with the locals at the eco-friendly, five-star Jean-Michel Cousteau
Resort, recently voted best overseas family resort by Luxury Travel
magazine. The resort is up in the country’s wild northern island, Vanua
Levu, which teens can explore with a “buddy” from the activities
staff. Make a billi billi (bamboo raft) and head off swimming, hike
through the rainforest, go river tubing or snorkelling and finish off
with a beach bonfire. Free for teen guests 13 years and up. Stays cost
from $372 a person, twin share on a six-night stay from October 6 until
March 31 (excluding Christmas). 1300 306 171, fijiresort.com.


You may have noticed there are no deals on my website lately – I’m now writing the travel news for the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section each week. To keep an eye on great deals, visit smh.com.au/travel 



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