Tuesday, December 29, 2015

10 tips to avoid crime on your holiday

from Craig Morrison, CEO for Southern Cross Travel Insurance

1) Carry a travel money belt instead of a backpack - you'll be less of a target to pickpockets.

2) Leave the bling behind - expensive items, and even expensive looking items, may attract the watchful eye of thieves.

3) Avoid running into trouble by exercising the same caution overseas as you would at home - e.g. don't jump into a car with a stranger, avoid walking alone at night and take measures to safeguard your items.

4) Familiarise yourself with the local currency and be wary of vendors who might try to short-change you.

5) Keep your passport safe and do not give it to anyone or leave it as a deposit for a jet ski or bike hire - it is the most valuable thing you take on holiday!

6) Be mindful of where you leave your items, even if right next to you. Normal places to put your items in Australia are often targeted overseas by thieves. Avoid leaving them unattended on the beach or in other public places such as bars and restaurants.

7) Avoid using unlicensed taxis. Use licensed, marked taxis, and note down the name of the company and driver. Be wary of taxi drivers who might try and drive away with your items still in the boot.

8) Be mindful of distractions thieves use such as kids trying to sell items or people telling you there is something in your hair or on your top.

9) Never leave valuable items (e.g. cash, jewellery, electronics) in checked luggage or stored away from you when using a transport provider.

10) Bus stops and buses (especially overnight ones) are a common target for thieves. Secure valuable items where possible by keeping them on your person and using padlocks on your bags.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Kolkata's bustling flower market is a riot of sound and smells

IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says that next time you're working on the flower vase, give a thought to the Mallick Ghat Flower Market on the banks of the Ganges River in Kolkata (Calcutta as most of us still think of it.)

Because here in the biggest flower market in Asia, something like 2,500 vendors a day trade fresh-cut flowers by the hundreds of kilograms… some 1,500-plus tonnes in fact, brought in daily from farms 60kms or more out of town.

Name a warmth-loving flower and you'll find it at Mallick Ghat… travel writing colleague Roderick Eime who was there just recently discovering the markets to be a fascinating if chaotic 15- to 18-hours a day of frenzied bidding, bargaining and bustle as vendors and buyers haggle over prices.

And almost cry as you learn that marigolds change hands from as low 60 rupees (AU$1) for a one kilogram bunch, 25 cut roses for just $3.50, wedding garlands a measly 400 rupees ($8) – with equally eye-watering prices for everything from sweet peas and sunflowers, to orchids and gladioli…

But Roderick warns that while Mallick Ghat's certainly worth a visit during a stay in Calcutta, be ready to splash around a muddy calamity under-foot, and to be constantly jostled amid the competitive crowds.

As well, being right alongside the sacred Ganges, prepare too for the sights of the faithful undertaking everything in the holy waters from religious bathing and washing to other activities normally reserved for the bathroom…

It's all, Roderick says, something of an assault on the senses, with the fragrant perfume of those tonnes of flowers, competing with the ever-present aroma of one of India's busiest, most densely populated and over-crowded cities.

For information on tours that include the Kolkata Flower Market, visit Active Travel


FLOWERS by the hundreds of kilograms… some 1,500 tonnes in fact that change hands daily at Kolkata (Calcutta) Mallick Ghat Flower Markets at prices to make you cry. (Photo: Roderick Eime)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cape Town: Madiba's much-loved Mother City

From the sobering UNESCO site of Robben Island to the glittering malls of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town is a solid favourite with visitors from all over the world.

by Roderick Eime.

No matter what anyone tells you, you can only visit Robben Island, you can never 'experience' it.

Ever since the last prisoners were released in 1996, the cells of Robben Island have stood empty. The stark painted walls, rusty bed frames and chipped iron bars sit alone and forlorn, the stiff, salty sea breeze whistling a shrill tune as it passes through. Only those poor souls who lived behind these walls can ever claim to have experienced this God-forsaken place.

The saga of Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela shall always hold a special place in the story of Robben Island. The once renegade activist, National President and father of modern South Africa spent 18 of his 27 years in jail on Robben Island along with numerous other high profile ANC leaders such as Kgalema Motlanthe, who also served as President of South Africa, Oliver Tambo and current President, Jacob Zuma.

Perfectly located a tantalising distance from Cape Town, the seven kilometres of angry sea acted as the ideal barrier to escape attempts with the only ever escapee doing so in 1660 by stealing a rowboat.

With the passing of the great man at the age of 95 last December and the almost immediate release of the movie adaptation of his autobiography, ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedown”, Madiba’s presence on all things South African is at the moment almost supernatural.

The jumping off point to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Robben Island is right at Cape Town’s glorious V&A Waterfront with ferries running four times a day. Allow four hours for the tour and return ferry ride.

Cape Town itself is frequently listed on various ‘Best Of’ lists as one of the world’s most beautiful cities to visit. It certainly has one of the most striking vistas, with the ‘City Bowl’ poised elegantly on the slender plain as a front piece to the imposing Table Mountain backdrop. As if draped in layers of snow-like fairy floss, the kilometre high, flat-topped natural fortress has protected the ‘mother city’ for more than 350 years.

The range of activities in and around Cape Town is enormous. Tours, treks and tastings abound from abseiling and shark cage dives for the adrenalin junkies to urbane food and produce tours to the gorgeous Stellenbosch or Constanzia regions within an easy drive of downtown.

While Cape Town may boast the most desirable city in South Africa, it is by no means the only one worth visiting. To continue the ‘Madiba Trail’ across to Johannesburg, an exploration of the once forbidden (for white folks) township of Soweto is a perfect bookend to the Robben Island adventure.

Here, in an unassuming red ‘matchbox’ brick dwelling at 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, is the so-called Mandela House. Pock-marked with bullet holes and scorched from fire bombs, Nelson Mandela lived at this address from 1946 until the time of his arrest in 1962. Upon his release in 1990, he briefly returned here, stating famously in his autobiography “For me No. 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.”

The South Africa you visit today is a far cry from the strife-torn, segregated country of Mandela’s adult years. The bright ‘Rainbow Nation’ which hosts world class sporting events and welcomes around 10 million international guests annually is the glittering and glamorous gateway to Africa.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Serengeti's Great Migration

At the start of November, the vast savannah of the southern Serengeti is impossibly dry and water extremely scarce. Great numbers of wildlife have left, following the rain and rivers to the north, leaving the remaining inhabitants to adapt.

But come late November, it's a vastly different story; the rains have well and truly arrived, and with them the start of the Great Migration, as thousands of wildebeest head towards their calving grounds in the south of the Serengeti.

The precise start of migration varies each year. Depending on rainfall, sometimes smaller groups of wildebeest, zebra and buffalo move in first before the bulk follows. In other years it seems as though the entire herd arrives as one, blanketing the plains in huge numbers. Everyday is different and extraordinary: one afternoon, you might see a just few thousand animals, only to find an ocean of wildlife the next morning, with wildebeest and zebra stretching as far as the eye can see.

Each year the gathering draws the attention of plenty of opportunists. Kusini's pride of lions surveys the plains from their strategic vantage point – Mowe Ya Simba (meaning literally the 'Rock of the Lions' in Swahili). Ghostly leopards also lie in wait, while cheetahs steer clear of the chaos caused by larger predators and take refuge in the rolling vast savannah. And of course, large clans of ever-present hyenas roam in search of the weak, the wounded, and the ill.

The only permanent camp in this unspoiled and remote part of the Serengeti, Sanctuary Retreats' luxurious Sanctuary Kusini Camp. Every year vast herds of zebra, wildebeest and other game congregate right at the camp's doorstep from mid-December to March the calving season.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

11 Destinations Made Famous by Australian Film


Lights, Camera, Action in Sydney and NSW

Destination NSW has prepared a list of 11 of the most recognisable film destinations made famous by classic and new Australian films to celebrate two of Sydney's biggest film events Tropfest Australia (6 December) and the 5th AACTA Awards (9 December).

Destination NSW CEO Sandra Chipchase said: “Sydney and regional New South Wales towns are picturesque, diverse, and iconic destinations so it's no surprise or coincidence that these locations have played pivotal roles in celebrated award-winning Australian films over the years.

These destinations present a perfect opportunity for travellers to be the star of their own New South Wales escapes. Visitors can take a boat across the Harbour to party like Jay Gatsby in Manly, book a Priscilla Suite in Broken Hill, or channel an inner secret agent and explore Bare Island for a Mission Impossible adventure.”

The AACTA Awards for Sydney were secured by NSW Government's tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW. Destination NSW is a strategic partner of Tropfest Australia.
Here are 11 of Destination NSW's many film locations to visit:

1. Manly - The Great Gatsby
The grand International College of Management in Manly was given a Hollywood makeover and transformed into Gatsby's (Leonardo Dicaprio) extravagant Disney like mansion.
2. Bare Island - Mission: Impossible II
It was at Bare Island on the shores of Botany Bay that Tom Cruise famously rode a motorbike over the ramparts in Mission: Impossible II.
3. Darling Point - Muriel's Wedding
St Mark's Church in Darling Point was the setting for Muriel's special day in the 1994 AFI Award winning film Muriel's Wedding
4. Newtown - Not Suitable for Children
The share house at the center of this romantic comedy is in Newtown on Forbes street.
5. Tamarama - Ruben GuthrieTamarama Surf Club is where talented yet troubled advertising creative Ruben Guthrie attends his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
6. Cockatoo Island - X-Men Origins & UnbrokenCockatoo Island was transformed into the notorious 'Three Mile Island' nuclear complex where the pivotal escape scene was shot in Wolverine. It was also transformed into a Japanese prisoner- of –war camp in Unbroken.
7. Harris Park - UnINDIANFilmed exclusively in NSW, Brett Lee put Parramatta and Harris Park on the map with filming taking place on the banks of the Parramatta River as part of the holi scene, an Indian tradition.
8. Kiama - Mullet
Kiama and Gerringong were the towns featured in heartfelt drama Mullet.
9. Bermagui - The Man Who Sued God
The sleepy fishing village of Bermagui on the NSW south coast shone alongside Billy Connolly in feel-good comedy The Man Who Sued God.
10. Robertson - Babe
'Hoggett's Farm' the home of the sheep pig known as Babe was built in the rolling green countryside of Robertson, 128km  south of Sydney, in the Southern Highlands.
11. Broken Hill - The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert The Palace Hotel on Argent Street is where Tick, Mitzi and Bernadette stayed in the 1994 cult classic.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Exciting experiences for the whole family in the heart of Vietnam

Enjoy exciting experiences for the whole family in the heart of Vietnam

Vietnam is a land of diversity; sculpted with lush rainforests, pristine beaches and a rich agricultural tradition; whilst its unique history and international influences have led to a robust culture immersed in music, art and dance.

Toowoomba: There's a new kind of darling on the Downs

The Toowoomba tale reads a little like Hansel and Gretel. There’s enticing breadcrumbs leading you all the way west, but these days, those crumbs are more likely to be organic, washed down with a frothy coffee.

Yes, it’s difficult to imagine, but Toowoomba was once all about haberdashery stores and picnics in the park. Sure, those things still exist, but there’s a new kind of darling on the Downs, and it’s all about funky food, edgy art and an organic movement which is turning heads in the classy capital cities.

You’re in kookaburra, king parrot and galah country here where signs leading you west proclaim things like “cow poo $10 a day”. But make no mistake. A bunch of local yokels this is not.

At Chalala Microbakery in Pittsworth, Bread Division CEO Laurie Stiller (his wife Rhonda is Muesli Division CEO) buys organic flour from nearby Kialla to make his 200 to 300 loaves of sourdough a week. Laurie says Kialla is the biggest organic flour mill in the country and is part of a new movement which is adding as much fuel to the food scene in the region as the wood-fired oven in which he bakes his bread.

“There are plenty of people doing amazing things, there’s organic garlic, organic quail…as a region, the Felton Food Festival was massive. There were over 5000 people who came along,” Laurie says.

“We are gradually getting more of a food focus in the region. We had a Paddock to Plate at Killarney on the weekend and all of the local producers from the Southern Downs were up here.”

Up on the range at Olive Branch, former colleagues and executive chefs Rob Balderson and Jason Wood joined forces to open this Ruthven Street restaurant three years ago, which Rob says aims to inject “sexy” into Toowoomba’s dining scene. A typical lunch menu includes dishes like gremolata crumbed coral trout and Moroccan beef with goat’s cheese, grape and walnut salad.

“The sexy bits are at dinner where we are one of the only restaurants to serve an amuse bouche to start and a sorbet in between plates,” Rob says.

“Before I opened this restaurant I just sat outside for four days and watched the people. You’ve got to know Toowoomba people. Once you get to know them they are very loyal people.

“If you exceed their expectation and be constant then they will look after you. The infrastructure of what’s going to happen in this town in the next five years is going to be pretty amazing.”

Drive through Crow’s Nest and at nearby Bunnyconnellen, Peter and Janie Simmonds - who are best known for their olives and olive products - are also embracing a new way of thinking about the region, and food.

The couple has just launched pop-up cooking masterclasses on their property acting as a conduit between local producers and consumers.

“It is about doing things differently to what we’ve done. We want to bring people together,” Peter says.

“We want to champion everyone else’s product.”

The pair, who was the first to produce smoked olives in Australia, know a thing or two about food. Their marmalade jam was recently awarded a silver place in the Original World Marmalade Awards in Cumbria in the UK.

There’s an edginess mixed with elegance in this region. Dine in the grounds of Clifford House at Gip’s Restaurant, which was originally designed as a residential men’s club but falling cattle prices saw it unfinished. Early settler James Taylor, with his wife Sara and 9 kids, turned it into an elegant mansion with 30 rooms, 6 house staff and 3 gardeners. These days, the restaurant is build in and around the old billard room and the chef uses local produce to design a modern-Australian menu.

Anna Shirley, 27, went to boarding school at Downlands College, and has returned here as the manager of Gip’s.

“What’s changed in Toowoomba? Definitely the cultural scene. It is more of a destination for bands and it is on the map now,” Anna says.

“It is a little bit more polished now. I go out to eat a lot in Toowoomba and you don’t get better beef anywhere. In your cafés, people are expecting high-quality coffee. We’re not a backwater town.

“There are a lot of excellent local artists in Toowoomba. There are a lot of cultural influences coming into our cuisine here as well. I think Toowoomba has taken a while to get going but it is on the way now.”

Just up the road, at Vacy Hall, tradition still stands in this historic guest house built in 1898 and which has undergone several incarnations during its time including as accommodation for American sailors during World War Two and a boarding house for uni students in the 50s.

Vacy Hall owner Graham Higgins says the art scene in Toowoomba is thriving through the innovative Insight Gallery; Tosari Galleries which has introduced art classes; and Kath Dickson Community Art Space which is designed for emerging artists.

“We’ve got an emerging art culture and food culture like the rest of the world. We are embracing food that is more locally grown and leaves a small carbon footprint,” Graham says.

“The thing I like about Toowoomba is it is a compact city with four distinct seasons. It’s got this emerging kind of art and food culture that is quite vibrant”.

Follow the scent of caffeine down Ruthven Street and you’ll find further evidence of Toowoomba’s renaissance. In the small laneway Searles Walk, stumble across Ground Up Espresso Bar which could be in a Melbourne laneway with its graffiti-art walls, rustic seats and the trendy set. Perhaps the best indicator of all, however, sits at 488 Ruthven Street – a pop up coffee shop called Bounce – which partners with a local disability service to assist people re-entering the workforce.

After all, that’s what this region has done so beautifully. Re-invent itself and bounce.

Words: Christine Retschlag

For more information on Queensland Holidays, visit www.queensland.com

10 Amazing James Bond locations around the world

Over the past 53 years and 23 film releases, James Bond has set the standard for adventurous global travel, journeying around the world to more than 92 amazing destinations.

With Spectre, the latest instalment of the Bond series, set to officially launch in Australia on 21 November (and advance screenings starting next week), the travel experts at Cheapflights.com.au have developed a shortlist of 10 of Bond's most famous locations – the ultimate travel inspiration for Aussies wanting to channel their inner Bond on their next international getaway.

Location: Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Film: Dr No (1962)

Bond: Sean Connery

Scene: After sneaking on to Crab Key (Dr No's mysterious island), Bond comes across Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), emerging from the sea in a bikini. One of the most famous Bond scenes of all time, the beach setting was actually within the private estate of a true Bond fan.

Today: Ocho Rios is a port of call for many cruise lines and boasts some of the most luxurious resorts in the Caribbean.

Location: Ko Tapu, Thailand

Film: Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Bond: Roger Moore

Scene: Bond flies over Phang Nga Bay on his way to hitman Scaramanga's island hideaway on Ko Tapu. Bond is challenged to a duel at gunpoint, and as tension builds, Bond turns and prepares himself to aim. When he goes to fire, he finds Scaramanga has already flead the scene.

Today: Now known as James Bond Island, this is one of Thailand's most famed destinations. It can be reached via a tall boat ride, which will take you to picture-perfect coves and dreamy secluded beaches – an island-lovers paradise.

Location: Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Film: Moonraker (1979)

Bond: Roger Moore

Scene: In an action-packed sequence, Bond battles it out with metal-mouth Jaws atop two cable-cars, strung high above Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay. He then slides down the cable with his beautiful astrophysicist Bond girl, Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles).

Today: More than a million tourists visit the 396m high Sugarloaf Mountain every year to enjoy the breath-taking view of one of South America's most stunning cities, including surrounding beaches, mountains and forests.

Location: Lake Pichola, Udaipur, India

Film: Octopussy (1983)

Bond: Roger Moore

Scene: Bond, disguised as a crocodile, swims up to the 263 year old white marble floating palace which rises from a rock foundation on its own island in Lake Pichola. He enters Octopussy's lair to find it populated only by attractive women.

Today: You can book to stay in the Taj Lake Palace Hotel. Take in the stunning views and intricate décor, and enjoy a visit with truly royal mystique.

Location: Paradise Island and Nassau, Bahamas

Film: Thunderball (1965)

Bond: Sean Connery

Scene: In pursuit of Spectre agent, Emilio Largo, Bond finds himself on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. This epic location becomes the backdrop for a game of poker and a thrilling underwater battle between Bond and Largo's men.

Today: Known for its crystal clear waters, visitors can enjoy hours of sunny lounging by the beach on Paradise Island, and, in true Bond fashion, spend the evening in the casino.

Location: Ticino, Switzerland

Film: Goldeneye (1995)

Bond: Pierce Brosnan

Scene: A spectacular opening, James Bond jumps on a bungee cord from the 220 meter high wall of Contra Dam.

Today: If you're feeling brave you too can take the leap of faith. The 007 jumping station is in the middle of the dam wall and is the world's highest stationary bungee station.

Location: Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Film: Die Another Day (2002)

Bond: Pierce Brosnan

Scene: Bond enters a wild chase with henchman Zao on glacial Lake Jökulsárlón in Iceland.

Today: Book a night's stay in The Ice Hotel where the walls, floors and ceilings of the hotel are the canvases of designers from all creative disciplines. The artists and art work vary from year to year, each rendition of the hotel presenting an ephemeral collection.

Location: London, England

Film: Skyfall (2012)

Bond: Daniel Craig

Scene: After being informed that she will be 'retiring', M returns to the real MI6 HQ, the Secret Intelligence Service building, just in time to see her office dramatically blown up as she crosses Vauxhall Bridge.

Today: Visit Blighty and take a river boat down the Thames, right past the MI6 HQ featured in many of the Bond films.

Location: Lake Garda, Italy

Film: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Bond: Daniel Craig

Scene: Mr White chases James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 in an Alfa Romeo 159 along a mountain-hugging road by the shore of Lake Gard, right into an MI6 lair.

Today: Take a dip in the clean, clear and fresh water and spend the afternoon or following days exploring each of the beaches and towns which dot the lake's edges.

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Film: From Russia With Love (1963)

Bond: Sean Connery

Scene: Bond travels to Istanbul, Turkey, to collect potential defector, Romanova, arriving at the old Yesilköy Airport.

Today: Istanbul is now a tourist mecca, famed for its bustling atmosphere and marketplaces. Brush up on your haggling skills and grab a bargain at the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest markets in the world.

If none of these destinations ticks the boxes for you, you might also like to head to one of the three cities Bond has journeyed to most, with amazing deals now available for:
Vienna: $1,416 (ex Sydney)
Miami: $1,390 (ex Sydney
Hong Kong: $637 (ex Sydney)

To search for more inspiration or book your Bond destination, visit Cheapflights.com.au.

Myanmar¹s Festival of Lights

Asia is a melting pot of other-worldly cultures, vibrant landscapes and unique festivities. In particular, Myanmar is renowned worldwide for its bright and colourful festivals. And this November, one of the most exciting events will be taking place right across the country.

The Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights marks the eighth full moon in the Burmese calendar and will be held on 25 November. This spectacular festival is one of the prettiest in Asia, and will see many of the country's religious sites vividly lit up by oil lamps and Chinese lanterns. Think of Chiang Mai's famous Lantern Festival, but minus the throngs of tourists and gimmicky parades.

Throughout Myanmar, communities come together to create a breath-taking spectacle, releasing thousands of bamboo hot air balloons into the sky, each glittering with the light of a hundred candles. In Bagan, the thousands of temples that litter the landscape literally become beacons of light as pilgrims travel from far and wide to make their offerings.

For travellers lucky enough to find themselves in Myanmar during this time, it is an experience like no other. Guests aboard the luxuriously appointed Sanctuary Ananda, are afforded a unique perspective of the Festival's splendours as they sail along Myanmar's mighty Ayeryarwady River when the day's light fades and the sky begins to twinkle with candles, balloons and lanterns, many of them home made.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Picturing Busy Life Of Elizabeth Taylor

ELIZABETH Taylor with the Oscar she won for
Best Actress in 1967 in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says a fascinating collection of photographs of legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor – many of which have never been publicly shown before – has just opened at London's Getty Images Gallery to raise funds for her Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF.)

Founded in 1985, the Foundation has in 30 years distributed millions of dollars to some 700 AIDS organisations in 37 countries around the world.

Many of the images at the just-opened London exhibition provide little-known insights into the actress, who was tireless both in her working and behind-the-scenes private lives. They include one taken at Epsom Racecourse in England in 1957 of Taylor with third husband, film producer Mike Todd, together with "best of friends" actress Debbie Reynolds and her then-husband, singer Eddie Fisher.

Mike Todd was the only one of Elizabeth Taylor's seven husbands that she did not divorce… he beat her to it by dying in a plane crash in New Mexico in 1958, and a year later singer Fisher suddenly walked out on Debbie Reynolds to marry Taylor (who by then, we would suspect, was anything but Debbie's "best of friends.")

CONVOLUTED: Elizabeth Taylor with then-husband Mike Todd
followed by singer Eddie Fisher and his then-wife actress Debbie Reynolds.
After Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, Fisher suddenly divorced Reynolds to marry Taylor.
The Elizabeth Taylor photographic exhibition is open until November 7 at the Getty Images Gallery, 46 Eastcastle Street, that's close to Oxford Circus in Central London. Entry is free, with a percentage from sales of images on show going to ETAF.


(Photos Getty Images Gallery)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Record Southern Highlands Tulip Time in Bowral

 IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says a record over-38,000 people flocked to this year's NSW Southern Highlands Tulip Time Festival… almost four times the population of the little town of Bowral in which the annual event has been held every Spring for 55 years.

A CORNER of the crowd during the Southern Highlands Tulip Time Festival that this year attracted more than 38,000 visitors over 13 days. (Destination Southern Highlands)
And they spent a whopping $7m-plus in Bowral and the Highlands' other major centres of Mittagong and Moss Vale and surrounding historic villages – making the fortnight-long Festival now the biggest event in regional NSW south of Sydney.

Centre-piece was Bowral's Corbett Gardens with an extraordinary 100,000 tulips and 20,000 flowering annuals, while many public parks throughout the Highlands were also ablaze with colourful flowering bulbs and annuals, and numerous private gardens – some on acreages surrounding grand mansions – also open to visitors.

Event Co-Ordinator with Destination Southern Highlands, Debbie Pearce credited the success of this year's Tulip Time to an expanded range of events and activities alongside the actual garden displays. These included musical performances across both weekends of the Festival, the always-popular Tulip Time Street Parade, an open-air Cinema@Sunset, a Music in the Gardens evening, children's pantomime, a bar with local cheeses, wines and cider, street markets, and an exceptionally popular Dogs Day Out.

"And the introduction of easily-identified volunteer 'Greeters' at Corbett Gardens this year to assist visitors with local information and directions, enhanced the overall visitor experience," Ms Pearce said.

Next year's Southern Highlands Tulip Time Festival will be held in Bowral from September 13 to 25 2016.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Responsible tourism. The way of the future.

Tourism is the world’s largest industry, growing larger every year. In 2012, for the first time in history, aggregate international tourist arrivals around the world surpassed one billion. In 2011, international tourism receipts exceeded $1 trillion.

Hand in hand with this extraordinary development of global tourism is an unprecedented level of interest in responsible travel, coinciding with people’s desire to get away from run of the mill holidays in favour of travel experiences that are unique, authentic and meaningful. In addition, the rise of philanthropic programmes and ‘volun-tourism’ indicates that consumers increasingly seek to give back to the communities they visit. These twin desires for unique and ethical experiences have placed increasing pressure on tourism suppliers to improve their social and environmental responsibility.

Of course some businesses have been well ahead of the curve of this trend. Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP), the philanthropic arm of luxury travel operator, Abercrombie & Kent, traces its beginnings back to 1982 when A&K Vice Chairman Jorie Butler Kent, together with A&K founder, Chairman and CEO Geoffrey Kent, first raised funds for conservation efforts within Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Today, AKP carries on A&K's social and environmental commitments on a global scale. A&K's more than 50 companies and offices worldwide sponsor projects designed to benefit the communities in which they operate. A&K staff members donate their time and labour in addition to lending financial support, and rigorous oversight ensures that every donation is put to worthy use.

According to Sujata Raman, A&K’s Australian Managing Director, embracing responsible business practices at the environmental and social levels has a number of benefits for businesses. “Not only are we meeting a growing consumer demand, responsible practices also give us a competitive advantage in terms of branding and product differentiation. But more importantly, we know that the tourism industry as a whole depends on the health of the destination. So it’s really important to us to focus on enhancing environmental and social sustainability on the ground where we operate.”

Boutique luxury travel operator Sanctuary Retreats is another company that is committed to conservation and responsible tourism ever since opening its first camp in the Masai Mara in 1999. Says Michael McCall, Director of Sales Australia, NZ & Asia, the company has always strived to build long lasting relationships with rural communities in the areas in which it operates, making a point of identifying and supporting long-term, viable and self-sustaining projects. Says McCall, “Our aim is to ensure that all projects are supported by our staff and guests and we work closely with communities to identify their needs so we can deliver projects that really have an impact.”

Recent projects undertaken jointly by A&K and Sanctuary Retreats include the relocation of 20 rhino, both black and white, into the Moremi Reserve in Botswana where they are under protection 24/7 and safe from poachers. Guests staying at Sanctuary Retreats’ camps and lodges in Botswana will also have the opportunity to see these endangered animals while on safari. Earlier this year, Abercrombie & Kent also teamed up with Wheels of Change to fill a shipping container with donated bikes and equipment for Nakatindi village in Zambia to enable healthcare workers and students to attend the nearest secondary school 11 km away. Much to the excitement of the community, over 700 bicycles were recently delivered to the village. The containers in which they were delivered have been converted to a bicycle repair centre, with five local women selected to operate the new shop who are now hard at work learning how to be bike mechanics. The project is one of many that AKP and Sanctuary Retreats’ Sussi and Chuma camp have implemented in the village.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The people you meet: Old Bus Depot Markets, Canberra

Annie Storey - Ornamental Coppersmith
Matthew Judd - 213 Art

Dawn Hayter - Urban Providore
John Wall - La Pizza Cucina

The Old Bus Depot Markets in Canberra is a kaleidoscope of foodie flavours and colour. A great way to spend a Sunday - rain or shine.

The Old Bus Depot Markets in Canberra

Norfolk Island's Big Family Secret

Can you keep a secret? Norfolk Island has managed to keep a big one for a long time now - however your kids will be the ones to spill the beans within hours of arriving on the Island. And if you want a big hint (or the answer really!), it’s that Norfolk Island is a brilliant family holiday destination! It has all the elements to keep everyone entertained and at the same time able to kick back, re-connect and enjoy being a family on holiday together.

Perhaps one of the best times for a family visit is January, especially after the chaos of Christmas and New Year when everyone is in need of having their batteries re-charged. The crystal clear waters of Emily Bay become the hub of the island during these warm summer days.  From an early morning swim on a near deserted beach; through energetic mid-morning leaps off the raft (conveniently moored mid-Bay); snorkelling past multi-coloured fish and coral in the afternoon; and finally grabbing a tasty burger from Se Moosa Bus (a takeaway van translated from the local Norf’k language as “I’ve eaten enough to bust”), and eaten with a picture-perfect-sunset as the evening’s feature film.

In truth for parents, Norfolk Island is just plain easy. On your journey down to Emily Bay (or anywhere on the island) you won’t find traffic (or even traffic lights!), nor queue’s, nor parking problems. Here, you pull up across the road from the beach and can even pass on locking the car; such is the safe nature of the island. Often visiting kids end up playing with the local, friendly kids.  The choice of non-beach activities are excellent including kids sheets at the museums, mini-golf, fishing (off the pier or boat fishing charter), kayak tours, horse & carriage rides, rainforest walks in the National Park’s, glass bottom boat rides, guided reef walks, and, for the more adventurous a tour to nearby Philip Island. Playing with the ducks and chooks that wander freely in many areas and exploring the green, green valleys of the island’s interior may also make you think you’re on a rural escape.

Norfolk Island has a pristine environment including the freshest of fresh clean air that at night becomes totally star-filled. Most city kids won’t have seen anything quite like it and will get a quiet buzz from learning how to pick out the constellations and spot the dot of satellites moving evenly across the sky. With all produce locally grown the idea of food miles is converted into food meters and tired taste buds literally come to life eating fresh, tasty produce. Buy your fish right off the jetty as the boats come in or from Saturday’s market where most of the fruit and veg were picked that morning. There is something deeply pleasing about feeding your family genuinely fresh seasonal produce that tastes like food used to taste before cold-storage was invented! Norfolk cafés and restaurants creatively use seasonal produce to make delicious meals for everyday and also special dinner occasions. All clubs and many restaurants have kid’s menus.

The chance for a family to wind-down and re-connect seems to come naturally on Norfolk Island. This is a friendly, laid-back place where the cows have right of way on the roads and drivers wave to each other as they pass. Norfolk’s magic inevitably weaves its spell on all, from pre-schoolers to sceptical teens and weary mums and dads. It offers the chance to do a lot, or not much at all - but especially to just enjoy being on holiday together.

The secret of Norfolk Island is out - kids love this place – just as much as their parents!

Take advantage of a special Kids Stay Free Deal! From 10 December 2015 to 16 January 2016 January a great family special is available for 2 adults and 2 children where the kid’s accommodation is free. This special is for accommodation at Aloha Apartments, featuring self-contained apartments and a pool. Packages start at $1189 per adult and $560 per child. Prices include: Return ‘seat and bag’ airfare to Norfolk Island, pre-paid airline taxes & meet and greet at Norfolk Island Airport, 7 nights quad share accommodation, 7 days car hire including surcharge (petrol is extra and payable whilst on the island), half day Island tour, discount shopping car with free gift, complimentary mini-golf and Walk in The Wild’.  Prices current at time of printing, subject to availability & change without notice. Conditions apply. Travel insurance is strongly recommended.

For details on this special and all holiday packages contact karen@travelcentre.nf free call us on 1800 1400 66 or visit our website at www.norfolkislandtravelcentre.com

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Africa's Great Migration - One of the world's natural wonders

The Masai Mara and Serengeti are two of the most famous national parks in Africa, best known for offering up ringside seats to the Great Migration – which makes them both extremely popular destinations for luxury safaris.

The Great Migration is undoubtedly one of Nature's most unforgettable spectacles: 1.5 million wildebeest accompanied by 200,000 or so zebras are engaged in a never-ending journey, following the rains in a circular 1,200-mile route, through a wilderness that takes in the Serengeti National Park and Kenya's Masai Mara Game Reserve.

The annual migration actually begins deep in the south of Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, where an estimated half a million wildebeest are born between January and March each year. But when the rains trickle to a halt in May the land dries out, forcing the grazing animals to move on and head for their dry season habitat – the Masai Mara region in neighbouring Kenya.

With the beginning of the short rains in late October, the migration makes its way back into the Serengeti – which makes it the perfect time of year to be anywhere in the northern part of the National Park. By December, having emerged from the northern woodlands, the herds then return to their calving grounds in the south once again and the circle is complete.

Best time to go?

Of course, rain is the greatest motivator underpinning the annual migration and largely dictates where the herds can be found at any given time. For example from July to October is generally the optimal time to catch it in Kenya, although unusually dry conditions in the southern Serengeti have encouraged the animals to head north far earlier than usual this year, with hundreds of thousands of wildebeest arriving in the central areas of the Serengeti from as early as March.

The rainy season runs from October to May and typically begins with the short rains – a period of gloriously hot sunny days punctuated by brief torrential thunderstorms, before peaking with the long rains of April – a month to avoid when most camps close and the plains become quagmires.

When the rains end in May wildebeest normally head for the Masai Mara, navigating their way past hungry Serengeti lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and crocodiles.

This year was a little different, the significant lack of rain having forced herds to leave their breeding grounds much earlier than usual. Lying in wait for them – the notorious Grumeti River crocodiles, which exacted a high toll as wildebeest traversed the river's still high waters.

Zebras are often the first animals to arrive in Kenya, grazing on the tall grasses, with wildebeest not far behind them. Here they remain from July to October – the main tourist season –when visitors flock to watch dramatic river crossings.

But as soon as the rains return the wildebeest head back to the Serengeti, drawn towards their calving grounds in the south of the Park. In the dry season there are few animals to be found here, but between January and March during calving season, surely nowhere in Africa feels so alive.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Britain Calling newsletter - August 2015


August 2015
Welcome to the August issue of BritainCalling; this month we bring you the new edition of our Shopping is GREAT guide, packed with story ideas that will inspire you to explore shopping in Britain. We also look at the new destinations that will be playing in the Barclays Premier League next season; where London's Night Tube will take you when it launches this September; how Wales is celebrating Roald Dahl's centenary in 2016; and what you'll see when you buy tickets for the new Borders Railway in Scotland! 
Shopping is GREAT – updated guide

A new edition of Shopping is GREAT guide has been put together for international media. Now in its fourth edition, it has grown to 112 pages of new and updated story ideas and information designed to inspire you to explore, and write about, shopping in Britain. Some of the new highlights include: Clothes with a conscience - follow our guide to British stores and brands selling covetable clothing that makes the world a better place; Kings and Queens of cool - Britain's trendiest streets and neighbourhoods; the unique, unusual, quirky: where to find specialist shops in Britain; and Make it, then take it home - there are many places to buy a gift to take home for loved ones, but why not go that one step further and make your own?
Download these stories, and much much more, here
Barclays Premier League kicks off 
on 8 August
We’re looking forward to the kick off of the new Barclays Premier League season next month; as well as the opportunity to watch the crème de la crème of English and Welsh football (Scotland has its own league), the new season is also the perfect chance to visit the clubs' destinations. Reaching from the far north-east of England (Newcastle) to the south of Wales (Swansea), over to London and across to the hip cities of north-west England (Manchester and Liverpool), following Barclays Premier League football also means discovering some of Britain's most exciting cities. Each season the Barclays Premier League welcomes three newly promoted clubs to its ranks and joining the 2015/16 season are Watford, Norwich City and AFC Bournemouth. Find out more about these destinations here.
Late-night London comes to life
From 12 September travellers in central and greater London will be able to travel across the city on five of the major underground Tube lines 24 hours a day from 5am Friday till midnight on Sunday from 12 September. Find out here which lines will be operating and read more here about the capital's late-night dining, drinking, clubbing and hot-spots from north to south, east to west of the capital. Discover more here about where to go for 24-hour dining if you’re hungry after a night out!
Wales unveils programme for Roald Dahl’s centenary in 2016
Wales has announced its programme of events to celebrate the centenary of Welsh-born author and one of the world's number one storytellers, Roald Dahl, in 2016. The Welsh Government, National Theatre Wales, Wales Millennium Centre and Literature Wales have announced the Wales programme of events to celebrate the centenary. The announcement was made at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff, where Roald Dahl was baptised and which always remained close to the author's heart. Read more on how to celebrate here.
Tickets for Scotland's Borders Railway on sale
If you want to know more about Scotland's newest scenic railway, the Borders Railway, which will take passengers on picturesque journeys into one of Europe's most unspoilt regions from 6 September 2015, read on here. A big draw for visitors will be the attractions and landscapes associated with novelist Sir Walter Scott and his writings. Delving deep into ‘Scott country', visitors can start their journey at the Sir Walter Scott monument in Edinburgh and then travel the 30-mile route of the Borders Railway, taking in the scenery that inspired Scott's greatest poems and novels, ending at Tweedbank, just a short distance from his beloved Abbotsford House.
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