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

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 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

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.

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