Sunday, 26 May 2019

On the right track: exploring Latin America by train

Latin America is a continent of stunning contrasts; from the snow-capped Andes, wild jungles, exotic wildlife and ancient civilisations, to glamorous beaches and chic bars. 

The region is also home to some of the best train trips on the planet, providing a perfect way to enjoy the scenery from the comfort of a rail carriage.

Australia’s longest-running travel specialist for Latin America, Contours Travel (with whom I had an outstanding trip to Peru), has released a list of the top seven train trips in Latin America.

1. Copper Canyon, Mexico
Mexico only has one passenger train but what it lacks in company it certainly makes up for in quality. Known as ‘El Chepe’ by locals, the Copper Canyon Railway takes passengers from the desert to the Pacific Coast in north-west Mexico, passing sheer canyon walls, waterfalls and plains along the way. The railway stretches over 650km from Chihuahua to Los Mochis on the coast via 36 bridges and 87 tunnels and has been running for over 50 years.

2. Panama Canal Railway, Panama
Linking the city of Colon on the Atlantic Coast and Panama City on the Pacific, the Panama Canal Railway offers spectacular views of one the world’s less-travelled tourism destinations. The glass-domed train is perfect for travellers wishing to relive the heyday of luxury train travel. 

3. Tren Crucero, Ecuador
This luxury, vintage train has just four carriages - two dining cars and two lounge cars – ensuring passengers have an intimate experience as they journey from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, through the Andes over mountains and past volcanoes before arriving in the bustling coastal city of Guayaquil.

4. Tren a Las Nubes, Argentina
Regularly ranked among the world’s top rail adventures, the ‘Train to the Clouds,’ which reaches heights of 4200 metres, connects north-west Argentina with the Chilean border in the Andes mountain range. The journey is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. Perhaps the most impressive part of the journey is passing over the spectacular Viaducto la Polvorilla. 

5. End of the World Train, Agentina
Considered the southernmost operating railway in the world, the ‘End of the World’ train ride takes travellers from Ushuaia to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The heritage railway follows the historic convict train route through stunning landscapes, from Patagonian lakes to snow-capped peaks. 

6. Machu Picchu, Peru
One of the most beautiful rail routes in the world, this trip takes passengers from Cuzco to the base of the world-famous Machu Picchu Incan ruins in the Peruvian Andes. The route follows the river along a narrow valley, passing small communities, farms, snow-capped mountains and lush forest. Carriages range from the Explorer - perfect for those on a budget - to the Hiram Bingham Deluxe - one of the most luxurious carriages in the world.

7. Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru
Launched in May 2017, the Belmond Andean Explorer is a luxurious train journey filled with breathtaking views of the Andes mountain ranges. Among the highest train trips on Earth, the Belmond Andean Explorer reaches heights of 4300 metres.The luxury sleeper train takes pampered passengers from Cusco – the ancient capital of the Inca Empire - through the Andean plains to beautiful Lake Titcaca, the largest lake in South America. 

Contours Travel offers hosted group tours and tailor-made itineraries for independent travellers throughout Latin America. To book or make enquiries call Contours Travel on 1300 135 391 or visit

Major hotel booking sites come under fire

I frequently use hotel booking sites when I need a quick night somewhere and want some choice. 

But the major hotel booking sites are still skewing search results, using pressure tactics and claiming false discounts despite a major clampdown, according to new Which? research reported by TravelMole.

In February, the British Competition and Markets Authority accused Expedia,, Trivago,, Agoda and Ebookers of using unfair practices and ordered them to stop using measures that could mislead customers.

They were given until September to comply, but an investigation by Which? has found that sites are still using tactics to pressurise customers, including not displaying full costs upfront, giving a false impression of a room's popularity and dishonestly claiming that rooms are discounted.

For example, Trivago's site advertised a deal with Expedia for the Paris's Millesime hotel for £244 in February, which it claimed was a saving of 63%, but this was only compared with the most expensive price on another site, not the average, said Which? 

When its researcher clicked through, the 'pricier' site was actually offering the same room for £240 - £4 cheaper than Expedia.

Trivago also has really annoying TV ads
Pressure tactics such as "one room left at this price" and "booked four times in the last 24 hours" can manipulate customers into parting with their cash quickly by giving the impression that the offer is time-limited, Which? reported.

The consumer organisation said 44% of its members agreed that seeing the prompt "only one room left on our site" would influence their decision to book.

In some cases, however, Which? found that these claims were bogus. For example, when was advertising 'the last' double room with private external bathroom at the Balmore Guest House in Edinburgh, Which? reported there were another seven doubles available with en suites at the same price.

Buyer beware. And consider booking direct with hotels to get the best deals. 

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Laugh yourself silly on Norfolk Island

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival roadshow will be rolling onto Norfolk Island - the perfect getaway for anyone looking for a quiet break with a belly load of laughs thrown in. 

Five of the festival’s star comedians from Australia and New Zealand will hit Norfolk Island on August 3. 

The cast includes Urzila Carlson (from my hometown and who used to work on the same paper as me, just a few generations earlier). 

You'll know the South African-born comic from Have You Been Paying Attention and Spicks and Specks. 

Others on the bill include Bob Franklin, Xavier Michelides, Mel Buttle and Dane Simpson. 

The Norfolk Island Travel Centre has announced three-night and seven-night Norfolk Island Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow packages including return Air New Zealand economy class ‘seat plus bag’ airfare to Norfolk Island, pre-paid airline taxes, meet and greet at Norfolk Island airport, return airport transfers on Norfolk Island, three or seven nights’ twin-share accommodation, three or seven days’ car hire, entry to Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow on August 3, plus discounts and bonuses. 

The package is priced from $1199 per person twin share ex-Sydney August 2-5 or $1299 per person twin share ex-Sydney August 2-9. Similar deals are available from Brisbane. 

For Norfolk Island Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow packages, contact Christan Davies at Norfolk Island Travel Centre on Toll Free 1800 1400 66 or

Friday, 24 May 2019

MONA unveils new entertainment precinct in Hobart CBD

The operators of Hobart's MONA are to open a new 24-hour entertainment precinct in Hobart city centre.

After two years of planning, Melbourne’s Riverlee and MONA's DarkLab have announced a new $5 million cultural and entertainment district to be known as ‘In the Hanging Garden’.

Encompassing nearly an entire city block, ‘In the Hanging Garden’ will be a live music and cultural precinct opening at 8pm on June 5 to coincide with the start of the 2019 Dark Mofo festival. 

After the festival concludes, the precinct will remain open and operated by DarkLab year-round, seven days a week.

The first stage of the development has the Odeon Theatre at its heart and encompasses the renovated former Tattersall’s Hotel, and extensive outdoor dining, beer garden, and entertainment areas with food trucks, rotating pop-up kitchens and night markets.

The precinct fronts Liverpool Street, Watchorn Street, and Murray Street.

Riverlee development director David Lee said: "“It was actually David’s [Walsh] suggestion that at first, we open up our doors and let the city in. We agreed that before we can design a ‘cultural’ precinct for the people, we first need to bring the people into the precinct - to give them the opportunity to explore the site, interact with the space, and to create their own culture.

“It has been an enjoyable journey thus far, and we are both excited and humbled with the opportunity to partner with DarkLab on this project, to deliver something truly unique for the city. And with our partners, we are committed to our vision - to transform this site into a vibrant cultural precinct for the city and the people of Hobart.”

DarkLab director Leigh Carmichael said if Hobart is to assert its reputation as a cultural leader in Australia, these types of projects are essential.

“We have a vision for this site to become a significant cultural facility in the heart of Hobart," he said. "We hope it inspires a reinvigorated CBD, and that other businesses can also capitalise. There is momentum building in Hobart at present, and this project has the potential to be a game-changer for the city centre.”

The Odeon Theatre will feature live music at weekends with a capacity of 1200, while there will be outdoor dining, a beer garden and pop-up kitchens seven days a week. 

Altar will offer live music on ground floor of former Tattersall’s Hotel, while High Altar will be a nightclub on the first floor. 

After Dark Mofo concludes, the Odeon will be programmed and operated by DarkLab, with an increase in programming from a dedicated team. Post-festival programs will be announced in July.

See and

Pawesome! Luxury hotel chain welcomes dogs in rooms

A leading hotel chain has launched a new initiative that will allow dogs to accompany guests in their hotel rooms.

Ovolo is introducing dog-friendly rooms to all at all its properties across Hong Kong and Australia.

This new offer will provide pet-friendly rooms in every hotel for an additional cost of $AU80 per night.

Each room will be decked out with a plush dog bed, a no-mess eating and drinking mat and separate food and water bowls.

Dogs that sign up for the V.I.Pooch' plan can also enjoy a designer 'Doggy Bag' containing woof-worthy dog toys, healthy dog snacks and handy poop bags to bring along on walks, hikes and adventures all around town.

Up to two furry friends are permitted per room, giving dog-owners the opportunity to travel to top destinations in Hong Kong and Australia, staying in the cosiest of spaces with their best friends.

“Dog-friendly rooms across Ovolo? Why not?," says Girish Jhunjhnuwala, founder & CEO of Ovolo Hotels Group.

"Most hotels decline to welcome prized pooches to their properties, particularly in Hong Kong, but we're not most hotels. We're thrilled to offer this unique perk to extend our ethos of effortless living.

"Trips are more fun with your best friend, so why put your V.I.Pooch in a kennel? Your furry friend can snuggle into their own bed and dig in to a special doggie bag curated just for them."

For more information and to book, visit:

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Qantas vs. fat flyer

An obese man has claimed he was "fat-shamed" by Australian national airline Qantas after being told he was too large for his pre-booked exit row seat.

Darren Beales, from Geelong, made a major media fuss by claiming the request to move seats on the flight from Melbourne to Brisbane amounted to public fat-shaming.

Mr Beales had pre-booked an exit row seat.

But when he boarded he asked cabin crew for a seat belt extension, as the regular belt is too small to fit him.

He was then told he couldn’t sit in the seat he had booked and was made to move once everybody was on board.

Which seems fair enough to me. People in the exit row are required to help in the case of an emergency. This bloke could only have got in the way.

Under Civil Aviation guidelines, passengers who are travelling with an infant or child or someone who requires assistance in an emergency are not permitted to sit in an exit row.

Safety comes first; not bruised egos.

Which is commonsense - something this bloke appears to be severely lacking.

Radio 3AW reported Qantas have since contacted the fat flyer and offered him a $120 refund for the extra leg room he purchased but did not get to use.

Terracotta Army invades Melbourne

The Terracotta Warriors will tomorrow invade Melbourne for a landmark exhibition at the National Gallery on Victoria International. 

In a dual presentation of Chinese art and culture past and present, the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series presents China’s ancient Terracotta Warriors alongside a parallel display of new works by one of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists Cai Guo-Qiang. 

 Developed and curated by the NGV, Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality is a large-scale presentation of the Qin Emperor’s Terracotta Warriors, which, discovered in 1974 in China’s Shaanxi province, are regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century and widely described as the eighth wonder of the world. 

The exhibition features eight warrior figures and two life-size horses from the Imperial Army, as well as two half-size replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses.

Presented in parallel, Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape features all new art works by contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang inspired by his home country’s culture and its enduring philosophical traditions

Created especially for this exhibition, highlight works include the installation of 10,000 suspended porcelain birds, Murmuration (Landscape), 2019. 

Spiralling over visitors’ heads, the birds create a three-dimensional impression of a calligraphic drawing of the sacred Mount Li, the site of the ancient tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, and his warriors.

Tony Ellwood AM, the director of the NGV said: "Thirty-six years ago, in 1982, the National Gallery of Victoria presented the first international exhibition of China’s ancient Terracotta Warriors only several years after their discovery. 

"History will be made again in 2019, when the Qin Emperor’s Terracotta Army will return to the NGV for the 2019 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition series – this time in a sophisticated dialogue with the work one of China’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Cai Guo-Qiang."

This exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in partnership with Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, Shaanxi History Museum, Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Centre, and Emperor Qin Shihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum of the People's Republic of China.

It will will be on display from May 24-October 13 at the NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Members $24, adult $30, concession $25, child $10, family (two adults + three children) $65. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Calling cheese and chocolate lovers

Swissôtel Sydney is going back to its Swiss roots by serving cheese and chocolate fondues again this winter in Sydney CBD. 

Fondue is a uniquely Swiss culinary experience and its history dates back to the 18th century. At Crossroads Bar in Swissôtel Sydney, the culinary team has recreated a traditional fondue recipe best enjoyed during the colder months.
The Swissôtel Sydney fondue recipe is a combination of two Swiss cheeses - Emmental and Gruyère, Kirsch (a clear fruit brandy), white wine, garlic and a secret ingredient, all blended together and served in a pot. 
The house-made Swiss fondue is enjoyed with crusty baguette bread, cornichons, pickled onions and cos salad. 
Diners can personalise the flavour of their fondue dip to suit their tastes by adding Fourme d'Ambert blue cheese, Gorgonzola Dolce blue cheese, truffle or all three. 
Dipper options will include kipfler potatoes, spiced meatballs, slow-cooked flat iron steak (served pink), seasonal vegetables (carrot, capsicum, broccoli), grilled portobello mushrooms, pork salami, beer-battered chips, potato rosti, prawn cutlets and baguette bread.
To complement the experience, Swissôtel Sydney has curated a special beverage menu, which pairs perfectly with the fondue, including Swiss-inspired cocktails, Josef Chromy Pinot Noir, Pike's Riesling, Kirin Apple Cider and mulled wine.

For those with a sweet tooth, Swissôtel's chefs have created a blend of Swiss chocolate fondue accompanied by marshmallows, pound cake, strawberries, pineapples, kiwifruit, crushed peanuts and almond flakes. 
Dippers include churros, waffle sticks, pretzels, mini doughnut balls, ice cream, bananas and strawberries. 
Lorraine Mercuri, general manager of Swissôtel Sydney said: “The overwhelmingly positive feedback from guests last year encouraged us to bring back the traditional Swiss fondue experience to Swissôtel Sydney this winter. 
"Fondue is an authentic Swiss culinary tradition, which is best enjoyed with friends and family during the colder months, and our culinary team have introduced new fondue dippers to make the experience more exciting for all.”
The Swiss fondue is available at Crossroads Bar in Swissôtel Sydney, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 6pm-9pm from May 30 to August 31. 
The gourmet experience is priced at $34 per person with a minimum of two people per booking. Accor Plus members can enjoy a complimentary glass of house wine and 10% discount. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Now there is an Irish pub with no beer

It sounds like an April Fool's joke.

A new pub has opened its doors in Dublin with an unusual twist; it doesn’t serve alcohol.

“Can you lose the booze and keep the craic?”

Vaughan Yates, a co-founder of The Virgin Mary, which opened in Dublin earlier this month, is kicking against the trend.

Dublin is home to 750 pubs and the Guinness brewery.

The Virgin Mary, which sits on Capel Street, provides a sober alternative to a few pints after work, The Drinks Business reports.

The low-and-no alcohol category is one of the fastest-growing sections of the alcohol industry.

The Virgin Mary’s shelves are stocked with alcohol-free beer and wines, while the staff have also curated a menu of alcohol-free cocktails. Drinks start at €4.50 ($7.30), while cocktails are between €7 and €8.

The bar stocks a range of low ABV beers from both mainstream and craft brands.

Punters also have the option to create their own low ABV cocktail by combining a non-alcoholic spirits of their choice with any mixer from Irish soft drinks maker Poacher’s.

The pub, located a 10-minute walk from whiskey maker Jameson’s distillery on Bow Street and less than two miles from Guinness’ brewery, has already gained plenty of attention.

But crazy ideas tend to do that. I'd give them three months tops.

Open from 4pm to 11pm each day, the bar aims to recreate the buzz and atmosphere of any other late-night venue with “lighting, music, and conversation”, The Irish Times reported.

Monday, 20 May 2019

The global rise and rise of rosé

When giant multi-national corporations start taking an interest you know that a trend has become more than a fashion blip.

Moët Hennessy announced today that it is to buy Château du Galoupet, a Cru Classé wine producer in the Côtes-de-Provence region of southern France.

Château du Galoupet produces 90% rosé wines and has a history that dates back to the 17th century.

There are 68 hectares of vines on the property.

The wines will be the first rosés in under the Moët Hennessy umbrella.

Moët Hennessy is the wine and spirits division of LVMH, the world's leading luxury products group. Moët Hennessy is the largest luxury wine and spirits company in the world. 

Its brands include Hennessy, Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Krug, Mercier, Belvedere, Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Chandon, Cloudy Bay and Cape Mentelle,

An intriguing new way to explore behind-the-scenes Japan

A new series of tours hope to give visitors a peek behind the scenes at distinctive aspects of Japanese culture: the ritual of bathing in onsen hot spring baths, and savouring fresh seasonal delights.

At the invitation of the Onsen Gastronomy Tourism Association, Walk Japan, specialists in small, authentic group tours, have unveiled the first of a new series of Onsen Gastronomy tours: Oita & Kumamoto in Kyushu, Japan's most westerly main island, and Gifu and Nagano in Honshu, central Japan.

Each tour lasts up to five days and has a special focus on the two distinctive aspects of Japanese culture. 

Leisurely, guided walking is over what is described as "easy terrain" with distances each day limited to 10 kilometres but averaging between six to eight kilometres, allowing time to visit local sites of interest.

Like all Walk Japan tours, the Onsen Gastronomy tours are led by expert tour leaders, with a maximum group size of 12 people.

Tourists get to be immersed in the traditional Japanese way of bathing and every evening stay in a delightful local inn, almost always with their own onsens. 

They will also enjoy exceptional Japanese cuisine. 

Onsen hot springs, featured on many of Walk Japan's tours, are found throughout Japan. The Onsen Gastronomy: Oita and Kumamoto is a fully guided five-day, four-night tour starting in Beppu and finishing in Oita City on the island of Kyushu.

The Onsen Gastronomy: Gifu and Nagano is another fully guided five-day, four-night walking tour, taking in central Gifu and western Nagano prefectures, largely a remote area. 

For details see

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Discover Kangaroo Island at your own pace

SeaLink has launched a new range of self-drive Kangaroo Island short-break packages.

The deals are aimed at tourists who want to discover the island at their own pace, whether they favour food and wine, beaches, wildlife or simply exploring. 
There are six ready-made self-drive packages including the three-day American River Adventure, three-day Food and Wine Lovers, three-day Island Hideaway, three-day KI Family Escape at Vivonne Bay, four-day Emu Bay Wine and Wildlife tour and five-day Experience Kangaroo Island tour.
For example, visitors can experience local produce and the spectacular scenery of the Dudley Peninsula while staying at Kangaroo Island Seafront in Penneshaw on the three-day Food and Wine Lover's package.
This deal includes return SeaLink ferry travel for two adults and a standard size vehicle; two nights' accommodation including daily full buffet breakfast at Kangaroo Island Seafront, Penneshaw; welcome bottle of Kangaroo Island wine; $60 dinner voucher at Penny's Restaurant; gourmet lunch at Dudley Wines including a shared platter, gourmet pizza and a glass of wine and premium wine tasting and local produce platter at Bay of Shoal Wines.
The package starts from $493 per person, twin share or from $656.50 per person, twin share including on-island hire car option.
For further information and bookings contact SeaLink on 131301 or visit

Saturday, 18 May 2019

One down, Australia's First Families of Wine and Chinese Whispers

It is just a decade ago since I was invited to the launch of Australia’s First Families of Wine, a group of 12 wine producers representing multi-generatational wine families.

The 12 have suddenly become 11 (more on that later) but will be returning to China for a third time this week as part of Wine Australia’s 2019 China Roadshow.

"In a rapidly changing wine landscape, AFFW is looking forward to continuing to build its profile in China and connecting with key players in the wine trade and media, telling the stories behind each bottle of wine they craft,” said AFFW chairman Stephen Henschke.

"And as AFFW heads towards its 10th anniversary, their rich stories of longevity, history, provenance and craftsmanship continue to resonate with wine-interested Chinese guests.

This will be AFFW’s second trip with Wine Australia to China, an opportunity Henschke says will “strengthen a highly valued relationship” that has been built over many years

“As AFFW, we made our first solo visit to China in 2013, followed by a second visit with Wine Australia last year, in order to help raise the image of Australian wine,” Henschke said.

“It’s fascinating to see how rapidly the Chinese market is developing and changing each time we visit. Chinese wine consumers are gaining more confidence as they learn to appreciate wine. AFFW embodies the spirit of historical, multi-generational wine producing families, and with the next generation of AFFW at the fore, they are able to provide the touch points for the younger Chinese wine lovers of which there are many. 

"As a group we agree, and as the export figures show, the Chinese market is still very much the future for premium Australian wine.”

Kicking off on May 21, the 11 families who make up AFFW will visit Tianjin, Hangzhou, Kunming and Shenzhen during the eight-day tour, with two dedicated AFFW MasterClasses highlighting Wine Australia’s itinerary.

The first MasterClass, an in depth look into the classic Australian variety, Shiraz, will take place in Tianjin on the opening day of the roadshow. The event will be hosted by Lu Yang MS, the first ever and currently the only Chinese Master Sommelier. 

He is widely regarded as the most important and influential sommelier in Greater China and is currently the Corporate/Group Director of Wine for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, overseeing the wine program and sommelier team for over 100 hotels of the entire group.

Concerning  De Bortoli's sudden absence from AFFW, Henschke said: “AFFW's shareholder agreement and membership criteria both stipulate that each AFFW member must be a member of the national Australian wine industry representative body which, until recently was the Winemakers Federation of Australia, and is now the newly incorporated Australian Grape and Wine Incorporated.

" The De Bortoli family has chosen not to become a member of this newly formed industry body and therefore no longer meet AFFW’s criteria.”

So there.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

How a small town in Tasmania reinvented itself

A small town in Tasmania has cleverly reinvented itself by encouraging artists to create murals on walls of buildings and in a local park.

The rural northern Tasmanian town of Sheffield suffered a severe downtown before locals decided to take action.

The town made itself an instant tourist attraction and now holds an annual festival.

Sheffield, in the foothills of Mount Roland, is 30 minutes from Devonport and under hour from Launceston. It is a gateway to Cradle Mountain and promotes itself as a “Town of Murals”.

There are more than 140 murals to discover, some of the main street, others in Mural Park, and others tucked away. 

The artworks feature the history of the area and range from traditional to ultra-modern in style.

Take the audio tour, available from the visitor information centre, to interpret the stories the murals tell.

Sheffield is also home to several cafés and eateries, as well as quirky stores such as World of Marbles, The Emporium and The Contraptuary,

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

A sneak peek at Tasmania's new Tarkine wilderness walk

The Tarkine is a large tract of protected wilderness in north-west Tasmania. It is a jaw-droppingly beautiful region; the largest expanse of temperate rainforest in the Southern Hemisphere. 

This week I got to walk the newly refurbed Julius River Rainforest Walk, a short but stunning stroll through rainforest and eucalypt forest alongside a pristine wild river. 

The relatively flat walk has recently been given a new non-slip surface without impacting on the authenticity of the experience. 

One of the best things about the Tarkine is that it is accessible, yet remains wild and rugged. Many great opportunities exist to experience the extraordinary natural and cultural values the Tarkine represents. 

Recreational opportunities in the Tarkine include short and long walking tracks, kayaking, rafting, fishing, photography, camping, self-touring, wildlife viewing and nature appreciation.

Officially opened in 2015, the Tarkine Drive provides predominately sealed access to the area. 

The Julius River Rainforest Walk was only completed a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully these images tempt you to make a visit, and also to the nearby Arthur River. 

The Julius River region has excellent picnic facilities, parking and a public toilet. 

When the Prince met the actress; a royal love story

The principality of Monaco is hosting an exhibition dedicated to the first meeting between the American actress Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III.
Called Monaco, 6 May 1955. The Story of a Meeting", the exhibition is organised by the Palace of Monaco Archive and the Audiovisual Institute of Monaco for the 90th anniversary of Grace Kelly's birth and is said to "place her first meeting with Prince Rainier III of Monaco in context and perspective".

After winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in March 1955 for her role in The Country Girl, Grace Kelly had been on the French Riviera to shoot Alfred Hitchcock's film To Catch a Thief. 

As guest star at the 8th Cannes Film Festival, Kelly agreed to change her schedule for a last-minute meeting with the Prince of Monaco on the afternoon of May 6, 1955. 

Organised by Pierre Galante, a journalist with Paris Match, this meeting, which almost never happened, was immortalised by Michel Simon, photographer for the magazine, and the Irish photographer Edward Quinn, who had long been working on the Riviera.

The photographs by these two witnesses will be displayed together for the very first time.

Designed as a photographic tour through the Palace State rooms, the exhibition follows in Grace Kelly's footsteps in the places where she met Prince Rainier, around the dress she wore that day, along with personal items, letters, testimonials, newspaper clips and film excerpts. 

All this documentation shows how the meeting, which went virtually unnoticed at the time, became legend. 

Less than a year after this brief but decisive meeting, Prince Rainier III married Grace Patricia Kelly, on April 18-19, 1956 in Monaco.

The exhibition is offered as part of the Palace of Monaco's State Apartments visits open to the public for part of the year.


Monday, 13 May 2019

Exciting new wilderness track in New Zealand

There are few countries better for walking enthusiasts than New Zealand.

Opening in December 2019, New Zealand’s newest and 10th Great Walk - the Paparoa Track - will traverse the Paparoa Range, replete with limestone landscapes, verdant rainforest and astonishing views.

The rugged West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island draws travellers in search of the country’s wild heart.
Not only is the Paparoa Track New Zealand’s newest Great Walk, the spectacular trail also features a side trip that serves as a memorial to the 29 men who lost their lives in the Pike River Mine tragedy.

Māori for “Long Place”, this spectacular mountain range looks out over the South Island’s dramatic coast, punctuated by peaks and threaded with rivers.
Hardy hikers will experience the Pororari River Gorge, towering limestone cliffs, remnants from the region’s mining history and ever-changing forest that transforms from beech to rainforest, studded with nīkau palms.
A standalone walk is the Pike29 Memorial Track, an 11km (one-way) tribute to those who died in 2010 mine disaster.
The Paparoa Track starts near Blackball. The ideal time to walk is between September and May, but all hikers are advised to check the weather forecast before setting out.
At 55km from end to end, the trail takes three days to complete. It’s also open to mountain bikers.

There’s a strong chance visitors will hear - or even see - roroa (great spotted kiwi). Other birds unique to New Zealand that live around these parts include the ruru (native owl), korimako (bellbird), kereru (pigeon), whio (blue duck) and tūī.

Art meets wine in new releases

Leading New Zealand wine brand, Brancott Estate has partnered with artist/designer Benjamin Craven to create four limited-edition labels for its Brancott Estate 2018 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

The latest design partnership by the Marlborough-based wine brand sees UK designer Craven bring to life the Marlborough landscape to match the aromas and flavours of the popular Kiwi wine. 

Craven has re-imagined the picturesque landscape of the Marlborough region, from the vineyards to the clear blue skies, dissecting the original labels and putting his own perspective on each of the elements. 

He describes the labels as the perfect pairing of Brancott Estate’s heritage set against his abstract geometric style, and his passion for colour and pattern.

“I wanted to bring the Brancott Estate personality to life with vibrant colours and my contemporary style, the geometric shapes,” he said. 

Brancott Estate 2018 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is on shelves now in Australia. 

Why mixing up your Queenstowns could be a big mistake

Queenstown in New Zealand is a delightful lakefront resort town, a lively spot with bars, eateries and on the doorstep of the acclaimed wineries of Central Otago on its doorstep. 

Queenstown in Tasmania is not. It is faded mining town with a scarred landscape, polluted rivers, gravel football pitch and aged shopfronts. It is barely hanging on thanks to the resilience of its residents. 

So if you are booking a trip to Queenstown, make sure you choose the right one (or your travel agent does). My happy snaps, below, will illustrate why. 

If not you could be confronted, as I was on Sunday, but a main street so deserted that no one would have been hurt had I fired a cannon. 

There was one cafe open and a nice-looking old pub. Three young girls played hip-hop with vulgar lyrics at full volume. 

The Wilderness Railway (highly recommended) does not operate on Sundays, apparently. Nor does much else. 

A bleak place to grab a coffee and move on. Smartly.  

Fortunately, I was en route to somewhere else. Anywhere else.   

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Somewhere delightfully different to dine in Hobart

Kin is one of Hobart's newer restaurant arrivals, a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint that can seat a maximum of 13 people at any one time.

You'll find it on Macquarie Street, just a few doors from Tom McHugo's pub. The cuisine is Japanese yakitori-style barbecue with an impressive range of cocktails and sakes, as well as wines and beers.

The night I dined, it was a three-person operation; two guys behind the grills, one front-of-house person serving.

It is more funky than romantic but the food is authentic and 

Think fresh local produce - from poultry to squid - the majority of which is cooked on a traditional Japanese Yakitori grill and can be paired with beautiful sake, Japanese-inspired cocktails or local beer and wine.

Chef/owner Casey Burns serves up dishes like chicken thigh and spring onion skewers (two per serve) for $12.50, or perhaps octopus ($14) or wallaby thigh fillet ($13).

Other options include a seaweed salad ($9) or Tasmanian octopus and mushroom gyoza (more like samosas in texture but four to a generous serve for $11).

The food is clearly cooked with love and attention to detail and guests can order either a la carte or pay $60 for a six-course "feed me" menu.

I loved it, and will be back soon. Bookings are recommended and Kin is open Tuesday-Sunday from 6pm. 

Kin is at 71 Macquarie Street, Hobart. 0474 875 892.

# The writer paid his own bill.   

Friday, 10 May 2019

Famous Thai beach to remain closed

The tourist ban at the beautiful Thai beach made famous by a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio has been extended to 2021.

Since the release of the film The Beach in 2000 there had been a sharp rise in visitors to Maya Bay, on the island of Ko Phi Phi Leh, severely damaging the environment.

Officials from the 
Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation temporarily closed the beach last year and now the closure has been extended to give its ecology more time to recover, the Bangkok Post reported.

When it eventually reopens, officials plan to restrict the number of visitors to the beach and boats will be banned from mooring within the bay's waters.

Local people have opposed the ban, saying their livelihoods are being affected.

At its peak there were over 5,000 tourists visiting the secluded bay every day. 
Maya Bay is just 250 metres long and 15 metres wide. 

Discount heralds change at The Star, Sydney

Things are on the move at The Star, Sydney, following a recent $100 million-dollar refurbishment of the Astral Tower and Residences.

The Star Sydney will be re-branding to The Star Grand Hotel and Residences Sydney.

The Star Grand Hotel and Residences is at the heart of The Star's entertainment and casino complex at Darling Harbour, with easy access to some of Sydney's top restaurants including Flying Fish, BLACK Bar & Grill, Sokyo, The Century and Momofuku Seiōbo as well as a number of bars.

The 440 hotel rooms and suites feature luxe marble bathrooms, stylish furnishings and modern comforts.

Effective yesterday, the property will be officially known as The Star Grand Hotel and Residences Sydney.

As part of the re-brand, the property is offering special deals with accommodation at The Star Grand Hotel in a superior king or twin room for $269 per night. The deal excludes Saturday nights but is a very good offer for a terrific property. It runs from June 1-July 31. 

Here's the lowdown: Use rate code MICEOFFER when booking online via or call 1800 700 700.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Penfolds unveils its first Champagne

Leading Australian winemaker Penfolds has unveiled a new collaboration with family-owned Champagne House Thiénot in Paris. 

Three Champagnes, from the 2012 vintage, have been created: a Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée, and two single vineyard wines – a Blanc de Blancs and a Blanc de Noirs. 

The releases help celebrate Penfolds 175th anniversary.

Thiénot managing director Stanislas Thiénot said: “This is a first for us, I am proud to say this has also been a truly collaborative experience from the very beginning .... we have created blends reflective of both Thiénot and Penfolds wine styles and philosophies. 

"We are very happy with the results, the Champagnes are modern reflections showcasing fruit, freshness, and finesse.

"This is the result of an unexpected encounter between two major wine regions, one belonging to the old world and the other to the new world, but with one single common goal: to produce great Champagnes. In addition, working with Peter Gago is extremely interesting and rewarding both for his immense experience and for his innovative vision.”

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago has long shared a love of Champagne and the art of blending. 

“This is step one of an inviting and compelling journey," he said. "Some time back, we announced our intent to make a Champagne. We are now revealing a partnership with our friends at Thiénot – one which would not have been imaginable a decade or two ago. 

"To now actually work alongside a Champagne House and ultimately craft Champagnes proudly, which co-bears the globally recognised red stamp of Penfolds, is both wonderful and a first collaboration of its kind for an Australian winery.”

The wines represent the joint efforts of Thiénot chef de cave Nicolas Uriel who together with Gago crafted the blends.

The first of the Champagne releases, the 2012 Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée will be available from June for $280. 

The 2012 Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds Blanc de Blancs (Avize Grand Cru) and 2012 Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds Blanc de Noirs (Aÿ Grand Cru) will be released in 2020.

My invite to the Paris shindig apparently got lost in the mail and I have not yet tried the wines.