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March 21, 2016

Highlights of New South Wales Central Coast



THE CENTRAL COAST OF NSW

Sydney's northern playground has returned

By Michael Osborne with Dallas Sherringham


Back last century, when our parents could afford to take us on holidays from Sydney, we usually went to the Central Coast. I can remember Pearl Beach, the Entrance and Avoca.

Following an invitation from Central Coast Tourism, we made the short drive from Sydney and headed for Avoca Beach.

Our choice of accommodation was the Avoca Palms Resort as it was ideally situated only a short walk to the beach and next to the shopping precinct.

Each of the fully self-contained and serviced, three and four bedroom units had views across the park to the lake and ocean.

Self-accommodated units are fast becoming the main choice of mature travellers, where you can control your costs.

Although we did go out for an evening meal, the delight of sitting on a sun drenched balcony, eating our breakfast, while watching the sun rising over the ocean, could not be faulted.

The actual size of each unit was impressive and except for personal items, almost everything we needed was waiting for us. The undercover secure car park is also a bonus feature.

What also adds to the experience is the friendliness and professionalism of the managers, Megan and Brett Rowe. Since taking over they have ensured that as a resort style accommodation, their guests have almost everything on hand, making it possible to spend your entire visit at the resort.

We suggest that you visit their web site and ask about their very special midweek dealswww.avocapalmsresort.com.au

OUT AND ABOUT

A little research and. wow we just didn't realise how the tourist scene had changed. Just go the official web site; www.visitcentralcoast.com.au and you will be able to find so many interesting aspects, a week’s visit would not be sufficient.

Here are a few of the recommended activities:

FIVE WALKING ADVENTURES

This is an ideal way to take a deep breath and go for a hearty walk in the crisp air. You can enjoy a mid-year commune with nature, something most people only think about in summer. Boasting seven National Parks and a number of State Recreation Areas, where should you start?

1. Five Lands Walk - 9 km - Macmasters Beach to Terrigal

For more information or to register: www.5landswalk.com.au

2. UNESCO World Heritage Listed, Old Great North Road, Dharug National Park

3. Bouddi Coastal Walk - 8 km - Bouddi National Park

4. Coast Walking Track - 3.5 km - Wyrrabalong National Park (South)

5. Moonee Beach Trail - 3 km - Munmorah State Conservation Area

www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au


DINING ON THE COAST

From snacks and fast food, from great dining rooms in licensed clubs, to fine dining in restaurants and hotels, it is all here.

For a special treat, we decided to try The Crowne Plaza Terrigal and the legendary Seasalt Restaurant. We knew it was going to be an exciting event, as soon as we arrived and were ushered to our reserved table. The very friendly and as turned out, very efficient staff had us relaxed and looking forward to the mostly recommended meals we had ordered.

The food was well supported by an extensive wine list. The wine we chose was not available, but they were able to suggest another 3 or 4 similar ones, much to our delight.

The a la carte menu promotes the fresh local produce, with seafood a highlight. If we had known and had the time, we would have undertaken the degustation menu. It is a mouth-watering treat that excites the weariest of taste buds

The Crowne Plaza is also noted for its accommodation, spas and bars and shopping precinct.


KEN DUNCAN GALLERY

Ken Duncan was recently described by A Current Affair as an “Iconic Australian image maker”.

Ken has been at the cutting edge of Australian landscape photography for more than 25 years and is well known for his passion to be constantly pioneering new frontiers within the photographic world.

Thanks to Ken’s ongoing quest for excellence, the Central Coast now boasts the largest privately owned photographic gallery in Australia.

The complex also houses a state of the art theatre and The Sanctuary Café – all in a delightful bushland setting with an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. Within this expansive, purpose-built facility, Ken has created an entirely new experience that encompasses the arts of stills photography, moving images and food. www.kenduncan.com

Visit the Central Coast's official web site; www.visitcentralcoast.com.au and like us, have a wonderful time on The Coast.

March 14, 2016

The Art of the Japanese Onsen: Soak your troubles away




The joys of the traditional Japanese onsen bath experience

By Roderick Eime

One of the signature experiences in Japan is the onsen, typically a natural thermal spring bath with reputed health benefits and relaxation.

But like so many things in Japan, it comes with its own set of protocols and etiquette and it pays to understand them before you get wet.

Ehime Matsuyama Dogo Hot Springs Japanese inn (ryokan) (JNTO)
The traditional Japanese bath house inn, or ryokan, is the popular choice for travellers wanting to experience the soothing qualities of the ancient hot springs.

These ryokan offer genuine accommodations which western visitors would describe as ‘minimalist’. There is a table and a couple of low chairs which can be moved to make room for the futon (flat mattress) which rolls out on the floor with a quilt. European guests may find it necessary to add an extra mattress (or two ) for comfort.

Standard room at at Ttsugawa Mura, Hotel Subaru. At night the table is moved and a futon is laid out. (R Eime)
Apart from the traditional meals served in the restaurant, the key attraction is the bath house which utilises the geothermal properties of the Earth in warming waters underground. Sometimes these waters find their way to the surface naturally, while at other times, they must be drilled and pumped.

Beautifully presented Japanese meal at Ttsugawa Mura, Hotel Subaru - (R Eime)
In any case the result is a shallow pool or bath filled with steaming 45 degree C mineral waters and a faint hint of sulphur as well as iron and metabolic acid. In the ryokan, these segregated baths can be indoor, outdoor or both and are part of a spa-like section with individual wash stations and a separate vanity area for final ‘beauty’ preparation, shaving for men and hair styling. Amenities like shampoo, dryers, tonics, combs and razors are often supplied.

Note: if you have visible tattoos, you should not use an onsen. This is a pretty strict etiquette, so don’t try it on or you are likely to create offence.

[News: Japan Tourism Agency asks spa operators to accept tattooed foreign tourists]

etiquette chart - click to enlarge
When preparing to use the onsen, you should follow this procedure:
  1. In your room, leave your heavy clothes and shoes behind and slip into a light kimono or yukata. Wear the slippers provided.
  2. Make sure you enter the correct section. Blue curtains for men and red curtains for women. These are often swapped over on a daily basis. Pay attention.
  3. Remove your sandals and place them with all the others. Find an empty locker or basket and remove all your clothes and jewelry, placing your items inside. Yes, strip naked. Unless you are using an outdoor public and mixed bath, you must not wear underwear or a swimming costume.
  4. Proceed to a wash station, take a seat on the low stool and give yourself a good rinse. Use the hand shower, the little bucket or both. You can also perform a rudimentary wash using the cloth provided if you think it’s necessary. Either way, it’s good to be clean before you enter the onsen.
  5. Making sure you are soap-free, go sit in the main bath and relax for a few minutes. It’s good manners to use the washcloth for modesty as you walk about. Don’t take your washcloth into the bath with you. Pop it on your head or place it next to you on the rocks. Don’t splash, swim, eat, drink, talk loudly or fool around in the onsen. It’s for relaxing.
  6. Go back to your wash station and give yourself a proper soaping. Scrub yourself vigorously all over with the soapy washcloth and shampoo. Rinse thoroughly.
  7. Repeat step 4.
  8. Rinse yourself again at the wash station to remove any onsen water that may have some sulphur odours. Tidy your wash station for the next person.
  9. Dry off with a bath towel and wrap the towel around your waist and go take a seat at the vanity. Blow dry your hair and do your normal post-bath routine as you would at home.
  10. Get dressed and return to your room.

Relaxing outdoor thermal spring bath (onsen) - JNTO
Japan travel expert, Riki Inamura, says:
Many Japanese enjoy taking an onsen three times when they stay at an onsen ryokan; before dinner, after dinner, and before breakfast.

A lot of onsen users just throw a small amount of water over themselves before getting in the bath. Although there are 'rules', most rural onsen are pretty relaxed.

Some Japanese people like talking with foreign travellers in the bath, which is a really nice way to learn about each other.

People with small tattoos can cover them with a small towel pretty easily, and in most rural onsens, no-one really minds. It's the big full-body ones that attract the wrong attention.

Some things to remember
  • Don’t put your washcloth in the main onsen or wring it out in the onsen water.
  • Keep talk to low volumes. This is not a party room.
  • In some more remote areas, you may encounter the ‘konyoku’ bath where mixed bathing takes place. You are unlikely to find this at your ryokan, so assume all onsen are segregated.
  • Mind your shoes. Make sure you take them off where everyone else does. Wearing shoes or slippers on the mat (tatami) is a big no-no.
  • Drink plenty of water. Onsen baths can be dehydrating.
  • Be polite and considerate to other bathers and enjoy.

Where can you enjoy onsen?

Onsen can be found all over Japan but some areas tend to specialise.

For example the towns and cities all around the Kii Peninsula, especially in the historic UNESCO-listed Kumano region (Wakayama Prefecture) blend ancient Shinto spiritual sites with the relaxing and healing properties of the traditional onsen.

More information: www.tb-kumano.jp/en/

Who can I ask about tours to Japan and the onsen regions?

In Australia you can speak to specialist tour operator Riki Inamura, (http://www.rikistoursjapan.com.au/) or for general planning advice http://www.jnto.org.au/


March 13, 2016

Struth! Wrong passenger on wrong flight on wrong airline, but still arrives



WRONG HONG TURNS OUT ALRIGHT

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says it pays to check that boarding pass before you get on your plane, or like Ms. Hong did from Taipei's Taoyuan Airport last month, setting in motion a bewildering chain of events

Because she not only was she given the wrong boarding pass, she was put on the wrong plane and the wrong airline – but did end up in the right city.

The 34 year old's Hong Kong boyfriend had booked her on a flight from Taipei to Hong Kong, but being an inexperienced flyer she went to the check-in counter of Cathay Pacific (CX) instead of the one she was booked on, Hong Kong Airlines (HX).

And somehow the clerk happily accepted her ticket and issued her with a boarding pass in the name of a male passenger with the same surname on the Cathay Pacific flight.

Curiously she was then able to pass through Immigration without anyone querying that she was a Ms travelling on a ticket in the name of a Mr, waited in the wrong airline's passenger holding area, and was checked onto the wrong plane of the wrong airline by yet another clerk who also did not pick-up that she was a Ms on a Mr ticket.

And because she arrived in Hong Kong at roughly the same time she would have on the Hong Kong Airlines flight she was supposed to be on, her boyfriend had no idea of what she had done… until HX called him to say his girlfriend had been a no-show and thus missed her flight.

To their surprise he told them that she was in fact standing right next to him then and there in Hong Kong.

Now both airlines and Taipei Immigration authorities are investigating how the lady could have got through Immigration and flown on the wrong ticket and wrong airline with so many discrepancies in her documentation – and wondering just what happened to the Mr on whose boarding pass she had made her flight.

Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines worked together to ensure the Taiwanese resident made a safe return trip, and she was even granted use of Cathay's executive lounge.

A spokesperson for Cathay Pacific confirmed the incident, saying there had been an 'error in the check-in procedures.'

Vintage Paddle-Steamers: The Grand Old Ladies of the Lake



The Grand Old Ladies of the Lake

By John Newton with Michael Osborne

There are few jaw-dropping views, if any, better than those stretching as far as the eye can see from the majestic steamboats plying the pristine waters of Switzerland's Lake Geneva,

From the towering peaks of the French Alps on one side to the picturesque terraced vineyards of the Lavaux region – now a UNESCO World Heritage site - on the Swiss side, the 'grand old ladies' of the lake exude the charm and romance of yesteryear.

Now CGN (Company of Lake Geneva General Navigation) - which operates the historic steamboats - is undertaking a massive renovation of the world's biggest Belle Epoque fleet. Some have been renovated from hull to stern.

Today, there are six paddle steamers built between 1904 and 1927 operating regular services and private cruises on Lake Geneva – the flagship La Suisse (1910); veteran of the fleet, Montreux (1904); Simplon (1920) – boasting the most responsive steam engine of the fleet; Rhone (1927) - the last paddle steamer built in Switzerland; Savoie – now over 100 years-old; and Vevey (1907), which returned to service after an 18-month major facelift.


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There are also two diesel electric paddle wheel vessels in the fleet – Italie (1908) and Helvetie (1926).

"Our priority now is financing the next renovation of Italie - Vevey's sister ship. Later, once the Helvetie75 is renovated, the eight boats of the Belle Epoque fleet, which are classed as a national heritage, will once again navigate on the lake from 2016," said Maurice Decoppet, president of the Friends of Lake Geneva steamers (ABVL), a non-profit association which seeks funds for the fleet conservation and maintenance service schedule.

To date, through private and public donations of 24 million Swiss francs collected by the ABVL, seven of the eight boats have been partially or totally renovated.

Decoppet, a former Swissair pilot for more than 30 years, said it cost 15 million Swiss francs to completely renovate La Suisse between 2007 and 2009. "Building a new boat would have cost the same amount," he said.

Tourist holiday traffic is operated daily by the 600-1000 passenger capacity steamers between April and October, with a limited service – mainly on Sundays – from November to March. On the main route, they run from Lausanne and stop at Pully, Lutry, Cully, Vevey, Montreux and Chillon Castle and vice versa, with the oil-fired engines – once coal-fired – powering the boats along at up to 35 kilometres an hour.


Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux and Chillon Castle are the top tourist destinations:

* Lausanne:

The city's Olympic Museum is the top drawcard featuring the Games from the ancient to the modern. Cathy Freeman's special shoes she wore to win the 400 metres gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics are on show at the museum. They feature the colours of the aboriginal flag: black for the people; yellow for the sun; and red for the earth.

* Vevey:

A town of old world charm, with the second biggest marketplace in Europe after Lisbon, its tourist pulling power are tributes to Charlie Chaplin – a bronze statue on the lakeside and his former home now turned into a museum of the life achievements of 'The Tramp'. With his baggy trousers and bowler hat, Chaplin kept a generation laughing during the dark depression.

* Montreux:

With its glitzy five-star hotels overlooking the lake, it's a playground for the rich and famous, many of whom jet in during the summer months for Montreux's renowned jazz festival – now its 47th year. In winter, Montreux's Christmas market (December) is regarded as the most beautiful in Switzerland, attracting more than 220,000 spectators every year. The town is also the departure point for scenic trains that run throughout the year to the panoramic countryside and ski slopes.

Back on board the steamers, their elegant dining areas are often booked offering lunch and dinner menus - from a special of the day to a four-course gastronomic feast – which are fastidiously prepared by onboard chefs. According to executive chef, Herve Geoffroy, food service on the boats requires a great deal of organisation, discipline and – above all – a highly developed capacity for adaption and improvisation, couple to a very short reaction time, as difficult situations always occur. "Once the boat is underway, you can no longer call on outside help…and if some merchandise or staff is missing, you have to make do!"

To learn more: http: www.cgn.ch/en-gb/accueil.aspx

See the fleet: www.cgn.ch/en-gb/flotte-belle-epoque/shiplist.aspx


March 06, 2016

Asia cruises with Princess Cruises

#cruising


CRUISING ASIA WITH PRINCESS

By Dallas Sherringham with Michael Osborne



Exploring Asia with Princess Cruises is the best way to see a multitude of exotic destinations in a short amount of time.

I recently spent 23 nights aboard Diamond Princess, cruising from Japan to Sydney via Osaka, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Bali and Darwin.

Now, cruising Asia is a far different proposition to a normal laid back South Pacific idyll, but it has many bonuses providing you do some forward planning and allow yourself to take it all in.

I flew to Tokyo and met the ship in Yokohama on a rainy afternoon and immediately set out exploring the 115,000 tonne luxury floating resort. Diamond Princess is a very generous ship in every way – plenty of space, a choice of indoor and outdoor pools and dining and entertainment options galore.

I have done a lot of Princess cruises and I like the familiar feel of going aboard a ship and knowing what you are going to get. This is especially important when cruising in new waters and this was my first Asian cruise...



So what’s it like? Well, Princess specialize in mature travelers with most passengers 40 plus and everyone seems to get along very well. The cruise line knows what its passengers want for their buck and they deliver.

Good food, fun entertainment, relaxing bars and a general feeling of relaxation and friendship were the order of the day.

The fact that we were visiting so many countries in such a short amount of time, I arranged local currency well in advance. However credit cards were universally accepted.


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I booked shore tours in most places because I like to be chaperoned in comfort in places I don’t know.

I need to share a quick tip with you regarding shore tours. The shore tours tended to concentrate on ancient monuments and artwork outlets and didn’t give you time to go shopping. They tended to steer away from the main shopping areas. Now, this is a plus for many people so if you want to shop or take in a good restaurant in town, get a taxi.

I always recommend to cruise lines that they have an information desk operating on shore beside the gang plank for those going ashore independently, but it doesn’t seem to happen.

Osaka was our first port of call and it was an interesting place, which like a lot of Japan has traditional areas perched right beside modern developments. Imposing Osaka Castle was the highlight of the day.

The amazing atrium aboard Diamond Princess
Like all of Japan, people were very friendly and courteous and love the fact that you are paying the compliment of seeing their country.

Xiamen in China is one of the fastest growing cities on earth but the air pollution was dreadful. I went to old Canton for a shore tour which was interesting and showed what the real China is like. The people seemed not to notice we were there and the language and cultural barrier was very evident.

Hong Kong – what a great day. They really know how to do things when hosting tourists. They are in another world of friendliness compared to mainland China.

Na Trang, the old American R & R beach, is now a bustling modern strip of luxury resorts and stunning restaurants and bars. However you need to be very wary of who is around you and don’t go swimming and leave your stuff unguarded.

Modern Saigon
Saigon was a real eye opener. I guess I expected it to be like one of those old Vietnam War movies, but it reminded me of a modern Australian city. We were hosted to a lavish dinner and cultural show and I took a liking to the local brew.

Singapore was stunning. One of the great cities of the world these days, just looking at the designer shops and outlets for luxury cars in Orchard Rd was a real lesson in buying extra Lotto tickets.

In Bali I had a lovely smorgasbord lunch perched beside a slumbering volcano and arriving in Darwin, it was great to be greeted with a warm “G’day”.

I had a balcony cabin aboard Diamond Princess and I would highly recommend you pay the extra and enjoy the experience.

Lastly, I would highly recommend a Princess cruise for anyone wanting to see the world in comfort and in the company of fun loving Aussies.

For more information contact your travel agent, phone 132488 or visit www.princess.com