July 30, 2013

Struth! That's not the Spirit

Police Forcibly Removing Lady from Spirit Airlines Flight

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a woman has appeared in court in America after getting drunk, swearing, yelling racist abuse and making obscene gestures to flight attendants – while on her way to an alcohol rehabilitation program.

The woman had been served two vodka-based drinks on the flight from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale when cabin crew – on the seemingly aptly-named Spirit Airlines – refused her any more after suspecting she was becoming inebriated.

She then stormed to the aircraft galley area, told a senior flight attendant “to stop sending your house n-----r to do the messages for you,” swearing, making obscene gestures and abusing staff and fellow passengers.

After being forced back to her seat she was arrested by Sheriff’s Deputies on arrival at Fort Lauderdale – and in court a judge released her on bail after hearing she had been on her way to spend a month in an alcohol rehabilitation centre.

She was also ordered not to consume alcohol or to approach Spirit Airlines before appearing in court again after her stint in rehab.

July 24, 2013

Perfect 10 For S.A.’s Phil Hoffmann Travel

South Australia’s premier travel agency Phil Hoffmann Travel has been named Best Retail Travel Agency (Multi Locations) at the AFTA National Travel Industry Awards.
This is the 10th time in the 22-year history of the annual awards program that the SA-owned and operated company has taken out the coveted title.

The award – recognising a retail agency operating across two or more locations that demonstrates best practice in management and service delivery – was announced on Saturday 20 July at AFTA’s gala event in Sydney.

It was accepted by Phil Hoffmann Travel Managing Director Phil Hoffmann, in front of 1200 industry leaders.

Phil Hoffmann Travel was the only Adelaide-based travel company selected as a finalist in its category – picked from a national field of contenders including STA Travel, Sydney-based Concierge Traveller, Harvey World Travel Tasmania and Travel Managers.

Georgina Nunn of Phil Hoffmann Travel Glenelg was also a finalist in Best Travel Consultant (Retail) category.

Founded in Adelaide in 1990, Phil Hoffmann Travel is now one of Australia’s most awarded travel agencies. With more than 150 employees, it has offices at Norwood, Stirling, Victor Harbor, Adelaide City, Hyde Park, Semaphore and Glenelg.

Phil Hoffmann Travel Managing Director Phil Hoffmann said he was thrilled with the outstanding result.

“To achieve this type of recognition from industry peers at a national level, for the 10th time, is an absolute honour,” he said.

“For the past 23 years, Phil Hoffmann Travel has established itself as a reliable, respected brand that continues to get stronger each year.

“A passionate and successful team is the backbone of our company and this is a credit to their ongoing dedication and professionalism.

“Winning this major award, against some of the best agencies in the industry, is something of which we are very proud.

“It certainly reconfirms our philosophy and commitment to providing the best and most memorable travel experiences for our customers.

“I am extremely grateful to my team, suppliers, and clientele, for their ongoing support and belief in our services.”

The AFTA National Travel Industry Awards is Australia’s leading travel industry event of the year.

The awards program celebrates the achievements of Australia’s travel industry over a 12-month period and congratulates those companies who have excelled in the retail travel business.

Audi Hamilton Island Race Week Celebrates 30 Years in 2013

30 years of sailing will be celebrated from 17 to 25 August at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2013.
The international yachting event, now the largest offshore regatta in Australia, has evolved over the past three decades into a spectacular display of on-water racing paired with the finest epicurean cuisine, exclusive fashion shows, flowing champagne and celebrity guests. 2013 also offers another cause for celebration; the 10th anniversary of the Oatley family's custodianship of Hamilton Island.

Audi Hamilton Island Race Week's beautiful Whitsundays' courses attract sailing's elite, and caters for the full spectrum of keelboats - from non-spinnaker cruising yachts through to Grand Prix level racers. With over 135 yachts already entered and dozens more expected in the coming weeks, the carnival is set to be the best yet.

Keeping not only the sailor's family and friends returning year after year, but also attracting travellers in search of a unique winter getaway is the impressive shore-side social calendar. New to Audi Hamilton Island Race Week is the Charles-Heidsieck Champagne Lunch. With a 'Hampton's' dress theme guests will dine on a bespoke menu by qualia's executive chef Alastair Waddell, matched with fine Charles-Heidsieck wines.

Another show stopping highlight will be the Collette Dinnigan Resort Show & Cocktail Party; with Hamilton Island the only location outside of Paris that the internationally acclaimed fashion designer shows her collections. The event celebrates the Oatley family's achievements, including multi-award winning qualia resort which is the backdrop for the show, and the notable 30th anniversary.

Audi ambassadors and iconic Australian chefs Matt Moran, Kylie Kwong and Shannon Bennett will each present unique, new gastronomic experiences. Matt Moran will create a beautiful 'Chiswick' inspired garden dinner; while Kylie Kwong's wonderfully relaxed 'dim sum-style'Australian-Chinese Brunch will feature sustainable food principles including edible insects.

To commemorate the 30th year, Shannon Bennett will present '30', an unparalleled dining experience with cuisine by five chefs in their 30's. Bennett will be joined by past and present Vue de monde and Bistro Vue chefs including Cory Campbell, Jack Ingram, Josh Lewis and Darren Purchese.

Flawlessly suited to 30th celebrations are pearls; the traditional gift of a 30th anniversary. The Paspaley Pearl Pursuit and Luncheon begins with an Island-wide treasure hunt with clues and challenges to be followed in order to find a magic key. One key only will open the master pearler's box to reveal the Paspaley treasure within. A glorious lunch served on the sands of Pebble Beach, qualia will follow, created by Alastair Waddell.

Other not to be missed culinary events include creator of Sydney's The Apollo Jonathan Barthelmess presenting his own unique blend of traditional yet innovative Mediterranean cuisine - a slice of Santorini by the beach, while Hamilton Island's own Adam Woodfield, executive chef at modern south-east Asian restaurant coca chu, will deliver a scrumptious Yum Cha Lunch. The Wild Oats Wines Ladies Lunch will feature patissier extraordinaire Adriano Zumbo and his mastery of pastry, and the Beef & Reef Dinner with the world's fastest sailor, Peter Larson, is set to be a sell out.

Activities and events available to all guests include the new Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Bar at Bommie Deck, Heineken Bar happy hour from 7-8pm daily, Beachside Yoga, Eat Street Food Markets at the Marina, sports challenges including the Audi vehicle tug of war and Stand Up Paddle boarding relay races, the Paspaley Boutique showcasing the exquisite 20 millimeter Paspaley Pearl and twice-daily Pearl Discovery Sessions, and the Henri Lloyd 50th birthday fashion display.

A Raising of the Flag ceremony and firework display at Hamilton Island Yacht Club will officially open the landmark event on Saturday 17 August, led by Queensland's Minister for Tourism, Small Business, Major Events and the Commonwealth Games, Jann Stuckey, Hamilton Island's owner, Bob Oatley and Audi Australia's Managing Director, Andrew Doyle.

For more information visit www.hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au.

July 22, 2013

Travelport lifts Hong Kong presence with new headquarters

Travelport, a leading distribution services and e-commerce provider for the global travel industry, celebrated the successful relocation of its new Hong Kong headquarters last night, hosting a grand opening party with approximately 100 VIPs, partners and customers in attendance.
The new office is located in the Kwun Tung, one of the largest administrative districts in Hong Kong, and sits above the famous APM shopping centre covering 8 retail levels with direct, air-conditioned pedestrian access to the Kwun Tung MTR Station. The new headquarters is bigger than before with a 30% increase in capacity compared to the previous space to make room for Travelport’s growing Hong Kong-based team which consists of both local and regional experts across key business functions. Brand new training facilities is also set to improve learning experiences for travel agency customers when they attend Travelport hosted seminars.

Patrick Andres, Vice President and Regional Managing Director Asia-Pacific at Travelport, says, “Hong Kong is one of Travelport’s key regions in the Asia Pacific. Our growing team of engaged, motivated and customer-focused individuals will continue to provide exceptional service to our Galileo and Worldspan customers. We will also continue to work closely with and support our valued long-term partner, TicTas, who have been managing Travelport’s Worldspan GDS in Hong Kong since 2003.”

Travelport has been operating in Hong Kong for more than 20 years. The new headquarters is equipped to provide a better working environment for its Hong Kong-based team, currently with more than 50 employees.
Members of the Travelport Hong Kong team at the opening celebration
L to R: Eric Kam, Country Manager Hong Kong, Travelport; Patrick Andres, VP and Regional Managing Director, Travelport; Sunil Nanda, Managing Director, TicTas System AutomationTravelport Eric Kam_Patrick Andres_Sunil Nanda
Patrick Andres with members of the Travelport Hong Kong team at the opening celebration.

It’s Time For South Africa

South African Tourism's latest TVC campaign faces.As the spotlight descended on the Rainbow Nation for its annual Mandela Day celebrations, South African Tourism took the opportunity to inspire Australians and reinforce that it’s the perfect time to tick South Africa off their Bucket List.
The tourism body’s latest campaign, dubbed ‘It’s Time’, was launched at an exclusive preview event held at Mojo, Luke Mangan’s newest venture in Sydney. Adventurer and travel blogger, Tim Charody led the evening, which was attended by close to 100 media and travel industry trade partners.

An integrated multi-platform strategy, the campaign highlights that with its combination of excellent exchange rate, great value-for-money packages and an array of experiences on offer from adventure and cultural enrichment, to world-class culinary delights and luxury; South Africa is the first pick for Aussies looking to tick visiting the ultimate holiday destination off their Bucket Lists.

“The campaign taps into insight from people who have holidayed in our beloved country and first hand experiences from four Aussie friends who recently travelled throughout South Africa,” said Ms. Lalie Ngozi, South African Tourism General Manager, Australasia.“Travellers including Australians are always looking for something different, they are looking for awesome experiences and unique stories to share. We are highlighting that there’s no better place to do this and to discover everything about what the Rainbow Nation has to offer.”

“Since returning, the girls have already planned their next trip which only highlights the love affair Aussies experience from the very first moment they arrive in our country. It’s reassuring for these young, carefree women to return and speak of how easy it was to experience everything on offer. They even describe Cape Town and Johannesburg offering similar lifestyles to that of Sydney and Melbourne,” said Ms. Ngozi.Earlier this year, these lucky friends embarked on a trip of a lifetime to South Africa after being selected as the faces of the campaign. From over 100 applications, Roxanne Vitalone, Janna Zeglis, Mikaila Faber and Melleesa Zeglis were selected and filmed enjoying many experiences in South Africa, including cage diving with Great White sharks, discovering the winelands of the Western Cape and the bright lights of Johannesburg.

Lalie Ngozi with Tim Charody and the South African Tourism TVC girls
As an extension of South African Tourism’s initial Bucket List campaign, which was launched in November last year, this new phase focuses on motivating Aussies to make a change and book South Africa as their next holiday.

“Not many countries can offer a beer for under $2 or boast that one of their renowned cities, Cape Town, is the most affordable destination across the globe for Australian travellers, as announced earlier this year in TripAdvisor’s TripIndex Room Service 2013,” concluded Ms. Ngozi.

Not only were guests treated to the Rainbow Nation’s famous food, wine and Lize, one of South Africa's most popular multi-lingual, chart topping singer/songwriters, and fellow soul singer Franchesca Appolis, but the event was held on July 18, marking Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday, and a celebration of Mandela Day, which aims to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better; and in doing so build a global movement for good.

In the spirit of Mandela Day and in honour of South Africa's beloved hero, guests donated to Boots For Africa, a not-for-profit organisation that collects pre-loved sneakers, sport, hockey or football boots and delivers them to children and adults across Africa so they no longer need to play their favourite sport barefoot.

The campaign will feature across TV, cinema, digital and print as well as on the tourism bodies’ social media and online platforms, and will also be supported by extensive trade partnerships, a major consumer competition and extensive public relations.

To learn more about South Africa, visit http://aublog.southafrica.net, find a great deal at www.southafrica.net or become a fan of South African Tourism’s Facebook page,

To follow the South African Bucket List on Twitter, use #SouthAfricaBucketList

The search for Frank and the Bowen Catalina memorial

Who's Frank?
Who’s Frank? is the question on everyone’s lips in the small town of Bowen, in the Whitsundays, North Queensland.
The first ever Bowen Catalina Memorial event (to be held on 17 August 2013) will commemorate the loss of the Catalina A24-24 and the 14 lives lost in the crash off the coast of Bowen 70 years ago, but mysteries still surround the crash and its victims.
Shane Porteous of Australia’s Logie winning TV series Country’s Practice lost his father, Stanley Porteous, in the 1943 crash and has kept his late father’s drawings with one featuring a drawing of a man labeled ‘Frank’.
Paul McLaughlin, Chairman of Tourism Bowen, said the drawings by Stanley Porteous are magnificent and really bring you back to WWII.
“But the drawing labeled ‘Frank’ has caught our attention and hopefully the nation’s,” Mr McLaughlin said.
“Bowen has a rich history with Catalinas from World War II and we are trying to find family members of those that were involved in the crash, and we think the ‘Who’s Frank’ campaign will help us,” he said.
“Shane Porteous will be attending the memorial as the Event Ambassador to honor his father, but will also help us with the campaign.”
A similar PBY Catalina in wartime service at Bowen
Shane Porteous said that the event holds a lot of meaning for him and his family, with his eldest daughter expressing interest in travelling across states to Bowen to attend the memorial.
“My daughter shares my interest in attending this event, the death of my father is a significant piece of our family’s history and we want to honor those who lost their lives during World War II,” Mr Porteous said.
“I believe that there would be many relatives of those involved in the A24-24 Catalina crash who would like to attend the memorial and we are hoping that the ‘Who’s Frank’ campaign will help us to track them down – and find the identity of the mystery Frank,” he said.
“If you have any information on who ‘Frank’ could be, please head to our website to log that information, any clues are helpful,” Mr McLaughlin concluded.

Struth! Cape Town's bridge to nowhere

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says South Africa's Cape Town may finally see the completion of a 14km elevated freeway that was started in the 1970s to both ease inner-city traffic congestion, and to give a speedy crossing from the inland suburbs to the acclaimed beaches on the city's Atlantic coast.

The imaginative "fly-over freeway" was abandoned in the economically tough 1990s after AU$3b had been spent on building 7km from one side of the city and 5km from the other – leaving a 2km gap in the middle where they never quite met up, and with its only use since being for shooting TV commercials and the occasional movie.

Now, however, the city council and the University of Cape Town are giving 200 post-graduate engineering students the chance to see what ideas they can come up with to either finally join the two parts of the freeway, or to devise alternative uses for each half such as low-cost housing, tourist markets or even elevated parklands and gardens for city dwellers…

But as one engineer says, the structure is already so old that it's most likely reached its use-by date already, and would be unsafe for carrying high-speed traffic or the weights needed for ideas like those mooted above. And, he suggests, a better solution might be to simply pull it down – without a single vehicle having ever made a freeway run across the $3b white-elephant.

Cliveden House: Waldorf astonishes Queen Victoria

David Ellis

AMERICA'S then-wealthiest man, William Waldorf Astor had England's high society in an absolute tizz back in 1893 when he had the audacity to buy his way into their ranks by paying US$1.25m for the Duke of Westminster's grand Cliveden House on the River Thames in Buckinghamshire.

And even Queen Victoria announced she "was astonished," when Astor then went on to snap-up Hever Castle in Kent a little way away from his Cliveden digs.

But what really had society's madams rushing for their smelling salts was Astor's successful application to become a British citizen, being made a Baron in 1916, and then anointed with the grander moniker Viscount Astor a year later.

Such "astonishment," however, was nothing compared with what was to eventuate at Cliveden House years later in 1961, when a society weekend there would erupt into one of Britain's greatest sex scandals, the exposé of a Russian spy, a society suicide, the downfall of one of the country's most senior Cabinet Ministers – and ultimately the fall of the government itself.

Cliveden House has seldom been out of the public eye since the first "house" was built on its 150ha (375 acres) at Taplow in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, ostensibly as a hunting lodge for he and his pals, but in truth a bolt-hole for escapes with his mistress. That first house burned down in 1795, its replacement fell to a similar fate in 1849, and today's Cliveden House of much more extraordinarily grandiose proportions built in 1852.

William Waldorf Astor was a successful New York attorney who'd inherited huge family wealth, investing some of this into a hotel he called The Waldorf, and which he merged with The Astoria Hotel next door – built by a cousin – to become The Waldorf Astoria.

After a bitter family dispute, Astor moved with his wife Mary and family to England, buying and living in Cliveden House until Mary's premature death in 1906; devastated, Astor gave Cliveden to his son Waldorf as a wedding present, and moved into Hever Castle.

But he continued the work that he and Mary had begun on behalf of charities ranging from cancer research to children's welfare, the Red Cross, war-widow's families, and a dozen others, and it was for this that he was made a Baron in 1916 and Viscount Astor the next year.

The young Waldorf and wife Nancy, meanwhile, lost no time in jumping on the society roundabout, inviting politicians, writers, film stars and other celebrities to join them for weekends at Cliveden House, including Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Mahatma Gandhi, F.D. Roosevelt,  Joseph Kennedy, T.E. Lawrence, Charlie Chaplin, Rudyard Kipling and aviatrix Amy Johnson.

Like his parents Waldorf Astor gave generously, including building a temporary military hospital in Cliveden's grounds in WWI and another during WWII. And in 1942 they donated Cliveden House to the British National Trust with the proviso they could live there as long as they wished… giving the Trust 250,000 English pounds (around AU$16m today) for its perpetual upkeep.

And for a summer's weekend party in July 1961 they included amongst others Britain's then Minister of War, John Profumo and his glamorous actress wife Valerie Hobson, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, and the President of Pakistan.

Also invited to stay in the property's separate Spring Cottage was London society osteopath, Stephen Ward who took several chums along including fun-loving girlfriend, 19-year old Christine Keeler and a Russian Naval Attache, Captain Yevgeny Ivanov. On the first evening, Profumo bumped into Christine Keeler at the House pool – within days they were lovers.

Profumo realising the danger soon broke it off… but the Opposition learned of it, asked a question of the relationship in Parliament, which Profumo denied, and to his horror the spurned Keeler then sold her story to a London newspaper.

Even worse she said she'd been sleeping at the same time as Profumo with the Russian Attache Ivanov – whom MI5 revealed was a Soviet spy. Profumo confessed he had lied to the House of Commons and resigned.

And when the osteopath Stephen Ward was charged with living off girlfriend Keeler's immoral earnings, Ward committed suicide.

Today Cliveden House is a country house hotel of extraordinary Italianate grandeur, its gardens listed National Trust Category 1; for details www.clivedenhouse.co.uk



[1] A PLACE in the country, Cliveden House has played host to political leaders, high society, philanthropists, spies and sex scandals.
[2] THE House's Spring Cottage, where the infamous Profumo-Keeler affair had its beginnings in 1961,
[3] FAMOUS faces: aviatrix Amy Johnson, Charlie Chaplin, Nancy Astor and George Bernard-Shaw at Cliveden House.
[4] AMERICAN William Waldorf Astor: had UK's society madams in a tizz when he bought Cliveden House and Hever Castle, and became a British citizen.
[5] CHRISTINE Keeler in a famous pose after boasting of double-dating Britain's War Minister and a Soviet spy.
[6] THE grandiose French Dining Room at Cliveden House, now a country hotel of extraordinary grandeur.
[7] THE Mountbatten Suite at Cliveden House, named after one of its famous guests.
[8] I'M GETTING married – and where better than Cliveden House?

(Photos courtesy Cliveden House)

July 21, 2013

Struth! Airlines gone to the dogs

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis wonders if Virgin Australia flights may soon start resembling aerial Noah's Arks as we're encouraged to take our pampered pets with us on holidays flights – and maybe even on the odd business trip as well.

Because Virgin's offering its Velocity Frequent Flyer members, Points for every time they take their pet with them aboard a domestic flight within Australia.

They'll earn 300 Points per pet in a Virgin Pet Carrier if a Red category member, 450 Silver, 525 for Gold and 600 Points if a Platinum member, with double points for taking a maximum two Pet Carriers on a flight.

Puts a whole new slant on suggestions that flying's Gone To The Dogs…

July 17, 2013

A Taste of Macau

Macau If you’re taking an Asian cruise to or from Hong Kong, add a few days in Macau before or afterwards for a colourful extra dimension to your trip.

Words: Sally Macmillan

It takes about an hour to skim across the water from Hong Kong to Macau on the TurboJET high-speed ferry and, depending on the time of day you arrive, a few more minutes to go through customs and immigration.

We met Joao, our guide from the Macau Government Tourist Office, outside the ferry terminal. As he ushered us past groups of smokers to our comfortable 4WD, he explained that smoking had just been banned in public buildings, which has interesting implications because in China (of which Macau is a part, albeit a Special Administrative Region), it is customary to offer cigarettes to someone when you meet them.
Macau's UNESCO World Heritage-listed town centre
“We want to be a healthy city,” says Joao, who was born and bred in Macau and whose heritage is a mix of Macanese (Chinese and Portuguese) and Russian. His ethnic background reflects, in part, that of the former Portuguese colony, which was returned to China in 1999 after more than 400 years of Portuguese administration.

Today, Macau is a fascinating mix of East and West, old and new, dense urban development and open green countryside.

The Ruins of St. Paul's refer to the facade of what was originally the
Church of Mater Dei built in 1602-1640, destroyed by fire in 1835
We visited on Easter Sunday, so it was fitting that we should start our tour at the 17th-century Ruins of St Paul’s, the façade of the first church built in China by Jesuits. Reinforcing Macau’s assimilation of disparate cultures is the Na Tcha Buddhist temple, built within the walls of the original church.

Our walk through the narrow cobbled streets in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Historic Centre revealed picturesque piazzas flanked by European buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Joao entertained and educated us with his extensive local and cultural knowledge – if you don’t have the luxury of a personal guide, I would recommend hiring self-tour headphones from the tourist office.

As you can’t investigate everything in one day, we looked around the Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt, then stopped at Ou Mun, a classic Portuguese coffee house that was serving Easter buns with its excellent strong coffee.

Looming over the entire city is the 58-floor Grand Lisboa Macau, a hotel entertainment complex built to represent a lotus flower. It’s loathed by many but impossible to ignore and houses three Michelin-starred restaurants as well as the world’s biggest entertainment centre in its glittering globe.

We crossed to Taipa on one of three massive bridges that link Macau to the ‘islands’ of Taipa and Coloane, which are now joined by Cotai, a strip of reclaimed land. On the way, we passed Macau Tower, which boasts the highest bungee jump in the world at 338 metres above the ground, and the historic former Hotel Bela Vista, one of the few buildings that I recall from a fleeting visit some 20 years ago.

Fisherman's Wharf
Cranes dominate the skyline and are visible signs of the wave of construction overtaking the region – high-rise public housing and a series of massive hotel casino resorts catering to the seemingly insatiable influx of gamblers from mainland China.

However, Taipa village on the island’s east side retains its old-world charm. Rua do Cunha is a food street where you can eat at little Chinese, Portuguese, Macanese and Thai restaurants, and in the colonial promenade, Avenida da Praia, you’ll see a row of five grand, green-painted, 19th century houses that now form the Taipa House Museum.

Heading south to Coloane, we drove past the championship golf course that hosts the annual Macau Open, and the 20-hectare Seac Pai Van Park, where two giant pandas, Kai Kai and Xin Xin, live in a purpose-built high-tech pavilion. For years, Coloane’s countryside and beaches have offered a relaxing escape to frazzled Hong Kong city-dwellers, and the former fishing village still attracts weekend visitors in search of a leisurely Portuguese lunch.

Famous Macanese egg tarts
The yellow-and-white chapel of St Francis Xavier dominates the mosaic village square, which is flanked by arcades of open-air restaurants shaded by banyan trees. There’s a history of piracy here as well as fishing, but the local farmers have decamped to mainland China, where they allegedly make an excellent living exporting produce back to their homeland.

Joao took us to lunch at Restaurante Espaço Lisboa, a traditional fisherman’s house in a tiny backstreet of Coloane village. The two Portuguese owners stopped at our table for a chat but were too busy fixing a leak in the fridge to sit down and have a drink with us – which was a shame, as we had a bottle of deliciously light vinho verde on the go.

House of Dancing Water
Lunch included a platter of ham and olives; garlic prawns served with garlic infused oil; bacalhau (cod) and potato; clams and pork sausage and, to finish, a freshly baked Portuguese egg tart.

On our way back to the ferry terminal, we made a whistlestop tour of The Venetian Macao, the world’s biggest casino. The experience was quite mind-boggling (shades of The Truman Show) and I wish we could have stayed to see Macau’s spectacular night-time shows, particularly The House of Dancing Water. Make sure you make time to see a bit more of Macau!

For more details, call (02) 9264 1488 in Australia

Address: Alameda Dr. Carlos d'Assumpção, nºs 335-341, Edifício "Hot Line", 12º andar, Macau
http://www.macautourism.gov.mo    e-mail: mgto@macautourism.gov.mo
Tel: +853 2831 5566 | Fax: +853 2851 0104 | Tourism Hotline: +853 2833 3000

July 15, 2013

Wales: Putting Portmeirion on the map

David Ellis

WHEN we were told to "expect something of a surprise" at the village of Portmeirion while on an already eye-opening self-driving trip through Wales, we had little idea just what a surprise.

I say self-driving, for while we had booked ourselves a rental car for our week, we'd also contracted a guide and driver in a remarkable fellow named John Greenwood – not out of indulgence, but because we needed to cover as much ground as we possibly could in our travel-writing week. It was a good move: John knew every historic point, every major attraction and seemingly every minor one too, and every back-road in Wales to get us to what we were seeking in the quickest-time possible.

And on Day 3 he swung around a turn in the road to present us with our "something of a surprise." Because up ahead was not another pretty Welsh village, not another postcard-perfect farm setting amid rolling green hills, not even another Welsh Little Train.

Rather, on a headland bonding river and sea, a jaw-dropping, full-blown Italianate village whose pastel-hued buildings, white-washed walls, and tall central bell-tower, had us wondering if we'd been somehow plucked out of Wales and miraculously time-warped onto the Mediterranean coast of an Italy of yester-year.

And amid and surrounding this fairy-tale folly with its also fountains and ponds, sculptures, lakes and beaches, were 70 hectares of gardens and woodlands that the encyclopaedic John Greenwood assured us contained some 5000 species from the farthest-flung corners of the globe.

More remarkably, most of this place was the work of one man, Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (no relation) who spent fifty years from 1925 to 1975 creating his dream village… and preaching that development did not have to mean destruction of the environment.

Today Portmeirion is a major North Wales tourist drawcard, with a circa-1850s hotel that after closing in disrepair was totally renovated and re-opened with 14 rooms by Williams-Ellis in 1926 (it was badly damaged by fire and rebuilt again in 1981,) 17 self-contained visitor cottages, 28 tourists' rooms in Italianate buildings from another era, boutique shops, an Italian restaurant, a pub and café, tea-room and an ice-creamery… all designed by Williams-Ellis.

And for good measure a "castle" too – actually a crenelated mansion called Castell Deudraeth that Williams-Ellis bought in 1931from his uncle Sir Osmund Williams, and which with help from the British Heritage Lottery Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the Wales Tourist Board, he began renovating until his death at 95 in 1978; it finally re-opened as an 11-bedroom hotel and restaurant in 2001.

And while he always fervently denied that Portmeirion was a copy of Italy's extraordinarily beautiful Portofino, he did confess his love of the Italian Riviera village as "an almost perfect example of man-made adornment on an exquisite natural site."

When he came upon the now-Portmeirion site on the River Dwyryd estuary in the early 1920s Williams-Ellis called it "a neglected wilderness," but one whose history could be excitingly traced back through a collapsed country estate venture of the 1850s, an 18th century foundry, earlier boatyard, a medieval castle whose remains are still in nearby woods today, and home of cleric/writer Gerald of Wales (1146-1223.)

Throughout the fifty years he was building his village, Williams-Ellis also resurrected the former country estate's sub-tropical woodland gardens, importing thousands of exotic shrubs and trees including Himalayan Rhododendrons, Californian Redwoods, New Zealand Kapukas, the-now tallest Chilean Mayten tree in the UK… even Australian Cabbage-tree Palms.

Portmeirion – "port" for its location on the coast and "meirion" from County Meirionydd in which it is located – is just outside North Wales' major town of Porthmadog, and if you visit and it looks familiar… yes, it was the 'The Village' in the 1960s hit TV series 'The Prisoner,' and has featured in numerous other films since.

And famed Portmeirion Pottery has its connections too: its early tableware, bakeware and giftware were designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis' daughter, Susan Williams-Ellis who died in 2007.

Day entry to Portmeirion is currently 10GBP for adults, 6GBP children, 30GBP family (2+2.) For accommodation information and pricing, email info@portmeirion-village.com

We hired our car through DriveAway Holidays 1300 363 500 (www.driveaway.com.au);  if you are looking for a reliable and knowledgeable UK driver/guide, contact John Greenwood on jdgreenwood24@hotmail.com 



1.SECTION of the extensive Portmeirion Italianate village and gardens in North Wales.  
   (North Wales Tourism)
2. THE village square and some of its shops. (David Ellis)
3. YOU could easily be in Italy with these Italianate houses overlooking the River
    Dwyryd estuary. (David Ellis)
4. EVEN a "castle" – the crenelated mansion Castell Deudraeth. (North Wales Tourism)
5. BELLTOWER just like in a traditional Italian village. (David Ellis)
6. SIR Clough Williams-Ellis on his 90th birthday in 1973. (Portmeirion Village Trust)

July 01, 2013

Shongololo Express: South Africa's dream train

David Ellis

MOST blokes dream at some stage of owning a train, something for a table-top maybe, or if really lucky, to run around the garage walls.

But for Leon Plutsick, dreaming of owning his own train meant going one step further than most. Growing up in South Africa and with a dad in the mining industry, Leon constantly confronted mighty hissing steam engines and growling, grimy diesels hauling strings of coal wagons seemingly kilometres long, or shiny passenger carriages that appeared to stretch forever into a shimmering mirage-like distance.

And when he decided he would get his own train, he knew just what he wanted. Now a successful entrepreneur with numerous business interests under his belt, he told  business partner George Milaras of his vision; and George liked it so much he even stumped-up to join Leon in buying his train.

But no table-top or garage wall job. Rather a fair-dinkum, life-size train to carry tourists into the many spectacular attractions of Southern Africa, both well-known and lesser-known. And rather than go off for advice from business advisors, accountants or other professionals, Leon and George went instead to someone they had more faith in.

A witch-doctor, one who after peering into her personal inner sanctum and doing whatever else witch-doctors do, came back with the answer that, Yes, their train would be a success. But only if they called it Shongololo, after a local millipede whose long body has scores of little legs that forever work together to get it along its slow-moving journey as quickly as possible.

And which, she foresaw, would be reflected in the Shongololo Express, that with the lots of little things combining in and around it, would cover its winding rail journeys as quickly as possible as well.

So call it Shongololo Express they did, launching in 1995 and running it successfully until 2000 when they sold out to concentrate on other individual business interests. But Leon could never quite get "his" train out of heart nor head, and in 2007 he made an offer to buy it back from the investor he'd sold it to.

The rest, as they say, is history. Shongololo is now Leon Plutsick's life, love and passion, and he spends four months every year travelling to his major customer markets (Australia number one, followed by Canada and Germany) promoting it, and riding the train whenever he can to ensure all is as he believes it should be, and refining where he believes it's not.

And for those fortunate enough to travel aboard the Shongololo it is a rewarding experience, with yesteryear polished teak-wood dining, lounge, bar and sleeping carriages having appointments that make for a delightful reminisce back to a time when train travel was leisurely, unhurried and genteel.

A kind of Good Life, shoe-horned into the confines of narrow-gauge rail.

Shongololo currently has four 13-to-16 day itineraries embracing the best of South Africa and its Winelands, Kimberley, South Drakensbergs, KwaZulu-Natal, and Kruger and other National Parks, and further afield fascinating Zululand, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Zanzibar… with others, Leon hints, in the pipeline.

And rewardingly, rather than jamming guests onto local coaches with other tourists for daily sightseeing, Shongololo carries its own Mercedes-Benz air-conditioned mini-vans, so that with the train travelling mostly at night while guests sleep, these make for wonderfully personalised sightseeing tours led daily by the train's own onboard professional driver/guides (most of whom have been with Leon since the re-emergence of Shongololo in 2007.)

And with a choice of two such tours included daily in the train's price (and others available through other operators at optional cost,) it provides for diverse sightseeing and adventures a-plenty.

In our case, this included amongst numerous others, riding the cable car up Cape Town's Table Mountain, tasting the product of the Winelands, getting up-close with the animals for three days in Kruger and other National Parks, visiting villages and remote towns and communities, the Kimberley Diamond Mine, King Shaka's Royal Hunting Grounds, seeing the homes of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and an escorted tour through Soweto whose 1976 riots were the catalyst for the eventual dismantling of South Africa's apartheid laws.

More details from Bench International toll-free 1300AFRICA or www.benchinternational.com.au

NEXT WEEK: Indulging Shongololo's yesteryear ambiences. 



1.SHONGOLOLO Express to a Zulu witch-doctor resembled a winding millipede. (Shongololo Express)
2. CAPE Town from the cable car to Table Mountain. (David Ellis)
3. KIMBERLEY Big Hole, once one of the world's richest diamond mines. (David Ellis)
4. A HERD of elephants hold us up on the road in Kruger National Park. (David Ellis)
5. MALE and female lion sleep it off after fun and games roadside in Kruger National Park. (David Ellis)
6. SHONGOLOLO Express carries its own fleet of Mercedes-Benz sightseeing vans. (Shongololo Express)

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