November 13, 2017

Unearthing Mudgee

Anything but a rural backwater, the agricultural region of Mudgee in NSW is coming alive through quality produce, gorgeous scenery, innovative tourism and some highly unusual characters.  As Roderick Eime discovers

She gives me that double-dare stare as she holds the flagon, poised in anticipation, over the vintage vegemite glass, already primed with terrified ice cubes. The glass vessel contains a proprietary cocktail called 10/80 and patrons are limited to just two in any single visit.

"10/80 is fox poison isn't it?" I meekly enquire.

"Yes it is," she replies, her eyes widening for theatrical effect. "It's a secret recipe known only to the owner of Roth's Wine Bar. It has some white wine, a fortified wine and … maybe something else." The dim lighting and speakeasy-style décor adds considerably to the beverage's mystique.

Historic Roth's Wine Bar in centrally located Market Street has been a part of Mudgee's playful underbelly since 1923. The once nefarious establishment still holds what is possibly the last Governor's Liquor licence, an anachronistic certification at the pleasure of the Crown. Founding proprietor, Bob Roth, quickly found a niche market and expanded his offering to include rooms by the hour.

Nowadays heritage-listed Roth's is a quaint novelty, yet great fun and a perfect place to wind down with live music and a cocktail after dinner before you catch a cab back to your hotel or walk.

Mudgee fairly bustles on the weekend with an almost carnival atmosphere. There are two farmers' and artisans' markets smack in the middle of town where delicious pickles, pestos and pastes congregate on festooned trestles while minstrels strum tunes and wide-eyed children attack lollypops.

If time is your friend, make Mudgee a mid-week mission and enjoy the quieter times and some special deals from the airline, Fly Pelican, as well as numerous

Surrounding the markets are a bevy of satellite businesses serving the resurgent community with lively and creative offerings like the hip and offbeat Butcher Shop Café, Aaron Cole's epicurean Market Street Café or Juliet Horsley's recycled timber lamps and leather goods.

But let's not ignore the real reason we're here. The Mudgee region has some of the of the best cellar doors in the country. That's a big call for sure, but after jostling for a berth at the tasting benches of Robert Oatley, Bunnamagoo, Optimiste, David Lowe, Skimstone and Robert Stein it's clear we're going to need another weekend to tick all the boxes on the Mudgee District wine circuit.

If you're lucky enough to catch David Lowe at his winery at 327 Tinja Lane, ask him about his hilarious wine tasting adventures with his Japanese clients. When you've finished rolling on the floor, take home one of his 500ml hangover-free, organic varieties or stay for gourmet dinner at Kim Currie's The Zin House on the same property.

The region's unique climatic conditions allow an enormous variety of grapes to be grown. Unusual names such as barbera, viognier and sangiovese sit beside the more familiar shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Even so, the common reds exhibit their own 'inland' character which award-winning Bunnamagoo winemaker, Robert Black, attributes to "slippery tannins". A term I'm still getting used to.

Standout performers from the weekend's rigorous auditions include Skimstone's Tre-Onde (blend), Oatley's Reserve cabernet sauvignon shiraz, Elephant Mountain shiraz, Bunnamagoo 1827 cabernet sauvignon and the Optimiste semillon. And, if you're like so many visitors and driving to Mudgee, learn to spit.

Another of Mudgee's foodie trump cards is the organic produce, which is significant in the winemaking as well as the mouthwatering cheeses, honey and pesto fetta from the High Valley Wine & Cheese Co's at Cellar by Gilbert, the former High Valley cellar door. .

Just down the road, Nathan and Helen Williams (more tree-changers) could have regaled us all afternoon with hilarious tales on the set-up of their micro-distillery, Baker Williams. Yet, if the sumptuous butterscotch schnapps and delicate wheat grain vodka are any indication, it was worth every agonising effort.

Mudgee's own brewery creates tantalising flavours with the dark ale my choice. Available in most restaurants and hotels in town, or you can stop by their premises for a trestle full of tasty roasted treats washed down by the finest ales and lagers.

The lasting impression one gets from any visit to Mudgee is wholesome and healthy community environment, free from the pressures of 'big business'. It's the hub of 'home grown', 'family-owned' and embraces organic agriculture like nowhere else.

The clever tourism tagline, 'reset your senses' rings true on so many levels, it will leave you refreshed, invigorated and recharged.

Take a midweek break to Mudgee region by 3.5 hour drive or 50 minute flight via FlyPelican. To book, visit

TIP: for savings and special offers, visiting mid-week is a great idea. Mid-week deals ( ) are available for the following participating members:

Lowe Wines

FlyPelican (Fly + Stay deals)

Mudgee Golf Club

For more information:

Stay: Peppertree Hill 939 Henry Lawson Drive, Mudgee

Dine: The Zin House (at Lowe's Wines) 327 Tinja Lane, Mudgee

#MudgeeRegion #ResetYourSenses

Pick up sweet honey, freshly pressed olive oil, farmhouse cheeses and nuts, and tie in your visit with one of many events that fill the calendar year such as the monthly farmers markets or special winery celebrations.

Fun Fact:

There are no traffic lights in Mudgee's town centre. Locals are proud to point out the number of roundabouts in lieu of traffic lights, which makes for a much more relaxing journey when travelling throughout the region!

Words: Roderick Eime

Images: As supplied.

Feature Supplied by:


1.     FlyPelican

2.     Lowe Platter

3.     Desert War at Gooree Park Wines

4.     Peppertree Hill

5.     Mudgee Brewery

6.     Pipeclay Pumphouse

7.     De Beaurepaire Winery

November 05, 2017

A Seven-Day Dream aboard Seadream

Almost a decade ago, John Newton crossed the Southern Atlantic on SeaDream 1 from Tenerife in the Canary Islands to the Caribbean without seeing land - and not much else for that matter.

It was a re-positioning voyage, with the bonus of three days ashore on Caribbean islands. SeaDream Yacht Club later invited him back aboard the same vessel – but this time on a breathtaking voyage which took him to a different port of call every day on a stunning seven-day Mediterranean cruise.

At just 4300 tonnes, the elegant twin mega-yachts – SeaDream 1 and 11 - are more than 50 times smaller than Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas (over 225,000 tonnes) which is so massive it required the expansion of every port in its outsize wake, including a brand-new terminal – the world's largest - in Fort Lauderdale.

But it's not the size that matters for SeaDream Yacht Club's loyal and repeat customers, many of whom return year after year to cruise the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, - or both - it's the 'family' atmosphere on board, with only a maximum 112 passengers occupying 56 ocean-view staterooms.

Add top-notch service from the award-winning crew of 95 and gastronomic cuisine that could grace some of the fine dining restaurants in Paris – and it's easy to see why the two yachts, as SeaDream Yacht Club prefers them to be known, attract the upper echelon who like to be seen and every whim pampered.

The boarding procedure on SeaDream 1 in Monte Carlo was as good as it gets – a no-fuss operation with no queues and greeted with a glass of chilled bubbly. And if that wasn't enough, there was a bottle of champagne (French, of course), on ice in every stateroom. Not that this surprised the majority of 'SeaDreamers' as many of them, including a family of eight from the Isle of Man, had been on board before and were well acquainted with some of the crew.

The bartender tossed a liqueur bottle high in the air before catching it behind his back, then pointing out that the art of flair bartending has been around since the late 1800's. "It's about putting style and technique into the job, focusing on service and sales first, flair second."

Unlike the mega liners crammed with thousands of passengers, there are no nightly entertainment extravaganzas on board the SeaDream yachts, but who needs them when you can gorge on black Russian caviar (during a Mediterranean season, SeaDreamers consume around a 100 kilograms) and some other tasty morsels over pre-dinner drinks and then choose from an extensive dinner menu that can roll on for at least a couple of hours. And it's simply yachting smart-casual with no need ever for jackets, ties or formal gowns.

During free-seating dinners – either on deck or in the dining room (depending on the weather) - a sommelier serves up a variety of French, Italian or Spanish wines, while waiters fuss  around – almost lurching to place chairs underneath passengers about to sit at a table.

Afterwards, it's off to sing and dance to the music in the piano bar – or the 'Top of the Yacht' bar - where ever attentive staff will show off  his skills making a Singapore sling or two that puts the Raffles version to shame. In fact, you can have a cocktail or French champagne – or anything else alcoholic - for free any time of the day or night almost anywhere on the yacht – apart from the bridge.

Back at your spacious stateroom - with flat screen TV, DVD and CD - the house (sea) maids are not to be outdone by the waiters with their delightful towel arrangements of animals in the form of elephants and turtles – not to mention the bombardment of fresh towels and designer toiletries. And they re-stock the room bar at no cost daily.

Around the pool, crew members pounce in a flash to cool you down with moisture spray or ask if they can clean your sunglasses.

On other decks, there's a golf simulator with 30 international courses to tackle, a gymnasium with state-of-the-art equipment, Asian spa, outdoor massage, beauty salon, a boutique, well-stocked library with internet and casino. In port – depending on the water conditions, you have the use of mountain bikes, kayaks, Zodiacs for water skiing, snorkel gear and a banana boat. For the less energetic, passengers can accompany the executive chef ashore to sample local delicacies.

After leaving Monte Carlo, SeaDream 1 headed for St Tropez, Cassis, Bonifacio in Corsica, Portoferraio on the island of Elba, Portovenere (from where you can visit Cinque Terre – five picturesque villages of pastel-coloured houses and terraced vineyards, which cling to the Ligurian cliffs on the west coast of Italy) and, finally, the stylish resort of Portofino. Apart from Cassis, where the yacht stayed for nine hours, it berthed or moored at every other port for more than 12 hours. You can either take an escorted tour ashore or explore on your own.

On the last morning, it's back to Monte Carlo after seven magical days and 662 nautical miles (1226 kilometres) aboard SeaDream 1.


For full details see travel agents, or phone SeaDream Yacht Club Australia/Pacific on toll-free  1800 217 902 (open till 11:00am Sydney time), New Zealand: 0800 004028, or send email enquiries to   or visit

Prices include all 5-star dining, drinks from the open bars, wines with lunch and dinner, nightly cocktail gatherings, a 30-course golf simulator, and onboard gratuities.

John travelled as a guest of SeaDream.

Words: John Newton
Images: Michael Osborne and SeaDream Yacht Club

Feature supplied by:


1.     Monte Carlo
2.     At sea
3.     Super-size sun lounges
4.     Light snack
5.     Top of the Yacht dining
6.     Main dining room
7.     Fruit cocktail of the day
8.     Stateroom
9.     Top of the Yacht bar

October 24, 2017

City and beach options in Thailand

Well-travelled Len Rutledge reports

Walking the beach, visiting an island, shopping the markets and enjoying a massage are just a few of the attractions that will encourage 35 million people to visit Thailand this year. Many will be returning for the second, third or tenth time because this country has a magical attraction to those who have previously visited. Part of the reason is that it appeals to all ages. I first visited when I was in my twenties. Now, many years later, I still love going there.

My ideal Thailand visit consists of time in Bangkok and some further time at one of the beaches. Others will want to visit Chiang Mai and the northern mountains or the far-flung attractions of Isan in the north-east. Everywhere there are temples, markets, museums, friendly people and new experiences. What more could you ask for?


This sprawling city of over 10 million people is the perfect introduction to Thailand but be prepared for some culture shock. Most Australians find the heat, crowds, traffic, and sights and sounds initially somewhat overwhelming. Give it two days and it all starts to make sense.

Traffic can be chaotic at times but the expanding underground and Skyrail systems help you move around. Taxis are cheap and tuk-tuks, those three-wheeled kamikaze machines, can be fun for short distances. When I get near my destination, I like to walk. This is when you see the real Bangkok.

Devote some time to see some of the best palaces, temples, museums and cultural shows in the whole country. Take a boat ride on the river, enjoy a Thai restaurant or simply eat on the street from mobile stalls, and enjoy a Thai massage. Bangkok has become one of the world's best shopping venues so check out the spectacular up-market stores and malls as well as the weekend market and one of several daily night markets.

When it comes to accommodation there is an endless choice from 5-star to budget. Where you stay has some influence on what you will see so consider what your priorities are. There is no best area or hotel for everyone. If luxury accommodation, staying by the river and being close to some of the city's' historical and cultural attraction is what you need, consider The Siam  for your accommodation.

This hotel is set in lush gardens and the suites and villas, the spa and wellness facilities, and the several restaurants will all contribute to making this a private urban sanctuary after a long day sightseeing, shopping or touring. Believe me, you will need it!

Koh Samui

This is my personal favourite among Thailand's well-developed islands. In the past 25 years, the island has changed from a backpacker's paradise to a resort-goers' dream. Koh Samui is ringed by beaches – some almost deserted, others quite developed. Most have clean white sand and all have good quality water.

Away from the beaches you can visit the Big Buddha Temple, see the mummified monk with his sunglasses, watch monkeys pick coconuts and play basketball at the Monkey Theatre, and ride elephants in a nice jungle setting.

Koh Samui has become a very popular spa centre and some of the facilities are spectacular. The same can be said about many of the restaurants which have beach or cliff locations. Resorts are everywhere and it's impossible to pick one which would suit everywhere. Some are on isolated beaches while others are close to the island's town centres.

The Bo Phut Resort & Spa is set among landscaped gardens and is a good compromise. It provides excellent facilities with privacy from the crowds. You can swim, eat, snorkel in the bay, boat ride, or wander down to the nearby fishing village and see the fishermen bringing in their daily catch.


Millions of visitors enjoy the sun, sand, surf and sex that this island offers and plenty of tourists only visit here during their 'Thailand holiday' thanks to direct flights from many places into Phuket International Airport.

Where you stay has a big bearing on what type of holiday you will have. If shopping, bars, massage, discos and shows are your 'thing', stay in Patong. If you want to chill-out and enjoy some peace and quiet, chose one of the resorts on an isolated beach.

The Crown Plaza Phuket falls somewhere between these two extremes. It is a hideaway on the beach but you can still easily reach Patong and Phuket Town if you have the need. The Phuket FantaSea, the Disney Land of South East Asia and the Phuket Aquarium are close by for those wanting fun activities.

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Thailand 2017, available from  as an eBook or paperback.

Feature supplied by:


1. The Chao Phraya River: Phensri Rutledge

2. Jim Thompson Restaurant: Phensri Rutledge

3. The Siam Bangkok: Courtesy The Siam

4. Bo Phut Resort & Spa: Courtesy Bo Phut Resort

5. The Crown Plaza Phuket pool: Courtesy Crown Plaza Phuket

October 02, 2017

Sydney: Totally Cured and Cultured at Bennelong


#visitnsw #sydney

Dream about dining inside the dramatic sails of the Sydney Opera House with its spectacular views, creative food by the supremely talented Peter Gilmore, but think you need the king's ransom? Helen Flanagan experienced the luxury without the linen.

There's just so much to drink in at the harbour-side Bennelong restaurant, helmed by Peter Gilmore and located under the Utzon sails of the Sydney Opera House, arguably one of the world's finest 'galleries'.

Gilmore's take on contemporary cuisine begins on the lower level of the tri-level layout. A private table is available on the central level; a bar with panoramic views of The Sydney Harbour Bridge is on the upper level; for those looking for an experience like no other, The Kitchen allows just four guests the opportunity to enjoy a backstage view of the chefs at work while dining from a curated eight-course menu with matching wines; and for a one-of-a-kind, full-service lusciousness with a laid-back attitude, hot foot it to Cured & Cultured. Book early evening, because the ever-evolving natural light show beats any fireworks display.

"Bennelong is all about the provenance of the food we are serving," explains Gilmore who is also executive chef of Quay, named in the prestigious S. Pellegrino World's 100 Best Restaurant list.

"All menus are crafted in partnership with farmers, fishermen, breeders and providores from across the land, who work with our chefs every day. It's a two way process: responding to what's in season and the best of what producers are bringing us, however on another level, we're planning menus a season or two ahead and working with producers to develop ingredients for us.

"Cured & Cultured has a simple focus: raw food such as beautiful oysters, cured meats, crustaceans and organic vegetable salads." It's the cream and the crunch without the starched linen.

There's a cracking wine list and polished wait staff described cocktails so convincingly, the classic dirty martini was nearly changed to a very in-tune-sounding Symphony #4 in D Minor or on-song Don Pancho De Le Mancha.

Not surprisingly the atmosphere exudes excitement and there are happy faces everywhere. Propped at the counter, right in front of you, chefs work quietly and methodically on the presentation of dishes. But happy to chat albeit briefly when questioned by this inquisitive food writer, in-between fondling shavings of various coloured carrots and squeezing tweezers to ensure incy-wincy flowers and herbs are artfully positioned.

Most dishes, chef says are prepped in a downstairs kitchen and the roast carrot salad swathed  in sticky sherry caramel, tossed with young almonds, feta, amaranth and artfully dressed with raw heirloom carrot, is the most popular dish on the menu. But what about raw kingfish with artichoke, capers, ice plant; cured black pig ham polenta, popcorn, parmesan and pine nut hotcake; Tasmanian-inspired scallop pie; twice-baked goat's cheese soufflé with seasonal crumble; and warm buckwheat pikelets, lemon jam and cultured cream with a plate of yabbies served in the shell? Oh and let's not forget the five cheese truffle toastie or the best-ever suckling pig sausage roll with black garlic. Salivation levels go shy-high when the oven door is opened and chef cuts through the pastry. But what happened to those end bits? Next time.

If you're not rushing off to a concert or the opera, or looking for a casual bite post-show and lust after something sweet, the cherry jam lamington and pavlova are irresistible. Understandably.

Encore, encore Cured & Cultured, What a triumphant performance.

If you go:

…in-between fondling shavings of various coloured carrots and squeezing tweezers to ensure incy-wincy flowers and herbs are artfully positioned

Go early evening because the ever-evolving natural light show beats any fireworks display


1. Dirty Martini

2. Tony and Helen

3. Salad of roasted organic carrots
4. Raw kingfish artichoke, capers, ice plant

5. The Pavlova

6. Cured and Cultured

7. As evening falls

Images 1-2-3-4 Helen Flanagan

Images 5-6-7: Brett Stevens

Feature supplied by:

August 14, 2017

Cruise with Silja Line between Helsinki and Stockholm

Sleek and sparkling white, the twin ferries of the Silja Line are more like cruise ships than passenger/car ferries plying the pristine waters between Helsinki and Stockholm and vice versa.

John Newton stepped aboard Silja Serenade and spent two nights sailing between the Finnish and Swedish capitals, including a six-hour whirlwind tour of Stockholm before re-joining to the ship for the return voyage.

Silja Serenade and Silja Symphony are the only vessels sailing the Baltic Sea with a ship length (142 metres), glass-roofed promenade in the heart of the ship, lined by smart shops and restaurants.

The 58,300-tonne sister ships were built 27 years ago, but you'd never guess their age as they look as elegant on the outside and they do on the inside. Each can carry more than 2800 passengers and have almost 1000 cabins – from standard to renewed deluxe and suites – with half the 40 cabins in Commodore class having balconies.

For an added touch of class, the Commodore lounge has men's and women's saunas.

According to Silja Line, which this year is celebrating its 60th year of operation, the new direction of its business lounges offer passengers the opportunity to work on board and use modern communication equipment. Each ship also features 24 conference rooms.

While their mind-boggling promenade is the eye-catcher, the on-board seven restaurants – some featuring mouth-watering Scandinavian seafood, especially in the award-winning Happy Lobster - plus world-class entertainment, giant spa and huge duty free shopping outlets, put them in a class of their own when it comes to ferry travel.

But it's not only the on-board facilities on the two Silja ferries that attract thousands of locals and tourists alike to both the Finnish and Swedish capitals. The ferries' weave their way around one the world's most spectacular archipelago's – the 6500 Aland islands - taking in breathtaking scenery on the 16-hour, 490-kilometre sailing between Helsinki and Stockholm.

The stunning island views from high on deck showcase the stylish getaway homes of many Swedes – and Finns - who spend their spare time away from their city jobs enjoying their national pastime - on the water.

Silja Serenade and Silja Symphony sail every day to and from Helsinki and Stockholm – even in icy waters during winter - that's when you'll sail through endless ice fields with jaw-dropping sculptures in the  pack ice,"The vessels are equipped with a strong ice class, which means we can sail all year round and are not hampered by ice," the company says.

Silj Line is a Finnish brand operated by the Estonian company – AS Tallink Grupp - which has a fleet of nine cruise ferries and four fast ro-pax vessels, including the new generation LNG-powered - Megastar. With seating for 2800 passengers, the Finnish-built 212-metre long vessel takes just two hours from Helsinki to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Megastar has the largest shopping mall on the Baltic Sea, with an area of 2800 square metres on two floors.

As well as the Helsinki-Stockholm and Helsinki-Tallinn ferries, the group also run ferries between Turku (Finland) and Stockholm and Stockholm-Riga and Stockholm-Tallinn.

For more details of prices and departure times, go to

Scandinavia's largest city, Stockholm - with its 750-year history and rich cultural life - is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. Don't miss the Abba and Vasa museums.

Originally a fishing town, Helsinki's city centre is dominated by majestic cathedrals

Written by John Newton

Feature supplied:

Images: as Supplied

1.         Symphony

2.         Serenade

3.         Commodore Suite

4.         Junior Suite

5.         Happy Lobster Seafood Platter

6.         Atlantis Palace

August 08, 2017

Play and Stay in Uber Cool Brisbane

Delve into a serious calendar of internationally acclaimed arts, cultural and sporting events, discover some of the best eateries in the country and, says Helen Flanagan, check out two new hotels way beyond the pale.

Let's start bang in the middle of Brisbane where the buzz of creative things to do, is perpetually loud.

Take a dip in the eighth great man-made wonder of the world, Streets Beach at South Bank or just lay a towel on the sand in the sun; browse through art galleries known for hosting collections from the likes of Warhol to Lynch; catch the red CityHopper along the river; sing your heart out (softly) at shows such as Kinky Boots and Bodyguard at the Lyric Theatre; unbuckle your belts after eating your way around flash and fun cafes also food festivals; feel the crowd roar at an international rugby showdown; and for an exhilarating adventure, the Story Bridge Adventure Climb is a must, and one of only three such experiences in the world. It's a 2-hour unique journey up over the bridge's superstructure to the 80m summit with magnificent uninterrupted 360° views of Brisbane city, the river, mountain ranges and Moreton Bay Islands.

The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art are like yin and yang – two distinct galleries equalling a perfect whole. So who is your favourite Marvel character? Regardless of whether you're #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan in the latest Avengers outing, there are so many elements of Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe you'll be geeking out for days. The exhibition at GOMA features more than 500 artworks, over 60 original costumes, 150-plus props and set pieces from the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. You could say it's mighty.

Restaurants and bars? From top-draw Aria, Blackbird, Esquire, Stokehouse, GOMA Restaurant, Sake and Cha Cha Char to budget Asian and a motza trendy burger joints, there's something for everyone, even followers of Paleo. Capri by Fraser's Asana by Pete Evans, uses locally-sourced produce in its contemporary paleo-influenced menu. Not sure if the cocktails fit the brief but sure do the trick. The adjoining café using 'coffee scientists', The Sensory Lab is a favourite for business folk and Capri by Fraser guests.

Also impressive are the numerous distinctive design features, especially the historical nod to Folio Books in the lobby, and Australiana artwork in the over-generous designer suites. And who was the smarty-pants who thought of a DIY espresso martini, using the in-room Nespresso machine and nip of Frangelico?

Time to amp it up or just mix it up with the locals. Fortitude Valley is a contradiction in itself. It's raw, yet sophisticated; it's where elegance and style meet grunge and offbeat; and heritage-listed properties stand proudly alongside contemporary statements. The Valley, as it is affectionately known, was Australia's first dedicated entertainment district and continues to be a hive of activity. Live music thrives and international DJs are drawn to late-closing clubs.

The impressive Chinatown Mall is a hub of exotic Chinese supermarkets and eateries; around Brunswick and James Streets are a plethora of dining options from hatted restaurants such as Tartufo and Gerard's Bistro, chic bars Alfred & Constance, Harveys, Bar & Bistro and Cru Bar, and groovy cafes, to famous James Street Markets and Jocelyn's Provisions, an amazing patisserie, cake palace and the most more-ish parmesan biscuits ever.

Don't miss numerous elegant on-trend furniture designers and homewares' retailers, also the Emporium complex which channels a European village feel, has a classy hotel and head-turning boutiques such as Nat-Sui, with its audacious and totally sophisticated shoes. Fashionistas will also love James Street where exclusive, international and cutting edge local labels such as Camilla and Sass & Bide, are de rigeur.

Keeping it sassy is the new kid on the block, the repurposed warehouse development of  Sage Hotel James Street, next door to the revamped historic Queens Arms Hotel and James Street Cafe and Cellar, off the gallery-like hotel lobby. The light installation by designer Karim Rashid and artworks throughout are inspired by Binikinba-Ba, the aboriginal name for 'place of the land tortoises; and each designer guest room embraces the best of nearby suppliers such as pops of Dinosaur Designs and textiles from Mokum.

The Queensland capital is ever-changing. Always exciting, rather avant-garde and certainly world-class.

Capri by Fraser's Asana by Pete Evans uses locally-sourced produce in its contemporary paleo-influenced menu. Not sure if the cocktails fit the brief but sure do the trick.

Fast Facts:

Images: Helen and supplied

a. Street's Beach
b. © 2017 MARVEL
c. Capri
d. Paleo dessert
e. DIY Nespresso martini
f. Sage Hotel James Street
g. Story Bridge

August 01, 2017

Cruising to St Petersburg with Princess Anastasia

High Russian visa costs can be avoided by Australian tourists travelling on cruise ships, such as a grand old lady of the seas, from Helsinki to St Petersburg. John Newton took advantage of the no visa fee on a four day/three night sojourn from the Finnish capital across the Gulf of Finland to the stunning, historic Russian city.

The passenger/car ferry – MS Princess Anastasia – has been around for a long time, 31 years, in fact, since she was launched under the name Olympia, and operated between Stockholm and Helsinki for Viking Line.

The 2400-passenger ferry later operated as the Pride of Bilbao after being chartered to P&O European ferries, but after operating between Portsmouth and Bilbao between 2007-2010, the company closed the route.  She was sold to St Peter Line and made her first voyage from St Petersburg to Stockholm in September 2010.

British company – Select-A-Cruise – currently operate visa-free Helsinki-St Petersburg cruises, which feature two days in the Russian city after overnight voyages from and to Helsinki.

This year – until mid-December - there are two visa free options of four or six days, with one or three nights in a four or five-star St Petersburg hotel.

In addition, Select-A-Cruise will run a lower cost six-day tour on selected dates staying at a three-star hotel.

However, the schedule will be different in 2008 – starting March 28 – when it will offer a five-day/four night visa free tour, with two overnight stays on  Princess Anastasia and two nights in a St Petersburg hotel.

My four-day cruise/St Petersburg tour started with an overnight ferry journey from Helsinki and ended on day four, arriving back on Princess Anastasia in the Finnish capital.

From 360 euros per person – depending on the cabin category and hotel choice - the price includes the round trip ferry voyage, transfers to/from your St Petersburg hotel, one night in a four-star hotel, one full day of sightseeing with an English speaking guide and daily breakfast.

Included in the one day city tour are visits to Peter Paul Fortress and the incredible Hermitage museum (Winter Palace).

However, a pre-bookable optional full sightseeing day is available at an extra cost, with highlights including three breathtaking palaces, unrivalled art collections and, the last resting place of the Romanov's. The tour ends with a transfer to the ferry terminal for the cruise back to Helsinki.

St Petersburg was the cradle of the October Revolution, named Leningrad after the death of Lenin in 1924 and re-named St Petersburg after a citizen's vote in 1991.

Russia's cultural treasure trove is like an enormous museum – there are 500 palaces alone in St Petersburg - and you could spend many weeks in the city and not see all of it.

The former capital of Russia (from the early 1700s to 1918), St Petersburg has earned the name 'Venice of the North' because of the canals meandering around one of the world's most beautiful cities.

Onboard Princess Anastasia there are 834 cabins of different classes and price categories. The ferry, which can accommodate 840 cars, offers a wide range of entertainment featuring bars and restaurants, duty free shop, night club, spa, gym, cinema, beauty salon, casino and playroom for children.

For more details on the visa free cruises between Helsinki and St Petersburg, go to:

Travel Tips:

For Australians, the fee for a single Russian tourist visa is A$135 (processed within 10 business days, or A$270 for an expedited visa (processed in two business days).

Foreign tourists are not permitted to Russia independently without being hosted by an authorised Russian travel agency or hotel during the whole period of their stay. However, exceptions to this rule are cruisers who do not require a visa if the conditions below are met:

The overall period of their stay in Russia is for no more than three days (72 hours).
They stay overnight aboard their cruise ship, and
They go ashore only as a part of a group of passengers on an excursion organised by the cruise company.

Words and images: John Newton

Feature supplied by:


1. MS Princess Anastasia

2. Giant tapestries abound (Hermitage)

3. Hermitage Museum

4. St Isaac's Cathedral

5. Venice of the North

6. Hermitage Museum

7. Church on the Spilled Blood

July 24, 2017

Scotland’s Outer Hebrides: One beach of an airport.


David Ellis

FOLKS who've taken themselves out to delightful Barra Island in Scotland's beautiful Outer Hebrides and want to do it again, find that when they start checking for the same arrival and departure times as they took last time, these appear to have been simply removed and replaced with others that can be up to hours different from before.

And it's not because of bureaucratic reviewing or rearranging – or worse still, even bungling – but more bizarrely is the work of Mother Nature, and her daily changes in the times of the island's tides.

Because while Barra's airport terminal building and control tower are located on the island's "mainland," its three runways are in fact simply the sands of the fringing ocean beach alongside – making for the only airport in the world where scheduled 7-day-a-week flights use a beach as the runway.

And because they are flooded by the sea every high tide, these runways can only be used by STOL aircraft (Short Take Off and Landing,) and only during daytime low tides, as there are no facilities for night-time operations other than emergencies.

As well, as tide times change daily, it means flight times change pretty regularly too, so beachgoers need be prepared to make a move with the Esky and towel when the  warning signals go off advising that a plane's about to land or take off.


[] A PLANE comes in to land on Scotland's Barra Island airport runway – simply the beach next to the terminal buildings and control tower, the world's only such beach runway for 7-day-a-week scheduled flights. (Wikiwand)


July 23, 2017

Washington DC's Dupont Circle: A view from the top

Every city has its elite neighbourhoods and Washington DC’s historic Dupont Circle stands out as a beacon in that nation’s capital. Roderick Eime walks the hallowed streets.

Cosmos Club (R Eime)

“Washington, D.C., has everything that Rome, Paris and London have in the way of great architecture - great power bases. Washington has obelisks and pyramids and underground tunnels and great art and a whole shadow world that we really don't see.” - Dan Brown

Author of the best-selling novel, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, made that remark in a TV interview when asked why he chose the US capital as the setting for one of his psychological thrillers.

Anyone who has watched even one episode of TVs hit series, ‘House of Cards’ will have enjoyed a short virtual tour of Washington DC, the United States capital. Just as depicted in the rolling credits, the streets of DC are full of patriotic sights and imposing architecture built around the needs of government and an urge to impress both residents and visitors.

Sheridan Circle (R Eime)
For the visitor, DC is a very walkable city, and on a warm summer’s day, it’s easy to pack in many of the key sites. Supplement your strolls with the ubiquitous ‘hop on - hop off’ Big Bus tour and you can get a compact, yet accurate feel for this most important of cities.

But apart from the larger-than-life monuments to heroes and grand civic buildings, there are whole neighbourhoods and precincts waiting to be explored. There’s historic Georgetown, dating from the mid-18th century, now a heritage district in its own right and home to many premium retail stores and flash restaurants. And Arlington across the Potomac River where the Pentagon sits and more than 400,000 veterans, statesmen and generals lie in the National Cemetery. And Hispanic-centric Adams Morgan. And cosmopolitan Columbia Heights. The list goes on.

Often, when visiting somewhere for the first time, it’s a good idea to walk like a local and that’s what I did when I joined DC Design Tours for a pedestrian expedition of Dupont Circle.

The Dupont Circle and adjacent Kalorama districts of Washington DC comprise the celebrity and embassy ‘dress circle’ of the nation’s capital, home to such noted names as the Obamas, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, as well as Amazon billionaire, Jeff Bezos. Numerous current and former politicians from the last century also make (or made) this district their home and even the fictitious power couple, Frank and Claire Underwood from TV’s House of Cards reside there.

Self Portrait of Alice Pike Barney
As our small group tours the fabled streets, we hear the stories of the sumptuous mansions and historic terrace houses and the famous (and not so famous) names behind each door.

The house of Woodrow Wilson, the US president who declared war on Germany in 1917, is preserved as a museum. The secretive and exclusive Cosmos Club, open only to men (and now women) of exceptional character and achievement. The obscure Society of the Cincinnati, founded in 1783, to preserve the ideals and fellowship of officers of the Continental Army who served in the Revolutionary War (whatever that means), plus the former Alice Pike Barney Studio which was once the home to the controversial feminist artist.

“Barney and her daughters,” Kelly, my guide, tells me, “were so ‘bohemian’ for their time, she caused so much gossip and scandal in Washington society, it drove her poor ultra conservative husband Albert to drink and ultimately death.”

While our tour only passed by these illustrious residences, many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and open to the public. A chance to see these fabulous places up close and learn the in-depth stories behind them.

View from Level 9 of Dupont Circle Hotel (supplied)

Right on the historic central roundabout itself is the 327-room Dupont Circle, a landmark property of the Irish premium hotel group, Doyle Collection. Outwardly austere, the original 8-storey property opened in 1947 and operated most of its life as the Dupont Plaza Hotel. Under the Doyle Collection ownership since 1998, a further US$50m renovation in 2009 saw the exclusive ‘Level Nine’ added, which included 15 ultra luxurious penthouse suites as well as a guest lounge and events area, all enjoying panoramic views over the Circle and city itself.

Ground floor dining and outdoor bars blend harmoniously with the upmarket surroundings with the swank Bar Dupont a particular feature in this ‘be seen’ neighbourhood. The Café Dupont brasserie restaurant adds a touch of Parisian chic and serves locally-sourced and organic French-American cuisine.

An unbeatable location, the Dupont Circle makes an ideal base to explore the historic district with easy access to DC’s Metro, Hop On Hop Off Big Bus and an easy walk to many other sights such as the National Geographic Museum and Phillips Collection gallery.

Did You Know?

The circle is named for Civil War Union naval commander, Rear Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont.

Doing DC:

DC Design Tours offer historical walking tours of Washington DC with a focus on architecture, urban planning, and design.

Big Bus Tours offer one or two day tickets for unlimited rides around the US capital on three routes with multilingual commentary aboard open top, double decker buses.


The Dupont Circle /

Washington DC Official Visitors site:

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