August 25, 2018

A magical Moroccan night under Saharan stars

The night sky in the Sahara [source]

Michael Osborne finds his Bedouin camp under a zillion stars, with breeze whispering through mysterious Sahara sandhills, an amazing highlight of his journey across Morocco.

It was the memory of this Arabian-style night that will stay with me forever. I was exploring Morocco with Back-Roads Touring, a company that goes far beyond normal travel operators in providing guests with the best of everything.

The Bedouin Camp was a luxury “glamping” facility set up especially for us.

This expedition into the previously unvisited Moroccan hinterland had been so interesting and exciting, yet was about to take on a whole new dimension. It was my first visit to the legendary Sahara Desert and staying in a Bedouin Camp was a dream come true.

Moroccan desert campsite (Back Roads Touring)
Our supremely comfortable coach arrived at Merzouga, a small Moroccan town near the Algerian border. It’s known as a gateway to Erg Chebbi, a huge expanse of sand dunes north of the town, where our band of excited travellers boarded 4WDs to head off into the Sahara proper.

Our drivers, well familiarised in this region, soon had us on our way into the sandy unknown. As we sped across the desert, the drivers took turns in leading our convoy and putting the cars into adrenaline-inducing slides that had one fellow mature traveller cheering our driver to go faster. Clearly, she had been a bit of a wild one in her youth.

After skimming through the dunes, we came upon the campsite, a scene straight out of Arabian Nights. Huge tents were laid out with colourful carpets and a common area with large cushions to sit on, all around a fire-pit which proved welcome once the sun went down.

Camel train sets out at sunset (Michael Osborne)

After a welcome drink, our luggage was promptly carried to our respective tents, before a colourful camel train emerged out of the desert taking us on a sunset ride into the wilds of the Sahara. Another rewarding experience.

Our individual tents were well equipped, fully carpeted and with a king-size bed, side tables with lamps, electric lights, a change room with hanging space and an ensuite shower and toilet.

After settling into our tents it was time to sit around the fire, enjoy a few drinks and watch the sun set over the dunes as a zillion stars began to emerge and illuminate the night sky with a spectacular cosmic radiance.

Could this get any better? Well, yes, it did.

The band struck up traditional Berber music, entertaining us until the call to ‘The Feast’.

'The Feast' (Michael Osborne)

The large main dining marquee was fully carpeted and stocked with a generous bar along with tables groaning under the weight of tempting delicacies, traditional finger food and enticing snacks.

Once seated, and with yet more drinks served, our ground crew made a special presentation of serving the food, accompanied by more music and singing as our fire-roasted lamb arrived on silver trays with much pomp and ceremony.

All our meals on the tour, each a gastronomic delight in itself, were specially cooked on the spot out in the out in the desert.

After such an absorbing and satisfying day, we retire to sit around the fire and reflect on the wondrous things we had seen. Entranced by the hypnotic wonder of the night sky, many of us had to be reminded to go to our tents. Far away from the noise of the city, a deep restful sleep quickly overcame us.

We awoke, fresh and rejuvenated, to another feast as breakfast had mysteriously conjured itself during the night. Again, quite a feat in the middle of nowhere. More praise to Back-Roads and their local team for their superb organisation.

We raeturned to Merzouga in our fleet of 4WDs, where our coach was waiting to take us to the magic Todra and Dades Gorges before Quarzazate, our next destination.

Before the next episode in our magical Moroccan adventure, have a look at all the other award-winning adventures at

Michael Osborne travelled as a guest of Back-Roads Touring.

August 22, 2018

Help our farmers. Forget Bali, go bush



Dallas Sherringham and the team at Weekly Travel Feature want to support our people On The Land.

Australia's farming communities are reeling from one of the most devastating droughts in our history and now sever bushfires, but you can help out just by swapping your normal overseas holiday for a Bush Adventure. From the coast to the outback, you will be surprised by the choice – from camping to luxury and all in between.

Even a simple weekend away in the country will make a huge difference to the hundreds of thousands of struggling families in the wide, brown land.

Our nation is full of fascinating towns, regions and friendly people. There are hidden gems to be had out there - all you have to do is find them.

As a travel writer I get to see some amazing places worldwide, but for me, there is nothing better than heading out on a road heading west with not a care in the world. Australia frees the soul of the weary traveller.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro hit the nail on the head when he said city dwellers spending a weekend in a regional area was one of the simplest and most meaningful ways people in the city could support regional towns and cities.

 "Even though we are in drought, our cafes are still brewing coffee, our shops are still open and we are still in business.

"Some of the most beautiful iconic experiences are there ready for you to enjoy today.

"Support our businesses by getting out and spending some money in our regions.

"When you spend that money in a café, that money goes around that community. It means employment remains, jobs remain.

"Our servos would love you driving by. Our cafes would love you to have brekkie with some locals. Our accommodation houses, our hotels would love to have you stay and I tell you this, you'll get that country hospitality each and every time," he said.

 "So, if you get the chance, please, get out for the drought and spend some time and some money in our regional areas."

Now, if you have decided to take John's advice and head bush, I have a few simple tips for you:

 Plan ahead. All regions and main cities and towns have visitors' centres online. They also have clued up people on the phone or answering emails, so don't be afraid to ask.

You might see a place you really want to visit such as a winery, a museum, a historic building or a homestead. It is best to contact them before you leave so that you know the visiting hours and which days it is open.

The worst thing you can do is turn up in a town at 4pm, check in to your accommodation, have a drive around and leave the next morning.

As I said at the start, every town has hidden gems and it takes more than a day to see it all.

Accommodation houses always have a plethora of pamphlets (try saying that in a hurry) featuring local attractions, clubs and restaurants, but once again ask your host about them and, if he recommends it, phone ahead.

Take some picnic and barbecue gear and a fold up table and chairs on your trip. And always take a billy! Oh, and some Aeroguard and plenty of water.

You can find amazing views, quiet river spots, and hidden places far from the madding crowd. Often there will be a barbie or two in such places, so you can brew up a coffee or throw on a steak and sit back and breathe in the fresh air.

As Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) famously said in The Castle: "Ah, the Serenity!"

Here are some links for your own choice, or just go to Google and put in your own search!

Words: Dallas Sherringham
Images: Michael Osborne
Feature supplied by:


1.      Numbugga, Bega Valley NSW
2.      Candelo, Bega Valley NSW
3.      South Coast NSW
4.      Hill End NSW
5.      Royal Hotel Hill End NSW
6.      Hill End NSW

August 20, 2018

Tea for two at world's smallest restaurant:

THE CHARMING dining room of this "world's smallest restaurant" has just one table for two guests.

David Ellis
THERE's a restaurant in Italy that's got just one table, and for that one table just two chairs, so that it quite genuinely boasts of being "the world's smallest restaurant."

ON sunny Italian days you can choose to have
your table set up outdoors overlooking
olive groves, vineyards and distant mountains.
And if you decide on it for lunch and it's a balmy Italian day you can have that table taken outside to indulge the air and look over surrounding olive groves, vineyards and distant mountains.

While for dinner indoors in the evening, you will be welcomed by a driveway of flickering candles illuminating the ruins of an ancient villa in grounds once the home of Roman lyric poet Horace, back in the time of Emperor Augustus (27BC-14AD.)
Named Solo Per Due – meaning "Just For Two" – you'll find this restaurant at a tiny place called Vacone (pop 250) an hour north of Rome. And when you book you will be asked your preferences in food so that a lip-smacking menu can be created just for you, and they'll even ask your preferences in background music as well.

Plus you will be welcomed on arrival by one of the co-owners, while for privacy your waiter will retreat to the shadows, responding to your summoning with a little silver bell.

The price for lunch or dinner at this "world's smallest restaurant" is E250 per person, including select wines and aperitifs. That's around AU$390 which is not exactly the cheapest, but, hey, this is a "world's only" and you'll have it totally to yourselves for some very, very special occasion that few others can say they've done.

And take cash – they don't accept credit cards. Check it out further on

August 06, 2018

Snap up Carlo Ponti's Roman villa for just $30 million


David Ellis

A two-storey Roman villa over a third of an acre in size and once owned by film producer Carlo Ponti just minutes from the Colosseum, has been reduced "on special" to 19 million Euros (AU$30m) after failing to sell at twice that price since going on the market in 2015.

The huge villa sits on 1.5ha of private parkland where Ponti lived with his first wife and family before marrying actress Sophia Loren in 1966, and living elsewhere with her while retaining ownership of the villa until his death in 2007.

The villa and its vast park-like gardens are located in the Appian Park Way that is one of Rome's most prestigious areas. It has a heated swimming pool, and a smaller "guest's villa" that's subject to separate sale.

The main villa was built in 1880 over an ancient quarry that was used from 312BC for the extraction of rock to make the famed Appian Way, and still has the remains of an ancient vault made of concrete-like materials, and a room with a 138-year old mosaic floor.

The entire place was extensively rejuvenated both in the 1950s and 1980s.

FOOTNOTE: CARLO PONTI met Sophia Loren when she entered a beauty contest of which he was a judge and she was just 14 years of age. He was 22 years her senior and swept away by her beauty and humour, and they married seven years later, although that marriage was annulled in 1962 under Italian law that did not recognise his quickie-divorce in Mexico from his first wife. They later married again in France and remained so until Ponti's death in 2007.

Some years later Sophia Loren was asked by a journalist if she was ever likely to marry again, to which she replied: "Never again. It would be impossible to love anyone else."

And now aged 84 she's remained true to her word.



[] FORMER home of Italian film producer, Carlo Ponti sits on 1.5ha of private landscaped parklands, and surrounded by further public parks along Rome's famed Appian Way.

[] ONE of the many oddities of the home that was built in 1880 – a cosy dining area within what was once a family tomb with an ancient mosaic tiled floor.

August 05, 2018

New Zealand: Follies, fiords and The Remarkables

Helen Flanagan explores New Zealand's South Island.

It's hard to imagine somewhere more blessed with beauty and style yet thrilling and quirky.

Christchurch, known for its English heritage may have been shaken by a series of tectonic occurrences, but the resilience of the people has not been stirred. The heart of the greater Canterbury region, albeit bruised and battered, welcome visitors who now experience an extraordinary entrepreneurial spirit, by combining urban regeneration and innovation with heritage, culture, exhilarating activity and large doses of fun.

Flat-bottomed punts glide on the Avon River, which meanders through the city. On its banks are cycling paths, Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens. Sadly many historic stone buildings were destroyed in the earthquakes.

Kilmore Street's Pomeroy's Old Brewery Inn, a traditional English-style pub, continues to dispense a munificent range of hand-picked beers, groaning plates and wonderful hospitality.

Venture out of town along narrow roads hugging the curvaceous cliffs to Governors Bay, and give in to temptation at She Chocolat, a chocolaterie and restaurant, before passing cheeseries, dodging cyclists and joggers, up hills and down dales to harbourside Akaroa.

Nestled in the centre of an ancient volcano, this former home to early whalers and sealers, has morphed into myriad galleries, knick-knack shops, sidewalk cafes featuring 'fush 'n' chups' and just a stagger up the hill is the Giant's House, built in 1880. The former bank manager's house, a folly-bizarre work-in-progress by artist Josie Martin for more than 20 years, began with digging up shards of old china, mirror, glass and mosaic-ing the front step area. It turned into an obsession of flamboyance, whimsical and totally eccentric, often monolithic theatrical displays.

Along every kilometre there's something to take your breath away. Ooh and aah at dinky villages, lush fields carpeted with flowers, gamboling lambs and frisky deer. Queue for a Jimmy's pie at Roxburgh and stop for refreshments at Alexander, before arriving at the tourist town of Queenstown, a magnet for ardent adventure seekers even out of ski season, as well as gallivanting food heads and wine aficionados.

Arrive at Rees Lakeside Residences and be prepared for a beautiful surprise. Superbly positioned, just steps away from the shores of the dazzling blue Lake Wakatipu, with the snow-capped aptly named Remarkables as a backdrop, are over-generous 3-bedroom villas. They are adjacent to but separate from The Rees Hotel main building.

Stroll around Queenstown's waterfront where the vintage steamship TSS Earnshaw docks, call into Patagonia Chocolates and dine at Fishbone where chef/owner Darren Lovell boasts fish fresh off the local boats, local vegetables some from Fishbone's kitchen garden and cooking so every ingredient sings in perfect harmony.

Walk around the historic gold town of Arrowtown and discover Glenorchy, a small settlement nestled at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, where the moss-covered forests received worldwide attention as one of the settings for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings.

For an unforgettable experience including the journey, Milford Sound and the 1.25 million hectare Fiordland National Park and Te Wahipounamu World Heritage area, book an overnight cruise. From still dark waters loom sheer rocky cliffs, forests clinging to the slopes, raging waterfalls everywhere, fur seals basking on rocks, rare crested penguins, tiny blue penguins and bottlenose dolphins.

Excitement of a different kind can be found at Kawarau Bridge, the birthplace of bungy jumping where adrenaline-junkies trust their lives to lengths of rope and elastic, diving 43m below. Not your thrill? How about the exhilarating Shotover jet boat ride travelling at 85k precariously close to walls of the narrow Skippers Canyon, twisting, spinning out and around at a full 360 degrees and often in just 10cm of water.

For a change of pace, head to Mackenzie Country and the hydro-town of Lake Tekapo via the world's highest salmon farm at Mt Cook, for a self-guided tour and a plate of sashimi fresh from the pen. Be in awe of the turquoise blue of the lake which is called 'rock flour' and created when the glaciers in the headwaters of Tekapo grind rock into fine dust on its way to the lake.

Don't miss the wonders of the southern night sky at the Mt John Earth & Sky Observatory. The uniquely dark sky of the Mackenzie Basin with its dramatic glacial and alpine surroundings is devoid of light pollution so the Milky Way Galaxy, Southern Cross, Alpha-Centauri, Majellanic Clouds Jewel Box, Sirius and more can be seen through powerful telescopes, binoculars and even the naked eye.

A visit to New Zealand's South Island is a true star-studded experience at every turn.

If you go:

The 2018 season for Air New Zealand's direct flights between Auckland and Sunshine Coast commences on Friday 6 July, with the last service on Sunday 28th October.

There are four 4 flights per week on average; flight time is 3hrs 30mins.

For all Air New Zealand flight visit:  

The Rees Hotel visit:  

Feature supplied by:

Words by Helen Flanagan                                                  

Captions: Images as supplied

1 Autumn in Arrowtown
2 Rees Lakeside Residences
3 The Giants House Akaroa
4 Shotover Queenstown
5 Rippon Vineyard, Lake Wanaka
6 Milford Sound Fiordland

Ravenswood: The little town that won't quit

Imperial Hotel

Len Rutledge is delighted to find the city changes quickly to country as they travel southwest from Townsville, north Queensland on the Flinders Highway. Anthills replace houses and cattle are more common than people.

We climb the range and turn into tiny Mingela. Once known as Cunningham, then Ravenswood Junction, it became Mingela in 1930 from the aboriginal name of Ming-illa meaning big waterhole.

There are still waterholes around and birdlife is prevalent during the wet season but most interest today settles on the quintessential outback Mingela Hotel. We call in to see the historic photos and chat with some locals. It is all very laid-back.

Old mining equipment
It is 40 kilometres southeast from here along an excellent bitumen road to Ravenswood. Gold was discovered here in 1868 and soon the thriving town had schools, hospitals, police station, courthouse, School of Arts and 48 hotels.

The railway arrived in 1884 but by then the town was already in decline. There was a big revival around 1900 but when the line closed in 1930 most thought Ravenswood's demise was imminent. The town was saved with the arrival of Carpentaria Gold.

The best town information is obtained from the great Courthouse Museum. The museum, in a lovingly restored building from the 1870s, contains many artefacts and stories of the people who made Ravenswood.

We plan to stay the night so check into the Imperial Hotel. The striking two-storey brick hotel survives from 1901. The interior has been renovated but not remodelled and we find attractive period accommodation.

We take our lunch in the bar at the front right of the building. Structurally, it's a circular bar with a large ornate divider. In the early days, the bar was split into workers and employers sections but this is long gone. The batwing doors, the incredible high ceiling and the old stained glass make this a special place.

Post Office and Store
The Burdekin Dam is about 80 kilometres from Ravenswood. The excellent road winds its way deeper into the Leichhardt Range. We reach the dam and find picnic areas, wood BBQs, tables, shelters, toilets and cold showers. To fish in the dam you need a permit and these are obtained from the Queensland Government Gateway or from local tackle and fishing shops.

The caravan park has good facilities and gets very busy in holiday periods, as the dam is also a popular spot for canoeing, sailing and waterskiing.

Ravenswood has its own caravan park, tennis court, barbeque and picnic area, swimming pool, church and golf course. It's fun to wander around the area and we were fascinated by the historical display and the local pottery and crafts in the historic Thorp's Building.

Before leaving we visit the White Blow Environmental Park where there is a spectacular outcrop of white quartz and a viewpoint over the operating mine. It is a fitting end to quite a fascinating visit.

Words: Len Rutledge Photos: Phensri Rutledge


Imperial Hotel, Macrossan St., Ravenswood. Tel: 07-47702131. The hotel has air-conditioned country-style rooms, a friendly atmosphere and a kitchen open all day.

Courthouse Museum Ravenswood. Tel: 07-47702047. Open 11am – 1pm daily.

Feature supplied by:

August 04, 2018

Wilpena Pound: A triumph under tarpaulin

Cazneaux Tree at Dawn (Neville Jones)

“The roads were awful and the old bus slow and bumpy!”

Okay, it was 1953 and the 'old bus' was likely a converted war surplus workhorse, but that was mother's experience on her honeymoon on a Bond's Tours excursion to the Flinders Ranges 65 years ago. The original 'chalet' wasn't much chop either apparently.

The 'new Bond's Chalet c.1948 (SLSA)

So when I told her we would be 'camping' in Wilpena Pound in winter, she recoiled in horror, but softened considerably when (after an effortless, all-tarmac drive) she saw the fancy new “glamping” option available since 2014 at the Ikara Safari Camp, a secluded enclave at the furthest point of the expansive campground typically filled with expensive caravans and mobile homes.

Despite relatively inauspicious beginnings, Wilpena Pound in South Australia's Flinders Ranges is now justifiably ranked as one of Australia's most scenic locations and an increasingly popular destination for both domestic and international visitors. Guests can even fly in from Adelaide and get a scenic flight included.

Early morning scenic flight over Wilpena Pound (supplied)

Since my last visit in 2010, the resort has changed hands and is now majority owned by the traditional owners, the Adnyamathanha people, who provide much of the staff and guides operating tours and sightseeing activities with both indigenous and European history a feature.

Ironically, the much of the attraction of Wilpena Pound came about thanks to early European pastoralism when the region was exploited for sheep and cattle. The scenic beauty attracted photographers and artists from far and wide. Works by painters Hans Heysen, Ronald Coudrey, Gary Gaston, Terry Lewistka and Margaret Lang are now famous at least in part because of their setting in the glorious Flinders Ranges.

While modern landscape photographers rejoice in these vivid surrounds, it was NZ-born Harold Cazneaux’s magnificent River Red Gum which won first prize at an International Photographic Exhibition in 1937, that brought Wilpena Pound to a global audience.

This spurred tourism, particularly in the postwar period thanks to the likes of Bert Bond and his funny old trucks and ‘rustic’ chalet. The ebullient Kevin Rasheed took over in 1958 and lifted the standard continually until his death in 1992. His son continued to run the resort until 2008.

It’s been relatively recently that the indigenous significance has formed part of the attraction. Mum would never have had an indigenous guide in 1953, they were busy working as stockmen or domestic hands. That’s all changed and now Ringo, Jimmy and Uncle Andrew spearhead the ranger team while the women keep the camp.

Uncle Andrew with guests at the Ikara site in the old Wilpena station grounds (RE)

"Wilpena Pound is a very sacred and significant part of the world...and there are an enormous amount of art galleries and so forth around the place, a lot of living archaeological significance.
It certainly is a very special place to the Adnyamathanha people," said Vince Coulthard, the chair of the Adnyamathanha Land Association, in an ABC Radio interview.

After a 'welcome to country' fireside chat with Ringo, the rainbow serpent blessed us with superb weather. We jumped aboard the resort’s shuttle bus out to the original Hill family homestead, then walked with Uncle Andrew to the old Wilpena station for a look at the original buildings and a 101 in the Adnyamathanha people’s oral history. A fitting monument has been built around which to share these stories, called Ikara (or ‘meeting place’) not all of them a happy remembrance, but told without judgment or malice nonetheless.

The evening event is Jimmy’s sunset drive to Stokes Hill lookout where a 3D model of the pound gives you some idea of the grandeur of the geology, which is not a dormant volcano or meteor crater as some once thought, but sedimentary rock in the form of a large syncline (folded rock layers). Jimmy tells us this as well as the names and uses of many local bush herbs his people have used for thousands of years like arta (yacca), Nguri (wattle trees), native orange (iga) and native pear (maiaka).

As the sun goes down, washing the rolling hills and steep escarpments with soft pastel hues of lilac and gold, it’s time to remember that our fleeting visit is just a tick of the geological clock. The rainbow serpent of Jimmy’s Dreamtime has long moved on, leaving him and the Adnyamathanha people to watch over its creation. Until next time.

If you go:

The Ikara Safari Camp comprises 15 ensuite safari tents set among imperious river red gums and native pines with the tents facing out onto a distant escarpment which glows impressively in the winter dawn light.

Each tent is a usable 24sqm and made from insulated canvas with reverse air conditioning to cope with the extremes of outback temperatures. Inside you we find quality king beds and linens, side tables and lamps, luggage storage, a mini fridge, in-room safe as well as tea and coffee making facilities.

Wilpena Pound Resort
Wilpena Road, Via Hawker, 5434 South Australia
Resort Reservations: 1800 805 802

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