March 26, 2019

Around the World with Captain James Cook

Lonely Planet: Curiosities and Splendour
The latest travel literature anthology from Lonely Planet,
Curiosities and Splendour is a collection of classic writing from
29 great authors and adventurers from the past
 – including Captain James Cook.
The Three Voyages of Captain James Cook around the World

By James Cook

From Chapter IV

The next morning, at low water, I went and sounded and buoyed the bar, the ship being now ready for sea. We saw no Indians this day, but all the hills round us for many miles were on fire, which at night made a most striking and beautiful appearance.

The 21st [June 1770] passed without our getting sight of any of the inhabitants, and indeed without a single incident worth notice. On the 22d we killed a turtle for the day’s provision, upon opening which we found a wooden harpoon or turtle-peg about as thick as a man’s finger, near fifteen inches long, and bearded at the end, such as we had seen among the natives, sticking through both shoulders: it appeared to have been struck a considerable time, for the wound had perfectly healed up over the weapon.

March 24, 2019

Sri Lanka is the top destination for 2019

World traveller John Savage visited the island to make sure it lives up to the reputation

According to The Lonely Planet, the island once known as Ceylon is the number one destination for 2019 not only because of its many attractions but also because it caters for all comers from the money-strapped ‘backpacker’ to the really affluent.

March 11, 2019

Hokkaido – A Japanese Winter Wonderland

Michael Osborne heads to Japan in search of ancient traditions and birds that enjoy the snow.

Where is Hokkaido?

When we think of Japan we always think of Tokyo, Kyoto, Mt Fuji, Osaka, Hiroshima and Sapporo beer. So where is Hokkaido? Well, it is the big island to the north and it is also the home of Sapporo beer.

Hokkaido is an island of unique culture and nature, rich in history and sensational natural beauty and an abundance of wildlife including the Tancho crane, Japan’s natural bird figurehead. An auspicious bird that was once thought to have gone extinct. The bird’s beautiful contrasts of white, black and a red crest make it even more distinctive. The Tancho crane has been called Sarorun Kamuy (deity of the wetlands) by the Ainu people since ancient times. The Tancho crane is also revered as a symbol of a good marriage because the birds stay together in mating pairs for their entire life. The depth of this love and devotion is evident in the anecdote where a wounded male who could not fly carried food from a feed site to his family far away on foot.

Members of the Ainu culture in traditional dress at the Ainu Museum, Hokkaido Japan. (Roderick Eime)

The original inhabitants are the Ainu people, who have been here for thousands of years and many still follow their ancient customs and beliefs. Using bird feathers for clothing, gathering food for winter and following traditional song and dance as part of their lifestyle.

But firstly, let’s talk about the weather. I travelled in early January when the temperatures ranged from around zero to minus 20 Celsius. This creates a huge amount of some of the finest powdery snow that skiers love. The island is dotted with ski fields and resorts. The best one, they claim is Niseko The prince of powder’ with many resorts and around a thousand hectares of skiable snow. Most resorts also feature the Onsen or hot springs. They say these are so relaxing you can hear the snowflakes falling!

For those wanting to go in warmer time’s agriculture is the mainstay of the island. The freshest of products combined with the Japanese methods of preparing food creates gourmet heaven. As we were there in winter the Ramen style was ideal to warm us up for the outdoor challenges.

Sushi delights (Michael Osborne)

There are four different ramen soup bases that originated from the island: miso (Sapporo), shoyu (Asahikawa), shio (Hakodate), and curry (Muroran). Everyone tends to have a personal preference for which flavour they like with their noodles, but why not try them all before you make up your mind.

In spring and summer, the weather is mild and with very little humidity, making it ideal to explore the wonderful and listed National Parks and Wildlife Reserves.

The places we are going to visit.

The two-hour flight from Tokyo lands at Wakkanai which is the northernmost town and capital of the Soya Subprefecture of Hokkaido.

In the Ainu language, Wakkanai seems to mean ‘cold water river’. Cape Soya in as far north as you can go and they say that on a clear day you can actually see the Russian island of Sakhalin. We were lucky to see more than a few hundred metres due to the snow storm.

Then heading South we arrive at the town of Toyotomi, which is the gateway to the sensational Sarobetsu Wetlands and wilderness area.

A visit to the Centre is a must where you can watch a video of the year-long changes to the 20, 000 hectares of wonderful nature at its best.

The red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis), also called the Manchurian crane or Japanese (Tancho) crane
(Martha de Jong-Lantink / Flickr)

Not far away is Lake Saroma, the largest brackish lake in Japan and year-round home to a huge selection of wildlife and where I see my first Tancho Crane. The lake is separated from the ocean by a 25-km sand spit which protects some very special flora and fauna.

Furano is a more laid-back destination famous for picturesque rolling fields of lavender and other summer flowers in warmer times. In winter, top-class skiing and snowboarding opportunities are on offer in this scenic rural area.

Abashiri City is on the ocean and is noted for the drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk. Also noted for its museums, national parks and wildflower reserves.

As it was minus 20 when I was there I really appreciated the heated footpaths when checking out around the city.

In the following reports of my Hokkaido adventure we will go into more detail of the places visited, but if you can’t wait:

Michael Osborne travelled as a guest of Hokkaido Tourism

Main Pic: jacky ding (Flickr)

March 04, 2019

The things people take from hotels


David Ellis

THERE wouldn't be too many of us haven't done it – seen the unopened toiletries in the hotel room we're about to vacate, and helped ourselves to at least some, if not all, of them.

But talk to hoteliers, from those running 5-star places in the biggest cities to others with a half dozen rooms in country towns, and you'd be amazed at just what else some guests decide should be theirs.

Like the three blokes at one city hotel in the UK who, dressed in overalls, nonchalantly wheeled the pub's nightclub piano right past staff in Reception, through a service door and down the street, never to be seen again.

And here in Australia, others who've borrowed hotel luggage trolleys, and walked them off loaded with suitcases and suit and garment carriers – and tucked away amongst those, their room's flat-screen TV or the fridge from the mini-bar.

Which makes those toiletries like shampoos, soaps, body lotions and shower gels seem pretty boring stuff to want to knock off. And which is why most hotels cost these into the price of the room from the start, as they expect the majority of guests will help themselves anyway.

RELATED STORY: Light-fingered guests

But internationally, would you believe the most things pinched after hotels' toiletries are actually light globes from bedside and floor-lamps. And after them room and pool towels, bath mats and bed sheets, even batteries from TV remotes and the remotes themselves, followed closely by room service crockery and cutlery, snacks and drinks from the mini-bars, pot plants, hairdryers, coat-hangers… and even those Bibles put in rooms by the Gideons.

Plus more bizarrely some guests have unscrewed and taken off with the numbers from their room's doors, while at one hotel in the UK a couple checked-out – and took the owner's pet dog with them.

But you CAN take things home. Just be prepared to pay. One Marriott GM told Traveloscopy:

"A guest room should feel like a home away from home. If the guest enjoys something enough to want to take it home with them, they are welcome to do so, but at a charge. We give guests the option to purchase the items that they are fond of, with everything from the 700 thread count linens and mattresses to the Conrad Miami signature terrycloth and waffle robes." 

March 03, 2019

Vale: David Ellis

David Ellis spent 20 years as a journalist with ABC Radio and Television News, including 10 at Rabaul in the New Guinea Islands, brief stints in Jakarta and Singapore, and the remainder in Sydney where he rose to position of Chief of Staff, Radio News before leaving in 1979 to set up his own public relations business and to write Travel and Wine.
Ellis had been writing Travel and Wine for 30 years, venturing as far afield as the Arctic Circle to interview Santa Claus, South America for Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs’ real story, to France to fly aboard the-then experimental Concorde, across Antarctica by air, and with James A. Michener to retrace where the author conceived his immortal Tales of the South Pacific.
Along the way, he sipped the local reds, whites and bubbles… for purely scholarly reasons, of course.

David's wife Gwenda advises:

"For those of you receiving this column and who knew David personally, I am writing to let you know that David passed away suddenly and peacefully, in his sleep during an afternoon nap on Friday afternoon, 1st March. He had just been diagnosed on Tuesday with severe sleep apnoea and fitted with a CPAP mask for sleeping at night. His doctor thinks that he suffered a seizure due to obstructed sleep apnoea but we are comforted to know he had lived an amazingly full and adventurous life and enjoyed his writing with a passion."

The Slate Resort Phuket

Peter Chapman returns to Phuket and checks the refurbished The Slate Resort

The popularity of holidays in Thailand has seen developers continue to dig deep into their pockets to build bigger and better resorts.

I experienced their commitment first hand on my recent visit to Phuket when I hired a car for a day tripping expedition.

Heading out of Patong I travelled for about two hours north crossing the new Thao Thepkrasattri Bridge towards Bangkok.

A diversion towards the coastline in the Khok Kloi district revealed some of the newer five star resorts that had recently been completed.

I was taken aback because they seemed to be literally built in the middle of nowhere making me wonder how investors could quantify spending millions on these magnificent resorts.

The tourism market in the area is strong, but adding more and more players must be putting extra pressure on all owners to provide exceptional value for money.

The rise of social media critiques means the former complaint at the front desk is now shared for the world to see and take notice of.

Many potential tourists spend hours reading reviews before they put down their deposits.

Adding extra pressure on Thai operators has been the dramatic drop off of Chinese tourists following last year's boat tragedy off Koh He when almost 50 died.

While new resorts battle to build their markets the many that have been around for years are looking closely at how they can maintain and build on their loyal customers.

One of those resorts is The Slate at Nai Yang Beach, just 15 minutes from Phuket Airport.

The Slate changed its name from Indigo Pearl just a few years ago to mark a new direction in its journey.

It was a bold move considering under its previous name it was recognised as one of the best luxury resorts in Thailand.

I'd stayed there in 2013 to write a story on its award and came away saying it was one of the best resorts I had ever been to.

The only Asian resorts I thought measured up to it were the Sofitel in Nusa Dua and St Regis in Langkawi.

Wondering about its change of name and what was different from the old Indigo Pearl I booked in for four days at the end of my recent Thai holiday.

When you have a beautiful resort to start with there is really not much more you can do to improve it other than to do your maintenance and look at your services.

The new Slate has maintained the industrial theme that made the Indigo Pearl a "wow" resort, but there has been some noticeable changes.

Mother Nature has taken care of the most noticeable with the gardens growing further to now enclose the resort into a tropical escape.

The second change has been the service. It was excellent before, now it is first class. Good English is a mandatory for their staff and you never pass by a team member without them saying hello with a courteous bow of their head.

The Slate is one of the more expensive resorts in Phuket, but as far as value for dollar goes it's still a great buy.

It's a special treat that you will always cherish.

One day when I win the lottery I will return and book out a Pool Villa Suite for a week.

They have to be seen to be believed, they even come with your own butler and chef.


The Slate Resort. Nai Yang Beach

Rooms: 8/10

Food: 9/10

Service: 9/10

Overall: 9/10

Words: Peter Chapman

Images: As supplied

Feature supplied by:


1. Black Ginger Entrance

2. One bedroom Villa

3. Nai Yang Beach

4. Signature Dish Black Ginger

5. Coqoon Nest Spa

6. Rivet Dining Room

March 02, 2019

Alaska Cruises with Princess

Alaska could have been designed as the perfect cruising venue. Its serrated coastline is characterised by sounds, bays, inlets and coves, and many of its cities can only be reached by sea or air.

Island Princess at the Hubbard Glacier (Supplied)

With more Australians taking a cruise each year, it's no surprise many are heading to Alaska. Indeed, the cruise industry experienced a 14 per cent growth last year - or well over 20,000 passengers - and our enthusiasm is outstripping both the US (4.6 per cent growth) and the UK (11 per cent). While our local Pacific region remains the most popular, followed by Asia, Alaska is ranked equal third with Europe in popularity.

Victoria's Regional Beauty

Victoria is one of Australia's most satisfying holiday destinations. The 'big city' experiences of Melbourne offer its restaurants, laneways, shopping, cultural attractions and sporting events.

Then there's regional Victoria, which provides a completely different pace of life, yet is richly endowed with natural attractions, fascinating history and as many lifestyle pursuits as you can wish for.

To the east of the state, there's Gippsland, a majestic region of lakes, rivers, forests, beaches, national parks, valleys and villages. Gippsland epitomises the lucky country'.

Gippsland is rich with history from the gold rush cra of the 1860s and provides a wealth of attractions and activities for all the family. The Gippsland Lakes are Australia's most extensive inland waterways and are separated from Bass Strait by a long line of sand dunes known as the Ninety Mile Beach.

The Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park (Tourism Victoria)

For the energetic, there's boating, swimming, fishing and bushwalking aplenty. A feature of the area is the large variety of birdlife, some of it quite rare, so it's wise to take a pair of binoculars.

Wilsons Promontory, known to the locals as the 'Prom' is the most southerly part of the Australian mainland, jutting into Bass Strait. It comprises some 50,000 hectares of pristine national park and a magnificent and rugged coastline with quiet beaches, long walking trails, stunning scenery and prolific native wildlife.

You don't need to be a snow-junkie to make the most of north-east Victoria's High Country. Certainly, there is a magic about winter when all seven Victorian alpine resorts are operating at full capacity and friendships are being kindled on the slopes by day and in the restaurants, pubs, clubs and lodges by night.

Take a few days and travel the Great Alpine Road that connects the waterways of the Gippsland Lakes with the High Country The 308-kilometre road follows a route through much of Australia's finest country, so give yourself enough time as the temptation to stop and explore will be fierce.
There's much more to the snowfields experience than downhill skiing, with snow bikes, snow tubing, helicopter flights, tobogganing, Cross-country skiing, spa treatments and wining and dining just some of the reasons visitors return year after year.

When Melbourne's wealthiest wanted to escape the summer heat in the late 19th century they headed north-west to Mount Macedon. Daylesford and other parts of what would become known as 'spa country. Their legacy which is still enjoyed today has been some fine homes and gardens that are now accessible as parks, guest houses and small hotels.

Bellinzona Daylesford / Hepburn Springs

Visitors have been enjoying the mineral springs at Hepburn Springs for more than a century, with many people of European extraction swearing by the curative powers of the pure waters welling from the bowels of the earth. Today's visitors can expect health and beauty treatments using a variety of lotions and potions. Wellbeing seems to be a concept that sells itself.

Daylesford, a popular weekend retreat for Melburnians, has long understood the interests of its visitors and provides a suitable range of activities and shopping, The local fresh produce is evident in the restaurants and cafes that dot the town and there's no shortage of galleries or antique stores to browse.

Ballarat and Bendigo are redolent with history, most evident in the fine gold rush era influenced architecture – some of the best Victorian architecture in the country. Sovereign Hill at Ballarat is well worth a visit. It's a living, breathing museum dedicated to recreating the life and times of a gold rush-era town. You can also see the Eureka flag and learn about Australia's only major insurrection in the past 200 years.
The Great Ocean Road is ranked among the most impressive scenic coastal roads in the world. Its landscape, irrespective of the weather conditions, is endlessly fascinating.

Leaving Melbourne, the road commences at Geelong and ends at Nelson in the west, passing national parks, famous surf beaches and – between Lorne and Apollo Bay – the massive cliffs and rock stacks that rear out of the boiling surf. The road follows the contours of the land, and so inhospitable is it that it wasn't until the 1930s that the Great Ocean Road was complete. More than 3,000 soldiers who returned from World War One were involved in the project, which took 14 years to complete. It also provided a modest income during the mass unemployment years of the Great Depression.

There are any number of tours you can take on the Great Ocean Road and the Otway National Park, but it's an easily driven route that allows you to dictate your own pace.

Naturally, the high point of any trip along the Great Ocean Road has to be the Twelve Apostles, the most recognised natural attraction in Victoria and, along with Uluru (Avers Rock), one of the key icons of nature for Australia. When I drove the Great Ocean Road last November the wind was screaming out of the great Southern Ocean at around 120 kilometres per hour. We had to hang on to the timbers along the boardwalk to stay upright, but it bothered the visitors not a jot as they scrambled to get their pictures. The rock stacks, the tallest of which is 45 metres high, are part of the Port Campbell National Park and had their beginnings some 20 million years ago and are the result of erosion forced by wind and sea over the millennia.

To fully appreciate the Twelve Apostles and the massive limestone cliffs on the mainland that add to the dramatic scene, a visit to the interpretive centre is a must.

Great Alpine Road

There are extensive boardwalks to provide dozens of views for photography that are quite different from the standard picture postcard shots one is familiar with. There's also the opportunity to take a helicopter flight to view the Apostles from the seaside, adding another memorable dimension to the experience.

Many hold a special place in their hearts for the Grampians, a magnificent rugged section of western Victoria where they camped and bushwalked for the first time as children.

Dramatic sandstone buttresses, ancient Aboriginal rock art, canyons, waterfalls and a blanket of stars are among the many enduring memories evoked by this special place.

A relaxed drive north of the Great Ocean Road brings you to the Grampians National Park, a place of superb walking trails, natural rock formations and deep Indigenous Australian cultural significance. The area was badly scarred by bushfires a few years ago, but the landscape has recovered significantly and the new growth is an attraction in itself.

The Grampians offer some of the best rock-climbing adventures in Australia and novices are welcome to join a commercial adventure operation offering not only rockclimbing but abseiling, canoeing, mountain bike tours and night spotlight walks as well.

The Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre's design is symbolically linked to the Dreamtime stories and the centre offers visitors information on Aboriginal cultural heritage and local rock art sites.

The centre offers a busy program of activities for the whole family including ranger walks, talks, theatre, dance, food, art and boomerang throwing demonstrations. You'll get a real feeling for the heart of the country at a didgeridoo performance and have the chance to try your hand at this most Australian of musical instruments.

Closer to Melbourne, there are a variety of tours of the Yarra Valley where some 40 wineries welcome guests all year round. Many of Victoria's top chefs and restaurateurs choose to work in this area where much of the fine produce they use in their kitchens originates.

You can take a gastronomic tour through this region and combine it with other parts of country Victoria. li's an adventure of the palate. Don't miss TarraWarra Estate, which has a splendid art gallery adjoining the cellar door.

On the third Sunday of the month, the place to be is the 'Barn' at Yering Station in the Yarra Valley. Here you have the chance to buy directly from the producer the best in locally grown potatoes, fresh salmon or trout, homemade pasta, hand-baked biscuits, wood-fired sourdough bread and marmalades, chutneys and jams.

For accommodation in regional Victoria, see

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