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Saturday 29 February 2020

Idiocy: It's the new global pandemic

As the potentially deadly coronavirus makes its way across the globe, Americans are doing their best to avoid catching the disease - by stopping drinking Corona beer.
Crazy as it sounds, 38% of Americans this week said they wouldn't buy Corona "under any circumstances" because of the outbreak, a survey from 5W Public Relations reported. A further 14% said they wouldn't order a Corona in public.

Another survey conducted by YouGov found consumers' intent to purchase Corona fell to its lowest level in two years.

In another survey, 8% of Americans believed that chocolate milk comes only from brown coloured cows. An incredible 48% were not aware how chocolate milk is made.

It's not just Americans suffering from this particular - and worrying - strain of idiocy. I heard this week that a children's birthday party in Tasmania was cancelled because of an irrational fear of children catching the coronavirus. 

Also in Australia, fears of the coronavirus have prompted the intellectually challenged to start hoarding, of all things, toilet paper, leaving supermarket shelves empty. 

Britain has Brexit to show off its proud stupidity to the world, while Thailand also has a particularly virulent strain.

Take the case of Marut Puangbanjong, a Phuket airport taxi driver found guilty in November of two charges against him for reckless driving that resulted in a six-vehicle wipeout and the death of motorbike rider.

He is required to present himself to the Phuket Land Transport Office to have his commercial driver’s licence suspended.

Until he does, he can continue to drive tourists around.

Phuket Land Transportation Office (PLTO) Chief Policy Specialist Praprai Sounkul told  The Phuket News the taxi driver faces a three-month ban on driving any commercial passenger vehicles.

But asked why the PLTO is refusing to act on a court verdict, Prapai said: “I cannot use any other source of confession to proceed the banning. I want to ask him by myself.”

A fine example of complete idiocy.

Friday 28 February 2020

Meet the economy class seats that are actually beds

As someone who just wants to sleep when flying, I am full of enthusiasm for Air New Zealand's  plan to install beds in its economy-class cabins on long-haul flights. 

Air New Zealand this week unveiled plans for its Economy Skynest project - basically bunk beds instead of seats. 

The Skynest will be a separate sleeping compartment with up to six full-length sleeping pods, which passengers will be able to book in addition to their economy seat.

Each adults-only pod would have a full-size pillow, sheets and blanket, ear plugs and a privacy curtains. Only one person would be allowed per pod.

Air New Zealand chief marketing and customer officer Mike Tod said the airline had spent three years developing the product, with input from over 200 customers.

The airline operates some of the world's longest flights, including the upcoming Auckland to New York service, which will take up to 17 hours and 40 minutes. 

"A clear pain point for economy travellers on long-haul flights is the inability to stretch out," Tod said. "The development of the Economy Skynest is a direct response to that challenge." 

Air New Zealand will make a final decision on whether to operate the Economy Skynest next year after it has assessed the performance of its inaugural year of Auckland-New York operations, Travel Mole reported.

General manager of customer experience Nikki Goodman said customer and cabin crew feedback on the Economy Skynest during its final phase of development had been "outstanding". 

"We see a future flying experience where an economy-class customer on long-haul flights would be able to book the Economy Skynest in addition to their economy seat, get some quality rest and arrive at their destination ready to go."

The beds could apparently be booked for a specific time period, or for a full flight. Prices have still be worked out. 

Thursday 27 February 2020

New five-star hotel unveiled for central Melbourne

Accor has announced the debut of its SO/Hotels & Resorts luxury brand in Melbourne.

With an opening date in 2023, SO/Melbourne aims to be a "bold, fashionable and luxurious designer hotel" located in a prime CBD position overlooking Flagstaff Gardens.

The hotel will be within close reach of Melbourne's key commercial, retail and leisure attractions and will be the first SO/ branded hotel for Australia and second in the region following SO/Auckland.

It will have 288 guest rooms and suites, some with outdoor terraces. It will be part of a mixed-use development including 20,000sqm of office and co-working space.

Simon McGrath, Chief Operating Officer Pacific, Accor, says: “The demand for quality luxury hotels is at an all-time high, so the timing is right to introduce Australia to the audacious and fashionable SO/ Hotel brand.

“SO/Melbourne will bring a bold and playful energy to Melbourne, blending the brand's vibrant luxury services with the heart and soul of the destination. This flagship hotel will be the place to be seen to socialise, appealing to chic travellers and Melbourne's savvy early adopters who are renowned for having their finger on the pulse.

“Guests today are looking for travel experiences that excite the senses and they want to stay in places where they feel connected to the heart of their destination."

SO/Melbourne is being developed by MIT Group Holdings Pty Ltd, the property arm of private tertiary educational institute, Melbourne Institute of Technology.

An existing heritage building will be retained and incorporated into the lower level design to reflect the diverse history of the site.

The hotel will feature a signature club lounge and private meeting room, specialty restaurant/bar and sky deck, all-day dining and outdoor terrace, lobby lounge/café, and a ballroom.

Wellness facilities will include a SO/SPA and SO/FIT wellness and fitness centre as well as a swimming pool.

Exploring lesser-discovered Japan by train

Catching the train in Japan is unlike taking to the rails anywhere else on the planet. 

Rail travel is fast, comfortable and the trains run on time.

East Japan Railway Company (JR East) is one of the many rail companies in Japan and operates trains including the Shinkansen (high-speed bullet trains) in the East Japan region.

The company is the largest passenger railway company in Japan, serving around 17 million people every day and their network covers the half of the main island of Honshu, from the Tokyo metropolis to multiple areas in eastern Japan.

JR East has just revealed its newest limited express sightseeing train, Saphir Odoriko (above), scheduled to launch next monthg running between Tokyo and Shimoda, a resort town situated on the south-eastern coast of the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture. 

The new train will have a designated dining car with an open-style kitchen serving local noodles dishes.

The Saphir Odoriko will carry 164 passengers in its 'Green' cars, which will feature first-class seating.

The leading car, called the 'Premium Green', will have seating with wide reclining seats, a first for JR East trains. The second and third cars will have private compartments for up to six people, all with large windows.

The train's name was inspired by a beautiful, bright blue gem that resembles the ocean and skies of Izu.

The coastline of the Izu Peninsula is popular among locals for its surf, sun and sand.

The train's final stop, Izukyu-Shimoda Station is home to perhaps one of the country's most popular beaches, Shirahama, with easy access to the Shimogamo Hot Springs area.

For information about Saphir Odoriko see

JR East also has a discount pass for international visitors to Japan (limited to those entering on a short term 90-day visa). Pass holders can get unlimited access to all JR East Japan Railways (Shinkansen bullet trains), affiliated railway companies and JR buses for five days within the period of 14 days from the date of issue of the pass.

Mudgee to celebrate in style

With a friendly country ambiance, several excellent eateries and a plethora of cellar doors, Mudgee is an ideal weekend getaway from Sydney. 

The region is the third-largest producer of wine grapes in NSW and there are more than 35 spots for wine tasting, ranging from Logan Wines with a striking glass tasting room overlooking the vineyard to Lowe Wines, where you can taste under the wisteria trees. 

Other gourmet destinations include First Ridge - with a cellar door made entirely of re-purposed shipping containers - Alby and Esthers, a café during the week and a chic wine bar on weekends.

The idea weekend to visit is March 21-22 when the region hosts its annual Mudgee Food & Drink Trail. 

Fourteen of the region’s most picturesque venues will host visitors, serving one or two small dishes carefully prepared to match local beverages.
“The Mudgee Region Food & Drink Trail is constantly evolving,” said Mudgee Wine Association president Jess Chrcek. “The variety and quality of fresh produce, wines and other culinary offerings continues to grow within the Mudgee region. 
“After a tough time with drought and fires, we’ve been lucky to have some beautiful, soaking rain and the landscape is once again looking lush and green. We want to put our thriving region on show and the Food & Drink Trail is the perfect excuse for people to experience and indulge in all things Mudgee.”
As a self-guided trail, the event offers visitors a range of options. A non-alcoholic option is guaranteed at each venue. 

Menu selections include slow-cooked lamb sliders, Wagyu rolls, gourmet mushroom tarts and sesame-crusted fried halloumi. 

Trail Passes are available at or participating venues. Passes are $50, comprising five vouchers, each to be exchanged for one dish and drink. 

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Early-bird hotel deals for Vivid Sydney

An estimated two million visitors will converge on Sydney to enjoy the Vivid Sydney festival from May 22-June 13. 
View from Metro Aspire Darling Harbour
Vivid is Australia's major winter event - and the largest event of its kind in the world combining light, music and ideas.

Now in its 12th year, the festival features large-scale light installations and projections (Vivid Light); music performances and collaborations (Vivid Music); and creative ideas, discussion and debate (Vivid Ideas). For a full event listing, visit

Metro Hotels & Apartments in Sydney are offering value packages at several well-situated properties for the duration of Vivid Sydney with prices starting from just $155 per night with inclusions:

Metro Aspire Hotel Sydney – Vivid Brilliance Hot Deal – from $155/nightPackage includes one night’s accommodation in a premium room, glow bracelets, bottle of wine on arrival and a 50% discount on car parking. Bookings online at also get a free drink voucher at Gumtree Restaurant & Bar. 

Metro Hotel Marlow Sydney Central – Vivid Hot Deal – from $165/nightOne night in a superior toom (queen or twin), a Vivid gift bag on arrival containing a bottle of sparkling wine, chocolates and various glow items. Complimentary wifi also included. Free drinks voucher for online bookings. 

Metro Apartments on Darling Harbour – Vivid Brilliance Hot Deal – from $229 /night
This deal includes one night in a one-bedroom apartment, complimentary glow bracelets, a bottle of sparkling wine on arrival and a 20% discount on dinner at Gumtree Restaurant. Online bookings get late checkout and early checkin. 

Metro Apartments on King – Vivid Brilliance Hot Deal – from $219/nightThe deal includes one night in a one-bedroom apartment, complimentary glow bracelets, a bottle of sparkling wine on arrival and a 20% discount on dinner at Gumtree Restaurant, as well as adjusted checkin and checkout. 

All deals are valid for stays from May 1-June 30 and are subject to availability.

Tuesday 25 February 2020

UPDATE: Online travel agent goes broke

Thousands of travellers have been left in the dark after travel booking agency went into voluntary administration and its website was taken down.

The collapse of the company - based on the Gold Coast in Australia - has left customers in fear of losing their money after bookings were not ticketed. 

The company went into administration on Friday, removing both its website and its Facebook page at the same time.

Customers have complained that their tickets have been cancelled and refunds paid by the relevant airlines to Fly365 - but not passed on.

Fly365 Pty Ltd is now in external administration according, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission said. 

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) is investigating, calling it a "very regrettable situation", Travel Mole reports.

Fly365 is part of the ATAS scheme which is designed to stop such abrupt closures.

"AFTA, through the robust criteria that surrounds the ATAS scheme, is able to monitor and review the health of travel businesses who hold ATAS accreditation," the organisation said.

"Unfortunately, where there appears to be deliberate withholding of information by the directors, AFTA was not in a position to either provide advance support to the business prior to its failure or predict this outcome."

Over 1,100 people have joined a Facebook support page that advises the "first port of call is to contact the airline you booked with to see if the booking has been confirmed and paid for".

Brisbane has a new rooftop lounge - and its first shisha bar

Brisbane has a new rooftop bar - and its first Turkish shisha bar - with the opening of Dirty Sultan at the TRYP Fortitude Valley Hotel. 

The boutique hotel was recently named one of Australia's best art hotels by Traveller Magazine.

“TRYP once more has its own place to watch the sun set over the city,” said hotel general manager Jason Pratt. "Our guests and hotel staff alike are very excited by this distinctive new addition to our rooftop and Brisbane's bar scene.”

The Turkish-inspired rooftop bar will focus on hand-crafted cocktails, along with dishes like meze plates based on classic Turkish recipes with a modern twist. Shisha pipes are also known as also known as water pipes or hookahs.

“Dirty Sultan brings a unique point of difference to Brisbane with Mediterranean-inspired food and cocktails paired with great music and a rooftop lounge ambiance," said Dirty Sultan owner Dilan Ildes. 

"We have found the perfect match in TRYP, an award-winning art hotel, whose guests appreciate unique and authentic city experiences.” 

TRYP by Wyndham hotels can be found in the heart of some of the world's most exciting cities, from bucket-list staples like Jerusalem, Dubai, Barcelona and New York City to up-and-coming destinations. 

TRYP Fortitude Valley, features striking street art and murals by street artists Magee, Numskull, Rone and Beastman. 

Each floor has been decorated by one of these artists and the hotel offers a selection of room types ranging from private courtyards to internal spa rooms and themed artist rooms. 

Fortitude Valley, once an area to be avoided, is now a hot spot for clubbing, bars, restaurants and live music. 

For details and a special offer visit or phone (07) 3319 7888.

Monday 24 February 2020

New hotel brand for Australia; new hotel for Darling Harbour

The Best Western hotel group, along with property developer iHHL will launch Australia's first Aiden brand in Sydney later this year.

Aiden by Best Western @ Darling Harbour will be opening in late 2020.

The 88-room, eight-storey property will include a café, bar and retail shop on the ground floor, BWH Hotel Group Australasia Managing Director Graham Perry and iHHL's Nicolas Chen announced.

“Where better to open our first Aiden to Australasia than in the centre of Sydney's iconic leisure precinct, Darling Harbour?” says Perry.

“We're delighted to be partnering with iHHL, who are undertaking the conversion of an iconic Sydney building which will become a superb lifestyle hotel offering high-quality, affordable accommodation for modern travellers.”

Aiden by Best Western @ Darling Harbour will be in a refurbished 1930s Art Deco building located on the western side of Darling Harbour, directly opposite the pedestrian Pyrmont Bridge and near to the entrance of the Harbourside shopping complex.

“We're bringing a touch of Parisian-style hospitality and class to Darling Harbour, featuring well-appointed rooms that focus on the amenities and facilities sought by today's travellers – including media connectivity and plentiful workspace in our high-end custom designed compact rooms," says Chen.

"The end result will be an eminently affordable Sydney CBD-fringe stay in a busy, well located and highly popular precinct.

“Darling Harbour has developed from its historical roots as wharves and industrial warehouses to become a vibrant residential, commercial and entertainment hub.

"We selected the location for our development due to its ideal positioning, close to world-class attractions including the Australian National Maritime Museum, the International Convention Centre (ICC), the Sydney Fish Market, Cockle Bay Wharf, King Street Wharf and Barangaroo.”

The new hotel will join an international network of Aidens across France, Germany, South Korea and the US.

For more information visit

Sunday 23 February 2020

Is the world ready for a chip butty revolution?

The chip butty is something you grow up with; or learn to love.

A chip butty is a sandwich made with fresh, hot potato chips served between slices of buttered white bread or in a bread roll, usually with an added condiment such as Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, or malt vinegar.

The chip butty can be found in fish and chip shops and takeaways across the British Isles, and is a favourite working-class snack, often after a night at the pub.

In South Africa, French-fry sandwiches called Gatsbys and AK-47s (the former in Cape Town, the latter in Johannesburg) are hugely popular in townships. In Durban, home of the bunny chow, chips are are served in a hollowed out half loaf of bread with the crust intact.

Now Burger King has introduced the Chip Butty to its stores in New Zealand; a patty-less sandwich with french fries, mayo and ketchup wedged in between two halves of a bun.

The butty is only available to New Zealand customers right now for $2 (and more with a rasher of bacon added) - but I'm tipping it to become an affordable snack sensation. 

In Australia, Hungry’s Jack’s is offering a cheesy, bacon chip butty - another variation. 

Burger King New Zealand describes its offering as "a dish fit for a King at a price fit for everyone".

One of Burger King's rivals, Wendy's, took aim, saying: "When literally anything would be better on a bun than their beef."

My favourite style: with lashings of butter and plenty of Sarson's vinegar, oh and with slap chips if I'm in Cape Town (but that's another story). 

I reckon Burger King could be on to a winner.  

Saturday 22 February 2020

Eat and drink to raise money for Kangaroo Island

Wine marketer Kate Giles and wine merchant Andrei Eikmeier are among those putting together a Kangaroo Island fundraiser in Adelaide next Thursday night.

Eat Drink Kangaroo Island is a chance to get together and celebrate the produce of Kangaroo Island with chef Nicolas Arriola at La Boca Bar & Grill (below).

After the devastating bush fires that hit the island, the event is seen as the perfect opportunity to showcase what the island does best.

With an auction or two, and the charming Eikmeier at the helm, the dinner aims to raise money for the island communities to rebuild.

The date is Thursday, February 27 from 7-11pm. La Boca @ The Stamford, 150 North Terrace, Adelaide. Tickets are $150 per head and all funds raised will be contributed directly to on-island community beneficiaries.

See and contact La Boca (08) 8461 0394) with any allergies or dietary requirements.

Friday 21 February 2020

Special exhibition marks Cape Mentelle milestone

Margaret River winery Cape Mentelle is one of the icons of the Australian industry and is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020. 

To mark the milestone, Cape Mentelle has partnered with leading Australian lifestyle photographer Aquabumps, who has been busy over the past few months curating a special photography series that brings the magnificent region to life, as well as the winery’s stories and people over the past 50 years, including legendary founder David Hohnen.

The Cape Mentelle x Aquabumps Explore Your Horizon exhibition and wine tasting experience will take place in Sydney (April 3-5). 

I've always been an admirer of Cape Mentelle but must admit to never having heard of Aquabumps (which is sounds an absurd name to an old fogey like me). His real name is apparently Eugene Tan. 

Established by Hohnen in 1970, Cape Mentelle was one of the first three founding Margaret River wineries that set the region’s benchmark for quality. 

Over the years, the winery has cultivated a sustainable winemaking philosophy and built a worldwide reputation to quality sauvignon blanc. 

The photography exhibition is designed to bring to life the winery’s history, showcasing people and stories over the past 50 years. 

The pop-up will give visitors the opportunity to learn the Cape Mentelle story, taste the range of  Margaret River wines and enjoy the photographic exhibition. 

“Not only is Eugene born and bred in Western Australia, with fond childhood memories of the Margaret River region, he shares the same dedication to his craft as the Cape Mentelle winemaking team," says winemaker Ben Cane. 

Explore your Horizon, North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club, Campbell Parade, North Bondi. April 3-5. To book tickets and for more information:

Thursday 20 February 2020

Artwork celebrates Melbourne's innovative libations

A giant rooftop mural has been created by urban street artist Kitt Bennett to mark the first Melbourne Cocktail Festival (MCF). 

Completed in time for World Bartender Day on Monday, the MCF mural is over 100 metres long and depicts a bartender and martini glass floating over the city’s rooftops and streets. 

Kitt Bennett produced the work in 70 hours over seven days using 100 litres of paint, utilising colours referencing the festival’s logo. 

Running from February 26 to March 1, the Melbourne Cocktail Festival is designed to celebrate Melbourne’s dynamic cocktail scene. 

The five-day grassroots (can cocktails really be grassroots, or is it just a fashionable word to throw into a press release?)  event aims to reflect the city’s creative energy. 

Established by a young team of hospitality professionals from industry hub Worksmith, the MCF will incorporate panel discussions, masterclasses and tasting opportunities. 

Kitt Bennett is one of Melbourne's most prominent and celebrated up-and-coming artists, specialising in large-scale murals on unconventional surfaces. 

"Kitt’s artwork really speaks to the city and I particularly like how this one is hidden from view," says Michael Bascetta, CEO of Worksmith. 

"Some of Melbourne’s best bars are hidden down laneways or found in neighbourhoods outside of the city centre with little-to-no signage. Somehow it's the discovery that makes them even more exciting - the same with Kitt’s work. What better way to celebrate the underground bar scene than with a rooftop artwork?” 

Tickets for the Melbourne Cocktail Festival are on sale now via 

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Discover inclusive getaways on lovely Bruny Island

I few weeks back I stayed at the delightful Free Spirit Pods on Bruny Island, Tasmania's delightful get-away-from-it-all destination.

The pods are set in native bush land with shore walks and lots of wildlife.

Now the folk behind Free Spirit Pods have created three different tour packages that start and end in Hobart and include transport and accommodation.

The trio of two- and three-night packages are available through to December 1, 2020.

It's Beautiful Bruny Day

This deal includes two nights' accommodation in a luxury waterfront pod at North Bruny including breakfast supplies, the use of all facilities including barbecues, a fire pit, two-person kayaks and fishing gear as well as two-day car hire supplied by Drive Car Hire with pick up and drop off from either downtown Hobart or the airport. From $1,160 per couple.

Get Me Outta Here
This deal includes a three-night break with breakfasts, all inclusions as above and three days of car hire. From $1515 per couple. 

Stay Calm and Be Spoilt on Bruny
Three nights in 4.5 star accommodation, including breakfast provisions, arrival in style with Above and Beyond Seaplanes from Hobart to Quarantine Bay – a 200-metre stroll to your waterfront pod, three days of car hire with your car pre-delivered, and a three-hour Pennicott Wilderness Journey including lunches. This cruise (above) explores the spectacular rugged coastline of Bruny, taking in Australia’s highest sea cliffs and join the search for seals, dolphins, migrating whales and sea birds. From $2,893 per couple.

For details of all three packages visit

Tuesday 18 February 2020

UPDATE: Grampians Grape Escape called off

The Grampians Grape Escape, which I previewed here, is the latest Australian festival to be cancelled because of the coronavirus (COVID-19). 

The next event will be held on May 1-2, 2021.

 "The decision has been made with great sadness but the health and safety of patrons, exhibitors, performers, partners and volunteers is of the utmost importance to the Grampians Grape Escape organisers," an event statement said. 

"The cancellation of this year’s festival is a precautionary measure to reduce potential risks in response to the current global health crisis, as well as being in line with state and federal government health advice."

One of the best - and most atmospheric - country wine and food festivals in Australia is the Grampians Grape Escape at Hall Gap in Victoria.

The latest edition of this festival of regional wine, food and music will be held over the weekend of May 2-3 with guests promised a range of taste sensations from spicy shiraz to sticky loukoumades and cheesy arancini.

There will be over 100 exhibitors offering their wares along with masterclasses and cooking demonstrations.

The music stage will feature everything from Americana blues to heavy flamenco and trop-pop. 

There will also be plenty of free activities for kids including grape stomping.

Guest presenters include Lynton Tapp, Melissa Leng, Peter Russell-Clarke and Peter Hilcke (I'll admit I have only heard of two of them), while there will also be wine materclasses, curry cooking classes and a look at whisky with Timboon Railway Shed Distillery.

The festivities run from 10am-5.30pm on both days at Halls Gap Recreation Reserve (check out the superb views).

For prices and to buy tickets visit the festival website at:

#Images: Tony Evans 

How to cruise solo without paying a single supplement

One of the reasons many would-be cruise passengers opt out is the sometimes huge single-person supplement imposed by many cruise lines.

Silversea has made life easier for singles by introducing zero single supplement fares on a selection of nine voyages, providing solo travellers with a real boost.
Silver Wind
Valid on new bookings made from now until the end of the month, guests travelling solo will incur no fare supplement on a selection of voyages departing in 2020 and 2021.

Among the cruises with zero single supplements for solo travellers are: a 19-day Silver Cloud voyage through the fjords of Chile; a Silver Spirit 12-day round-trip from Fort Lauderdale exploring the islands of St Lucia, Martinique, St Kitts, Antigua, St Bart’s, Puerto Rico and British Virgin Islands; and a voyage aboard Silversea’s new ship, Silver Dawn, between Lisbon and Fort Lauderdale.

All-inclusive amenities include complimentary premium wines and spirits; specialty coffees, bottled water, juices and soft drinks served throughout the ship; an in-suite bar, stocked with guests' preferences; a complimentary in-suite 24-hour dining service; and complimentary wifi.

Silversea Cruises offers cruises on intimate all-suite vessels: Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper, Silver Spirit and Silver Muse.

View all the voyages in Silversea’s solo fares promotion at:

Flight bargains to Asia - but you'll need to be quick

Travel bargains are appearing in Asian markets with AirAsia offering 30% off all seats on all flights and 22% off baggage and activities - but this offer only lasts until Sunday.

Anyone willing to book flights can enjoy discounted base fares for flights from Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne-Avalon and Gold Coast to Malaysia, Bali, Lombok and Thailand.

For extra comfort and perks, Premium Flatbed and Premium Flex fares will also be offered at 30% off, with discounts also available on baggage.

For the first 1,000 early birds, guests can also enjoy 22% off activities with the promo code AAFEB22. CEO Karen Chan said: “We are pleased to provide not only great value airfares to many of AirAsia’s favourite leisure destinations, but to also offer a one-stop travel shop of affordable lifestyle options including discounted baggage, hotels, activities and more on

"Our goal is to make travel more affordable and seamless than ever before as we continue our transformation to become a leading online travel package platform - now offering much more than just airfares."

For the latest AirAsia news, activities and promotions, follow AirAsia on Twitter (, Facebook ( and Instagram (

Bookings can be made now on or the AirAsia mobile app until February 23 for travel between February 24 and September 30.

Monday 17 February 2020

You dirty rat! Hotels alerted to new scam

There are all sorts of scams that hotel managers around the world have to look out for - but the latest has a bad smell about it.

Have you heard about the hotel guest who takes rats and mice into hotel rooms, lets them loose to defecate and then puts them back in their cage before phoning down to the reception desk? 

Guest complains loudly about rat and mice poo in the room - and the evidence is right there. Compensation is paid; guest is happy, hotel splashes out on pest exterminators.

If you think it all sounds a bit far fetched, a hotel guest in the US is facing criminal charges for just such an alleged scam.

Police say Ryan Sentelle State, 37, checked into hotels, released mice and hamsters and, after waiting for them to defecate, then complained to hotel staff in the hope of receiving compensation or a free room.

State tried the trick at least three times at different Utah hotels and was compensated at two of them, say police. They believe the scam "likely occurred at many more hotels".

State is facing misdemeanor charges of theft by deception and criminal mischief - human health or safety. The rodents also caused damage to the hotel rooms, say police.

Sunday 16 February 2020

Recognition for Barossa wine stalwart

Stuart Bourne, a Barossa winemaking icon over the past two decades, was today named as 2020 Barossa Winemaker of The Year. 

Formerly of Barossa Valley Estates and then Chateau Tanunda, Bourne has spent the past five years at Soul Growers. 

The announcement was made at the annual Declaration of Vintage celebration held in Tanunda, and was presented by the Barons of Barossa fraternity. 

The award recognizes a winemaker who has made a significant contribution to the industry, producing wines that exhibit the regionality of Barossa grapes, and generously shares their knowledge with others. 

Former winemaker of the year and the Barons’ newly elected Grand Master, Louisa Rose, said: “Stuart Bourne is one of the great characters of the Barossa. He is a long-term thinker, always putting the region front and centre. 

"Since he arrived, he has embraced everything Barossa, with strong, positive contributions to the wine industry and to the greater Barossa community.”
“Some people say that gold medals make a winemaker, but to be recognised by your peers as Barossa Winemaker of the Year in Australia’s best wine region is truly the greatest accolade a Barossa winemaker can achieve,” he said. 

Managing Director of Soul Growers, Paul Heinicke was delighted to hear his colleague and friend had received such a prestigious honour. 

“Stuart is a true, genuine ambassador for the Barossa,” he said.

“He works tirelessly to promote the region, and his passion is infectious. He is a very worthy recipient of this award.”
For more visit

    - Ends - 

Saturday 15 February 2020

Traveller beware. When patting someone's back can send you to jail.

UPDATE: This passenger as now been freed due to a "lack of evidence". But this remains a cutionary tale

It pays to do your research before going on holiday. And to remember where you are. And to act accordingly.

You know when Chinese tourists clear their throats and then expectorate loudly? That's normal behaviour at home and they probably don't realise they are causing offense.

The same when groups of Russians gather together by the hotel swimming pool, smoking copiously and laughing loudly. Or maybe they don't care.

Different strokes for different folks - but beware when locals find your ways unacceptable.

This happened recently to a British holidaymaker detained in Egypt for "patting a security officer on the back", Travel Mole reports.

Family and friends of 51-year-old London businessman Tony Camoccio say he was arrested as he was leaving Hurghada Airport on February 8, and has been detained in prison since.

It is reported that the security official Camoccio touched as a "thank you" gesture, has accused him of sexual assault.

Family and friends had expected him to be released on February 12 but were then told the police needed up to 15 days to investigate the case. Which is clearly absurd.

A petition says: "At customs in Hurghada Airport on his outbound journey, he was at the final checkpoint where he was, as a standard procedure for all outbound passengers, patted down by a security officer. Tony then gently patted the officer's back and is now facing serious accusations.

"He was held in a general population cell overnight where he remained in handcuffs petrified for his life as he did not know what he was supposedly being charged with or what he had done wrong. This security official…is now accusing Tony of sexual assault."

Family and friends say video evidence, which could prove his innocence, has been held back by Egyptian authorities.

Back-patting may be offensive in Egypt for all I know. Which probably makes it a place worth avoiding. Obviously, it is not that keen on being welcoming to tourists. A bad look.

How artistic labels are a secret weapon for wine producers

Wine lovers are confronted by a bewildering array of choices every time they enter a liquor store to select a bottle.

Wineries, however, have a secret weapon up their sleeve with the use of eye-catching wine labels designed by artists as diverse as Marc Chagall and Reg Mombassa.

“If a wine label can’t capture the consumer’s attention, then it doesn’t matter how good the wine in the bottle is; it simply won’t make it off the shelf and into the glass,” says label designer John Jewell.

“The label is the mouthpiece of a wine; it needs to fluently convey the essence of what consumers can expect to taste inside the bottle. It all starts with understanding your market, and then building a memorable brand that is brought to life through outstanding design.“

Nicholas Crampton makes wines under a range of labels including Elephant in the Room, Tread Softly and Little Giant for Newcastle-based Fourth Wave Wines and also imports wine from several European countries, including France and Spain.

“According to (monitoring service) Wine Intelligence 36% of consumers agree ‘that packaging is important to them when choosing a wine’,“ Crampton says.

“While price is very important to many consumers, at most price points there are multiple offerings so a brand needs to stand out and engage consumers to beat their competitors. From observation, packaging is less of a deciding factor in purchase at more premium price points and more important between $10-$20.

“The overriding rule is that the only point of a label is to engage the consumer. A crazy design created to make the designer look good is pointless if it doesn’t engage the consumer. A label designed for retail needs to stand out from at least five metres to enable buyers to be able to differentiate from a competitor on the shelf.

“You have to remember that consumers struggle to remember brand names so its pays to make sure the label has a memorable design feature, icon or shape.”

Fourth Wave uses a number of different label designers to ensure a variation of styles.

The trend of using famous artworks on wine labels was pioneered by leading Bordeaux wine producer Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

Since 1945 the family of aristocrats that own the winery have used paintings by famous artists as their labels.

Mouton Rothschild has brought together some of the most celebrated artists of their day, including Miró, Chagall, Braque, Picasso, Tàpies, Francis Bacon, Dali, Balthus, Jeff Koons and even Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.

The artists have complete freedom of creation, though certain themes, such as the vine, have proved a particularly rich source of inspiration.

Locally, Margaret River winery Leeuwin Estate, owned by the Horgan family, has since 1980 released wines under its Art Series label. These wines represent Leeuwin's most opulent and age-worthy releases and are identified with paintings commissioned from leading contemporary Australian artists.

The Leeuwin Estate collection now comprises over 150 paintings and artworks from artists including John Olsen, Arthur Boyd, Sir Sidney Nolan, Lloyd Rees, Albert Tucker, Fred Williams, Robert Juniper, Clifton Pugh and Imants Tillers.

Victorian pinot noir specialist William Downie teamed up with Reg Mombassa of Mango fame – and musician with Mental as Anything - to create artwork that helped get his fledgling brand into leading Melbourne wine stores.

Keira O’Brien, who produces boutique wines under her Rivulet label, was, meanwhile, inspired by Tasmanian landscapes.

"Rivulet Wines is an opportunity to work with fruit I see as a bit special and tilt the winemaking a little more playfully," O'Brien says.

"It's all small-scale stuff, and the name is a bit of a riff on that - tiny trickles of wine, rivulets of sweat on the brow."

In Tasmania small streams are called rivulets and several are depicted in her beautifully crafted labels by MONA collaborator David Campbell which reflect that.

In contrast, former Petaluma and Bay of Fires winemaker Peter Dredge was inspired by music for the labels of his Dr Edge range of pinot noirs.

“The artwork on the front is based purely on a music album cover,” says Dredge. “I would consider myself equally as passionate about music as wine; mostly based around soul, jazz, funk, hip-hop, those sorts of styles.

“An album I used to listen to at Petaluma was called Headz: it was an experimental instrumental hip-hop album, had all these DJs and artists like The Beastie Boys, DJ Shadow, Nightmares on Wax and Massive Attack.”

Dredge combined with Massive Attack musician and artist Robert del Naja (aka 3D) and Damian Hamilton at Cornershop Design in Adelaide for his labels.

Also in Tasmania, winemaker Nick Glaetzer from Glaetzer-Dixon family wines in Hobart does all his own label artwork. His bottles mainly feature text-based designs in his signature white, red and black.

When visiting Longview Vineyard at Macclesfield in the Adelaide Hills visitors will notice large pieces of street-art, inspired by the winery’s annual Adelaide Piece Project event.

This sees six local artists go head to head in a live street-art display.

The winning artwork becomes the label of Longview’s premium, reserve shiraz, known as The Piece (below).

Colourful one-off releases, with bespoke tins or cooling jackets are also possible, like Piper-Heidsieck’s Australian Open tennis special release.

Some wineries, including market-leading Penfolds with wines including $895-a-bottle Grange, make only minimal changes from vintage to vintage. Penfolds Grange is considered Australia’s first growth and the label remains largely unchanged since 1952.
“For many decades, Penfolds has maintained a considered and consistent approach to our wines label designs,” says Kristy Keyte, Penfolds’ Global Marketing Director.
“From Grange to Koonunga Hill, all wines in the Penfolds house display a consistent suite of key brand assets on pack that make our wines distinctive and recognisable globally.

“It’s important to retain design consistency across our entire portfolio, especially for wines like Grange and Bin 389, which continue to top Australia’s ‘most cellared wine lists’.

“After the wine itself, it’s these visual cues, coupled with brand heritage and traditions, that makes our wines appealing to collectors.”

Likewise, the classic label that Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate adopted in the 1950s remains essentially the same well over half a century later.

And what of back labels, where you can find all manner of minutae?

“Back labels can certainly assist in telling the story and there is solid evidence that many consumers read them,” says Crampton.

Wine labels, in their most basic form, date back as far as 1550 BC in Egypt. Seals and etchings were placed on bottles, or amphorae signifying the year, type, and quality of the wines.

By the 18th century, labels were being printed on parchment and tied to the bottlenecks with string, much like the tags still seen today.

By 1798, labels could be produced in mass, thanks to the invention of the lithograph, which led to increased use of colour and more emphasis on artistic design.

Nowadays, every label must comply with the strict alcoholic beverage labelling regulations in the country in which it is sold.

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Quest Kudos Magazine

Friday 14 February 2020

Superstar chef Curtis Stone inspired by a Barossa family farm

I interviewed Curtis Stone a few years back. Seemed like a nice fellow who probably pays his restaurant stuff properly. 

I'm sick of his face on those Coles supermarket ads on Australian TV, but he's been doing those for a decade now and they obviously work. 

The new seasonal menu at Maude, Stone’s Beverley Hills’ restaurant, has been released and has been inspired by the Barossa’s Hutton Vale Farm. 

Curtis Stone and Jan Angas 
The farm is a mixed produce operation run by the sixth and seventh-generations of Angas family. It is just down the road from Henschke's Hill of Grace vineyard. 

Hutton Farm is known for  farm stay accommodation, quality wool, free-range natural pasture lamb and hand-made artisan produce. It is run in a sustainable fashion. 

Stone visited the farm with his team from Maude in October last year and has lauded the trip. 

“The penultimate afternoon of our stay in Barossa was at Hutton Vale [Farm] among grapes and merino sheep” he wrote on his website.

“Our visit to Hutton Vale Farm provided us with inspiration for our South Australia menu.” 

If you want to check out Curtis's muse, Hutton Vale Farm recently opened a two-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom private villa on the property. 

A private airstrip allows guest to arrive by plane, directly onto the property’s airstrip. Guests are invited to order seasonal produce from the farm and a chef can be arranged to do all the cooking so guests can sit back, relax and enjoy the best of the the Barossa. 

 “By sharing our 176-year-old farm with visitors, we hope to introduce them to a sustainable life and bring them relaxation and happiness away from the stresses of city life,” John Angas said. 

“We offered Curtis the same hospitality that we offer to all our guests visiting the property and we are so pleased that he has taken this back to America to share our little piece of the world with his customers."

Hutton Vale Farm J.H.A Stone Cellar is available now for bookings via and AirBnB.

Thursday 13 February 2020

The news is good for McLaren Vale wine producers

It has been a tough start to 2020 for several South Australian wine regions; particularly the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island, both of which were hit by bush fires.

The McLaren Vale wine region, in contrast, is heartened to share a positive outlook for the upcoming vintage.

Dry weather conditions throughout the spring and summer months of 2019 resulted in vigilant irrigation by growers, alleviating the onset of stress in most vineyards.

McLaren Vale vineyards: Serio

Melissa Brown, viticulturist and co-owner of Gemtree Wines, credits the accessibility of the region's recycled water program as a contributing factor to the good health of vineyards during an unusually hot end to the growing year.

"The season has had its ups and downs but overall we have fared well," she said. "While there were some very hot days in December and early January having access to the recycled water program eased the potential onset of stress in vineyards."

"We received over 75mm of rain in January and (early) February which has set the vines up well leading into harvest."

Steve Pannell, winemaker and owner of SC Pannell Wines, also acknowledged good water management as a safeguard through drier months.

"Below-average winter rainfall backed up by good water management and accessibility with a heap of rain in February so far has resulted in moderate crops but the fruit looks good - in fact it looks better here than in any other South Australian region," he said. 

"The interesting point is late ripening which is a real positive."

In addition to good health in the vineyards and a positive outlook, community collaboration has seen spirits buoyed with fundraising efforts to assist nearby fire-affected regions raising more than $100,000 in donations.

""It's been a devastating couple of months for our cool climate neighbours in the Adelaide Hills, friends in Kangaroo Island, and many other parts of Australia," said McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association (MVGWTA) general manager Jennifer Lynch. 

"The spirit of inter-regional collaboration and generosity has been truly heartwarming. Many of our region's producers have hosted charity events, auctions and even donated labour and equipment to assist in fire recovery efforts.

"McLaren Vale was lucky to be spared - we approach vintage 2020 with an overwhelming sense of gratitude."
Paul Carpenter, winemaker at Ryecroft and Longline Wines, highlights the "trilogy of McLaren Vale reds" as standout varieties to watch this vintage.

"Grape quality and resultant wine quality looks particularly promising in shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and grenache," he said. "Shiraz, at this early stage, looks to be the star of the vintage with moderate crops and smallish berry size heading for concentrated flavours."