East Coast Wine Trail

East Coast Wine Trail
East Coast Wine Trail

Thursday, 9 February 2023

A stylish new way to explore Halong Bay

A day spent cruising beautiful Halong Bay is just about mandatory for anyone visiting Vietnam.

There are dozens of ships doing the trip, some of them older and more comfortable than others.

Now Ambassador Cruise is lifting the bar with the launch of a day cruise on a new vessel with restaurants and bars, an outdoor jacuzzi and a glass bridge.

The cruise line will launch the new experience in the UNESCO World Heritage site from Friday.

The new ship features spacious sundecks across two floors that total 324sqm and 250sqm, and offers 360-degree views of Halong Bay and its myriad limestone karsts.

There are two restaurants, two bars, an entertainment area for live music, and that large open-air jacuzzi.

The five-metre glass bridge jutting from the vessel’s bow aims to inspire photographers.

The new craft is 95m long and is being promoted as the largest and most luxurious ship to sail Halong Bay’s waters.

Ambassador Cruise is also the only Halong Bay cruise line to include an elevator for the elderly and people with disabilities.

The new ship can caters for up to 500 passengers and the itinerary includes Sung Sot Cave, a buffet lunch, Ho Dong Tien Cave, Trong Cave, Me Cung Cave and Cua Van Floating Village.

The cruise anchors off Titov Island whose scalable heights offer panoramic views of the bay and afternoon tea is served on the vessel’s sundeck.

A round-trip shuttle bus links Hanoi with Halong Bay via an expressway that opened in 2018, cutting the drive time between the destinations in half to two hours - good news as that previous drive was tiresome in the extreme.

Nguyen Cao Son, founder of Asia Premier Cruises Corporation, which owns Ambassador Cruise, said February was the right time to launch the day cruise, following the the travel resurgence and 2018s launch of both the expressway and Van Don International Airport, located 50km from Halong Bay.

“The day cruise opens up Halong Bay in an exciting new way for many travellers, particularly those who can’t squeeze an overnight cruise into their schedule and yet now have the opportunity to experience this breathtakingly beautiful destination in style in a day,” he said.

Ambassador Day Cruise II is priced from $158 (VND 2.625 million) including day cruise program, round-trip shuttle bus transfer from and to Hanoi, one buffet lunch, onboard insurance, tax and service charges, sightseeing fees and afternoon tea on the sundeck.

For more information see ambassadorcruise.com.

Wednesday, 8 February 2023

Tripadvisor tripped up by culinary prankster

Do you look to Tripadvisor for advice on where to dine?

In Montreal, you might have been tempted by what was until recently the No.1 ranked restaurant in the city: Le Nouveau Duluth.

Le Nouveaux Duluth garnered some amazing reviews and had the highest Tripadvisor rating of the city’s 3,678 listed eateries.

There was only one problem. It did not actually exist.

Le Nouveaux Duluth was created by a hacker/hoaxer and his friends aiming to underline how unreliable online ratings sites can be.

Readers of Tripadvisor were regaled with comments about the restaurant's proximity to a beach (Montreal is lacking in beaches), valet service, private and buffet dining and live music.

Le Nouveau Duluth had 85 published reviews, all of them giving it five stars, Canadian broadcaster CBC reported.

But anyone heading to its alleged location on the corner of Duluth Avenue and St Denis Street, was left baffled and disappointed.

Oh dear.

“On this occasion, a failure in human moderation practices meant the fake listing remained live on the platform longer than it should have,” Tripadvisor said in a statement. “The listings - including the reviews and photos associated with the listing - are now inactive.”

The fake restaurant was all in the imagination of comedian Charles Deschamps, who is not a fan of online reviews. 

He says he finds them "problematic", as, obviously, are Tripadvisor's algorithms.



Why staying on the right tracks can enhance a European travel experience

The last couple of times I have visited Europe, I have stayed on the rails as much as possible.

Trains in Europe are fast, efficient and comfortable - sometimes just a bit too popular. And they take you from city centre to city centre, rather than depositing you at some airport in the middle of nowhere.

I Italy last summer, I used several trains that were fast, efficient and on time - and they didn't lose my luggage..

There are several reasons why one should consider exploring Europe by train and the team from Rail Europe have shared their top reasons to pick trains over planes, buses and cars. They are, of course biased, but make several good points.

1. Hassle Free

With no check-in queues and traffic-related issues, one can simply show up at the train station minutes before the train departs (unless it's the Eurostar or Thalys, which require a little bit more time). The convenience of city centre to city centre connections also ensures one gets to the final destination quicker.

2. Freedom and Flexibility

With the choice of passes and point-to-point tickets, travellers can decide the options that best suit their needs, and go anywhere and at any time across 33 countries in Europe. This also makes day trips and short excursions convenient.

3. Cost Effective

When booking in advance, travellers can save a significant amount of money. And when travelling on overnight trains, there are savings on hotel costs, too. Families can also enjoy savings as children under 16 travel for free when accompanied by an adult in Switzerland, and the Eurail Pass allows free travel for children under 11.

4. Comfort and Convenience

Trains in Europe offer comfortable and spacious seats with lots of leg room across all classes. In addition on-board dining services (trolley or restaurant/bar carriage), most modern trains also have power points available for charging electronic devices - and some offer wifi. And unlike air travel, there is also no baggage limit on trains - which some guests make the most of in annoying ways.

5. The views, the views

One of the biggest highlights of train travel is the exposure to some great views. Try to get a window seat to take in the ever changing landscapes, colours, architecture and more.

6. Environmentally Friendly

Trains, especially the well-established high-speed rail systems such as the Eurostar, France’s TGV, Spain’s AVE, Italy’s Italo and many others, emit a lot less carbon than air and road options.

7. Social

Europe has an extremely efficient rail system used by most locals. To get acquainted with the people and learn more about their culture, or obtain some tips and local insights, travellers can easily strike up a conversation with other fellow passengers in the relaxed environment of a train.

For more information and bookings, check out www.raileurope.com, which has been a partner of train operators for 90 years. International travellers who want to travel by train easily throughout Europe can also book their travel - including Eurail passes - directly through the website and app. Rail Europe is headquartered in Paris.

Cheers to a small town whose producers have big ideas

Meeniyan is a small country town - home to fewer than 1000 people - on the South Gippsland Highway between Leongatha and Foster in Victoria.

Despite its size and relative isolation, the hamlet is home to Meeniyan Square (above), a rustic outdoor event space that hosts regular events as being home to Meeniyan Pantry and Cellar, which is a deli, café and music venue.

Every second Sunday, Meeniyan Square hosts a farmers market.

Now two popular Gippsland brands are embarking on a new collaboration with Sailors Grave Brewing joining forces with Trulli to create a new gourmet destination aimed at locals and travellers alike.

Sailors Grave, from nearby Orbost, will have launch a fully kitted-out bar in a renovated shipping container with eight beer taps on February 17 to coincide with the Meeniyan Garlic Festival.

It is planned that The Sailors Grave Outpost will be a hub for the brand to host events, launch beers and to build a bigger connection to greater Gippsland.

“When we could holiday during the last two years of Covid we obviously had to stay close, and we kept on landing back at Meeniyan, largely due to its central location but also because we kept on being drawn to the hospitality of the Trulli family.” says Gab Moore from Sailors Grave.

"We were looking for an outpost for Sailors Grave that was still in Gippsland but closer to our market in Melbourne.”

Sailors Grave Brewing was established in 2017 in the historic old butter factory in Orbost but its beers are now sold across Australia as well as in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the UK.

Trulli, meanwhile, has undergone many transitions and now offers woodfired pizzas, pastries, bread, and gelati, all produced on site. The deli offers a diverse range of products from cheese and meat to pantry items and a wine cellar, specialising in produce from Gippsland.

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Are you ready for Tasmania's first queer woodchopping event?

David Walsh and his teams at MONA like to shock and surprise - and they have come up with perhaps Tasmania's most niche event for this year's Mona Foma festival.

Tourism Tasmania has partnered with Mona Foma to support an artistic event called The Tasmanian Queer Woodchop Championships, which aim to raise awareness of Tasmania as a holiday destination for LGBTQIA+ travellers.

The partnership coincides with Australia hosting the internationally renowned LGBTQIA+ festival WorldPride for the first time.

A marketing campaign for The Tasmanian Queer Woodchop Championships has been developed to target LGBTQIA+ audiences attending WorldPride in Sydney.

The free event will take place on the tennis court at MONA - just north of Hobart - at 3:30 pm on Friday, February 24.

Woodchopping is very popular in Tasmania and is a traditionally a high testosterone event.

The Mona Foma team say The Queer Woodchop is "where the classically male-dominated world of timbersports meets joyous queerness in an interactive spectacle of flying wood and fabulousness"

Guests are told to expect "Agfest meets nightclub and country-fair camp".

No tickets are required and the event will be followed by the Mona Sessions, where pop-provocateur Peaches will be performing The Teaches of Peaches Anniversary Show. Get tickets here.

Celebrating 150 years of one of Australia's iconic pubs

One of Australia's most famous hotels - the Coogee Bay Hotel - is celebrating 150 years in 2023 with a year-long party kicking off with a birthday bash this March in The Garden, before the re-launch of legendary live music venue Selina's. 

The festivities will showcase the venue's history while embracing plans for the future.

The celebrations will be divided into three distinct phases, The Legacy (February-April), Forever Young (May-August) and Many Happy Returns (September-November). 

A specially commissioned mural by local artist Charlie Nivison from Silly Pear will take centre stage during the celebrations. 

Coogee Bay Hotel managing director Chris Cheung says: "We are beyond thrilled to be celebrating 150 years of creating memories at Coogee Bay Hotel, starting off with our Big Birthday Bash at The Bay in March. 

"We invite the community to come reflect on decades past with our new historic museum, live music and the debut of a spectacular artwork mural to kick off a milestone year for our venue.

"Our anniversary campaign is a reflection of our past, present, and future and we couldn't be more excited to share it with our valued customers, sponsors, and the community. We look forward to continuing to provide a top-notch experience and giving back to the community that has supported us throughout the years."

The Big Birthday Bash will be held on March 26 from noon until late. 

Later in the year, the hotel will be hosting a variety of community-focused events including market days for local producers to display their wares. 

Live music fans will be excited by the re-launch of Selina's, an iconic beachside music venue in the 1980s and 90s that has hosted the likes of Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Midnight Oil and INXS. 

To stay up to date on events and activities planned throughout the year see coogeebayhotel.com.au/whats-on

Big new gig for rising culinary star


Artisans of Barossa is one of South Australia's standout gourmet destinations - a collaboration between eight of the Barossa's leading wine producers that offers a range of food and wine experiences. 

German-born Robin Wagner has just been unveiled as the new head chef following the departure of Ryan Edwards. 

It is a step up for Wagner, who comes to Artisans of Barossa from Magill Estate Restaurant in Adelaide, where he spent four years as sous chef working under head chef Scott Huggins.

Artisans of Barossa opened an impressive new venue in Tanunda in 2021 offering seated tastings and experiences and a Barossa providore.

“It’s advantageous to work with a seasonal, regional menu," Wagner says. "Each season has a purpose, and cheffing is about making dishes that showcase local produce."

His kitchen philosophy is based on minimal food wastage, and he is passionate about seasonal vegetables. 

Wagner has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Germany and hatted restaurants in Australia, which has been his home for the past five years. 

His CV includes a stint at the Lake House in Daylesford and at Sepia in Sydney. 

“It’s a unique experience working with eight winemakers collaborating and producing various wines," he says. "I look forward to working with such a beautiful portfolio of wines - it offers flexibility and diversity.” 

The eight Artisan members are John Duval Wines, Spinifex Wines, Purple Hands Wines, Lienert Vineyards, Chaffey Bros. Wine Co., Schwarz Wine Co., Hobbs of Barossa Ranges and Sons of Eden.

Essen restaurant at Artisans is now open seven days a week and offers an à la carte menu. See www.artisansofbarossa.com

Is it time to say farewell to on-board shopping?

Is duty free and retail shopping while flying an anachronism whose time has passed?

As airlines look to lighten their loads, do passengers really want to buy oversized bottles of booze and replica airplanes from busy air crew?

Particularly as they can often buy alcohol and other duty-free items like perfumes cheaper and easier at their destination airport.

Finnair is leading the way by ending some of its its in-flight retail services in response to changing customer shopping habits, Travel Mole reports.

The airline says sonsumers are increasingly purchasing via the online shop.

The removal of inflight retail products will decrease overall aircraft weight, which will contribute toward lower fuel bills.

To reduce stocks, Finnair is offering 40% discounts prior to ending its in-flight shopping on February 28.

Pre-order meals and onboard snacks and beverages will still be available.

I think we can expect to see other airlines follow in Finnair's footsteps. Who wants to carry shopping around when you can have it delivered to your door? 

Monday, 6 February 2023

Sustainable tourism a major focus for TTNQ

Travellers can locate interactive conservation projects, immersive cultural experiences and eco-certified operators with the launch of the Tropical North Queensland Sustainable Travel Hub.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ) CEO Mark Olsen said the dedicated hub on the Tropical North Queensland destination website would enable people to travel with greater purpose in a region where two natural World Heritage areas meet.

“The Tropical North Queensland Sustainable Travel Hub will help travellers to understand the value our region places on the environment and our community through various resources including blogs and a destination video that highlights our promise for greater good,” he said.

“Consumers are increasingly concerned about the impact of climate change, which has resulted in people travelling more thoughtfully and with more intent. There is also growing consumer interest for tourism to be more than sustainable – it should be restorative, reconciliatory and ultimately regenerative.

“Sustainability has been a way of life for Tropical North Queensland’s tourism operators who deliver the most eco-certified experiences in Australia and have achieved a number of milestones including the Douglas Shire becoming the world’s first eco-certified destination.

“Many of our operators are well advanced on this journey. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway (above), for example, was the first tourism operator in the world to achieve EarthCheck Master Certification and is one of less than 10 EarthCheck Masters on the planet.

“Others, such as Experience Co’s Reef Unlimited and GBR Biology, have pioneered the addition of Indigenous culture into a Great Barrier Reef experience by working with local traditional owners to include their knowledge in cultural presentations and reef stewardship activities.

“Tourism Tropical North Queensland’s promise for greater good is about continually improving as an industry and as a region. Sustainability is not just about the environment and the journey towards net zero, it is also about giving back to our community.

“We are bringing the tourism industry onboard with the Pathway to Sustainable Tourism Toolkit which we are also launching to help our operators adopt sustainable business practices, measure their footprint, and plan their journey forward for the greater good.

“The toolkit outlines certification programs, community initiatives to partner with including Rainforest Rescue and Green Caffeen and discusses Tourism Tropical North Queensland’s sustainability journey which includes working with Reforest to offset events.”

For more information see www.cairnsgreatbarrierreef.com/sustainable-travel

Orange a hive of activity

There is a whole lot happening in Orange and surrounds over the next few months, the team at Orange 360 reports.

F.O.O.D Week tickets are now on sale with the full program available online.

Over 40 events are scheduled in the wine region’s cellar doors, restaurants, cafes, hotels, and farms. F.O.O.D Week runs from Friday, March 24 to Sunday, April 2, encompassing two weekends.

For those aiming to visit earlier, The Banjo Paterson Australian Poetry Festival kicks off on February 17 and runs for a full week.

The poet was born just outside of Orange and the festival pays tribute to this local icon each year with a celebration of poems, prose, and the life of Banjo himself.

For Country and Western lovers, A Night in Nashville is pencilled in for February 10 so those so inclined can polish their boots and dust off their best cowboy hats for an all-American themed country music festival where Aussie artists cover the all-time best American country songs. Tickets are limited and selling fast, you can secure yours here.

Another date for the diary is the Orange Chamber Music Festival, which runs from Thursday, March 9 to Sunday, March 12, offering audiences a selection of over 60 artists and ensembles from all over Australia. This year’s ticketing options includes three different festival passes.

Runners might note that the Orange Running Festival will be back on March 4-5.

Runners can register now for the full marathon, half marathon, 10km, 5km or the mile events. Head to the Orange Running Festival Website for more information.

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Ciao Magazine.

Sunday, 5 February 2023

Alternative reds match the Australian wine zeitgeist


Calabria Family Wines is one of the big success stories of the Australian wine industry.

From small beginnings in the Riverina, Calabria has become a major player, expanding its footprint to the Barossa and unveiling several new ranges.

The third-generation Italian-Australian brand has just added three new wines to its Alternato range from the Barossa; Calabria Alternato Sangiovese 2020, Calabria Alternato Malbec 2021, and Calabria Alternato Montepulciano/Nero D'Avola 2021.

The wines have been released in response to increasing demand from Australian consumers alternative styles and varietals - particularly food-friendly reds.

The initial release in the range was Alteranto Red Blend (durif, nero d'Avola, montepluciano and shiraz) and it now has three companions.

"Our love for alternative Italian wine varietals has been passed down through the generations, starting with my grandfather Francesco," says Andrew Calabria, the sales and marketing manager.

"These varieties are shining in Australia right now as they pair beautifully with our climate in terms of both growing them, and enjoying them.

"The Barossa Valley has a somewhat Mediterranean climate, making it ideal not only for bold Aussie shiraz, but also for a wealth of alternative grapes and styles."

All three of the new wines come from Barossa vineyards - a region the Calabria family regards as its second home.

You won't miss the eye-catching packaging, or the short, stout bottles.

All three wines are very compatible with food - we tested them with homemade salami and mushroom pizzas. 

My preference was for the immediately approachable montepulciano/nero d'Avola blend, while my wife favoured the savoury malbec outlier, made from a grape originally from Cahors in the south of France that now thrives in Argentina.

The Alternato range retails for $45 from select retailers, or www.calabriawines.com.au.

Hong Kong offers free flights to kick start tourism revival

Hong Kong has signalled its intention to return to being a major tourism player by launching its Hello Hong Kong campaign with 500,000 free air tickets and a range of free offers. 

“Hong Kong is back on the map for global travellers, with more excitement to offer than ever before," said Dr Pang Yiu-kai, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB). 

"We are extending our biggest welcome to the world through the Hello Hong Kong campaign, inviting friends from everywhere as they return to one of the world’s greatest tourism destinations. 

"I am confident that Hong Kong’s vibrant east-meets-west culture, together with our iconic and brand-new attractions and immersive experiences will attract travellers back for an epic, unforgettable journey.” 

HKTB executive director Dane Cheng presented the tourism board's key strategies and initiatives earlier this week. 

To entice travellers to visit to Hong Kong, 500,000 free tickets will be given away by the Airport Authority Hong Kong to different markets in phases, through three home-based carriers Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong Express and Hong Kong Airlines. 

Those giveaways will start in March. 

There will also be a million “Hong Kong Goodies” visitor consumption vouchers of value over HK$100 ($18.50) each will be given out, covering a complimentary welcome drink at participating bars, restaurants, and hotels, or a cash voucher to be redeemed in the transportation, culinary and retail sectors, or attractions. 

See https://discoverhongkong.com/hkgoodies 

Saturday, 4 February 2023

Sizzling flavours from Asia land in Perth

One of the most pleasant gourmet surprises of 2022 was the excellent pan-Asian food at Miss Mi in Melbourne's Movenpick Hotel.

Now Miss Mi has opened its doors in Perth at a laneway location at the Novotel Perth Murray Street (follow the illuminated wall mural).

Miss Mi's menu is a mix of dishes influenced by the cultures, cuisines and aromatics from across South-East Asia, which doesn't always work but was a huge hit in Melbourne.

Guests can choose from flavours from Bangkok to Borneo and the man entrusted with emulating the success of the Melbourne venue is Filipino chef Alex de Leon, who has previously cooked at Perth eateries Apple Daily, Low Key Chow House and Dainty Dowager.

Miss Mi Perth will focus on Asian grill styles: charred, caramelised, smoked and scorched.

The menu will range from street snacks to larger share-style dishes including grilled octopus with cucumber, mint and lassi, and lamb shoulder rendang with, toasted coconut with chilli, as well as Szechuan glazed lamb ribs with pickled red cabbage and garlic crumb on smoking paperbark.

The menu differs from the Melbourne eatery but shares some dishes, including kinilaw, the raw fish salad from the Philippines. 

“Showcasing the unique ingredients, dishes and complex flavours of Asia is at the heart of the Miss Mi philosophy," says de Leon.

"We want to evoke memories of your trips to Asia. We make all our sauces, spices, curries, and sambals in-house. We pair them with the best produce from local suppliers to bring these bold, vibrant dishes to Perth diners.”

The drinks list features a range of Asian-accented cocktails, while the mural at the entrance (above) is inspired by a traditional Chinese streetscape dotted with red lanterns.

Miss Mi Perth is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday, 5:30pm to 10:00pm and lunch Thursday and Friday, 12:00pm to 3:00pm (closed Monday and Sunday).

See www.missmiperth.com.au

More passengers left stranded as another European airline bites the dust

Hot on the heels of British-based airline FlyBe going out of business, Norwegian budget airline Flyr has shut up shop and filed for bankruptcy.

Headquartered in Oslo and based out of Oslso Airport, Gardermoen, the airline operated domestic flights as well as between Norway and over a dozen leisure destinations across Europe.

The airline was only launched in 2020 by the team behind now-defunct Norwegian flag carrier Braathens.

Earlier this week, rhe cash-strapped airline halted all flights and ticket sales.

It said it had failed to raise further cash to continue for its operations.

"There is no longer a realistic opportunity to achieve a solution for the short-term liquidity situation,” Flyr said in a statement.

“All departures and ticket sales have been cancelled.”

More than 400 employees are expected to lose their jobs.

There was no immediate advice from Flyr to passengers stranded but airlines SAS and Norwegian said they’d sell available seats at special fares for those holding Flyr tickets.

Travel insurance usually doesn’t cover disruptions caused by bankruptcies, and any claims for money lost on prepaid hotels would need to join other creditor claims to the bankruptcy trustee.

Passengers and other creditors can file their claims on the estate by email to flyr@kvale.no

Flyr operated 12 Boeing 737 aircraft to destinations including Brussels, Prague, Paris, Berlin, London Gatwick and Edinburgh.

Friday, 3 February 2023

New destination in South Korea opens up for Australians

Australian travellers have a new - and affordable way - to fly to South Korea.

AirAsia X today restarted direct services from Kuala Lumpur to Busan (above) with connections from Australia and New Zealand to one of the key Korean tourism destinations.

And fares from Australia to Busan start from $372.

Australians can fly from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to Busan via Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia X.

The inaugural flight departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport yesterday, landing at Gimhae International Airport.

Busan is the airline’s 15th destination and the second in South Korea, with three times a week flights to/from Kuala Lumpur.

“Australians and New Zealanders love South Korea and Koreans love Australia and also New Zealand, which they can now fly to at great value fares connecting via our main hub in Kuala Lumpur," says AirAsia X Malaysia CEO Benyamin Ismail.

“We are excited to restart this historically very popular route and proud to be the only airline in Malaysia operating direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Busan, a city of many tourism drawcards.

“Together with our existing route to Seoul, this further strengthens our foothold in South Korea and increases our overall capacity to North Asia - one of our fastest growing markets. We will continue to look for expansion opportunities in the future and work with BTO to promote the destination globally and invigorate the tourism industry in Busan.”

Fares from Sydney/Melbourne/Perth to Busan are on sale now from $372, inclusive of airport taxes, fuel surcharges and any other applicable charges. The boking period for that fare is from now until February 19 for a travel period between February 3 and October 28.

Book through the AirAsia Super App and see https://www.visitbusan.net/.

CEO defends Qantas in the face of criticism

Qantas has come under fire for its Covid and post-Covid performance, and has recently attracted criticism for a number of in-flight turnbacks.

CEO Alan Joyce, however, has leapt to the defence of both the airline and its embattled staff, while admitting that Qantas did make a lot of mistakes.

"People are always keen to tell you how they think the airline is doing," Joyce said in a press release. "Whatever their feedback is, I always see it first and foremost as a reflection of the strong connection Australia has with the national carrier.

"To be honest, we know that connection has been tested at times.

"Six months ago, a lot of people felt we’d let them down and the figures showed why. Almost half our flights were late, our rate of misplaced bags had more than doubled and we were cancelling up to 7% of our schedule.

"Perception wise, it didn’t help that this came after some controversial restructuring decisions to make sure we survived Covid. And it didn’t matter that airlines around the world had the same problems as travel restarted. If your flight to the Gold Coast just got cancelled, it doesn’t make you feel any better if the delays are worse in Amsterdam.

"Knowing that we were routinely letting customers down was hugely disappointing for everyone at Qantas. It’s the exact opposite of our culture.

"Last August, we apologised and promised to fix it. And almost every week after that, things improved.

"It’s a huge credit to our people that the data now shows Qantas is back to its best.

"We’ve been the most on-time of the major domestic airlines for five months in a row. Our service levels - bags, cancellations, catering and the call centre - are back to what customers expect from us. And we’re working to make it better.

"As this turnaround was happening, people were talking to me less about flight delays and more about higher fares.

"The two are related. In order to make our operations more reliable, we had to reduce our flying to give us more buffer. We have more aircraft and crew on standby to step-in to deal with the supply chain and sick leave issues that remain. Less supply and lots of demand meant fares went up.

"Higher fares also reflect inflation in general and higher fuel prices in particular, which are up 65% in the past six months compared with pre-Covid. Naturally, that flows through to how much you pay for a flight.

"There’s not much we can do about the cost of things like fuel but the fact our operations have stabilised means we can steadily put capacity back in. Domestically, we’re almost back to 100% of pre-Covid flying levels. Internationally, we’ll be at around 80% by the middle of the year and we’ve recently seen most of our competitors announce a major ramp up in their capacity, so you can expect to see fares trend down, keeping in mind we’re all paying more for most things at the moment.

"More recently, the conversation has been about Qantas air returns.

"These have received a huge amount of attention because we had several in quick succession, but despite the hype, they are actually a symptom of strong safety systems.

"Our pilots always err on the side of caution because that’s what we train them to do. If an onboard system isn’t working the way it should, they will often decide to land rather than pressing on to the destination. I congratulate them for doing that and encourage them to keep doing it. And despite the obvious inconvenience, I think most of our customers do, too.

"Globally, the industry sees well over 10,000 air returns a year. Looking at our data, there’s no change from our average rate of turn backs before and after Covid, which for Qantas is around 60 a year or 1 per 2,000 flights. Our regional arm QantasLink has more, at over 200 a year, because they have more flights and it makes more sense to return to a major city than fly on to a remote town that doesn’t have the same level of technical support.

"If you’re flying on an aircraft that has an issue, it’s not because it’s not well looked after. It’s because they are incredibly complex pieces of equipment with many layers of redundancy."

Image: Qantas 

New platform aims to cater for younger travellers

Four bright young UTS students have teamed up to launch Nesteek, an Australia-only platform to help Gen-Zers cover their rent, and travel freely, despite the cost-of-living crisis and punishing rent hikes.

Nesteek has also published research highlighting the extent to which rental prices are outpacing wage growth, and how this affects young people.

With rental prices currently increasing by 25% per year and wages increasing by only 3% per year, Nesteek says that young renters will soon have virtually no disposable income and that the current situation is unsustainable for renters and landlords alike.

Nesteek co-founder and CEO, Keith Schembri (21, above)), says young people in Australia should not miss out on life experiences and travel opportunities, nor should they pay rent while they are away.

He lists several reasons for founding the company, including: Gen-Z cannot afford to travel freely, due to years of rising rents, inflated post-COVID flights, and the cost-of-living crisis.

He says Airbnb is broken for renters and young people. The cost to stay or host on Airbnb has steadily increased and the service now caters primarily for homeowners that want to run a professional B&B/hotel.

He adds that alternatives, like posting an ad on Facebook Marketplace, can be high risk to hosts and renters alike and that young people need a trusted, secure and easy way to cover their rent short term while they travel.

“ ’Do not pay rent while away’ is our rallying cry, because most young professionals and students I know cannot afford to travel and pay rent simultaneously,” said Schembri, also the Nesteek CEO.

”My generation is virtually penniless after paying their rent, but we deserve the same opportunities as any other generation, to enjoy life, create new experiences, and explore other cultures. The pandemic robbed us of our gap years, our festivals, our holiday romances. We want to move on but travel still seems out of reach.

“We created Nesteek to enable young people living in Australia to cover their rent while they travel, via a secure, trusted, and affordable service. Nesteek is not a side hustle or business opportunity - listers should only look to cover the cost of their rent, from a single renter, while they are away.

"To protect the lister and their landlord, the funds are automatically deducted from their guests’ bank account in advance of each week of their stay, and they are also protected by a bond payment.

“Travel wasn’t an issue for millennials, because flight prices fell sharply and Airbnb arrived on the scene to make accommodation more open and affordable to all.

"This is no longer the case today. Airbnb is increasingly geared towards rich home-owners and landlords who want to turn their property into a business. Facebook Marketplace is often the only viable alternative for renters, but it can be a high-risk proposition due to scammers, missed payments, and untrustworthy tenants.”

The list of accommodation available is currently small, and limited to Sydney, with prices ranging from $280 per week to $1600 per week - a sum which would seem beyond the reach of most Gen-Xers.

# The author has not used Nesteek and is not recommending it .

Tokyo to welcome Japan's biggest hotel and entertainment complex

Tokyo is one of the most exciting cities on the planet - and very much on my radar for later this year.

The Japanese capital bills itself as "the epicentre of youth culture, cutting edge arts and entertainment".

New openings in 2023 include the world's largest anime store Animate Ikebukuro, and a new  entertainment and hotel complex, the Tokyu Kabukicho Tower (above), with a cinema, two luxury lifestyle hotels, a concert venue, entertainment, bars and dining.

Tokyu Kabukicho Tower, located in the heart of the Shinjuku nightlife precinct, is being promoted as the biggest hotel and entertainment complex in Japan.

The 48-storey Kabukicho Tower will offer live music, a 900-seat theatre, state-of-the-art gaming amusement centre, nightlife venues, and a wellness area with pool, sauna and gym.

The complex will house a range of restaurants and bars and an entertainment food hall with DJ booth, stage and karaoke.

Tokyu Press Department said “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major global impact on how people enjoy entertainment and on people's needs for lodging facilities. However, we see that more people want to experience things in person and that people's passion for the things they enjoy is spreading across generations.”

The two new hotels - both opening on May 19 - are the Hotel Groove Shinjuku, a ParkRoyal property that will occupy levels 18-38 and Bellustar Tokyo, a PanPacific property on levels 39-47.

For more details see https://tokyotokyo.jp

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Adelaide hotel gets a serious facelift

Peppers Waymouth Adelaide this week revealed a new look and new guest offerings.

The 202-room central city hotel has been given a makeover and now has 17 floors of reappointed guestrooms, as well as the addition of two new luxury suites and two dedicated family rooms.

The hotel has added a new restaurant - TUTTO Cucina + Bar - with an open kitchen and wine cellar on its ground floor, plus a new private dining room/boardroom, guest library lounge and enhanced conference facilities.

The hotel’s multi-million dollar refurbishment coincided with moves by Adelaide City Council to beautify the urban environment surrounding the hotel.

Accor Pacific Chief Executive Officer Sarah Derry said: “Peppers Waymouth Adelaide has long been a popular accommodation choice for visitors to Adelaide, chosen by travellers who cherish the warm personality of the hotel and value its central location in the heart of Adelaide.

“This transformative renovation takes the hotel experience to an entirely new level and complements the high quality of service provided by the hotel team. Peppers Waymouth brings a new vibrancy to Waymouth Street, drawing international and local visitors to the city to enjoy Adelaide’s world-class line-up of festivals and events, and strong food and cultural scene.”

Each room now features floor-to-ceiling windows, full Italian marble bathrooms and bespoke furniture.

The two new Bentham Suites on level 18 (image above) feature a separate living/dining area, work space, fireplace, large flat-screen TV, and views of the city and Adelaide Hills.

TUTTO Cucina + Bar will feature both traditional and modern Italian classics including a range of pasta dishes and fig, gorgonzola and truffle honey bruschetta.

The hotel also boasts an indoor swimming pool, spa and sauna on site and room rates start from $279 per night at ALL.com.

[yellow tail] moves into the NOLO wine space

You know the NOLO craze is getting serious when one of Australia's biggest wine brands enters the fray.

With the "‘live better and healthier" theme very much in vogue for 2023, lower alcohol wines are proliferating. 

Many people are looking to moderate their alcohol consumption.

Enter [yellow tail]'s Pure Bright range, which is not only lower in alcohol (a bit) but also appeals to the calorie conscious.

The [yellow tail] team from Casella Family Brands says that "lower in alcohol drinks are a great option for anyone who wants to be more conscious of their alcohol intake'.

Here's the spiel: "The wines allow people to enjoy and participate in the wine occasion, with the same great taste, just less alcohol and fewer calories."

The range retails for between $8-10 a bottle - which certainly makes it affordable. 

The chardonnay has 85 calories per serving and just 9.6% alc/vol. It has some melon flavours and does taste like wine, unlike some of its NOLO rivals. The 2021 Pinot Noir, meanwhile, would be most acceptable served over ice on a warm day. 

All the wines contain fewer than 100 calories per 150ml serve.

The website is selling the chardonnay, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. No fruit source indicated on the labels. There is also a sparkling wine, a shiraz and a pinot noir on offer.

See here for details: https://www.yellowtailpurebright.com/ 

The wines are available at Liquorland and First Choice stores, as well as at some independent outlets.  


Keeping it casual at Sanctuary Cove

Back in 1988, when I was working for the US news agency Associated Press, I was given the assignment of covering the opening of a swish new resort on the Gold Coast.

It was no ordinary opening.

Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston headed an entertainment line-up that also included Peter Allen, while Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert played some tennis for the invitees and there was Arnold Palmer, who designed the golf course, enjoying the ambience. 

It was dubbed "The Ultimate Event". Anyone who was anyone was there and developer Mike Gore earned worldwide publicity. 

Sanctuary Cove has been through some ups and downs over the 35 subsequent years, but new owners Mulpha Group are betting it will bounce back again. 

The latest addition to the Cove line-up is Waterfront restaurant Anchor Buoy, which has been has been refurbished and reopened with a new menu following its acquisition last year by Mulpha. 

The new menu from chef Mike Marshall includes crumbed snapper schnitzel; roast scallops with chorizo crumble and garlic butter, and cold smoked chicken salad, and local favourite fish and chips.

“Our aim is to reflect the spirit of Sanctuary Cove, providing great food and service at unpretentious prices for locals, boaties and tourists alike, whether they are popping in for a quick bite or relaxing in the sea breeze with a nice cool drink,” said Marshall.

Sean Robertson, Mulpha’s Regional General Manager for Queensland, is overseeing the launch. 

“We know how important great food and drink venues are for Sanctuary Cove residents, visitors and other local businesses, and we wanted to create a venue that is open for lunch as well as dinner that showcases exceptional food and service," he said.

“Anchor Buoy joins our Ioesco restaurant, and the Sanctuary Cove Tavern, as iconic local venues we are investing in to create a contemporary food and beverage scene that helps make Sanctuary Cove a great place to live and international tourist destination.”

Mulpha's hospitality portfolio includes Bimbadgen winery and Esca restaurant, wedding venue Palmers Lane and Emma’s Cottage Vineyard in the Hunter Valley as well as InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort, InterContinental Sydney, and InterContinental Hayman Island.

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Some like it hot: new Pimalai menu keeps it local

So you like your food with a bit of spice, reflecting local tastes?

Pimalai Resort & Spa, the five-star resort on the southern Thai island of Koh Lanta, has just launched a new menu that features some iconic and authentic dishes from southern Thailand.

The promise is that dishes will be cooked with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, using recipes that underline the resort’s commitment to nature and local community.

The new menu has been curated by chef Supon “Peng” Kaewcharoenpaiboon, Pimalai’s executive chef for Thai cuisine, who has more than 20 years of experience.

Chef Peng is an expert in the art of Royal Thai cuisine and has worked as head chef at Blue Elephant, the famous Thai restaurant in Dubai.

Southern Thailand has an exotic food culture that is derived from locals herbs and spices.

His recipes can be enjoyed at Spice and Rice, Pimalai’s sea-facing Thai restaurant.

Guests can choose from dishes like Budu Herb Rice Salad, a spicy Kaeng Som soup and the fish dish Kaeng Tai Pla.

Sataw Phad Goong is a dish of stir-fried pakria (bitter beans) with shrimp and minced pork using Koh Lanta shrimp paste, pakria from villagers’ garden and fresh shrimp from the island’s fishing community.

Another of the restaurant’s other popular menu items is dried fish with watermelon.

Pimalai has an ethos of supporting local communities and reducing its environmental impact. By sourcing ingredients from within Koh Lanta, it ensures the freshness and flavour of the produce, while also providing a source of income for fishermen, farmers and small-scale producers.

“Today’s travellers are seeking highly authentic, localised experiences that connect them with their destination," says Charinthip Tiyaphorn, owner representative for Pimalai

"Food is a key aspect of this and Pimalai is committed to strengthening the links between our guests and the island by offering original cuisine that cannot be found anywhere else."

Pimalai Resort & Spa has a total of 121 suites and private pool villas overlooking the Andaman Sea and is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World’s (SLH) Considerate Collection.

It was fully booked last time I tried to visit, but is very much on my radar for my next trip to Thailand.

For more details visit pimalai.com.

Does your glass of Bordeaux wine taste a little Spanish?

The wine industry hates it when its bad news is shouted from the rooftops.

So I don't expect much love for this story, as sentences have been handed down in in a massive Bordeaux wine fraud case.

The case hit the courts after millions of litres of wine, much of it Spanish in origin, was passed off as Bordeaux of higher quality.

The fraud centred on the small vintage in 2013, it was heard in evidence.

Jean-Sébastien Laflèche, a broker based in Saint-Loubès, north-east of Bordeaux city, and Michel Gilin, a former wine merchant at the Celliers Vinicoles du Blayais, were handed 24 and 20-month prison sentences respectively, although both were commuted to house arrest.

Laflèche and Gilin were also given fines of €453,000 including property seizure, and the pair was banned from being involved in any wine merchant-based business for five years.

Three other defendants given suspended sentences and €20,000 in fines.

The five defendants were fined €670,000 between them for "irregular circulation of goods" with Laflèche and Gilin also facing €12,500 in private party damages.

"These fines are totally out of proportion," Sophie Benayoun, representing Laflèche, was quoted by French regional news outlet FranceBleu.

"And also unfair because it's always the lamplighters, the little guys in the dock. The big players are protected - or perhaps not, I don't know - but in any case, they are not under the scrutiny of the courts."

The defendants were reported as being likely to appeal their sentences.

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Anantara extends its footprint to the French Riviera

The Thai-based Anantara hotel group has increased its international footprint with the opening of its first property in France.

Ananatara, founded in 2001, now has over 40 properties globally and has just unveiled the Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel in a rejuvenated 19th-century building on Nice's rather glamorous boardwalk.

The opening marks the return of one of the most storied hotels on Côte d’Azur - the property was previously known as The Plaza, a Boscolo First Class Hotel, and also the continuation of Anantara’s European expansion.

The heritage property overlooking the Promenade des Anglais has undergone a two-year renovation.

It overlooks the Albert 1er gardens and the Promenade des Anglais - the most famous stretch of seafront in the south of France.

It reopens with 151 rooms including 38 suites, many with sea view terraces and balconies.

The 175-year-old building also houses a new Anantara Spa, six meeting rooms and a ballroom, as well as a rooftop restaurant and bar with a 360-degree panoramic views of the Baie des Anges and Old Nice.

SEEN by Olivier is the hotel’s signature restaurant to be operated by Portuguese celebrity chef Olivier da Costa.

Rates at Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel start from €350.00 for a Deluxe City View room including breakfast for two people. For more information visit https://www.anantara.com/en/plaza-nice

Images: Daniela Cesari

The perfect place to chill out for a day or two in Tasmania

It is hard to imagine a more idyllic location for a country retreat than that enjoyed by Laid Back Manor in southern Tasmania.

Surrounded by forests and bordered by a rivulet occupied by platypuses, this couples cabin is located in the Pelverata Valley, which is so off the beaten track that many Tasmanians would struggle to place it on a map.

We are just 30 minutes from Hobart but in a world of tranquillity on one of the island state's roads less travelled.

Laid Back Manor can be found between the hamlets of Pelverata and Kaoota (neither of which has so much as a village store) on the border of the Huon Valley and Kingborough.

The sounds here are those of wild birds, the sights of wild country - and a range of local wildlife, including possums, pademelons and spotted quolls.

Laid Back Manor was created by a couple of born and bred Tasmanians - hands-on duo Kylie Quilliam and Adam Marthick - and is much more than just a place to chill out for a night or two.

As well as being close enough to Hobart to be a base for exploring the capital of the Apple Isle, the property is also home to an 18-hole pitch-and-putt course, a weddings and venues site and, soon, a massage and yoga centre.

Within a short drive you can find wineries, cider producers, art trails and spectacular waterfalls, along with roadside honesty stalls selling local produce.

The pleasures here are simple ones; a luxurious bed (one of the most comfortable I have tried) dominates a well-equipped cabin with excellent kitchen facilities and a well-thought-out bathroom with excellent shower.

There are enough kitchen gadgets to keep the fussiest cook happy; from nutribullets to a convection microwave.

Inclusions feature wifi with unlimited data (although it was a little temperamental when I stayed), that glorious bed, electric blankets, hot water bottle, reverse-cycle air-conditioning and an outdoor swinging couch with cushions, heated blanket and overhead heating - perfect for summer slumbers, or night-time wildlife spotting.

The kitchenette has a hot plate, that convection microwave oven, air fryer, toaster and kettle, as well as an espresso machine and coffee pod machine.

Chopping boards, all cutlery and crockery, glasses and pots and pans are provided, along with umbrellas for rainy days and other necessities of life like cooking oil, salt and pepper, tea bags, sugar sachets and an emergency jar of chocolates.

There is even a golf buggy that the less mobile can use to explore the golf course and creek bank.  

Walkers will find plenty of rugged native bushland through which to trek, while bird watchers have a wide range of species to spot.

There is firepit right on your doorstep should you fancy dining al fresco, and while there is no TV or sound system, the changing light reflecting on the trees at night proves mesmerising. Bring a book. 

The pitch-and-putt course is essentially a very small golf course with no fairways, so every shot is either a pitch, chip or putt.

You can play an 18-hole circuit over 10 small, but challenging, greens. Each hole is a par three, varying in distance from 29 to 86 meters and it takes around 45 minutes to complete a round.

Kellaway’s Creek passes through the course and is in play on multiple holes. Adam has plans to hold monthly competitions here.

Adjoining the golf course (clubs and balls are provided, along with scorecards) there is a sculpture garden with some of the artworks lit up at night - and there is also an in-ground trampoline for more active visitors, as well as a pet duck that is happy to be hand fed.

I particularly enjoyed sitting on the banks of the creek, trying to spot trout (success!) and the platypus (failure).

The events area can cater for groups of up to 30 guests with a moveable marquee available on-site.

Retreats and workshops, team building exercises and acoustic music performances can all but catered for.

A superb spot to chill out for a day or two and the owners are on hand if you need them, but you can also opt for complete privacy should that be your preference.

For details and bookings see www.laidbackmanor.com.au.    

# The writer was a guest of Laid Back Manor.




A juicy choice of vineyard accommodation in Orange

Several years ago my wife and I enjoyed a fun stay at Mayfield vineyard in Orange. The cottages were delightfully located around a lake - and the vibe was super chilled.

This week came the news that after a change of ownership and 12 months of refurbishment Mayfield has once again opened its historic homestead and cottages for accommodation and wedding functions.

The historic Mayfield Homestead was purchased during the pandemic by the Eastham family, who have spent 12 months readying the property for visitors.

It is being billed as the perfect base from which to explore the many food and wine attractions of Orange and the rest of Central Western New South Wales.

In addition to the homestead, there are four cottages that offer a variety of accommodation options nestled within the vineyard and sprawling arboretum (that means a lot of trees).

The European history of Mayfield dates to 1815 when explorer William Charles Wentworth was granted Mayfield as acknowledgment of his earlier crossing of the Blue Mountains. In 1840, the property was transferred to local grazier, businessman and politician Thomas Icely.

Mayfield continued to prosper, passing through a number of families including William ‘Parson’ Tom after he discovered Australia’s first commercial gold strike in nearby Ophir in 1851.

The property now accommodates guests in a range of lovely buildings, including the main historic homestead and the oldest cottage, The Settlers Cottage, which was erected in 1886.

During the 1900s the property was owned and run by the famous Scottish biscuit makers, the Crawfords.

At their peak, they were the largest privately-owned biscuit manufacturer in Britain. The family ran sheep and set about creating a village atmosphere, building The School House (now the Mayfield Wines cellar door) to educate the workers’ children.

The Mayfield Homestead was inspired by famed Australian artist, author and architect Hardy Wilson, with construction beginning in 1906 and completed in 1910. He is recognised as one of the most outstanding architects of the 20th century and the Homestead is now listed by the National Trust.

This piece of Australian rural history boosts five (or up to seven) bedrooms, four bathrooms, formal dining room, three living areas, country kitchen and large outdoor dining areas.

The cellar door is just a stroll away, and the grounds, with vineyards, lakes and gardens are on your doorstep.

When James S.R. Crawford died, his widow Margaret remained at Mayfield. Margaret spent 65 years there and her everlasting gift to Mayfield was the arboretum with over 50 species of trees, many over 100 years old.

“We are particularly proud to be able to offer this luxury property to guests to enjoy,” says owner John Eastham.

“Mayfield is located in the midst of Orange’s idyllic cool-climate vineyards and allows us to offer a range of accommodation including The School House, The Rose Cottage, The Overseers Cottage, The Settlers Cottage, and The Garden Flat.”

Guests are able to book all the cottages for group functions and weddings in the gardens.

Further information can be found here: https://www.mayfieldvineyard.com.au/cottages/

Images: Kyle Ingram

Monday, 30 January 2023

An American idiot outdoes other American idiots

An American tourist has been fined €500 for driving over the centuries-old Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence.

The bridge is an iconic attraction that crosses the Arno River in the ancient city.

A 34-year-old Californian drove over the pedestrian bridge in a Fiat Panda rental car.

He claimed - with American ingenuity - that he was looking for a parking spot and didn’t notice he was on the bridge.

His fine included a penalty for driving without an international driver’s licence, Travel Mole reported.

The man was not named in a statement issued by the City of Florence press office.

The Ponte Vecchio is enclosed, lined with shops and normally full of pedestrians. On this occasion no one was hurt.

Image: Emanuele Semplici, Scop.io   

Piccadilly Valley Trail unveiled with a special offer for wine lovers

Paul Henschke of
Greenhill Wines
Correspondent Roderick Eime discovers a great deal for wine lovers on the  Piccadilly Trail. #piccadillytrail

Five of the Piccadilly Valley's best-known wineries have formed a mini marketing co-operative to raise awareness of this delicate sub-region within the greater Adelaide Hills wine region.

The Piccadilly Valley in the Adelaide Hills specialises in the production of cool climate wines, particularly pinot noir and chardonnay, with an added focus on premium sparkling wine production. 

With the highest altitudes in the Adelaide Hills, the fruit ripens in some of the coolest growing conditions in the country and with rainfall a whopping 1200mm a year there is little need to irrigate. 

Download the
flyer (PDF)
So whether it’s the lifted perfumes and elegant structure of the pinot noir, or the texture and length of fine chardonnay, Piccadilly Valley’s bona-fide cool-climate imprint is a feature of the wines grown and made here.

If you visit these five wineries and purchase a bottle from each, you can collect two superb Riedel Pinot glasses (RRP $80) to enjoy your wine. Download the flyer

These are the premium wineries involved: Ashton Hills VineyardCRFT WinesGreenhill WinesTapanappa Wines • Lofty Valley Vineyard