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Wednesday 31 May 2023

Using the airasia Superapp to fly with Batik Air

My recent Bali trip - several reports will follow over the next couple of weeks - was courtesy of the airasia Superapp and hotel group Archipelago International.

From starting as a budget airline with just two planes, AirAsia has evolved into a fully-fledged travel superapp and has become one of Asia’s fastest-growing travel platforms.

Not only does the airasia Superapp feature the airlines own products, it also offers flights from over 700 airlines, hotels including more than 900,000 worldwide, ride-hailing services, shopping and more. All in the one place.

My flights did not actually involve an AirAsia flight: I flew from Melbourne into Denpasar with Batik Air, and out with Virgin Australia – both booked through the app.

The recently launched suite of airasia Superapp offerings in Bali highlights one of the airline’s key focus destinations for the Australian market.

The app is described as a “one-stop shop” powered by data and technology – and has been actioned by 51 million users.

Visitors can engage in real-time conversations, join like-minded communities, play games and much more. Well worth a look.

I'd never flown with Batik Air before - and until last year they were known by their previous name of Malindo Air (Malaysia and Indonesia, geddit?).


Batik Air is a Malaysian-based regional airline with headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Malindo Air officially rebranded as Batik Air in April 2022 and operates from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Selangor.

The carrier currently operates a fleet of Boeing 737-8, 737-800 and ATR72-600 aircraft for both domestic and international flights.

For short flights like Melbourne-Denpasar, Batik Air is perfectly adequate. My flight had no entertainment screen, or wifi, but we all travel with iPhones or iPads nowadays.

The pre-ordered meal of satay chicken and nasi goreng was passable, though not as good as AirAsia, and the flight arrived on time.

You can pay extra for seats with more leg room should you wish to do so.

Batik Air currently operates out of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and will soon resume flights out of Adelaide.

Cheap and cheerful is the verdict. 




Global recognition for Air New Zealand

There are awards for just about everything nowadays; from best airline in the world to best supermarket product of the week.

Air New Zealand is celebrating this week after, the airline ratings website, named the Kiwi flag carrier as Airline of the Year for 2023. 

It was Air NZ's seventh victory since 2013 and rewards the airline’s innovations, including its SkyNest economy beds. 

Air NZ saw off previous winners Qatar Airways and leading contenders that included Etihad Airways, Korean Air, and Singapore Airlines.

The awards are evaluated by five judges sharing decades of industry experience. They take into account safety and government audits combined with 11 critical criteria including fleet age, passenger reviews, profitability, investment rating, product offerings, and staff relations. 

So just the opinions of five judges. 

Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief of, said: “Through our meticulous analysis, Air New Zealand emerged as the clear winner in numerous key areas, though the scores were quite close among the top five.”

The list of the Top 25 premium airlines is headed by Air New Zealand, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Virgin Australia/Virgin Atlantic, EVA Air, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa/Swiss, SAS, TAP Portugal, All Nippon Airways, Delta Air Lines, Air Canada, British Airways, Jet Blue, JAL, Vietnam Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Hawaiian, KLM, Alaska Airlines, and United Airlines.

Air NZ took out the award for best economy class, while, Qatar Airways continued to reign as the best business class for the fourth consecutive year. 

Singapore Airlines claimed the award for best first class. also presented awards for the best low-cost airlines, with Southwest Airlines securing the top spot in the Americas, Fly Dubai in the Middle East, AirAsia in Asia, Jetstar in Australia/Pacific, and Ryanair in Europe. 

Oh dear. You have to wonder how much credibility to give any awards that praise Jetstar and Ryanair. 

Cruise line readies for net zero greenhouse emissions voyage

The cruise industry has a reputation as a polluter, but the cruise division of MSC Group will soon launch the the industry’s first net zero greenhouse gas emissions voyage.

The latest MSC Cruises flagship, the liquefied natural gas (LNG)-powered MSC Euribia (above), leaves her shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France - where she is currently being finished - on the way to her naming ceremony in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The new ship, the 22nd vessel to join MSC Cruises’ fleet, will sail for four days from Saint-Nazaire to Copenhagen next week and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions to demonstrate that net zero cruising is possible.

MSC Euribia will depart the French port on June 3 and is scheduled to arrive in the Danish capital on June 7.

“This industry-first net zero gas emissions voyage of our latest flagship MSC Euribia heralds another significant step on our decarbonisation journey and demonstrates more than anything the extent of our commitment,” says Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of the Cruise Division of MSC Group.

“We cannot do this alone, however. Given the absolute importance of alternative fuels for our industry as well as for other sectors across civil society to achieve decarbonization, we all need to work together to increase their availability at scale.

"Our purchase of bio-LNG will send a clear and meaningful signal to the market that there is demand from cruise lines and the broader maritime industry for cleaner fuels, but we need governments, producers and end-users to collaborate and scale-up the availability of these much-needed and new sources of power.”

The net zero sailing will utilise bio-LNG using a mass-balance system, the most environmentally efficient method of delivering the benefits of renewable biogas.

The entire supply chain will be fully compliant with the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive, commonly known as RED II, and each individual batch of the total bio-LNG produced has been certified by the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification.

MSC Cruises is being supported by Nordic energy company Gasum for the net zero greenhouse gas emissions voyage.

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Go behind the scenes at world-famous Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is one of the most recognisable buildings in the world - and a symbol of modern Australia.

Celebrating its 50th year, it is one of the world’s busiest performing arts centres, the nation’s premier tourism destination and an architectural masterpiece.

It is mark its 50th anniversary with a year-long season of special events and performances and today announced a brand new intimate tour, Hidden House, launching for a limited-run from June to October.

From pulleys to props, scenery to sound-checks, the new tour has been specially curated to open up more of the Opera House to locals and visitors, exploring never-before-seen areas of Australia’s most recognised building.

The tour will journey into back-of-house spaces including the Concert Hall’s world-famous organ - believed to be the largest mechanical action pipe organ in the world – the follow-spot lighting room, which puts a spotlight on world-class talent from Lizzo to The Cure, and the Joan Sutherland Theatre’s backstage lift, which carries up to twenty tonnes of set props for performances by Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet.

Intimate groups of just 10 people will be hosted by two Opera House tour guides, and - for the first time on an Opera House tour - stage and lighting technicians will share anecdotes of what it’s like to work in the landmark.

Following the tour, a leisurely high-tea brunch will be served at Portside restaurant, known for its sweeping harbourside views.

“The Opera House is more than just a piece of beautiful architecture. It is a living stage for culture, creativity and imagination," said Sydney Opera House Chief Customer Officer Jade McKellar. 

"During our milestone 50th anniversary year, we’re opening up our doors in new and exciting ways so that more people can experience the magic of the Opera House. With this brand new tour, we’re drawing the curtain back on the building’s thriving epicentre and the powerful stories that bring our icon to life every day.” 

"The new Hidden House tour complements the Opera House’s quintessential tour which is available in seven different languages, the Mobility Access Tour, the Architectural Tour, Taste of the House, a guided culinary adventure through all of the Opera House’s on-site bars and restaurants, and the Junior Adventure Tour, perfect for little explorers."

More information can be found on the Opera House website.

Images: Ken Leanfore 

Qantas unveils details on its future strategy

Qantas has released new detail on its strategy through to 2030, as the Australian national carrier moves from what it describes as "recovery to renewal and growth".

My flight from Melbourne to Hobart yesterday was only an hour late, so things appear to be on the up.

At its first Investor strategy day since the Covid pandemic, members of the airline's management committee outlined long-term plans across key categories of customer experience, sustainability and satff.

The details unveiled included the next-generation fleet arriving from this year onwards (A220, B787 and A320-family). 

There are also plans for an overhauled Qantas app, launching towards the end of 2023, that will give customers more control over their bookings and the introduction of baggage tracking.

There will also be changes to Qantas’ boarding process from October aimed to improve on-time performance and to better recognise tiered frequent flyers.

Qantas will also launching a $400 million Climate Fund - promoted as the largest of its type for any airline - to accelerate progress towards sustainability targets.

Income is important, however, and through cost and revenue improvements, Qantas aims to sustain margins of 18% for Qantas domestic and 15% for Jetstar domestic from FY24 onwards.

Outgoing Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce (above) said: “This is a structurally different business than it was before Covid, operating in markets that have also changed. We’re very well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that creates and the detail we’ve released today shows our strategy to do it.

“New technology is central to our plan and the next-generation aircraft that have started arriving will transform our network over the next few years. We’ll be able to serve our customers better, reduce our cost base through lower running costs and carve out some new competitive advantages.

“Our revenue projections and track record for ongoing transformation show we can invest heavily in people and technology at the same time as generating strong returns for shareholders. That’s exactly the kind of national carrier we want to be.”

Group CFO and CEO-designate, Vanessa Hudson, said: “We’ve been clear on the significant level of investment in the pipeline and today we’ve given some detail on the returns we expect from it.

“We’re confident in reaching our FY24 margin targets and we’ve set some ambitious but achievable earnings goals beyond that, because we think ambition is key to long-term performance.

“All of the extra activity we have planned has to be underpinned by a focus on sustainability, particularly decarbonisation. We’re determined to be a leader in this space and that’s supported by the new commitments we’ve made today, as well as calling for more action industry-wide in the form of a sustainable aviation fuel mandate."

Monday 29 May 2023

A new spirit from Scotland is a gin, not a whisky

The competitive Australian spirits market has a new contender from Scotland - but the newcomer is a gin, not a whisky.

Tulchan is a new super-premium gin from Speyside, with a bagpipe player on the label to make sure you know where it comes from.

Taking its name from Tulchan Estate, it is made with botanicals inspired by the terroir of the estate, which is located on the banks of the River Spey.

Tulchan Gin is being touted as a “a full bodied, juniper forward, London Dry gin, featuring 14 deliciously fragrant botanicals including sloe berries, elderflower and blackberry leaves”.

Asparagus (a little weird) also features.

Tulchan Gin is presented in an embossed blue glass bottle with Tulchan Gin’s own tartan running down the side. Another broad wink to its origin.

The gin is part of the Stoli Group portfolio of wine and spirits brands and is distributed by Amber Beverage Group in Australia.

Tulchan Gin global brand lead Kara Anderson says: “We are delighted to bring a slice of our wondrous estate to Australia. 

"Distilled in Speyside, in the heart of whisky country, we’re looking forward to introducing Tulchan Gin to whisky drinkers as well as gin lovers throughout the world.”

Available from Dan Murphy’s stores and Hairy Dog online. RRP $95.


Leading chef offers a spiritual Sydney experience


Hickson Rd Distillery in Sydney is getting into the spirit of the Vivid Sydney festival with special celebratory distillery dinners on June 8 and 15.

The new Seven Spice Gin will be paired to new dishes created by chef Sean Connolly at Hickson House.

The venue was recently named among Asia Pacific’s Top 10 Best New International Cocktail Bars by Tales of the Cocktail (or so I am reliably informed).

Hickson Rd Seven Spice Gin is spruiked as "a unique culinary gin, created to enhance the meal occasion and provide a credible alternative to beer and wine".

It features seven local ingredients: native lemongrass, mountain pepper leaf, aniseed myrtle, finger lime, wattleseed, bush tomato and lemon myrtle.

Bar maestro Mikey Enright and his bar team have built a range of new cocktails around Seven Spice Gin, collaborating with friend and chef Connolly to create a menu of dishes to match the drinks.

Think dry-aged Muscovy duck paired with Seven Spice carrotini, a savoury-style martini; or scallops with native citrus butter matched to Seven Spice Myrtle Mayhem.

You can find Sean’s recipes with matching drinks here.

“I loved the challenge of creating a botanical-based menu," Connolly said. "Each dish heroes one botanical with the others supporting. Sitting at the bar learning about gins with Mikey and his expert team was a spiritual experience - pun intended.

"As we tasted Seven Spice Gin the culinary magic just happened naturally.”

The Hickson House ‘Distiller’s Table’ dinners cost $195 per person including all food and drinks.

For details see

Sunday 28 May 2023

Britain is not so great when it comes to travel technology

If there was a world championship for travel cock-ups then post-Brexit Britain would be a near certainty for a gold medal.

The past 48 hours have been particularly impressive.

British Airways, as is often the case, led the way with ‘chaos’ with a second day of flight cancellations following an IT issue.

BA cancelled at least 42 flights on Saturday due to knock-on effects.

Most were on short-haul routes from and to Heathrow Airport. The IT glitch grounded around 80 flights on Friday.

All passengers have been advised to check their flight status before leaving for the airport

“While the vast majority of our flights continue to operate, we have cancelled some of our short-haul flights from Heathrow,” BA said.

BA says most cancellations are on routes where there are multiple departures a day, Travel Mole reported.

In-coming passengers, meanwhile, suffered delays of up to four hours after passport e-gates failed.

Travellers were stuck in queues at airports including Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick.

All airports across the country using the technology were affected.

The e-gate system speeds up passport control by allowing some passengers to scan their own passports. It uses facial recognition to verify identity and captures the traveller's image.

People flying into the UK had to have their passports checked manually, with larger airports with e-gates most affected.

Sculptures below the sea for tourists and locals


Busselton Jetty is one of the biggest tourism attractions in Western Australia.

It is the longest timber-piled pier in the southern hemisphere at 1.8km long and dates back to 1865.

The jetty features a rail line along its length and an underwater observatory, one of only six natural aquariums in the world, which opened to the public in 2003.

A new observatory, the Australian Underwater Discovery Centre, opens next year.

Now, as part of a major environmental project, Busselton Jetty will gain an Underwater Sculpture Trail and artificial reef.

A total of 13 underwater sculptures, like the one above, will be installed on the seabed, 8 metres below the surface at the northern end of the jetty to provide a new experience for divers, snorkelers, swimmers and marine life to enjoy.

The area surrounding the jetty is a vibrant and diverse habitat for over 300 marine species.

Saturday 27 May 2023

Old school hotel offers modern hospitality

There is something special about older hotels. 

In Europe, particularly, they are often the benchmark for style and sophistication.  

If you want to take a little step back in time, Rendezvous Melbourne was built in 1913 and is one of Australia's most historic hotels. 

It has recently undergone a refurbishment to enhance the hotel’s lovely heritage features. 

But one "old school" element shines above all others: the art of hospitality. 

The multicultural staff - from the reception desk to the restaurant and the bar - are uniformly smiling, helpful. Downright hospitable, in fact. 

Situated just across the road from Flinders Street station, the Rendezvous caters for people looking for a little bit of luxury on budget. 

Folk from the country in the big smoke for the weekend, perhaps. Older couples celebrating an anniversary, perhaps. 

The location is great - the vibe equally good. 

The modern makeover has retained the century-old charm of what was originally the Commercial Travellers' Association Building but has gone through several incarnations since.

The original Edwardian building was designed by architect Harry Tompkins, hence the name of the on-site eatery: Mr Tompkins. 

Natural lighting and local photography feature in rooms that hark back to the past, but have modern touches like USB slots. 

The entry level Commerce Room category pays homage to the origins and start from $189 per night. 

The Yarra-view Perkins rooms highlight brass and marble and a larger with high ceilings and a bright, airy feel. 

There are 340 rooms in all, with well-equipped en-suite bathrooms.

There is a 24-hour reception, gym, laundry service and fast free wifi. Look out for special deals.

The Travellers Bar features an impressive range of cocktails, while Mr Tompkins serves excellent a la carte breakfasts and that older style is amped by High Tea service on Thursdays to Sundays.

“What’s exciting is that Rendezvous Melbourne continues an important legacy as both a meeting place and piece of living history, within walking distance of everything people come to see and experience in this remarkable and romantic city,” says regional general manager Stephen Moore.

Certainly an address worth noting.

# The writer was a guest of TFE Hotels 

Thai capital to welcome a new signature dining experience

Bangkok is about to get a new fine dining restaurant.

Chatrium Grand Bangkok, one of the Thai capital's top hotels, is preparing to unveil Casia, a new fine-dining destination that will present “French finesse in the heart of Siam”. 

This signature French-Mediterranean restaurant will be led by chef de cuisine Jerome Bondaz, an award-winning culinary expert whose stellar career has spanned Michelin-starred venues in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia.

With a passion for using fresh ingredients and classical flavours with contemporary cooking techniques, the chef is promising a gastronomic journey to southern France and the Mediterranean coast.

He has been working with sustainable farms, organic orchards and small-scale fisheries to source the best ingredients. 

Casia’s menus will change with the seasons and feature à la carte dining, as well as a series of degustation offerings. 

Casia will also stage a host a series of culinary events. 

“My culinary influences come from many different places," the chef says.

" When I was growing up I would shuck oysters with my father. This started my love of fresh produce and especially seafood. Since then, I have been fortunate to work with some of the world’s best chefs, including the late Santi Santamaria, with whom I worked very closely during my spell as head chef at El Racó de Can Fabes, the famous Barcelona restaurant that held two Michelin stars.

“In more recent years, my cuisine has been inspired by my global travels. I have been lucky to work in Asia and South America, which introduced me to many exciting and exotic new ingredients and expanded my knowledge. 

"All of these influences, from the Michelin-starred restaurants of southern Europe to the vibrant markets of Asia, will be represented in the menus at Casia."

Casia will be open for lunch and dinner. 

Friday 26 May 2023

New chef for Clare Valley hotspot

SLATE, the Pike family's Clare Valley winery restaurant, has a new chief with the appointment of Louis Ritchie in the dual roles of head chef and restaurant manager. 

Ritchie will take responsibility for both the kitchen and front of house operations.

The Clare Valley local joins the Pikes team after eight years working at Seed Clare Valley, where he was head chef for three years. 

“Louis’s passion, energy and well-rounded knowledge of both kitchen and front of house 
put him in a fantastic position to drive the experience at SLATE Restaurant forward,” says managing director Jamie Pike. 

“He has played a key role in the development and delivery of an exceptional customer experience at Seed over many years and given the freedom and support from 
the broader Pikes team, we are very excited to see what he can deliver at SLATE.”

Ritchie says: “I’m really excited by the opportunity. The amount of amazing estate-grown produce here is incredible, and really resonates with my approach to cooking, which is all about creating food that allows fresh local produce to shine without complications.

“The venue itself also has lots of potential, and we’ll be exploring what options we have to create more amazing experiences at SLATE Restaurant.”

He says the menu will "always evolving: as well as estate grown fruit and vegetables, expect to see a lot of locally grown, ethically-raised protein that we will butcher in house 
to make use of the whole animal.

“The Pikes Beer Garden menu will be fun, exciting, unpretentious and just downright delicious."

Jamie Pike says SLATE has survived the challenges of Covid and is ready to thrive. 

"Our family remains staunch in our commitment to offer one of the best food and wine tourism
experiences in Australia and I know from experiencing his food, Louis has the capability to help us deliver on that.”

Pikes Wines was established in 1984 and is a located at Polish Hill River. 

Winter deals on a Hunter Valley getaway

Got a group of friends or a family event and want to stay in style in the Hunter Valley? 

Hunter Valley Stays has you covered with winter specials on its Sixth Magnolia property in Pokolbin .

This home away from home has four bedrooms, three bathrooms and entry to an estate swimming pool and is located in The Vintage Golf Club and Resort.
It has a fireplace, spacious entertaining areas, wifi and access to a tennis court and a gym. 

For now until the end of September bookings for two nights get a third night free. 

The Sixth Magnolia costs $2,120 for up to eight guests (Thur/Fri/Sat, Fri/Sat/Sun, Sat/Sun/Mon)
or $1,600 for(Mon/Tues/Wed, Tues/Wed/Thur). 

This offer is not valid for long weekends, public holidays and concerts. 

The promotion is available only by contacting Hunter Valley Stays on 0477 010 010, not available online.

Thursday 25 May 2023

Hawke’s Bay gets some capital wine news

Hawke's Bay in New Zealand is the latest addition to the Great Wine Capitals of the world, joining regions that include Bordeaux (France), Napa Valley (US)  and Adelaide (Australia).

Admission to the Great Wine Capitals program follows a process that looks at a region's winegrowing industry, its history, its wine tourism, educational opportunities, business, and travel, as well as the region itself.

 In announcing the news this week, Hawke's Bay Tourism CEO Hamish Saxton said the significance of being named a Great Wine Capital of the world was a milestone for the region.

“Hawke's Bay's inclusion as one of just 12 Great Wine Capitals of the world is of regional and national significance,” he said. “It is recognition that Hawke's Bay wines are among the world's best, and that our nation's wine growing industry, while still young, offers quality to rival the world's oldest. 

“We have long known that Hawke's Bay, as New Zealand's food and wine country, stood out for its winemaking.

“ This new achievement gives Hawke's Bay a unique positioning in New Zealand and the world. The climate, unique soils and the innovation of so many talented individuals, have come together to deliver an accolade the region wholeheartedly deserves. It is a true legacy for the region and will continue to deliver benefits to industry, education, business and tourism for the years to come.

“Becoming a Great Wine Capital will also give a significant boost to the region's post-cyclone recovery, particularly with the wine industry already generating an estimated $300 million direct revenue to the Hawke's Bay economy and contributing $156m to GDP. 

“The accolade will further increase Hawke's Bay's global recognition and will give it access to additional expertise, resources, and support from the best of the global wine and tourism industries.”

Back to the future at Stonier Wines

New owners are taking iconic Mornington Peninsula winemaker Stonier back to its roots.

Stonier was a family business when founded by Brian Stonier in 1978 and it is now back in family ownership after over 20 years as a corporate entity.

New owner Circe Wines is operated by three local families: the Drummond, McLeod and Thickins families.

Aaron Drummond, previously general manager of New Zealand star winery Craggy Range, is part of the group that acquired the winery, vineyard, and brand, from Accolade Wines in December last year and changes are already in place.

"Stonier is a pioneer and icon of the Mornington Peninsula and we are honoured to be its new custodians." Drummond says.

"I grew up on the Peninsula and Brian Stonier’s grandchildren were friends of mine. I have immense respect for Brian’s ambition and for what he achieved. After working all around the world in fine wine it is an incredible opportunity to finally come home and work with another iconic producer.

"Our vision for Stonier is quite simple. We are going back 20 years to Brian’s original ambition of cementing Stonier as one of Australia’s great fine wine producers. To do this we are investing in our farming, our people, and ensuring that nothing gets in the way of quality.

“We all have plenty of experience in the wine industry and are passionate about this as a long term, world class, family orientated fine wine project.” 

There is a new team in place with Justin Purser having joined Stonier as chief winemaker in 2022 after a decade at Best’s Great Western, while on the vineyard side viticulturalist Tim Brown has experience with pinot noir at places like Bindi and Place of Changing Winds.

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Circular Quay welcomes a hip new wine bar

Circular Quay in Sydney will this week welcome a new wine bar with a idiosyncratic food offering.

Mulpha Hospitality Group will on Friday open the doors to Bar Messenger, situated next to the iconic InterContinental Sydney Hotel.

The wine selection will include labels from the group's Bimbadgen and Alter wines in the Hunter Valley, as well as from around the world.

So think names like Taittinger, Henschke, Craggy Range and Moss Wood by the glass paired with snacks like taramasalata, smoked salmon and confit sardines. 

The art deco interior of the venue draws inspiration from its heritage and a sculpture depicting the Roman God Mercury.

Opening just in time for the Vivid Sydney festival, the venue aims to provide a "sophisticated yet relaxed ambiance" for both wine enthusiasts and casual drinkers.

With a seating capacity of 120, this venue will feature wines chosen by venue manager Aaron Rothe.

To complement the wine selection, Bar Messenger will offer a menu of small grazing items such as charcuterie boards, salumi selections and share plates, as well as classic Aussie toasties.

“We are delighted to announce the opening of Bar Messenger and are thrilled to welcome guests to our establishment," says Mulpha GM Belinda Stapleton.

"The team is incredibly excited about this unique venture, as it allows us to provide an exceptional wine and food experience to our patrons. Our shared passion for quality wine and delectable cuisine is at the heart of what we offer."

Bar Messenger will be on Wednesday and Thursday 3pm- late; Friday noon-late and Saturday 3pm-late.

Images: Tim Pascoe

Handpicked Wines does things a little differently


The Handpicked Wines operation is very different to other Australian wine producers. 

For a start, Handpicked sources fruit from vineyards across the country - from the Barossa to Tasmania. 

Owner William Dong and winemaker Peter Dillon follow environmentally sustainable principles and sell many of their wines through their city centre cellar doors in Sydney and Melbourne rather than through more traditional avenues. 

Dong purchased Handpicked's first vineyard - the Capella Vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula (above) - a decade ago. 

That anniversary is being marked by the release of four 2021 vintage wines across its the Collection and Single Vineyard ranges.

In the past year, Capella Vineyard has achieved ‘Certified Member’ status from Sustainable Winegrowing Australia (SWA) and Organic Certification from the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA). 

“For the better part of a decade, we have researched, trialled and enacted intense regenerative farming practices in the vineyard and surrounding natural habitats that comprise the Capella Vineyard site." says chief winemaker Dillon. 

"We’ve done this to deliver the purest, most expressive fruit possible and give our vines the best chance of being around for generations to come. 

“While I’m proud of the certification for the site, I’m even more excited by seeing Capella teeming with life - down to the highly active soils the vines grow in.”

Capella Vineyard is a small, ultra-premium vineyard site with 5.2 hectares of pinot noir and 1.6 hectares of chardonnay. 

Dong has subsequently purchased a further five vineyards in Yarra Valley, Barossa and Tasmania but says Capella remains the spiritual home of Handpicked's winemaking operations.

The new-release wines include the Collection Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2021 ($49.99) and the Collection 2021 Mornington Pinot Noir ($59.99).

The new Capella Vineyard Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2021 ($69.99) is from just two blocks - while two blocks also provided the fruit for the Capella Vineyard Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2021 ($89.99). 

My wife was a big fans of the pinots, describing them as "stylish and sophisticated" while my personal preference was for the chardonnays: both lean and mineraly with gunflint characters and with cool-climate food friendliness. 


Tuesday 23 May 2023

How to see Canadian critters in their own natural environment

Whitehorse is the gateway city to the wilderness of Canada's Yukon Territory.

The entire Yukon is a wildlife sanctuary; where moose outnumber the humans two to one.

For those who want to be certain of seeing native creatures up close, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve features 700 acres of snowy hills, marshes, steep cliffs and flat lands that provide a perfect ecosystem for 11 species of northern Canadian mammals.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is not a traditional zoo or theme park.

Instead, the animals live in large, spacious enclosures that mimic their natural habitats, allowing them to live and behave as they would in the wild.

The preserve is committed to educating the public about wildlife conservation efforts and the importance of protecting northern Canadian wildlife.

Among the critters who might hope to see are bison, moose, mule, deer, woodland caribou, elk, mountain goats, Canadian lynx, and foxes.

The Preserve is located 25 minutes from downtown Whitehorse and visitors can walk, ski, snowshoe or fat-bike the five-kilometre viewing loop at their own pace, or jump on a guided bus tour.

Visitors wishing to take a bus tour are encouraged to book in advance to ensure availability.

For more information, visit

# Air Canada offers daily direct flights to Vancouver from Sydney and direct flights between Brisbane and Vancouver four times per week. Direct flights from Sydney to Vancouver are also available on Qantas. Internal flights to Whitehorse and Dawson City are available on Air North and Air Canada.

More information visit

Images: Cathie Archbould

Monday 22 May 2023

Monkey business very important for one luxury resort

A luxury hotel in Vietnam is doing its bit to help ensure the survival of a critically endangered species of primates.

InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, a five-star resort on the Son Tra Peninsula, has installedg three brand-new “monkey bridges” – man-made bamboo and rope structures - that help the resident population of red-shanked douc langurs travel safely around the resort to access their favourite feeding grounds.

Famed for their striking scarlet legs and white beards, red-shanked douc langurs are one of the rarest primates on Earth – classified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Only around 2,000 remain in the wild in Vietnam, 1,500 of which are thought to live in the jungles of the Son Tra Peninsula, where they love to eat the young leaves of tropical almond trees. They occasionally get on the ground to drink water or eat dirt. 

The InterContinental Danang is determined to protect its charming tree-dwelling friends.

Five families of red-shanked douc langurs are known to reside within the grounds of this 39-hectare resort, each with between five and 20 members.

To help the communities thrive, InterContinental Danang is creating a network of bridges and ladders that let these arboreal animals move freely through the forest canopy, their preferred habitat.

The new monkey bridges joined two already in place, providing these colourful creatures with safe, stress-free passages through the forest.

August and September are usually the months when baby red-shanked douc langurs are born, so the new bridges have been completed at a crucial time. More bridges are being planned in future.

“At InterContinental Danang, we understand that we have a responsibility to preserve the precious ecosystems of the Son Tra Peninsula," said general manager Seif Hamdy.

"One of the best ways to help protect the red-shanked douc langurs is to keep their migration routes open. Our monkey bridges act like aerial highways, letting them live, feed and breed in complete peace and safety.

"The bridges are not only used by red-shanked douc langurs, however; other native species such as macaques, squirrels and even civets have been seen using them, which shows how beneficial they are to our wildlife.”


Sunday 21 May 2023

Emirates boosts its free in-flight wifi

Emirates has upgraded its in-flight wifi so that every passenger can potentially enjoy free wifi even if they are flying on a cheap economy ticket.

Only one issue: you have to sign up the Emirates Skywards scheme to be eligible, Travel Mole reports.

The upgrade means an additional 30,000 economy class passengers will get access to complimentary wifi every week.

The airline says it has invested more than US$300 million in onboard connectivity.

All Emirates Skywards members in every class can now enjoy some form of free connectivity.

Skywards members enjoy free app messaging and first class passengers will now have unlimited free internet if they are Skywards members.

Silver, Gold and Platinum Skywards members get free wifi in business class.

Platinum Skywards members have complimentary internet access in all classes.

Emirates sees an average of 450,000 inflight wifi users per month.

Patrick Brannelly, SVP Retail, IFE said: ” In March we delivered about 55% more data per customer session."

Emirates will also offer new high-speed broadband by Inmarsat’s GX Aviation, on new Airbus A350 aircraft from 2024.

Five travel tips to make your next overseas trip better

Overseas travel is not as much fun as it used to be.

Airports are crowded; flights are often delayed, queues are longer.

But just a little foresight can help make your trip just a little bit easier.

Here are some tips that might help you next time you hit the airport.

1. Take a pillow with you. Aircraft are more cramped than ever before; and seats seem to be getting smaller. A travel cushion or pillow for your head - or back support - can make your flight a little more bearable, but who wants to drag one around from hotel to hotel? Simple solution: Grab an old pillow from your cupboard, use it on your outbound flight and then donate it to an op shop on arrival. Before departure pay a couple of bucks for a replacement at a charity outlet before you fly home. Simple and cheap.

2. Turn left not right. Here's a clever tip from Southern Cross travel insurance to avoid queues at immigration counters. Research shows that most people are right handed and tend to turn to the right first, so do the opposite. Go to the left and you may be able to move faster through airport security and customs.

3. Make a phone call. There are some very good deals available on hotel booking sites, but you may be able to get a better one by calling your hotel of choice directly. See what the current price is at or similar sites, and then call the hotel. Ask if they can do a better deal, or offer a perk like a late check out. Hotels pay big money in commission to booking sites, so many would prefer to deal with you direct. It's worth a try.

4. Go for colour. Many suitcases look the same. Particularly if you have chosen black. Tie a colourful ribbon on your case, or put some bright sticky tape on it. That way you'll be able to identify your baggage quickly on the airport carousel, or in a pile of suitcases.

5. Download a translation app. If you are heading for a country with a lively tourism industry then chances are there will be someone who speaks your language. If, however, you are in Poland, Laos or Honduras, things might be a little trickier. Download a translation app on your phone before your trip. With the Google Translate app, you can hold your phone’s camera up to any text, and the app will translate it for you, whether you are puzzled by a street sign or a menu. Nifty.

And a bonus. Take a photo of your key passport pages and email to yourself. If you do happen lose your passport then you will have something to show to officials.

Image: Tiago Gomes, 

Saturday 20 May 2023

Meet Tasmania's newest country retreat

Like a little luxury in your life?

Fancy a few days exploring one of the nicest small towns in Tasmania?

How about staying in a beautifully renovated 1930s home with sweeping views over Port Cygnet Bay?

There is room for six or eight people comfortably - and everything has been thought of at Woodland Bay Retreat.

A modern kitchen with all-new equipment. Tick.

A welcome basket of local produce, including a bottle of local pinot noir from Chatto Wines, or Sailor Seeks Horse. Tick.

Big fluffy towels. Tick.

A lovely deck with plenty of space to take in the views and summer sun. Tick.

An outdoor pizza oven. Tick.

A seperate studio with a private games arcade? Tick.  

But wait. There is much more.

There is your own personal gym.

A sauna with room for six people.

A hot tub and a cold tub.

A firepit with seating for taking in the amazing night skies.

We'd planned to enjoy the hot tub, but the changing lights and views at sunset proved mesmerising. 

And the busy little town of Cygnet with its many art galleries, cafes and eateries is just a five-minute drive away should you feel like picking up something to eat - although that would be a pity given the high-tech kitchen equipment at your disposal. 

Woodland Bay Retreat is a Hamptons-style home with a garden, free private parking and free wifi.

The kitchen comes with a dishwasher, an oven and a microwave, as well as little treats like hot chocolate mix and loose-leaf teas.

There are two living rooms and a dining area, three bedrooms, and two bathrooms and for guests with children, the home features an indoor play area.

You are around a 50-minute drive from Hobart and all its attractions - but here you can enjoy silence and remoteness.

The house runs on a solar panel system and all products and amenities are locally and organically sourced.


Woodland Bay Retreat is bookable on airbnb, and, or call 0401 190 606 to speak to the owners, who live locally.

Why you must watch your step in Thailand

Thailand is a wonderful tourism destination with beautiful beaches, stunning cuisine and fabulous resorts.

But it does pay to make sure you look where you are placing your feet.

Our Thailand correspondent reports: One of the first things you learn here is never to step on any kind of drain cover.

He was following up on a story about an American tourist who fell through a manhole cover in Pattaya earlier this week and spent several hours trapped in a sewer.

The man, named in media reports as Johnathan Vaimaona, said he fell several metres and wandered through the muddy sewer for hours looking for a way out until he heard people’s voices from above.

He then called out for assistance.

The Thaiger and the Pattaya News reported that police said that the man didn’t appear to have any injuries from his smelly ordeal in the sewers, so they escorted him back to his condo for a shower and some rest.

It sounded like a tall story to me, but our correspondent says: "I hope he's had a very thorough medical check. Those sewers are lethal."

Last year, an underground explosion cuased by methane gas sent manhole covers flying five meters into the air in Pattaya.

Our man says Thai sewer covers are notorious for their fragility and that in Bangkok prisoners are compelled to clean the sewers without wearing protective equipment.

Some years back, Bangkok Governor Bichit Rattakul had a first-hand experience of how rough it is to walk along the Thai capital's mean streets. He fell into a manhole.

The governor suddenly almost disappeared from view, local media reported

"If I were thinner, I would have fallen deeper into the sewage," he said at the time.

So do keep your eyes peeled.

Image: NewsFlare 

Friday 19 May 2023

Qantas promises return to pre-Covid flight levels

Qantas has announced plans to boost its international network with extra flights, more aircraft and new routes as it restores capacity in line with what it describes as "strong travel demand and the broader recovery of the aviation industry".

From late October 2023, the Australian national carrier will add around one million seats to its international network over 12 months compared to its current schedule, offering customers more choice to destinations across Asia, the United States and the Pacific.

The additional capacity will be made possible through a combination of more Qantas aircraft returning to service, new aircraft joining the fleet and an arrangement with oneworld partner Finnair to operate two Airbus A330 aircraft on two Qantas routes.

The network changes will see the group’s international capacity grow to around 100% of pre-Covid levels by March 2024, up from 44% 12 months ago and 84% right now.

Qantas said it has employed 2,400 pilots and cabin crew since borders reopened; and said a further 300 people will be needed by the end of the year.

The announcement came as Qantas prepares to resume San Francisco flights next week and launch its inaugural service from Sydney to New York via Auckland next month. Seasonal services to Rome and flights between Melbourne and Hong Kong will resume in June.

“The rebound in demand for international travel since borders reopened has been incredibly strong and this boost to our network will add hundreds of thousands of seats in time for the busy Australian summer holiday period,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.

“Qantas has been the most on-time major domestic airline for the past eight months in a row and that improved performance means we can release some of the aircraft we’ve had in reserve. That reflects more parts of the aviation supply chain returning to normal and it’s a huge credit to the hard work of our people across the group.

“While airlines globally are working to restore capacity to meet demand, there is still a mismatch between supply and demand for international flying. But with more of our aircraft back in the air, new 787s joining our fleet and our contract with Finnair, we’ve got more seats for our customers and more opportunity for Qantas crew as we increase our own flying.

“We know our customers are looking for great value and this additional capacity will also put downward pressure on fares.”

McLaren Vale gains a new wine tourism destination

McLaren Vale has a new destination for wine lovers with Dandelion Vineyards opening the Wonder Room, which is billed as "more than just a cellar door.".

Zar and Elena Brooks throw open the doors to the Wonder Room today.

Located on top of the ancient ridge of Firehawk Farm, the Wonder Room will offer visitors 180 degree views of the Firehawk Farm vineyard, the slopes of McLaren Vale, the Gulf of St Vincent and the Willunga Escarpment.

"We've dreamed of opening our Wonder Room ever since we started Dandelion Vineyards some 15 years ago," says winemaker and co-founder Elena Brooks.

"Firehawk Farm is the perfect location for visitors to experience our vineyard, region, and taste through our award-winning wines."

An old tractor shed has been repurposed to create a space "that seamlessly blends rustic features, warm tones, and clean lines".

The exterior steps are a standout feature of the Wonder Room, providing visitors with a comfortable place to sit and take in the views.

“The design takes in the natural assets of the location, and the re-use of the building highlights like none other what can be achieved through adaptive architecture,” says Elena Brooks.

With the opening, Dandelion Vineyards has also announced the appointment of chef Chris Bone to curate a selection of food offerings.

"Dandelion Vineyards' focus on single-vineyard wines and Firehawk Farm's biodynamic certification aligns perfectly with my approach to cooking and what I look for when showcasing ingredients," says Bone.

"Learning about Elena's Bulgarian heritage and food culture has revealed a great connection between my way of thinking as a chef and the traditional techniques of growing, pickling, and preserving. I'm excited to showcase the stunning produce of Firehawk Farm and beyond, to create memorable food for the wine experiences."

Visitors to the Wonder Room can choose from three tasting tiers, priced at $33, $66, and $99.

The top-tier tasting offers visitors the opportunity to explore premium wines and rare museum releases.

The team recommends allowing 75 minutes for the tasting experience.


Thursday 18 May 2023

Airline takes extra charges to new heights of idiocy

Airlines are masters at subtly gouging their customers.

Extra charges for baggage, seat selection, wifi, priority boarding, meals etc. 

The list goes on and on.

Airline executives, of course, will claim that the extra charges result in reduced fares and "more choice". We just haven't seen many of those low fares recently.

Now Finnish carrier Finnair is taking the "light" flight option one step farther - by not allowing passengers to fly hand luggage without an additional payment.

Well boo to Finnair.

The airline announced this week that itis introducing a new "superlight" ticket for short haul journeys within Europe.

As of June 1, the superlight ticket will replace economy light tickets.

These fares include only, presumably, a seat, and a small bag, which must go under the seat.

So no other carry-baggage included; including anything that you would normally stow in overhead lockers.

Even duty free purchases made at the airport are not allowed - unless they fit under the seat.

“Punctuality is very important for our customers, and the target of the changes we are now making is to ensure smooth boarding,” says Ole Orvér, chief commercial officer of the tight-arse airline.

“Excess carry-on baggage is a known issue, impacting both punctuality as well as travel comfort.”

Finnair will crack down on excess carry-on bags in the cabin.

Light tickets, which do include a regular carry-on bag, will continue to be available for long-haul journeys and for business class on European flights.

Classic tickets are still available for customers with both checked and carry-on baggage. But you'll pay a lot more.

As of June 1, Finnair will also decrease the baggage allowance for business class flyers - which sounds like a naked cash grab.

All special baggage allowances, including golf bags and ski equipment, will be excluded from the new ticket classifications and only be available for an additional charge.


New Novotel to offer relaxed suburban vibe


There is a growing trend towards building hotels in suburban locations rather than city centres.

Accor, the largest hotel operator in Australia, recently announced the signing of Novotel Melbourne Box Hill, a new-build hotel set to open in January 2025.

This follows the recent openings of other internationally branded hotels in the Melbourne suburbs of Preston and Coburg.

The new Novotel is located in a vibrant shopping precinct and renowned food destination, with a strong Asian flavour.

Box Hill is widely acknowledged as the Asian food capital of Melbourne’s east with Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai and Korean cuisine.

The suburb also has a pedestrian mall and fresh food market.

Novotel Melbourne Box Hill will feature 132 guestrooms, along with conference and events facilities including a 200-capacity ballroom.

There will be an all-day dining restaurant, lobby bar/café and a rooftop bar.

The hotel will also feature a day spa, sauna, wellness centre and gym, and will be one of the closest hotels to Box Hill Hospital and Epworth Eastern Hospital aided by the adjacent new suburban rail loop.

Johnson Zhang, CEO of owners APH Holding, said: "We are delighted to be partnering with Accor on this exciting development. Novotel Melbourne Box Hill will be a flagship for the area, and we are confident that it will become a popular destination for both locals and visitors to Melbourne.

"The hotel will have access to public transport and retail amenities and will be an appropriate asset for Melbourne’s much needed second CBD which should promote, leisure and business."

Box Hill is located approximately 14km east of the Melbourne CBD.

New technology could end the issue of pongy wines

Ever had a wine that didn't smell quite right?

It is hoped that new technology might end the issue of undesirable aromas, sometimes know as "wine pong". 

A new ‘smart surface’ has been shown to successfully remove unwanted sulfur aromas, the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and Flinders University have discovered.

With funding from Wine Australia and support from Flinders University, the technology is based on applying a thin plasma polymer coating to a surface and then immobilising nanoparticles on that surface, which then bind strongly to sulfur compounds in wine.

Trials of the new surface, recently published in the journals npj Science of Food, removed up to 45% of free hydrogen sulfide from wine - and the treatment was also effective at removing more complex sulfur compounds, such as methanethiol.

“A key benefit of the new approach is that it is easily deployable and retrievable," says AWRI Principal Research Scientist Dr Agnieszka Mierczynska-Vasilev.

"Essentially there’s a one-step process where the smart surface is added directly to the wine and then removed after a certain time period.”

There is also potential for the technology to be applied to wine equipment including filtration devices, aerators, decanters, packaging materials or closures.

Volatile sulfur compounds are a group of compounds that contribute significantly to wine aromas, including ‘rotten egg’, ‘rubber’ and ‘canned corn’.

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Small Wonder Wines unveils big plans

Small Wonder, a relative newcomer to the wine scene in Tasmania, is taking big steps. 

The Tamar Valley producer, formerly known as Goaty Hill, has begun construction on an on-site winery at its organic vineyard that will be ready for vintage 2024.

Until now, the Small Wonder wines have been made at a contract facility in Hobart.

The new facility has been driven by a desire to curate their own winemaking story. 

The winery will allow for 100% of the winemaking process to be performed on site, reducing transport costs and emissions, and providing complete control over every aspect of the operation.

In bushland just behind the Small Wonder cellar door, the winery will encompass three buildings. 

Winemaker Andrew Trio says: “We wanted the winery to be a calm and well-organised space, even during the busy peak of harvest when large volumes of grapes are being processed. An efficient layout minimises double handling and allows more time for attention to detail in the wine. 

"It’s exciting to know we will be in the winery for the 2024 vintage. Making our wine on site will provide a deeper understanding of the expression of our fruit and more opportunities to explore techniques to bring our vineyard’s unique qualities to life in the wine.”

Small Wonder CEO Paul McArdle commented that “the winery construction will be the culmination of three years’ detailed consideration and design". 

Using 100% green energy, the winery has been designed with energy efficiency and sustainability in mind. The buildings are being constructed using native spotted gum and steel cladding manufactured and installed by a local company. 

The Small Wonder vineyard consists of twenty hectares of  pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris with an additional four hectares of vines soon to be planted. 

Once complete, the new winery will have the capacity to produce 250 tonnes/16,000 cases of wine each year.

For more info see