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Tuesday 5 March 2024

When Qantas gets it right

Qantas has had a very bumpy ride in recent years but when the Australian flag carrier gets it right it remains a world-class airline. 

Most of my recent flights to Asia have been on budget carriers - where you pay extra for absolutely everything except for your seat. 

My weekend flight from Melbourne to Denpasar - paid for using frequent flyer points - was a very pleasant surprise. 

There was no queue at check-in. I got upgraded to the extra leg space of an exit row without asking and boarding was painless. 

Once onboard there was a pillow, a blanket and a bottle of water in my seat. And, as Qantas is a full service carrier, there was a choice of meals and free drinks. 

I opted for a tasty cheese and mushroom ravioli dish (above) over a chicken salad and spicy beef noodles. The small bottle of Rob Dolan cabernet merlot was quite acceptable.  

The info provided by the crew over the intercom was chatty and fun - as befitting a flight to a holiday destination.  

And we were actually ahead of schedule until a weather event meant couple of go arounds ordered by air traffic control.

A good flight and baggage (no cost) arrived promptly. A nice reminder of how good Qantas can be.

Here are the details:

Sydney-Denpasar, daily direct flights operated on an Airbus A330 aircraft, fares start from $414 one way.

Melbourne-Denpasar, direct flights five times per week operated on a Boeing 737 aircraft, fares start from $415 one way.


# The writer travelled with no assistance at all from Qantas.

Gauteng hopes new flights will boost tourism numbers


The Kruger National Park and the wine regions of the Cape are probably the two major tourism drawcards in South Africa for Australian visitors. 

That said, Gauteng Tourism is hoping the new South Africa Airways Perth-Johannesburg direct route will open myriad African experiences for Australian travellers - including the much-maligned city of Johannesburg. 

The non-stop three times a week flight takes-off from late April and has already seen a keen uptake of seats, particularly in economy class. 

"We are really excited that this flight has recommended after a three-year hiatus," says Sthembiso Dlamini, CEO of Gauteng Tourism Authority, with takes in both Johannesburg and Soweto, 

"The route provides an easier and direct passage for both leisure and business travellers and promotes trade and cultural exchange between South Africa and Australia." 

She says the new flights give Australian travellers easier access to the rich tapestry of experiences that Gauteng offers – from its edgy urban lifestyle to natural landscapes. 

Having visited regularly, I can assure it is a fascinating destination if you take sensible precautions. 

"It is an invitation to explore the #GPLifestyle - a unique blend of adventure, culture, and gastronomy that the province is renowned for," Dlamini adds.
Among the attractions being touted are the Cradle of Humankind, the caves where early man lived; and Soweto, the former residence of Nobel winners Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, who actually lived in the same street in Dube. 

There is also plenty to thrill the outdoor adventurer and those hooked on adrenaline from bungee jumping, the world's longest SCAD freefall at the Soweto Towers, kayaking, mountain climbing, cycling and water sports. 

The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden is recognised as one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world; and there are multiple nature reserves and game reserves. 

The direct flights (SA 280) depart OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays and arrive at Perth International Airport, the following day. 

Flights from Perth (SA 281) are scheduled on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and arrive the same in Johannesburg.

Monday 4 March 2024

Gettin' Piggy Wit It

They do fast food just a little bit different in Bali. 

Depot Betty is a small chain that specialises in babi guling, also known as suckling pig. It is the only thing they serve. 

This particular Depot Betty is on the road between Denpasar and Singaraja. It’s pretty popular judging by the number of motorbikes and cars parked outside. 

You get a plate of different cuts of baby pig, some pickled veggies and chilli sauce. Along with a bowl of broth and some steamed rice. 

The verdict? Absolutely delicious. 

You order at the entrance and your food is delivered to you table steaming hot. 

The cost? Around $4 per person. 

Highly recommended. 

Legendary Bangkok Hotel reborn

One of the most famous hotels in Bangkok, the Dusit Thani, will reopen later this year after a complete rebuild. 

Dusit Hotels and Resorts has announced that it will officially reopen its flagship hotel in September.


Every room in the hotel looks over Lumpini Park, providing guests with uninterrupted views through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Situated in the same prime location as the original property, which dominated the Bangkok skyline from 1970-2019, the reimagined version of the Dusit Thani will offer a new experience while calling on "its predecessor's esteemed heritage".

With fewer rooms - 257 against the original's 517 - the newly built 39-storey hotel has a range of deluxe rooms and elegant suites.

Since it opened in 1970, the original Dusit Thani Bangkok boasted one of the city's largest, most elegant ballrooms. 

 The new version of the hotel continues this tradition with expansive banqueting and meeting facilities spanning over 5,000sq m. This includes one of the largest grand ballrooms in Bangkok. 

The original was the first luxury hotel and the tallest building in Bangkok for several years.

The hotel will soon announce a line-up of food and beverage outlets, including elevated dining experiences, while Devarana Wellness will be "a unique urban sanctuary concept designed to offer bespoke wellness experiences".

"The new Dusit Thani is more than just a hotel; it's a testament to our commitment to evolving with the times and leveraging our heritage to create unforgettable experiences for the future," said Suphajee Suthumpun, Group CEO for Dusit International.

Bookings for the new hotel will be available from May 1 art

Sunday 3 March 2024

Bali still offers great value

A free night in Sanur. 

A laneway warung recommended by travel writing colleague Christine Retschlag. 

An eclectic menu of Balinese dishes and western favourites. Including a couple of dishes I have not ordered for decades. 

Fast service. A couple of ice cold Bintangs.

So shrimp cocktail with avo. Delivered exactly what it promised. 

A tasty unspecified whole fish steamed with ginger and vegetables. Lovely but needed a chilli hit. Which was quickly delivered. 

And I finished with a classic banana split. A rare unhealthy treat.

The place to look out for; Warung Lilla, just a block off the main drag in Sanur. And there are plenty of others just like it - including many much cheaper.

The bill:  Rp 244,760. Which is around $25 Australian dollars.

One of the reasons why Bali is packed with tourists from around the globe. Folks who would pay five or six times as much for a similar meal in Australia.

New look for Melbourne CBD property

The Melbourne hotel space is one of the most competitive anywhere, with guests demanding both location and up-to-date facilities.

Oaks Melbourne on Collins Suites, a premier property in the heart of Melbourne, has just finished a complete refurbishment of its CBD location.

The hotel has updated the interiors of its 230 guest rooms, giving each room a fresh and contemporary feel.

Each guest room has a new look, including a refreshed colour palette, new flooring and enhanced amenities, and all hotel furnishings received an upgrade.

"We are thrilled to unveil the results of our hotel’s refurbishment," said GM Ivan Sunsanj.

"We always strive to exceed our guests’ expectations, whether [they are] visiting for business, leisure, or to celebrate a special occasion, we believe our renewed, stylish guest rooms will make Oaks Melbourne on Collins Suites the preferred choice for all types of travellers.”

Situated at 480 Collins Street, the hotel is well situated for exploring the city's attractions, dining options, and cultural experiences.

Oaks Hotels, Resorts & Suites is a member of the Global Hotel Alliance (GHA), the world’s largest alliance of independent hotel brands and utilises GHA DISCOVERY, the world’s largest loyalty programme for independent hotel brands.


Saturday 2 March 2024

Walk, wine and dine with two famous Barossa families

Want to get up close and personal with two of Australia's most famous farming families?

As a one-off on Sunday, May 5, as part of Tasting Australia, you can walk with two prominent Barossa families - Henschke and Angas - on a stroll through Hutton Vale Farm in the Barossa’s Eden Valley.

Local Barossa chef Sam Smith of Otherness and formerly Fino at Seppeltsfield, will provide ‎appetisers paired to Hutton Vale and Henschke wines at intervals along the 5km trail, and then serve a Barossa-style lunch at Hutton Vale Farm.

The day begins at Henschke’s historic cellar door in Keyneton.

Meet the family at the heart of one of Australti'as leading family wine companies and then travel to Gnadenberg Church, alongside the world-famous Hill of Grace vineyard.

The Angas family will then guide you over the hill to Hutton Vale Farm’s classified Barossa Old Vine riesling vineyard; where a tasting of the region’s best white wines awaits.

Next stop; shiraz vines planted in 1912 by Ronald Angas - which produce the fruit for Henschke's Mount Edelstone and the starting point beginning of the two families becoming entwined as neighbours, collaborators and friends.

The next tasting awaits at the peak of Mount Edelstone with a trio of shirazes; Hill of Grace, Hutton Vale Farm and Mount Edelstone - along with 360-degree views of northern Eden Valley.

The it is a wander back to Hutton Vale Farm’s courtyard for lunch with a special selection of family wines.

The walk is called the Vino Camino and there is also an accommodation deal on offer.

The event can cater to vegetarian, vegan and coeliac dietary requirements.

Praise cheeses: the festival that will make you melt

It is Australia's biggest cheese festival and Mould is back in 2024 across five Australian state capitals.

Showcasing over 100 varieties of cheeses across the tour - tasters will be able to enjoy styles right across the taste spectrum: soft, semi, hard and stinky, with raw milk varieties and everything in between.

Dairy delights will be on offers kicking off in Brisbane in May before Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. 

And for wine lovers the Mould team is heading to Perth in partnership with sister event PinotPalooza.

Bad news for Tasmanians, however, as Hobart misses out this time around.

For the rest of the country, Dan Sims and his Revel team promise a "bigger, smellier, and more mature" event than ever!

The puns just keep coming with promo material saying the news is brie-lliant news for Australian fromage freaks. There will also be olives, crackers, pastes, smallgoods and more for purchase.

Tickets will be $49 + booking fee, which includes festival entry, all cheese tastings and a complimentary cooler bag for getting your cheese home at the right temperature.


Here are the dates:

BRISBANE: May 24-26, John Reid Pavillion, RNA Showgrounds

ADELAIDE: June 7-8 Queens Theatre

MELBOURNE: June 28-29, Royal Exhibition Buildings

SYDNEY: July 26-28 Carriageworks

PERTH: August 9-11 Centenary Pavilion, Claremont Showgrounds

Friday 1 March 2024

Air NZ and Singapore Airlines to continue successful partnership

Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines have reached agreement to continue what has been a hugely successful joint venture.

The two national flag carriers will work together until at least March 2029, Travelmole reported.

The agreement allows the airlines to continue offering more flight options and access to their combined networks.

Over the course of a 10-year partnership, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines have grown the seat capacity between New Zealand and Singapore by nearly 50%.

This includes the addition of up to three daily flights between Auckland and Singapore, and a daily service between Christchurch and Singapore.

Air NZ Chief Transformation and Alliances Officer Mike Williams said: “The partnership gives New Zealanders access to the world beyond the Singapore gateway into destinations in Europe, India and south-east Asia.”

The airline joint venture partners will operate a total of four daily seasonal services between Auckland and Singapore from October 27, 2024, to March 29, 2025.

With a fourth daily seasonal service between Auckland and Singapore, the carriers will jointly operate 38 return flights weekly between New Zealand and Singapore during peak months.

This translates to more than 893,000 seats available every year.

MSC ensures cruise guests stay connected

One of the biggest downsides of cruising can be slow and super-expensive wifi connections. 

One cruise line addressing the issue is MSC Cruises, with two-thirds of its ships now equipped with SpaceX’s Starlink onboard connectivity. 

MSC, the world's third-largest cruise line, says the fleet roll out program will be completed in three months. 

The low earth orbit solution is providing faster internet speeds, improved wifi in cabins and public spaces, reduced latency levels and lower operational costs for 15 of the cruise line’s fleet of 22 ships, MSC Cruises says. 

The first of MSC Cruises’ vessels to be equipped with Starlink was MSC Magnifica in December 2022.

MSC Cruises has seen on board bandwidth consumption continue to rise, driven by both the increase in the number of connected devices and the number of apps that guests like to use.

Starlink will provide MSC Cruises with enough capacity to keep up with the future requirements of its guests, crew and also the technical requirements of its fleet of vessels.

MSC Cruises’ ships currently equipped with Starlink are MSC Divina, MSC Euribia, MSC Fantasia, MSC Grandiosa, MSC Lirica, MSC Magnifica, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Orchestra, MSC Poesia, MSC Preziosa, MSC Seascape, MSC Seashore, MSC Seaside, MSC Seaview and MSC Virtuosa.

MSC Opera and MSC World Europa will be added in March and the line’s other five ships set for enhanced connectivity ahead of the northern summer 2024 season are MSC Armonia, MSC Bellissima, MSC Musica, MSC Sinfonia and MSC Splendida.

EXPLORA I, the first of six luxury ships of MSC Cruises’ sister company Explora Journeys, is also equipped with Starlink and EXPLORA II will be fitted with the enhanced connectivity when she sets sail in August.

MSC Cruises offers a ‘Browse Internet Cruise Package’ and a ‘Browse & Stream Cruise Package’ onboard its fleet that are tailored for its guests to cover the connection and number of devices needed during a sailing.

Thursday 29 February 2024

Putting new wave amari on the map

There are frequent sparkling wine celebrations and tastings, and most table wines have a special day on which they are celebrated.

One beverage which often flies under the radar, however, is amaro, a herbal liqueur that originated in Italy and is noteworthy for its bitter flavours (amaro is Italian for bitter).

Amaro is usually produced by macerating a melange of herbs, roots, flowers, bark, and/or citrus peel in alcohol. Think commercial brands like Fernet Branca.

At least one Melbourne restaurant/bar is tipping amaro to be a drink style that booms in 2024 with several Australian producers releasing their versions of the classic.

To showcase traditional and modern takes on amaro, the two-hatted Yarraville fine diner, Navi, has launched an Amaro Tasting Flight Experience that will run through March.

Available in Navi Lounge (the stand-alone bar next door to the restaurant), the new Amaro Tasting Flight features a selection of five, small-batch amari handpicked by Navi bar manager Miriam Wahlhütter. ⁠

The flight represents a broad spectrum of styles, mixing traditional drops hailing from its birthplace with modern iterations from local Victorian distilleries.

Some of her chosen drops this month include a Native Australian Amaro from Autonomy, a traditional Amaro from Bologna and a spicy iteration from Beechworth Bitters. ⁠

Guests can experience a flight of three for $35 or a flight of five for $50 in the lounge from 5:30pm-11:30pm Wednesday to Friday and from 2pm-11:30pm on Saturdays.

Bookings can be made for Navi Lounge via this website but walk-ins are welcome.

Ovolo links with Small Luxury Hotels of the World

Small Luxury Hotels of the World has inked a new deal that is aimed at elevating the Ovolo Hotels brand across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

The designer hotel collection announced a "strategic brand alliance" with Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) including its boutique designer hotels across Hong Kong, Australia, and Bali. The deal was unveiled in London this week. 

The partnership will see Ovolo Hotels expand its global presence through SLH's global sales, distribution, and marketing platforms.

Ovolo Hotels is known for its outside-the-square approach to tourism and hospitality, showcases cutting-edge design, technological integration, and sustainability with its 'Do Good. Feel Good' policy.

"At Ovolo, we are thrilled to partner with Small Luxury Hotels of the World, a brand synonymous with independently spirited hotels and excellence," says Dave Baswal, CEO of Ovolo Hotels.

"This strategic alliance not only strengthens our presence across key global markets while remaining independently owned and operated, but also allows us to showcase the distinct character and innovation that defines Ovolo while connecting with travellers emotionally."

I just want a bed, a shower and fast wifi from my hotel, but if Dave wants an emotional connection that's fine.

SLH is a collection of over 560 independent hotels in more than 90 countries.

Ovolo hotels include Ovolo Woolloomooloo in Sydney, Ovolo South Yarra in Melbourne, Ovolo The Valley in Brisbane, Ovolo Nishi in Canberra, as well as Laneways by Ovolo properties in Melbourne (top image) and international properties Ovolo Central in Hong Kong and Mamaka by Ovolo (above) in Bali.

Wednesday 28 February 2024

Adelaide gears up for fire and whisky

Jake Kellie, star chef at Adelaide’s arkhé, has unveiled a series of pop-up collaborations with other top chefs from Australia and around the world.

arkhé & friends, presented by Laphroaig Whisky, will be a series of events that will feature 12 chef collaborations over 12 months, with the year of food over fire commencing in April.

Adelaide’s first open-flame restaurant, arkhé, opened in November 2021 and co-owner and executive chef Kellie said: “We are so excited to be bringing arkhé & friends to life in 2024.

"Collaborations such as these expose us to new audiences and different ways of cooking, keeping us at the top of our game. 

"Following the success of our collaboration events with Michelin-starred chef David Thompson, Martin Boetz and Louis Tikaram in May last year, we understand the appetite for visiting chefs and look forward to bringing a series of rare, world class experiences to the people of Adelaide and Australia.”

Each month will see a different guest chef appear at arkhé over the course of a year.

The first three events to take place in the series will be:

# Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz, Porteno (Sydney): Thursday, April 11

# Jemma Whiteman, Ante (Sydney): Thursday, May 9 

# Mat Lindsay, Ester (Sydney): Thursday, June 27 

The full line up will be announced over the coming months, and will include big chef names like Vaughan Mabee of Amisfield (NZ), Rosheen Kaul (Melbourne’s Etta) and James Lowe of Lyle’s in London.

Each event will showcase Scottish whisky through cocktails, tasting flights and culinary creations and Laphroaig will extend the chef collaboration series with Jake Kellie by hosting a series of events at partner restaurants in Agnes (Brisbane), Matilda (Melbourne) and Ester (Sydney) from July to September 2024.

For tickets see

When the wine industry is its own worst enemy

The wine industry is often its own worst enemy, creating complication and confusion over a delicious beverage made from fermented grape juice.

I reckon that if you asked 100 Australian wine drinkers to name a sparkling wine region in Italy, maybe half of them would name Prosecco. The number able to identify Franciacorta would be in low single figures.

Franciacorta, in Lombardy, has around 2,000 hectares planted for its sparkling wine production. But it announced early this month that it is diving the region into sub-zones.

Remarkably, it plans no few than 134 sub zones - an absurd figure when even wine aficionados find it hard to remember the 12 Cru of Beaujolais.

Industry analyst slammed the inanity of making wine more complicated, saying: "It's utterly ridiculous. Nobody cares about Franciacorta that much."

After all, Franciacorta produces just 1/35th of the sparkling wine made in Prosecco. 

Many of the wines are excellent, certainly, but... 

The website says the new appellations "precisely and meticulously demarcated by the 'wine cartographer', Alessandro Masnaghetti, are all about emphasising regional diversity."

The Franciacorta Consorzio said in a press release: "Three years of quiet work have now culminated in the first Franciacorta Vineyard and Zone Map based on the expertise of Alessandro Masnaghetti, world famous journalist and cartographer, who produced accurate and meticulous mapping of 134 zones within the denomination designed to find the right balance between detail, zone coverage, history and tradition."

Yawn already.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Virgin Voyages backs out of Australian commitment

Virgin Voyages' Resilient Lady was launched in Australia and the Pacific with much fanfare just a few months ago. 

But Virgin has made the decision to withdraw Resilient Lady from its Australian deployment in 2024-25, Cruise Weekly reported. 

The cruise line said concerns about potential escalations in the Red Sea region over the next 12 months were the reason, but some industry experts expressed scepticism. 

Virgin said events in the Middle East had made conditions for repositioning to Australia too unsafe - but there are other ways to get a boat to the southern hemisphere. 

The cruise line had originally committed to a second season in Australia. 

"To say that we are disappointed to have come to this tough conclusion is an understatement," Virgin said in a statement.

The cruise line said it is currently working through options to return to Australia and the Asia Pacific region once repositioning opportunities become more tenable. 

Instead, the ship will relocate from Europe in late 2024 to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a new Caribbean season offering 7, 8, 10 and 11-night voyages.

It will visit St Maarten, St Vincent, Colombia, and Dominica.

Sydney hotels enjoy their best weekend for 24 years

Hotel operators in Sydney have enjoyed their most lucrative weekend for almost a quarter of a century.

Accor, the largest hotel operator in Australia, announced a record level of bookings last weekend, driven by a convergence of major music and sporting events throughout the city.

The star-studded weekend featured performances by Taylor Swift at Accor Stadium, Blink-182 (above) at Qudos Bank Arena, and the SailGP Sydney sailing competition across the city's harbour. There were also some early Mardi Gras arrivals.

This led to unprecedented occupancy for Accor's 40 Sydney hotels and its ALL - Accor Live Limitless loyalty program.

The massive influx of fans pouring fuelled the engine of the NSW tourism industry, creating a ripple effect of opportunities and economic growth.

“Hotel results in Sydney over the weekend were higher than anything we've seen since the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games," said Accor regional Chief Operating Officer Adrian Williams.

“I couldn't be more thrilled to witness this incredible moment, where the convergence of music, sports and tourism ignited such excitement and possibility. I am proud of our dedicated hotel teams, who welcomed and catered to our many guests over the weekend.

“The boost to tourism doesn't just stop at creating memories - it creates jobs. From hospitality to entertainment, every aspect of this contributes to our mission of fostering prosperity and creating meaningful opportunities for our communities.”

From luxury to economy, Accor has 19 international brands across Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and French Polynesia, inclduing Sofitel, MGallery, Art Series, Pullman, Swissôtel, Mövenpick, Grand Mercure, Peppers, The Sebel, Mantra, Handwritten Collection, Novotel, TRIBE, Mercure, BreakFree, ibis, ibis Styles and ibis budget, as well as Ennismore's SO/.

Phew! Hard to keep track.

Wine brand aiming to help green Australia one bottle at a time


In celebration of Earth Day this April, wine brand Oxford Landing will increase the amount of bushland planted with every bottle of its One to One wine sold throughout the month.

Launched in 2023, the One to One collection of wines was created by Oxford Landing for environmentally conscious wine consumers to make a positive environmental impact.

A partnership with social enterprise Greenfleet, an Australian not-for-profit environmental organisation focused on protecting the climate by restoring native forests, sees funds raised for every case of One to One wine sold being used to regenerate 1m2 of native bushland.

For the month of April, this will be increased significantly, with 1m2 of bushland to be planted per bottle sold.

"At Oxford Landing Estates, we understand the importance of preserving our planet for future generations," says winemaker Andrew La Nauze. 

"Through the One to One campaign, we aim to make a tangible and positive impact on the environment by planting vegetation in areas that need it most."

Since launching the One to One collection of wines, work on bushland on Dja Dja Wurrung Country in Central Victoria has been completed. Greenfleet is now working to restore a site at Ledcourt, adjacent to the northern part of the Grampians National Park in Victoria. 

With some remnant native vegetation already present on the site, Greenfleet will work to restore the cleared areas and bolster the existing ecosystems with ground cover species. 

“It is thanks to the support of organisations like Oxford Landing that Greenfleet can continue enabling Australians to protect our climate,” says Greenfleet CEO Wayne Wescott.

“As an organisation, Oxford Landing takes an innovative approach to protecting our climate. We’ve worked together to restore ecosystems since 2021 and are thrilled to continue our positive impact through their One to One wine and Earth Month campaign in April.”

Earth Day is officially celebrated on April 22 each year and has become a global movement dedicated to promoting environmental awareness and sustainability.

Throughout the month of April, consumers can support Earth Day by purchasing bottles of Oxford Landing's One to One wine (RRP $20) at participating Dan Murphy’s stores around the country. 

For more info see

Monday 26 February 2024

The next big thing? Irish whiskey in a can?


Forget whiskey in a jar - the latest release in the drinks industry is whiskey in a can - perfect for St Patrick's Day celebrations.

Irish distillery Two Stacks launched what it says is the world’s first whiskey in a can: Dram in a Can, a couple of years ago. It is now about to be released in Australia.

The folk from Two Stacks say "sustainability, affordability and quality" are the key features of the new drop. It is a blend of grain, malt and pot still whiskeys.

The 100ml can is a sustainable packaging design that weighs just 22 grams - over eight times lighter than conventional miniature 5cl glass bottles.

In 2022, Two Stacks opened one of Ireland's only independent bonding and blending facilities in County Down, Northern Ireland, which hosts a purpose-built 100% solar-powered production warehouse.

"We are committed to establishing fresh benchmarks of excellence in Irish whiskey while promoting sustainability and accessibility in every facet of our endeavours," says co-founder Shane McCarthy.

"Our distinctive method of collaboration with premier distilleries across Ireland empowers us to craft and present unprecedented expressions of whiskey while also meeting our goal of cutting our carbon footprint and innovating sustainable practices within the industry.

"Our Dram in a Can has set a benchmark in sustainable packaging, offering Australians an affordable Irish Whiskey drinking experience while also offsetting our carbon emissions. We're thrilled that Australians can experience our products in an environmentally friendly way."

Two Stacks Dram in a Can is available at Dan Murphy’s for $45.99 for a four pack.

I'll be trying this before St Patrick's Day on March 17, and will report back on how it tastes.

Just shucking: discover Tasmania's festival of the wild and wacky

Fancy working with a blacksmith/artist to create your own oyster shucking tool? 

Or maybe showing off your fashionable clothing design made from found/recycled materials? 

Tasmania's ECHO festival - the brainchild of country artist Ange Boxall - is a celebration of the eclectic. It is described as "guiding guests on a journey of exploration that encompasses all the senses - taste, smell, sight, sound and touch".

The festival returns for another year in 2024, running over the weekend of March 22-24 on the picturesque east coast of the island state.

The 2024 program brings together chefs, winemakers and producers along with artists, musicians, storytellers and thought leaders. It is a boutique 18+ event.

March 22 is dedicated to a Native Bounty Feast dinner (probably sold out by the time you read this), while Saturday 23rd is the main day and evening. Activities start at 10am and music will continue late into the evening.

BYO camping is available for Friday and Saturday nights, while a shuttle bus will also be available to Swansea town centre on Friday evening and throughout Saturday.

Among the highlights: the chance to work with blacksmith/artist Pete Mattila in a 200-year-old forge.

With the 2024 festival theme being oysters, Mattila will use a venue once used to make horseshoes to allow visitors to craft a shucking blade and then brand it with the ECHO stamp.

The wooden handles will be made from beautiful Tasmanian hardwood timber retrieved from the depths of the Pieman River, donated by Hydrowood. 

There will also be the opportunity to make traditional Aboriginal rope made from stringy bark and cutting grass with proud palawa artist and educator, Trish Hodge. 

This can be used to hang your handmade shucker in pride of place in your kitchen. 

Along with gin and wine masterclasses events will also include Sunday morning yoga, and Trashion on the Field.

ECHO patrons can make their own fashions from found objects, unwanted clothing, and pieces of plastic or rope from the local beach areas. This event is billed as a "a riot of absolute rubbish!" 

For tickets and details of the wide range of eclectic experiences see

Sunday 25 February 2024

Full steam ahead: Thai railway journey turns back the clock

Love trains? Visiting Thailand in March? 

A special train will run from Bangkok to Ayutthaya using historic steam locomotives to mark the State Railway of Thailand (SRT)'s 127th anniversary on March 26.  

SRT’s governor bureau chief Ekarat Sriarayanphong said this historic train trip will also commemorate
the opening of the train route between the current and previous capital cities on March 26, 1896, by King Rama V.

Travellers will get a chance to ride Pacific-class steam locomotive numbers 824 and 850, built by Japan’s Nippon Sharyo in 1949 and 1950, respectively.

The train will leave Hua Lamphong station at 8.10am and arrive in Ayutthaya at 10.20am. Passengers will have six hours to tour the ancient capital, before the train leaves at 4.40pm to arrive in Bangkok at 6.50pm.

There will be stops at Samsen, Bang Sue, Don Mueang, and Rangsit stations, so passengers can board or disembark at any of these stations.

Snacks and drinks will be available for passengers throughout the trip.

Those interested can reserve tickets at SRT stations nationwide or via D-Ticket mobile application and website:

The SRT is also partnering with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Ayutthaya Office to offer a special one-day tuk-tuk tour for passengers travelling by the steam locomotive excursion train. 

Passengers can book the tuk-tuk tour via the website:

Every winery's nightmare as intruder opens storage vats

It is a nightmare scenario for any wine producer.

An intruder - maybe a random nutter - breaks into a winery at night and opens up several tanks in which juice is being stored.

It happened last weekend at the Bodega Cepa 21 winery in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain with thousands of litres of wine with an estimated value exceeding €2m on the ground.

Police from the country’s Guardia Civil were investigating the attack at the winery, outside Valladolid, reported.

CCTV footage that apparently shows the incident has been shared widely by Spanish media and shows a hooded person moving quickly between vats in the cellar and opening them up.

Liquid can be seen spraying out of one vat, in the below YouTube video uploaded by the El Mundo media outlet.

Among the wine lost to the sabotage was around 20,000 litres destined to be bottles of Cepa 21’s high-end Horcajo label, El Pais newspaper quoted winery owner José Moro as saying.

A Cepa 21 representative told BBC News that the saboteur appeared to be familiar with winemaking equipment in general, noting that it took relatively little time to open up the tanks in the cellar.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Airline to shut down after financial turbulence

Another budget airline has hit turbulence and will shut down just two years after launching.

Calgary-based ultra low-cost airline Lynx Air launched in 2022 but faced "significant headwinds", company says.

Lynx Air launched with a promise to make air travel more affordable for Canadians, but it will cease operations on Monday. Many weekend flights are already marked "Non operational". 

"Over the past year, Lynx Air has faced a number of significant headwinds including rising operating costs, high fuel prices, exchange rates, increasing airport charges and a difficult economic and regulatory environment," the company said in a news release.

"Despite substantial growth in the business, ongoing operational improvements, cost reductions and efforts to explore a sale or merger, the challenges facing the company's business have become too significant to overcome."

Air Canada announced it will cap fares and add 6,000 seats in “select markets” to assist passengers in the wake Lynx Air’s closure, which has left passengers stranded across the US, Canada and Mexico.

“The measures are to provide Lynx Air customers affected by the carrier’s shutdown affordable options in the economy cabin on Air Canada flights for travel within Canada, to the US and to Cancun in Mexico, so they can return home or make alternative travel arrangements for planned winter trips,” the airline said.

Another Canadian carrier, WestJet, said it would be offering 25% discounts on economy tickets for stranded Lynx passengers on routes WestJet also serves.
Lynx routes included Toronto and Montreal to Cancun and to many US destinations including Fort Myers, Orlando, Tampa, Phoenix, Boston and Las Vegas.

The start-up airline had filed for creditor protection in Canada, but pledged to operate “most” of its flights through the weekend.

It has directed customers who are booked beyond its final day of operations to seek flight refunds through their credit card companies.

Court documents show Lynx owes around $140 million to Indigo Northern Ventures, the firm led by long-time airline investor William Franke that helped Lynx get airborne, local media reported.

The airline's former CEO, Merren McArthur, was also in charge of now extinct Australian carrier Tigerair. She resigned in September last year to return to Australia. McArthur has also headed Virgin Australia Cargo and Skywest Airlines.

"My heart goes out to my wonderful friends and colleagues at Lynx Air after today’s very sad announcement," she said on LinkedIn

"The airline industry is not for the faint hearted at the best of times, but it takes a special kind of courage and commitment to launch a start-up airline in Canada in the middle of a pandemic…. a wildcat courage and commitment."

Share a saké with Cate Blanchett

Who knew that Oscar-winning Australian actor Cate Blanchett was a saké aficionado?

So much so that she will be overseeing "creative strategy" at Toku Saké after what she describes as “countless, joy-filled nights” drinking the Japanese rice wine, industry website the drinks business reports.

Blanchett is known for her acting roles in films including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol and Red.

Brewed in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan, Toku has produced thigh-end saké for more than 120 years using “highly polished” Yamada Nishiki rice, generally recognised among saké makers as being the best quality rice with which to make the fermented drink.

The exceptionally cold climate in Asahikawa, which is Japan’s coldest city, results in “distinctly delicate, aromatic notes and an exceptionally long, rich finish”, which sets it apart from other Junmai Daiginjo sake, the brand says in its marketing material.

“The thoughtful, reflective craftsmanship that is part and parcel of everyday life in Japan has long been a touchstone for me,” said Melbourne-born Blanchett.

“Saké reflects these traditional values with its intense focus on method, purity and authenticity. Sitting around a table with friends and family, celebrating and breaking bread together is one of life’s great pleasures. I’m excited to help bring the exquisite liquid which is Toku Saké into the world market.”

To mark the launch of the partnership, Toku will work with Treeapp to plant one mangrove for every bottle of Toku Saké sold.

The brand’s figureheads, Anthony Newman and Peter Hudson, said: “We are honoured to welcome Cate to the team. Her critically acclaimed background as an artist and producer, along with her passion for Japanese culture and highly selective involvement in global projects, will open new doors for our brand.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the Toku Saké vision shared and realised with the rest of the world, as sake grows in popularity in western markets.”

China is by far the biggest market for Japanese sake exports, followed by the US, the drinks business says.

Friday 23 February 2024

The Little Wine Company goes for Broke

On the verge of celebrating a quarter of a century in the winemaking business, The Little Wine Company has announced the opening of its new cellar door in the Hunter Valley hamlet of Broke.

Founded by Suzanne and Ian Little in 2000, The Little Wine Company has been a regional leader in the production of alternative grape varieties, and the Broke Fordwich region has been the family home for three decades.

The new facility, open from March 8, will operate in addition to the Wine House collective cellar door in Pokolbin, which offers wines from several producers.

“The Broke Fordwich region has been our home for nearly 30 years; it’s where our kids were born and raised, it’s where we built our winery and it’s where the majority of our grapes are grown, so it just feels right.” says Suzanne Little.

Ian Little says their brand - which is distributed by Single Vineyard Sellers - has struck a chord with adventurous consumers.

“The increasing curiosity of wine consumers prompted Suzanne and I to explore and cultivate alternative grape varieties, which are flourishing," he says.

"This strategic shift towards diverse and resilient varietals is also contributing to the sustainability of The Little Wine Company as a brand.”

To mark the opening of their new Broke cellar door rhe Littles are extending a special offer.

Throughout April 2024, patrons spending $100 or more at the new cellar door will receive a complimentary bottle from the White Label range as a gesture of gratitude for continued support.

Wine lovers can also join a Little Masterclass on March 16-17 - part of the Little Bit of Broke festival - where Suzanne will share six wines with six food pairings.

The new tasting facility is located next to Magoony’s Coffee House.

Among my recommendations: the excellent, shiny 2023 Vermentino (great with kedgeree) and the crisp and vibrant 2023 Pecorino, one of the first releases of this Italian varietal in Australia. Both offer excellent drinking for $26 a bottle. 

Chef returns to where his career first blossomed

Chef Cameron Cansdell has returned to where his career took off by starting as Culinary Director at Central Coast hotspot Bells at Killcare.

Cansdell moved to the Central Coast 17 years ago when Karina and Brian Barry founded Bells at Killcare, and was the first head chef under the then Culinary Director, Stefano Manfredi.

The duo established a popular multi-award winning restaurant and the famed Bells kitchen garden, which had a big influence on changing the dining scene on the Central Coast.

While at Bells at Killcare, Cameron met then restaurant manager Hayley Hardcastle and in 2014 they married and went on to open Bombini at Avoca Beach, Fish Dining and Saddles at Mt White.

Cansdell's return coincides with the opening of The Lodges at Bells (below), where guests will have the option of booking a private chefs dinner in the luxury of their own lodge.

The Barrys said: "We look forward to this next chapter: Cameron’s simple and ethical approach to food, seasonally focused menus and humble nature have always been part of Bells DNA, so his return is like family coming home."

The menu at Wild Flower Bar & Dining at Bells will be revamped and there is already a new breakfast menu, with breakfast now open to the general public as well as hotel guests.

Meanwhile, guests have until February 29 to get a special deal on the Lodge launch offer, an
all-inclusive package for four guests (children welcome) for $599 per person, per night.

The package includes dinner at The Wild Flower Bar & Dining with a choice of three à la carte dishes or the five-course chef's tasting menu; gourmet lunch provisions; daily à la carte breakfast; premium in-lodge bar with a selection of wines, beers, cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages.

Also think a heated private pool, two day beds and rooftop sunset deck with panoramic ocean views, daily turndown service, local transfers, complimentary wifi and in-room entertainment as well as parking for two cars and the use of mountain bikes. The package is normally $750 based on four people per lodge.


Thursday 22 February 2024

Your Penfolds Grange now comes with a bandana, and a rug

Penfolds Grange is an iconic Australian red wine with packaging that rarely changes. 

Until now. 

Penfolds today unveiled a new collaboration for its flagship wine: The Grange by NIGO, which celebrates the first-ever design takeover of Grange. 

The press release says it is "a momentous milestone for Penfolds in its 180th anniversary year". 

I would beg to differ. It's a smart publicity device and a nice revenue stream.   

The artist known as NIGO has re-imagined the packaging design of Grange for this one-off series. 

The Grange by NIGO release includes collectable 750ml bottle (1,500 available) and 1.5L (150 bottles  available) gift boxes to house 2019 vintage Grange. 

Each box is individually numbered and includes a bandana and bottle neck tag designed by NIGO, plus an authenticity certificate. 

Every wine needs a bandana, of course. 

The design features a colourful grape graphic and Penfolds logo reimaged through Human Made’s iconic typography.

Together with the Grange by NIGO limited edition pack, NIGO has also designed a silk rug for this series. Seriously! 

NIGO is an artist who is creative director of Human Made and artistic director of Kenzo. 

“I have been a collector of Grange for many years, but it wasn’t until I visit Penfolds Magill Estate [in 2022] that I truly understood the craftmanship and history behind the historic wine. 

"It was an honour to be the first person to collaborate on a design for Grange, especially as the brand celebrates its 180th anniversary.”

The launch of Grange by NIGO follows the global release of One by Penfolds – NIGO’s first Penfolds project.

Details at with Penfolds Grange by NIGO Limited Edition 2019 at $1,350.00;  Penfolds Grange by NIGO Limited Edition 2019 Magnum $3,100.00 and Penfolds Grange by NIGO Limited Edition Silk Rug $10,000. 

Tahbilk gets a little fizzy and a wee bit sticky

Tahbilk is Victoria's oldest family-owned wine producer with a history that dates back to 1860. 

And it would be fair to say it has a reputation for being quite conservative.

But Tahbilk has joined the growing raze for spritzes and fruit-driven summer cocktails by funking up traditional favourite the Mimosa.

Enter The ‘Sticky Spritz’, a new cocktail combining Tahbilk’s 2018 Cane Cut Marsanne and their NV Coueslant Chardonnay Pinot sparkling wine to produce a signature summer treat that has proved hugely popular at cellar door.

The cocktails was created almost by accident by cellar door manager Holly Cusworth. 

Playing around with wines and flavours, Holly was inspired to build on the spritz trend and create one of her own. 

“The combination of sweet and fruity hi flavours in this spritz is delicious but not cloying," she says. 

"The acid in the sparkling cuts through, creating a not-too-sweet summer sensation. It’s my new ‘go to’ drink, but really it's so special as we’ve never really served or sold a drink like this before, combining two wines from our classic portfolio.”

Take the two wines and add a sprig of thyme, a squeeze of orange and some soda water to your glass.

Here's a recipe, but you can tweak it to suit your own tastes.

● Half fill a wine glass with plenty of ice and add the following:

● Tahbilk Cane Cut Marsanne

● Tahbilk NV Coueslant Chardonnay Pinot sparkling

● Top with soda water

● Add a squeeze of fresh orange juice and stir

● Garnish with a slice of orange and a sprig of thyme

For more see to order. The 2018 Cane Cut Marsanne is $20.95 and the NV Coueslant Chardonnay Pinot sparkling is $22.95.

In search of the perfect beer glass

Is this the perfect beer glass?

It looks a bit wonky to me, but industry website the drinks business reports that the design by Japanese design studio Nendo is intended to maximise “refreshment, aroma and richness” when drinking draft beer.

The glass, which Nendo has made for Japan’s oldest beer brand Sapporo, has an asymmetrical silhouette which affects how the liquid interacts with the palate of the drinker. 

It has straight sides on the front and back while the left side curves inwards and the right side curves outwards.

It was designed by Nendo as the “perfect” beer glass to enhance the taste of Sapporo’s first bottled draft, launched in 1977, known as Kuro Label after its black-coloured label.

The team at Nendo explained: “Kuro Label is well recognised for its multiple distinct flavour profiles, beginning with the ‘first sip’, the ‘middle’ and ending with the ‘last sip’, taking your palate through a journey of complex flavours and pleasures in one drink.

"To maximise the richness and aroma of the beer, a glass with three different mouthfeels was designed.”

The designers at Nendo pointed out how they had made “the straight side of the Sapporo glass to allow the beer to trickle along the centre of the user’s tongue to the back of the mouth to deliver a crisp, refreshing taste” and explained that “this allows the beer to be drunk in three different ways”.

Nendo says the shape of the glass emphasises these different mouthfeels and flavours that are contained within the beer, “offering a way to savour multiple experiences within a single glass”.

Nendo was founded in 2002 by Oki Sato after he had completed an architecture degree at Tokyo’s Waseda University.

For more details see

My bet is we can now expect glasses designed specifically for drinking IPAs, fruit beers, stouts etc.

Wednesday 21 February 2024

River cruise specialist no longer afloat

The travel business may be bouncing back but there are still some victims of the pandemic coming to light.

River cruise specialist American Queen Voyages has just ceased operations, although the company's website is still live.

The business is up for sale and if that fails it will be wound up.

American Queen Voyages ceased all operations as of February 20 and all future voyages have been cancelled, said.

The news follows on the heels of several large travel agencies suspending sales of the company's cruises after repeated problems with commission payments and customer service issues.

The line conducted expedition cruises in Alaska and British Columbia, as well as river cruises on the Ohio, Mississippi and other rivers. It was represented by Journey Beyond in Australia. 

Travel Market Report first heard reports of the closure on Facebook and confirmed it by calling the main reservations number. 

When calling the main number, a message says: "American Queen Voyages has made the difficult decision to shut down and all future cruises have been cancelled. Guests and customers should expect to be fully refunded for cancelled cruises."

American Queen Voyages is owned by the Hornblower Group. Earlier this month AQV cancelled several sailings onboard the flagship American Queen, as well as the American Countess, claiming it needed time in dock to ensure the ships were ready to deliver the best possible experience.

Employees and crew were told the shut down was due to “unfortunate business circumstances and an inability to obtain sufficient capital at a commercially reasonable rate to continue operations.”

The company's flagship American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built

New chairman as Qantas changes corporate direction

Qantas has a new chairman and a new board member as it moves past the Alan Joyce era at a fast pace. 
John Mullen will join the Qantas board from July 1 as non-executive director and chairman elect, and will assume the role of chairman ahead of the company’s AGM this October.

Mullen replaces Richard Goyder, who has stood down. The controversial Goyder was a supporter of the divisive Joyce, who was replaced as CEO by Vanessa Hudson late last year. 

Dr Nora Scheinkestel will also join the board from March 1, as a non-executive director and chair of the remuneration committee.

Mullen, currently the chairman of Telstra among several executive roles, o expects to reduce his existing professional commitments over time, the airline said in a statement. 

The new appointments follow the retirement of directors Maxine Brenner and Jacqueline Hey, who will step down this week, and the retirement of Goyder prior to the AGM.

“Careful management of the board renewal process has been an important part of guiding Qantas through this intense period, and the selection of a new chair reflects a new chapter," Goyder said.

“Vanessa Hudson and her team have made progress towards delivering better outcomes for customers, and I’m confident that momentum will continue with the guidance of new board members of such high calibre.

“John brings a wealth of experience as a director and chairman of similarly large and complex companies to Qantas, as well as great depth from his long executive career in the transport sector both here and overseas. He is the right choice to lead the national carrier into its next phase."

Mullen, who has lived and worked in 13 countries, says he has "a passion for entrepreneurship", 

“It’s an extraordinary privilege to take up the chairmanship of the national carrier," he said. "It is a company that I have admired all my life and I am greatly looking forward to helping Vanessa and the management team take the company to new heights of service and performance excellence.

“I am conscious of the time commitment that this prestigious role requires and will be adjusting my other professional obligations to ensure that I can be fully focussed on this exciting challenge."

Brothers maintain wine industry optimism

In a wine landscape that is frequently full of doom and gloom, one South Australian winery is being admirably positive.

Family-owned and -operated Lloyd Brothers has launched new branding - and has planted new vineyards at a time when other producers are less optimistic.

The thrust is being led by go-ahead GM Sam Temme, (ex Charles Melton and Wirra Wirra) who joined in 2020. It his second stint with the brothers. .

"Everything at Lloyd Brothers is falling into place nicely in what is obviously incredibly tough time in the industry," Temme says.

"We have to keep trying to put a positive spin on things. But no doubt it is the toughest I’ve seen the industry in my 30 years working in it.

"We launched Pure Wine Co. as our national distributors at the start of last year and they are doing a great job getting our new wines out to the Australian trade."

Lloyd Brothers is owned by David and Matthew Lloyd, third-generation McLaren Vale vignerons, who founded their business 22 years ago. The brothers have 43 hectares under vine across McLaren Vale and the cooler Adelaide Hills and also farm olive groves.

Recent releases include an outstanding 2021 Lloyd Brothers McLaren Vale Reserve Shiraz Western Block 2, a benchmark wine that was born from the Chinese tariff debacle that has hit the wine industry so hard.

"We knew what we were heading into when the China tariffs hit and David Lloyd used this time to invest and get me on board to re-brand and re-structure Lloyd Brothers," Temme says.

Prior to 2021 the grapes from this block were being sold to Penfolds for premium releases.

From 2022 the entire block will be used by the family for its reserve release.

Temme describes is as "one of the last pieces of the Lloyd Brothers rebranding puzzle", adding: 
"We are thrilled with the wine and the final packaging, including a handful of wooden boxed magnums.

"We have purchased more land, planted more vineyards (conservatively) and top grafted other blocks to suit where we see our wine brand going."

Among a very impressive line-up of current releases are the 2023 Lloyd Brothers Adelaide Hills Estate Picpoul $26), some Med-inspired brisk, high-acid refreshment, and a 2022 GSM ($32), a well balanced all-purpose red blend, as well as a stylish cool-climate 2022 Adelaide Hills Syrah ($35).

Two wines, however, stood out for me: a delicious summer-friendly 2023 Lloyd Brothers McLaren Vale Nouveau ($28), a lip-smackingly good and very swish grenache/shiraz/mourvedre field blend perfect for enjoying chilled on a warm day. 

And the star of the show: that 2021 Reserve Shiraz Western Block 2 ($90, right) , made from grapes grown on Block 2 on the Western Block of the Lloyd Brothers McLaren Vale Estate from a "perfect vintage".

A 30% new oak component adds some swagger to a very impressive package. This is twice as good as a lot of South Australian reds that are double, or more, the price. Outstanding.

For those who worry about such matters, the wines are all Vegan friendly.

For more details and orders see