Thursday, 31 December 2015

Old solos at Brim in Victoria get a facelift

Noosa Food & Wine Takes a Fresh Approach for 2016 Festival

Join food and wine enthusiasts from all over the nation as they descend on Noosa from 19 - 22 May 2016 for the Noosa Food & Wine Festival. Festival participants can look forward to discovering new flavours alongside great Australian wines, artisan foods, culinary talent and the finest Queensland produce in one of Australia's leading food destinations.

Event-goers will have the opportunity to indulge in a range of events staged in the Festival Village, on Noosa's stunning Main Beach as well as an array of other events held across the region in Noosa restaurants and in the Noosa Hinterland.

Alesha Gooderham, Director of Noosa Food & Wine said: “We are beginning a new chapter for the Noosa Food & Wine event. We will deliver a fresh program that celebrates the talent and enterprise of Noosa's chefs, restaurateurs and producers and bring them together with Australia's leading culinary talent and wine makers.”

“The 2016 Noosa Food & Wine Festival brings new opportunities to create a program that will ensure the event is anticipated, savoured and enjoyed by the local community as well as our friends and family in Queensland, inter-state and abroad.”

The Festival, supported by Tourism and Events Queensland and Tourism Noosa will be spearheaded by some of Noosa's and Australia's leading chefs including the likes of Ben O'Donoghue, Pete Evans, Adriano Zumbo, Massimo Mele, David Rayner, Shane Bailey, Peter Kuruvita, David Pugh, Matt Golinski and delicious. 2015 outstanding chef James Vile.

Celebrity Chef and Author Pete Evans is a new addition to the Festival and commented on this “I am really looking forward to heading to Noosa in May for the 2016 Noosa Food & Wine Festival. I will be participating in a range of events over the weekend from a Paleo Discussion Q&A, to a co-hosted dinner on Noosa Main Beach as well as having a bit of fun on Sunday morning with the Chefs vs Surfers breakfast. The new approach to the Festival embodies the best of food, wine and lifestyle and I am looking forward to being a part of this.”

2016 Noosa Food and Wine Festival highlights include:
- A collective of world-renowned chefs including Tobie Puttock, Ben O'Donoghue (Billy Kart Restaurant), Pete Evans (Asana) Adriano Zumbo (Patissier), Spencer Patrick (Harrison Port Douglas 

– 1 Hat), Nick Holloway (Nu Nu Palm Cove), Nick Street-Brown (Coast Hervey Bay – 1 Hat), David Pugh (Restaurant Two, QLD Ambassador), Richard Ousby (Stokehouse Brisbane), Ben Bertei (Longtime), Janelle Bloom (Ready Steady Cook), Dan Hong(Mr Wong), Benjamin Cooper (Chin Chin) and more.

- A line-up of Noosa chefs including Shane Bailey (Noosa Boathouse), David Rayner (Thomas Corner Eatery), Peter Kuruvita (Noosa Beach House Peter Kuruvita), Jiro Numata & Zeb Gilbert (Wasabi Restaurant & Bar), Andrea Ravezzani (Noosa Waterfront Restaurant & Bar), Andy Davies (Locale Noosa), Anthony Lewis (Flux), Benni Molloy (Gaston), Andrew Tomlin (Season), Emmett Malone (Sirocco Noosa), Eric Pernoud (Maison de Provence), Geoffroy Marcq (Whisky Boy Noosa), Oliver Carruthers (Café Le Monde), Paul Leete (Sails Noosa) and Peter Ridland (Miss Moneypenny's).

- A Festival Village hub located at the Noosa Lions Park with a varying program of activity for each day, including Noosa restaurant stalls, wine, craft beer and tapas bars, cooking demonstrations master-classes and artisan producers marquee.

- A range of events hosted on iconic Noosa Main Beach as well as hinterland and coastal food trails.

- Lifestyle events including yoga on Noosa Main Beach followed by a celebrity breakfast, as well as a breakfast featuring surfers versus chefs by 'Surfing the Menu's Ben O'Donoghue.

Tourism and Events Queensland proudly supports Noosa Food and Wine as part of the It's Live! in Queensland events calendar, which highlights Australia's best live events in spectacular destinations.

The full program will be released in early 2016 with tickets sales from January 2016. For further information and details visit www.noosafoodwinefestival.com.au.

Thailand fetes record 29 millionth visitor for 2015

Ms. Elena Slobodian (right) 
29 millionth tourist Suvarnabhumi Airport
The Thai tourism industry hit a new record with the arrival of the 29 millionth visitor on the 23rd December, surpassing the projected target of 28.8 million and still counting.

Ms. Elena Slobodian, from Russia Federation, the 29 millionth tourist, also dubbed ‘Thailand’s Luckiest Visitor’, was greeted at Suvarnabhumi Airport with a warm welcoming ceremony by senior executives of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Airports of Thailand (AOT), the Immigration Bureau, Thai Airways International and True Corporation.

Ms. Elena Slobodian was pleasantly surprised to receive two economy-class return tickets on Thai Airways from her original destination to Thailand, valid for one year; a voucher for a five-night stay at luxury accommodation; a mobile phone with a 4G sim-card and seven-day Internet usage for use during the trip; as well as the “Thailand’s Luckiest Visitor” certificate from TAT.

The “Thailand’s Luckiest Visitor” activity was launched in June this year to recognise and reward every millionth visitor to the country. With strong support from the public and private sectors, the campaign has attracted considerable international attention and enhanced the value of the Thai tourism brand image.

Mrs. Juthaporn Rerngronasa (2nd left), TAT’s Deputy Governor for International Marketing – Europe, Africa, Middle East and Americas extends special welcome to Thailand’s 29 millionth tourist for 2015, Ms. Elena Slobodian from Russia Federation at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Mrs. Juthaporn Rerngronasa, Deputy Governor for International Marketing (Europe, Africa, Middle East and Americas), Tourism Authority of Thailand said, “This historic achievement is a tribute to all those who work in travel and tourism, all the way from the rank and file employees at the grassroots level up to the senior executives. Our visitors and guests visit Thailand because of their confidence in our ability to deliver quality services with impressive total experiences. And it is the hospitality of the Thai people who make this possible.”

She added, “We would like to thank each and every visitor who came to Thailand. This year, travel and tourism has truly proven to be an economic mainstay for the entire kingdom. With the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) set to be launched, there is every reason to believe that Thai travel and tourism will retain its importance as a source of jobs, economic livelihood and income distribution.”

According to the preliminary figures released by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Thailand welcomed a total of 28.3 million visitors during 1 January – 16 December 2015. This generates 1.357 trillion baht tourism revenue.

In 2014, Thailand welcomed a total of 1,596,542 visitors from Russia, generating 112.7 billion Baht to the Thai economy. Russian travellers spend 4,557.13 Baht per day with an average stay of about 15.49 days per person travelling in the kingdom.

From the total number of Russian visitors to Thailand in 2014, a total of 914,286 were repeaters and the remaining being first-time visitors. In addition, nearly one million or 960,769 visitors are non-group tours or FITs and the rest travelled as part of a group tour. Their purposes of visit to Thailand are for holiday (1,543,814), meeting (2,989), incentive (4,703), convention (1,164), exhibition (1,302), and others (42,570).

InterContinental Sydney and Sotheby's Australia Launch Sculpture in the City

  • Australia's most celebrated sculptures installed for a limited time only at InterContinental Sydney

InterContinental Sydney and Sotheby's Australia invite you to experience Sculpture in the City, an exhibition of works from five internationally acclaimed Australian artists. From now until mid-February 2016, InterContinental Sydney's gallery annex will be home to a selection of sculptures available for purchase by John Kelly, Robert Klippel, David Larwill and Akio Makigawa. A highlight of the exhibition is famed artist John Kelly's maquette, Man Lifting Cow, of which Sotheby's Australia is an exclusive agent.

Following regional success of installation exhibitions, such as Sculptures by the Sea, InterContinental Sydney and Sotheby's Australia have collaborated to provide a smaller inner city accessible exhibition, introducing national, international and local visitors to a sample of Australian sculptural works.

Jörg T. Böckeler, InterContinental Sydney General Manager said, “We are delighted to welcome Australia's most celebrated sculptures to InterContinental Sydney. Our guests, as well as Sydney locals and visitors trust InterContinental Sydney to unlock inimitable and authentic experiences, and welcoming Sotheby's Australia back to our gallery presents a wonderful opportunity in our own Sydney icon.

What is remarkable about our partnership with Sotheby's Australia is the desire to push artistic boundaries. Sculpture in the City presents a selection of Australia's most distinguished sculptors, and we have been able to ignite a truly local experience for both curious and art-aficionado guests and visitors alike with this shared philosophy.”

Geoffrey Smith, Chairman Sotheby's Australia said, “Sculpture in the City is an opportunity for visitors to the InterContinental to engage with and appreciate major works by Australia's leading sculptors. It is through this immersion that we are able to facilitate to both local and international visitors an awareness of significant Australian art.

By exhibiting important and exciting Australian sculptures in the heart of the city of Sydney we are able to connect with and inspire visitors with a truly unique experience. This exhibition is the result of the close relationship that Sotheby's Australia enjoys with the InterContinental Sydney and is a testament to our successful corporate partnership.”

Join the conversation:
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Twitter: @interconsyd
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Love the Winter Outdoors? Enjoy a spa day afterwards indoors!

Winter time is Fun Time in the Mountains as well as the Canyon Country. Our skin takes its toll in the winter as it experiences the extremes of the elements. One word of advice: Shea Butter! This product is a great barrier for your skin in harsh snow blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, and wind exposure as well as the sun's intense reflection on those bluebird days. Here are 21 benefits of Shea Butter: http://www.sheainstitute.com/asbi-library/21reasons/.

It is also preventative care to wear a hat and a face covering while playing in Winter Wonderland in Moab! Try Bella Sol's Winter Special to pamper the skin- check it out! During the cool winter months treat your skin to a warming 60-minute cinnamon facial experience coupled with a customized foot scrub and a hot stone massage: $55. Add in a hot cup of ginger tea and this treatment will warm you up from the inside out! Watch out for the benefits of the Winter Melt! Whatever you do this winter, make sure you get out in the elements and have some fun! There is nothing like weaving in and out of the trees on a phat powder day, scaling the La Sal Mountains on cross country skis or snowshoes on a sunshiny day, building a snow fort, or just plain rolling around in the snow in one of Moab's plentiful side canyons.

Whether sightseeing in sun-drenched months or nascent cold, dry months, the desert may not particularly torture complexions and physique, still on an off day, know that spa treatments imbue recovery that might be felt by facing drying wind or challenging trails. Hydrating body wraps, muscle recovery wraps and full body scrubs are among the favorite treatments to revitalize damaged skin. Indulge with moisturizing infused facials. Dramatically alter the appearance of skin tone after a day's outing in Moab Utah's desert climate with local spa services.

Moab Spa is located on Main Street and open year around, seven days a week. This spa has a couples room and individual massage rooms. All treatments are customized. The unique signature Moab massage (The Desert Woman/Man) includes a hot stone massage on the feet with stones collected locally. It includes a back scrub with Utah Salts and Aromatherapy oils distilled and wild crafted in Boulder, Utah. Moab Spa also offers a wide range of facials including peels to revitalize skin and Micro-current acupuncture to improve skin tone and elasticity. After a day of hiking treat feet to a service called the Sole Survivor that's specifically designed to ease the fatigue. While feet soak, savor a soothing hand and scalp massage too.

Meanwhile at Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa experience the décor elegance a seasoned Spa-goers will recognize.

1. For mature couples, reserve the Hiker's Heaven Treatment this is a full body massage that incorporates Mountain Arnica to ease inflammation and soreness, with special attention paid to the legs and feet to help rejuvenate tired muscles. It is followed by the Fresh Feet Pedicure which includes a foot soak, scrub, and foot massage. Perfect for aging, aching legs after a long day on the trails. Designed for recuperation so a person can be back on the trails again tomorrow for another adventure.

2. For winter skin, seek the Hydration Facial. Help alleviate dryness and dehydration caused by the cold, winter wind whipping across the nose and cheeks. Nourish the skin and delight the senses. This thirst-quenching facial is designed to revitalize and hydrate the skin and the relaxation ends with an added hand massage.

For visitors in Moab over several days, Drew Roots of San Miguel Wellness Retreat, provides five steps to correct chronic tension in muscle tissue through the PUSH method. Starting with treatment to start releasing rigid tissue into a supple state, then adopt specific movement instruction to release your tension. Attention is given to finding the source of ingrained patterns to eliminate those patterns. Finally, practice self-treatment to ease the stubborn areas to make ready for strength training a strong and supple core. This treatment can be a holistic companion to extensive adventuring in Moab, when a person feels like the body is just 'getting old', the body may merely need a PUSH tune up.

Feeling a little brittle this winter? Soothe your body and soul with a treatment at Lotus Massage! Warm up cold joints on a heated massage table as Lisa moisturizes and manipulates achy muscles back into proper alignment. You'll be ready to strap your snowshoes back on in no time! Visit www.lotusmassagemoab.com to view pricing, specials, and to book online.

Mustn't forget our hair. Atomic Salon recommends using the Dry Remedy line of Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioners sold at the salon. Pair regular shampooing with these products with a salon conditioning treatment to make a huge impact. Atomic Salon also carries Aveda skin care products that help soothe the harsh winter skin that happens in this dry climate. Contact them and make an appointment http://www.atomic-salon.com/.

Seize the winter season with gusto for rejuvenation. Take advantage of the shorter daylight for the perfect length of adventuring and combine those adventures with pampering that Moab experts are prepared to provide. Good health to one and all!

Nine Star Wars Locations That Aren't a Galaxy Far, Far Away

When you think Star Wars, you think of a galaxy far, far away. In reality, the planets from the movies are filmed right here on Earth.

To celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Cheapflights.com.au has put together a travel itinerary devoted to visiting the memorable sites from the movie franchise. You could step into Queen Amidala's Palace, walk in the footsteps of the Ewoks or even have a sleepover at Luke Skywalker's house. With that in mind, here are nine awesome 'intergalactic' travel destinations.

1. Naboo: Queen Amidala's Palace – Naples, Italy

Some of the most incredible interior scenes in the saga take place in The Reggia di Caserta, one of the largest 18th century buildings on the planet. With stunning gardens and a majestic interior, the palace is well worth a visit.

2. Hoth – Hardangerjøkulen Glacier, Finse, Norway

Norway was an obvious choice for the remote, icy planet of Hoth. The site featured one of the series' most epic battle scenes. Although not quite as intergalactic as the planet of Hoth, the snowbound landscapes do offer some breathtaking views and a pretty impressive 16 kilometre ice sheet.

3. Alderaan – Grindelwald, Switzerland

Planet Alderaan, home to Princess Leia, occupies a special place in the Star Wars mythology. The beautiful mountain range of Grindelwald is an amazing place to visit, especially in winter. Grindelwald is a Swiss ski resort that sits high in the Alps, 1000m above sea level - it's a stunning place to ski, hike or relax in an alpine hut.

4. Kashyyyk: The Wookiee homeland – Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

The famous limestone peaks of Phang Nga Bay in Southern Thailand served as the Wookiee kingdom of Kashyyyk. The luscious greens and endless blue water make the perfect setting for a planet that only has one season. You'll recognise this location in the aerial battle that went down in Revenge of the Sith.

5. Naboo – Lake Como, Italy

In Attack of the Clones, Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala go into hiding at a jaw-droppingly beautiful location in the planet of Naboo. In real life this lakeside retreat on Italy's Lake Como is a popular choice for a destination wedding. You'll be sure to recognise the balcony where Anakin and Padme kissed.

6. Tatooine – Death Valley, California

Although a large portion of Tatooine scenes were filmed in Tunisia, George Lucas and the unit team grabbed some extra shots in Death Valley. Remember the scene when Obi-Wan Kenobi meets Luke Skywalker, C-3PO and R2-D2 for the first time? Yep, that's here.

7. Yavin – Tikal, Guatemala

"We are approaching the planet Yavin...". Featured in Episode IV, Star Wars fans will know the Guatemalan site of Tikal better as Yavin. In real life, the towers at the Massassi Outpost belong to the Ancient Mayan Civilisation of Tikal, in the film they are the main base for the Rebellion and were almost destroyed by the first Death Star.

8. Endor – Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California

The home of the furry Ewoks was filmed among California's giant redwoods. The forest offers over 32 kilometres of hiking and nature trails, which will leave you with the feeling that you just stepped onto the moon of Endor. The two locations still accessible to the public are the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, a fantastic woodland adventure for the intrepid Star Wars fan.

9. Jakku – Abu Dhabi, UAE

If you've watched the trailer for the new film, you'll see snippets of a sandy landscape on the planet Jakku. Director J.J. Abrams chose the sands of the United Arab Emirates to recreate this Tatooine-like desert planet. We can't wait to see more.

For more travel inspiration or to book your next holiday or flights, visit Cheapflights.com.au.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Castlereagh Boutique Hotel - the elegant choice in the heart of Sydney

I recently discovered the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel located in Castlereigh Street in the heart of the Sydney CBD. I have often walked along Castlereagh Street on my trips to Sydney, but until my recent stay I had not realised that this boutique hotel was located behind its handsome sandstone frontage and stunning Art Deco architecture.

Once I walked inside the front doors of the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel I was struck by the ornate reception lobby and the Reagh Public Bar. The welcoming staff soon checked me into my room on the 10th floor which was accessed by one of the 3 key operated lifts.

The staff were very friendly and helpful in all their dealings with me and made me feel at home during my stay.

The Castlereagh Boutique Hotel is an elegantly restored, heritage-listed property that was built in 1926 for the NSW Masonic Club. It took 2 years to build and was opened in September 1927. I found it interesting that it was the first reinforced concrete building built in Sydney and at the time of construction it was the tallest building in Sydney, standing 12 floors high. The building was heritage listed in 1980.

Original features in the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel include library, ballroom, billiard and card rooms, the main bar, lodgings and the magnificent Grand Dining Room. During my stay I was privileged to be taken on a guided tour to see all these areas. I was impressed to see the charm of this grand building. What stood out for me at me during my stay at the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel was the elegant decor and luxurious furnishings in my room and in the public areas.

An extensive restoration and refurbishment of the building was undertaken in the 1990’s, with the addition of ensuite bathrooms to all the guest bedrooms. The Grand Dining Room was restored to recapture the charm and elegance of its original splendour.  Until recently only Masonic Club members could stay there, but since becoming part of the Choice Hotels group anyone can stay there. My mother-in-law told me that her uncle played billiards at the Club on a regular basis during his lunch breaks many years ago.

The Castlereagh Boutique Hotel has 82 deluxe double, queen and executive suites and standard single twin, double, and queen rooms. Adjoining family rooms are also available.

My deluxe queen room was a gorgeous room with a comfortable queen bed fitted with high quality linen, small table, chairs and wardrobe. For entertainment there was a flat screen teletext television, with free-to-air and Foxtel channels and free Wi-Fi internet access for my laptop computer I had with me. The room was air-conditioned and had a clock radio, mini bar, and tea & coffee making facilities. A new addition to the room was a gleaming white ensuite bathroom with a bath and shower (with large shower head), vanity, mirror, toilet and a good complimentary range of quality toiletries.

I was impressed with the cleanliness of the room - no dust or scuff marks anywhere in the bedroom or ensuite. I liked the blue and gold carpet, but was not too fussed with the colour of the walls. However I learnt that all rooms are in the process of being freshly painted with a more eye-pleasing colour. My room was at the front of the building with little traffic noise to be heard. From my window I could see the trees in Hyde Park through a gap in the office towers between Castlereagh Street and Elizabeth Street.

The Castlereagh Boutique Hotel has a variety of public bars and dining areas. These are not only open for hotel guests, but also for casual visitors who can drop in for a meal or drink.

Each morning I enjoyed a buffet breakfast in the elegant surroundings of the Cello’s Restaurant. There was a good selection of cereals, fresh fruit sticks, yogurt, fruit juice, tea & coffee bread, pastries, and hot dishes of bacon, scrambled eggs, tomatoes and hash browns. Breakfast is served daily from 7am to 9.30am. See the breakfast menu here - BREAKFAST

The Cello's Restaurant, or Grand Dining Room, is located on the 4th Floor and is one of the last of its kind. The decor of this heritage-listed room is amazing. It has been elegantly restored in exact detail to its original 1920′s decor and is a remarkable example of period architecture. The majestic surroundings makes this Sydney's finest dining room. The ornate gold leaf decorations adorning the walls and the original plastering kept intact make dining here a pleasure – a memorable indulgence in true opulence and elegance. There is even the original Steinway grand piano from 1927 in the Restaurant, which my wife, a piano teacher, would love to play. If you happen to be there on a Friday you can enjoy live piano/vocalist, string musicians or jazz. They rotate the performers for variety, so there is always something to drop in to hear on a Friday night to relax after a working week.

Cello's offers a fine A La Carte food selection. Lunch is served Wednesday to Friday from 12 noon – 3pm. See the lunch menu here - LUNCH

The Castlereagh Lounge is located on the 2nd Floor and offers a Bistro Menu of main meals and morning & afternoon tea.  It is open Monday to Friday from 10.30m to 8.30pm and each Saturday 12noon to 8.30pm. To see the menu click here -  MENU

The Reagh Public Bar is located on the ground floor behind the Foyer. It serves chilled beer & wines and great counter food in an intimate atmosphere It is open Wednesday to Friday from 12 noon - 8.30pm. See the Reagh Bar menu here - BAR MENU

The Castlereagh Boutique Hotel is the perfect venue for business events, conferences, weddings and specials functions. They offer a variety of venues including the Grand Dining Room, the intimate and private Adam Room and a range of meeting facilities.

The location of the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel is ideal as it is in the heart of Sydney's commercial, retail and entertainment centres. It is a short walk to the Pitt Street Mall and its numerous shops and department stores and to the theatre I attended. If travelling by train it is just a short walk from Town Hall Station or Museum Station. If travelling by car there are car parking arrangements with the nearby Hilton Hotel.

The Castlereagh Boutique Hotel is the ideal choice to stay when visiting Sydney for a business or pleasure trip. Whether you stay a night or a week you can relax in comfort and feel right at home in its elegant surroundings.

Castlereagh Boutique Hotel

Address: 169 Castlereagh Street, Sydney 2000, Australia
Phone: 61 2 9284 1000 or Freecall 1800 801 576 (Australia only)
Fax: 61 2 9284 1045
Email: reservations@thecastlereagh.com.au
Postal Address: PO Box A1160, Sydney South 1235, Australia
Website: http://www.thecastlereagh.com.au

40 Things to Do in Sydney This Summer

To celebrate the Sydney Festival's 40th anniversary program Destination NSW, the NSW Government's tourism and major events agency, has prepared a list of 40 unmissable experiences to be had in Sydney this Summer.

NSW Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, Stuart Ayres said: “Sydney Festival turns 40 this year and it's as bold as ever. It's a highlight on our events calendar and celebrates cutting edge performances, art and music.

“Sydney Festival is synonymous with a Sydney Summer and we are looking forward to celebrating the 40th anniversary of this iconic event. Destination NSW is aligned with eight Sydney Festival events and we know these incredible must see performances will attract more visitors to our harbour city and delight festival goers.”

For visitors in Sydney for Sydney Festival, Destination NSW has put together a list of other experiences to help visitors fill their itinerary.

Here are Destination NSW's tips on 40 things to do in Sydney this Summer:

Take in Sydney Festival

  1. Visit Carriageworks Bay 17 from January 7 to catch the Australian exclusive of Woyzeck a highlight on the Sydney Festival line up.The epic German love story lies somewhere between a fever dream and social drama and features the music of American musician Tom Waits
  2. Be whisked away for an evening of Opera with a spine-chilling performance of Australian exclusive Winterreise at City Recital Hall on January 7 and 8 as part of Sydney Festival
  3. Treat your ears to one of Beethoven's monumental symphonies with the Sydney Festival's exclusive performance of Anima Eterna Brugge Beethoven's Symphonies at the City Recital Hall on January 25
  4. Learn why critics the world over have praised Geoff Sobelle's The Object Lesson an installation that captures the glorious mess of life at Sydney Town Hall from January 7 as part of Sydney Festival
  5. Experience music that tests your mind and body with the Sydney Festival and Sydney Chamber Orchestra's presentation of Passion at the City Recital Hall on January 14 and 15
  6. Visit Sydney's new creative playground, the Cutaway at Barangaroo Reserve and get involved in Sydney Festival's community event The Ephemeral City, with visitors invited to construct a temporary city using cardboard boxes
  7. On January 17 catch a special one off concert presented by The Embassy Kingdom of the Netherlands and Sydney Festival and experience the cosmopolitan glory days of Baroque night at City Recital Hall with the performance of Bach and his Dutch Contemporaries
  8. Get involved in a day of construction at Darling Harbour on January 7 with Olivier Grossetête's The People's Tower. All are invited to help build two gigantic cardboard b
    uildings by the water.
  9. Try the Strawberry Watermelon cake that has foodies in an Instagram frenzy at Black Star Pastry. Up your Instagram game and capture the wonder and be sure to tag #ilovesydney Taste
  10. Visit one of the city's newest rooftop bars, the Henry Deane cocktail bar, at the newly refurbished Hotel Palisade in Millers Point and take in the extraordinary views of the Harbour and Barangaroo 
  11. Check out glamorous garden-dining at Woollahra favourite Chiswick, part of celebrity Chef Matt Moran's portfolio. Try the signature slow-roast Moran Family lamb and Grapefruit spritzer made with grapefruits grown in the kitchen garden
  12. Taste the world's best gelato at Enmore's Cow and the Moon. Their mandorla affogato saw them take out first place at the world gelato championships in Italy last year
  13. Visit J&M whiskey bar on level 2 of the historic Angel Hotel. This 60's and 70's themed bar offers an extensive menu of whiskies and specially crafted cocktails
  14. Escape the heat at retro style restaurant Nel, a basement hideaway in Wentworth Avenue where chef Nelly Robinson cuts loose with unlikely combinations such as tuna paired with treacle
  15. Familiarise yourself with the lobster roll craze and treat your taste buds at Waterman's Lobster Co in Potts Point. Pure deliciousness!
  16. Experience one of Sydney's best waterfront lunches at Pyrmont's Flying Fish Restaurant & Bar. Located at Jones Bay Wharf with views of the sparkling summer harbour Peter Kuruvita's fresh seasonal menu is a must
  17. Dine outdoors at Sydney's first outdoor Singaporean style hawker centre Spice Alley on Kensington street and try some delicious Asian street food run by veterans of some of Sydney's most-popular South-East Asian restaurant
  18. With spectacular ocean views spend an afternoon in the sun at one of Sydney's best rooftop bars, The Coogee Pavilion. Try the daily sashimi platter and Pavilion Piña Colada

Feel inspired by the city's vibrant arts and culture scene

19. Visit the MCA to explore Grayson Perry: My Pretty Little Art Career as part of the Sydney International Art Seriesand see for yourself his critically acclaimed ceramics, sculptures, drawings, prints and tapestries from December 10

20. Be a super hero for a day and visit The Powerhouse Museum to explore the world exclusive The Art of the Brick exhibition that uses thousands of LEGO bricks to create large scale sculptures of super heroes and villains including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the The Joker

21. Be captivated by the multi-award winning unforgettable production of Matilda The Musical at Sydney's Lyric Theatre

22. Discover the stories of ordinary people who became extraordinary explorers at the exclusive to Sydney exhibition Trailblazers: Australia's 50 greatest explorers.at the Australian Museum

23. Don't miss Collette Dinnnigan: Unlaced an exclusive exhibition of the work of the internationally acclaimed Australian designer's label over the last 25 years. Visit the Powerhouse museum and take a walk down The Goods Line afterwards

24. Experience an extraordinary presented showcase of some of the worlds most revered Old Master paintings and drawings by the greatest names in European art including Botticelli, Da Vinci and Monet at The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at The Art Gallery of NSW as part of the Sydney International Art Series

25. Be one of the first in the world to welcome in 2016 at Sydney New Year's Eveon December 31. This extravaganza is Sydney's time to shine with a spectacular fireworks display over Sydney Harbour. Discover your best vantage point here

26. Celebrate Australia Day at Yabun Australia's largest indigenous festival in Victoria Park, Glebe

27. Take a Gallery Walking Tour of Chippendale and discover the area's edgy art scene. Gallery tours take place on the first Saturday of every month.

Soak up the sunshine at one of Sydney's many great outdoor activities

28. Pack your swimmers and seek out a secluded patch of sand at Milk Beach one of Sydney's secret harbour beaches in Vaucluse

29. No sporting spectacle says 'Sydney in Summer' like the iconic blue water classic the Rolex Sydney Harbour Yacht Race on December 26. Head to Horby Lighthouse on South Head and watch a mix of maxi yachts and weekend racers set sail through the heads on their way down the coast to Hobart

30. Catch a ferry to Manly and take on the waves with a surfing lesson at Manly Surf School

31. Soak in postcard views while getting fit swimming laps at North Sydney Olympic Pool with the flexed bicep of the Harbour Bridge overhead, and Sydney Opera House across the water

32. Discover Sydney's up-and-coming designers at Bondi Markets for an eclectic mix of original design, limited-edition handmade clothing and accessories, every Saturday and Sunday

33. Meet the superstars of the animal kingdom including lions, komodo dragons, seals and of course Australia's native birds and wildlife at Taronga Zoo. Catch the ferry for a truly iconic summer experience

34. Pack a picnic and visit Barangaroo Reserve, Sydney's newest Harbour foreshore park with idyllic coves and exquisite views of Sydney Harbour.

35. Spend the afternoon at Sydney institution Wylie's Baths, a historic sea pool at the southern end of Coogee Beach

36. Take an exhilarating rafting trip with an expert river guide at Penrith Whitewater Stadium

37. Visit Sydney's own little Vietnam – Cabramatta with all the flavour and bustles of a southeast Asian street market and make your own summer rolls at Phu Quoc

38. See Australia's best marine life without getting wet at Sydney Aquarium and meet its two amazing resident dugongs - Pig and Wuru

39. Get your serve of world tennis with the stars of the game in town from January 10 at the APIA International

40. Soak up the summer sun at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the CommBank Pink Test when Australia take on the West Indies from January 3

Visit www.sydney.com for more information.

Only in Australia - why Australia is so uniquely Australia…

Warning signs for a camel, kangaroo
 and a wombat in the Australian Outback
Five things you probably never knew about Australia that help make us one of the most unique and potentially weirdest countries on the globe…

Australian travel writer, Craig Tansley looks at why Australia is so uniquely Australia…

1. You Can Muster Cattle With Real-Life Cowboys

The Harry Redford cattle drive
Just about every country town in Australia offers some kind of horse ride… but there’s only one place that allows riders to experience a real-life cattle muster across the Aussie outback.

Now in its 14th year and run entirely by volunteers, the Harry Redford Cattle Drive boasts no luxuries. There’s no showers, motel rooms or electricity… instead, you’ll be sleeping in swags on the red dirt of western Queensland and eating meals with local cowboys.

Located just outside Aramac in western Queensland (near Longreach), the cattle drive was devised by locals to generate income to keep the town afloat. While it’s a clever tourism idea, feeding livestock is still its number one priority. You’ll be challenged to travel at least 10 kilometres a day – over 19 days the drive covers 200 kilometres, however visitors can choose how far they want to ride.

The great thing is you don’t have to be an experienced rider – you’ll be part of a group effort transporting more than 600 head of cattle to new feeding ground.

The Harry Redford Drive runs from 7-28 May 2016.

Deni Ute Muster 2015
© The Art of Zowie Photography

2. Australia Is Home To The Ute Capital Of The World

It is official, Australia is home to the Ute Capital Of The World, and we proudly claim that no other country on Earth knows how to put on a ute muster quite like Australia. The prestigious Ute Capital title goes to the tiny Riverina town of Deniliquin on the NSW/ Victoria border.

Every October, Riverina’s population of 8,000 swells to more than 25,000 when the world’s biggest ute muster brings enthusiasts from all over Australia, and beyond. What started as a tiny part of the annual Pastoral & Agricultural Show has grown into a monster event. In its first year, the Deni Ute Muster made the Guinness Book Of Records for the largest participation of legally registered utes on Earth – at 2,839. And every year since then the record has been beaten – in 2013, more than 9,730 utes were mustered.

It’s now two-day festival that includes live music, a ute driving competition and the world-famous Australian Circle Work Championships. And another one for the world record book broken at the muster – the highest number of people in blue singlets, an impressive 3,924 all together at the same time.

Deniliquin’s the place to be, but there’s other ute musters around Australia, with Caboolture’s Beaut Ute competition (which includes the category, Best Feral Ute) the most notable.

Catch the Deni Ute Muster in October 2016

3. And Where Else On Earth But Australia Would Hold A Beer Can Regatta?

2009 Darwin Beer Can Regatta
An Australian tradition – Bullocky Point casts its shadow in late afternoon over the 1977 Darwin Beer Can Regatta ©kenhodge13.

It’s the most unusual boat race on the Planet, by a country mile –just building the boats takes a year of hard training… in drinking that is! Naturally the regatta is located in Darwin. In 1974 two local businessmen came up with a unique way to clean up the city – use empty cans of beer to build boats to race in a regatta – and it has been running ever since.

Over 20,000 people watched the first Beer Can Regatta – half the population of Darwin at the time. These days the regatta has its very own festival held along Darwin’s Mindil Beach every July, with the drawcard being the chance to see teams of boaties take to vessels crafted entirely from cans.

Most boats are made up of around 2,500 cans – though one boat, the mighty Extravacanz, once held 30,000 cans, and 87 people. Entrants aren’t allowed to test their boat’s seaworthiness before the event and must follow the 10 Can-Mandments, most crucial of which is: “thou shalt not drown”. There’s also a race where contestants run their boats on the beach using their feet.

Catch the action of next year’s Beer Can Regatta on 17 July, 2016.

4. Australia Has The Only Toilet Race On Earth!

Australia Day Dunny Races at Aussie World
© Aussie World.
It’s an Aussie institution – the outdoor toilet (or dunny as its better known). Most country houses in Australia used to have an outdoor dunny – so you’d have to battle the elements to get out and do your business, rain, hail, snow or shine. But no-one thought to race an outdoor dunny until a pub on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast came up with the idea.

Now every Australia Day (January 26) eight teams race an outdoor dunny (the whole room is put onto wheels and contestants must pull it alone – often with one member sitting on the toilet as they race) at Aussie World (at the pub formerly known as the Ettamogah Pub). Thousands turn up for this most iconic of events – with the winner earning themselves the toilet seat trophy as the Dunny Racing Champions Of The World. It’s not for the faint of heart, dunnies can get away from competitors, and there’s been the odd occasion where someone was thrown from their throne onto the bitumen outside.

The next dunny race will be held at 10am sharp.

5. There Really Is A Walkabout Creek Hotel, But It’s In The Wrong State

Walkabout Creek Hotel
It’s the most famous Australian pub of all time. The world knows all about the Walkabout Creek Hotel thanks to the exploits of Australia’s most famous movie character, Crocodile Dundee. After Dundee takes American reporter Sue Charlton out to where he was attacked by a salt-water crocodile in the Northern Territory, they return to the nearby Walkabout Creek Hotel to celebrate in true Northern Territory style.

Guess what? There really is a Walkabout Creek Hotel, but it’s not in the Territory, it’s in Queensland – 120 kilometres south-west of Gladstone to be precise. Built in the tiny township of McKinlay – home to just 417 locals – it was called the Federal McKinlay Hotel till Paul Hogan came to town looking for the ultimate Aussie outback watering hole.

You can stay in one of 18 rooms in the pub and it’s as rustic as you might imagine, but these days you might have to book. Despite its isolation, it’s become a tourist drawcard and in 2014 it sold for over a million dollars (compared to $290,000 before the movie came out).

Looking for more inspiration on where to travel in your own backyard? Visit the momondo blog to discover Australia’s top 10 most romantic resorts or read our 10 reasons you must visit Kangaroo Island.

momondo.com is a free, independent global travel search site comparing billions of cheap flights, hotels and car hire deals http://www.momondo.com.au

In a Galaxy Not So Far Away… Ireland Feels 'The Force'

An island off Ireland's south west coast is wowing audiences at screenings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Unveiled in the film's closing minutes, this closely guarded secret ending to Episode 7 was filmed in September 2014 on Skellig Michael Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since 1977, the record-breaking movie franchise has travelled through many galaxies, and this time, director JJ Abrams along with cast and crew jetted into a little village called Portmagee, County Kerry, on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. From here, they travelled eight miles (12 Km) by sea to a dream film location, Skellig Michael.

Locals were told a documentary was being filmed but were amazed when they realised that Star Wars was being filmed in their community. Gerard Kennedy of 'The Bridge Bar and Moorings Guesthouse' in Portmagee, said:

“It's been so hard to keep this secret! It was such a weird and wonderful experience for our small village to be part of the Star Wars story. We enjoyed evenings of music and dance in our bar with the cast and crew. Mark Hamill even learned how to pull a pint with our barman, Ciaran Kelly!”

More background and stories about Star Wars filming on Skellig Michael are available here:
www.ireland.com/starwars

TV and Film are recognised as strong influencers on travellers, with up to 35% of people being impacted in their choice of destination by what they see on screen. Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, comments:

“Star Wars filming in Ireland will bring the magnificent scenery of Skellig Michael to the attention of millions of people around the world. It's a really effective way to reach audiences, helping to significantly boost awareness of the Skelligs, the South West and Ireland in general, whetting peoples' appetites to come and visit.”

Skellig Michael is accessible only by boat. Today it's inhabited solely by birds, but monks settled here over a millennium ago and the beehive huts that they lived in are restored and can be visited from May to September each year, but advance booking is essential.

Kerry, is aptly also one of only three Gold Tier International Dark Sky reserves in the world. The beautiful band of the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters and nebulas are just some of the naked eye wonders to see without the aid of any astronomical equipment or filters.

Angkor Wat code of conduct video depicts offensive tourist behaviour

A video about Angkor’s new behavioural code has been published telling tourists not to give to beggars, climb temples or take selfies with monks.

For the preservation and sustainable development of Angkor, please respect and share the Angkor Visitor Code of Conduct. Complying to the code of conduct will not only improves the joy of your visit but also contribute the preservation for Angkor.

Tourists told not to smoke, give to begging children or take selfies with monks, as plans to open Angkor Wat earlier are announced

The video has been sent to every TV channel in Cambodia.

A new code of conduct for visitors to Angkor Wat has been backed up by the publication of a video designed to show tourists the types of behaviour that are considered unacceptable.

Visitors to the Khmer site, Cambodia’s biggest attraction, will have to abide by new rules that were put in place on posters around the site last month.

The recently published rules ban activities including smoking, giving to begging children and taking selfies with monks.

The guidance came after a worrying trend in foreigners stripping naked at the archaeological site emerged earlier this year.

The Apsara Authority that runs the site and consulted on the posters, has now also produced a video

The video shows a Khmer king, riding through the grounds of the Angkor compex on the back of an elephant. At the same time, modern-day tourists mill about, one of them a blonde woman in high-heels and hot pants. The king notices her and stops his entourage. “No revealing clothes” a caption in English states.

A man in a vest and mirrored sunglasses is then shown taking a drag on a cigarette as a “no smoking” caption appears.

Surveying the land, the king also spots a woman handing cash to a begging child and bows his head in sorrow.

Monks who have just been praying are then stopped by a woman who takes a selfie with them, while another man climbs the side of a temple, others touch and put their feet up on temple reliefs and leave behind litter. All activities are now prohibited.

Angkor Wat in Cambodia is to open earlier so that more people can see it – but visitors will have to abide by a new code of conduct put in place around the site.

From January 1, the main Khmer temple of Angkor, Angkor Wat, alongside smaller Phnom Bakheng, will be opening two hours earlier, from 5.30am, in order to cater for those wanting to see sunrise from the temples.

In the meantime, a code of conduct has been published on posters outside temples in an attempt to curb the inappropriate behaviour of some of the thousands who already visit each year.

Cambodian monks, tour guides, local authorities and Unesco representatives spent two years discussing the types of behaviour that they would like to see eradicated from the important Khmer site.

The consultation has led to the issuing of a code of conduct for the archaeological site that bans activities including smoking, giving to begging children and taking selfies with monks.

The new guidance came after a worrying trend in foreigners stripping naked at the archaeological site emerged earlier this year.

New common sense rules about keeping clothes on and not touching monuments will be printed out and distributed to hotels and tour guides

Visitors to the site will now see a poster outside each temple asking them not to engage in certain types of disrespectful behaviour, illustrated by pictures of tourists posing sexily in doorways, clambering over loose stones, and hovering over monks with mobile phones.

“These restrictions have been coming ever since Angkor witnessed a succession of flashers last winter,” said Andrew Booth, founder of Cambodia specialist ABOUTAsia Travel (aboutasiatravel.com), “and following the similar incident on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo.”

The Apsara National Authority said its goal is “to harmonise tourist experiences with public safety and respect towards our community”.

Revealing clothes such as shorts and skirts above the knee and tops showing bare shoulders are prohibited, according to the new poster.

Touching, leaning or sitting on temple structures is also strictly prohibited, as is climbing on loose stones. “Giving candy or money to children encourages them not to attend school but to beg,” the poster states. “If you wish to help the children, please consider donating to a recognised charity.”
It suggests that tourists ask a monk’s permission before taking a photograph, as monks are “revered and respected”. “Women should not touch nor stand or sit too close to monks,” it adds.

In a final warning, the poster states: “Any act of looting, breaking or damaging Angkor, or exposing sex organs and nudity in a public area is a crime punishable by law.”

The new rules follow the arrest of three French men who posed naked at Banteay Kdei temple earlier this year and outrage at a Chinese model who posed topless amid the ruins in January.

The poster has been put up outside Angkor’s temples, in four languages.

Centennial with Moab's Two National Parks

As the National Park Service readies for the 100th Birthday on August 25 2016, there are many ways to celebrate during the entire 2016 travel season.

In Moab, the Sierra Club has three trips planned for Moab in May. Each of those three trips include being in Arches National Park, two of them will also visit Canyonlands. Two outings involve camping. There will be a Volunteer Service opportunity in Arches National Park. Work on the highest priority of tasks on the to do list for Arches. No experience is necessary. Good humor is mandatory. Or visit both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park's Island in the Sky District with a Naturalist. There is a healthy heap of hiking, so tackle physical conditioning before arriving. Plus, there is a woman only week based out of a hotel and includes the parks and a hike, horseback riding and rafting. http://content.sierraclub.org/outings/search/node/moab%20utah

Every Kid in a Park, the White House initiative has already begun. All current 4th graders and their families can experience our nation's treasures for free until August 2016, the start of another school year. http://www.nationalparks.org/ook/about The National Park Foundation could use a donation to enable the success of this enterprise to get kids outdoors and engage the next generation of advocates for preserving not only National Parks, but national forests, national wildlife refuges and many historical/cultural landmarks. Disney is a premier partner of the program. O.A.R.S. is a supporting partner, donating 1% of trip sales to the National Park Foundation. Outdoor Adventure River Specialists (O.A.R.S.) operates trips all over the world and in Moab. http://discovermoab.com/tour.htm Say Happy Birthday with an O.A.R.S. trip and benefit opening OUTdoors for kids. Before thinking how unfair this initiative is because you haven't a 4th grader in the family, know that only 127 of America's 409 national parks charge an entrance fee. And there are 16 free days assigned throughout 2016. http://1.usa.gov/1OOfDVX Those dates are Martin Luther King, Jr. Day January 18, National Park Week January 16-24, National Park Service Birthday and the following weekend (it is the Centennial after all) August 25- 28, National Public Lands Day September 24, and Veterans Day November 11.

Get an interpretive escort with the Moab local businesses authorized to lead trips into the parks. Whether a driving tour, hiking tour or photography tour is chosen, the trip leader will have a wealth of local information to share. Discussion flourishes about history, geology, and the abundant nature enveloped in the awe inspiring scenery. Let another do the driving to enable unfettered contemplation of the spectacular panoramas. http://discovermoab.com/archesnationalpark.htm

Tags: Sierra Club, Every Kid in A Park, national park foundation, O.A.R.S., national park centennial

New Year's Resolutions You'll Make and Break!

Lose weight and get fit. Eat healthier. Spend more time with loved ones. Cut the stress. Drink and smoke less. Travel to new places. As the New Year looms, these old 'resolution chestnuts' pop up and, we're sorry to say, none every really carry much weight – did you see what we did there? – come March 1.

Whilst we can't help with the smoking and drinking, we can with fun holiday solutions to drop the stress, lose the weight and travel the state… so here's cheers to a happier and healthier 2016, Queensland-style.

Drop The Stress...

Dory from the movie, Finding Nemo, said it best: “Hey there, Mr. Grumpy Gills. When life gets you down do you wanna know what you've gotta do? Just keep swimming.” When you're down in the dumps, a little Great Barrier Reef therapy will go a long way. There are plenty of active reef experiences - scuba, snorkel and swims – dotted along the reef and coastlines including the two-day, one-night Reefsleep (with Cruise Whitsundays), where the sound of the ocean can wash your cares away. http://www.greatbarrierreef.org/

Forget the latest Kardashian craze (whatever that might be), in an Australian first, Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat is offering four holistic, equine-assisted therapies for guests including therapy, meditation, learning and journey on the Gold Coast. Horses, like humans, are social creatures and these newly introduced 'horse-play' nature therapies are designed to assist Gwinganna guests to reach heightened social, emotional and cognitive awareness. www.gwinganna.com

Get on my line, you darn yellow bellies! It's not a line from a Yosemite Sam cartoon, but rather a call to join the Annual Boondooma Dam Yellowbelly Fishing Competition in the South Burnett. Experts report the lake is 'fishing really well' and they're looking forward to records breaking thick and fast in both the 'Catch and Release' and the 'Gilled and Gutted' sections. This uber-stress reliever for fisher folk is happening February 13 and 14 and families are welcome. http://www.lakeboondooma.com.au/

Lose The Weight...

Strike while the resolution-iron's hot with a New Years' day sunrise run along a Sunshine Coast beach with the folks from Noosa Running Tours or sign-up for The Colour Run – also known as the 'happiest 5km run on the planet' - at Bokarina on January 16. www.noosarunningtours.com.au

For the more resolute amongst us, the Mooloolaba Triathlon Festival from 11-13 March offers up Olympic distances on the Sunshine Coast and The Gold Coast Triathlon on April 10 attracts athletes who want to go the distance in gorgeous surrounds. Plus, the Cairns Airport Ironman (June 12) has arguably the most scenic bike course in the world and follows some of our favourite coastline in the Tropical North. http://ap.ironman.com/events/triathlon-races.aspx#axzz3tgcwJa1v

Eden Health Retreats' daily activity schedule reads like a boot camp on super-charged organic herbs. In attention to cardio fusion, laughing yoga and the splendidly named Club Mud, you'll find neuro aerobics, flying foxes and martial groove on their activities schedule. No two days are ever the same, and if the activities are as fun as they sound, sign me up! http://www.edenhealthretreat.com.au/

The ultra-lazy can attempt to 'scare themselves skinny' with a heart-racing rafting experience on Australia's most famous white-water river – The Tully River. You don't have to be an adrenaline junkie to spend time with the folks at RNR White Water Rafting in the Tropical North. http://www.raft.com.au/

Travel The State...

Whilst we can't promise you'll trim those unwanted kilos on a holiday diet, we do know this is one New Year's resolution you'd be mad not to keep.

If you want to generate zero carbon points (that can be New Year's resolution number seven), then book a Safari tent in the Nightfall Wilderness Camp, and 'glamp it up' in a private pocket of the Lamington National Park, 90 minutes south west of Brisbane. Guests get to join the owners as they forage for produce, sample local organic food and learn about the camp's environmental practices. http://www.nightfall.com.au/

Take a journey along The Bama Way (ex Cairns) and discover Tropical North Queensland through the eyes of its original inhabitants. Linking together three Aboriginal-owned and operated tours – Guurrbi Tours, The Walker Family Tours and Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours – each experience provides an insight into traditional Aboriginal culture and history. Visit sacred and historic local sites, learn about bush tucker and medicine or hear the stories of the rock paintings. Tours can be booked separately or in a one to three day package. www.bamaway.com.au

If you thought taking kids on holiday was a bit of a juggling act, well Novotel Twin Waters Resort Aqua Fun Park on the Sunshine Coast has a monster floating obstacle course that'll help keep your littlest holidaymakers occupied. There are Segways to explore the natural surroundings, a games room and a Kidz Cove Club with activities every morning and afternoon through the week and evening sessions on Fridays and Saturdays. Don't despair, if you're not staying at the hotel, you can buy a one-day activity pass. www.twinwatersresort.com.au

Spicer's Peak Lodge is officially Queensland's highest non-alpine lodge retreat and offers singular views of the World Heritage-listed Main Range National Park. Guests can choose to stay at one of the ten luxurious suites in the main lodge or spice it up with a one or a two bedroom private lodge. Activities include a rainforest bushwalk, mountain bike adventures or a four-day guided trek which ends in a night of luxury at the lodge. Those who prefer the great indoors can enjoy a degustation dinner menu relax in the infinity edge swimming pool, in the library or indulge in a treatment or massage. www.spicersgroup.com.au/property/spicers-peak-lodge

Go large with some super-sized Queensland experiences. In alphabetical order, we give you one mighty Queensland road trip, so take your pick of this larger-than-life bunch.

The Big Apple, Stanthorpe; The Big Banana, North Mackay; The Big Barramundi, Normanton; The Big Barramundi, Daintree; The Big Barrel, Bundaberg; The Big Brolga, Townsville; The Big Bottle, Bundaberg; The Big Bull at Rockhampton; The Big Cane Toad, Sarina; The Big Captain Cook, Cairns; The Big Cassowary, Mission Beach; The Big Cow, Nambour; The Big Crab, Cardwell; The Big Crab, Miriam Vale; The Big Crocodile, Daintree; The Big Crocodile, Hartleys Creek; The Big Crocodile, Normanton; The Big Diprotodon, Eulo; The Big Dugong, Rockhampton; The Big Dinosaur, Ballandean; The Big Easel, Emerald; The Big Fish, Milaa Milaa road; The Big Gumboot, Tully; The Big Hard Rock Guitar, Surfers Paradise and The Big Humpback Whale, at The Discovery Centre in Hervey Bay.

To round out the back end of the alphabet and the rest of the Sunshine State, we have:

The Big Kronosaurus, Richmond; 

The Big Macadamia Nut, Nambour; The Big Mandarin, Mundubbera; The Big Mango, Bowen; The Big Marlin, Cairns; The Big Matilda (Kangaroo), Kybong/Gympie; The Big Meat Ant, Augathella; The Big Merino, Blackall, The Big Mower, Beerwah; The Big Orange, Gayndah, The Big Peanut, Atherton Tablelands; The Big Pelican, Noosaville; The Big Pie, Yatala; The Big Pyramid, Stanthorpe; The Big Snake, Ayr; The Big Rig, Roma; The Big Shell, Noosa; The Big Turtle, Bagara; The Big Watermelon, north of Gumlu; The Big Wheel, Brisbane and Big Red… the biggest sand dune of 'em all in Birdsville. http://www.queensland.com/en-AU/Plan-Your-Trip/Holiday-Type/Driving-Holidays

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Gracious "Simpsons of Potts Point" Boutique Hotel

Recently I discovered "Simpsons of Potts Point". To my delight I found a gracious and elegant small boutique hotel in the historic Potts Point art deco district of Sydney Australia. It is a luxurious and gracious heritage hotel in a stately mansion which has a lovely homely atmosphere. The ambience is one of relaxed old world charm.

The attentive staff are warm and welcoming. Keith gave helpful suggestions on what to see and do when walking around the surrounding area.

The front two sitting rooms on the ground floor are very welcoming and charming feature rooms with wonderful period decor. They are ideal places to relax on the cosy armchairs and sofas with plenty of reading material to chose from our board games to play. Complimentary port, sherry and chocolates are provided. There is a computer with internet that can be used. I can just imagine sitting there in the warmth of the open fire during the colder months of winter.

Breakfast is included in your stay, and is served served each morning between 7:30 and 9:30am in the georgous conservatory. Breakfast has an excellent choice of cereals, fruit, ham, smoked salmon, nuts, bread and freshly brewed tea and coffee.

"Simpsons of Potts Point" has 12 rooms in a choice of several room types, including Cloud Suite , Superior King , Deluxe Queen , Dormer , and Family. They all have complimentary Wi-Fi internet.

I was fortunate to stay in the Victoria room, one of the 3 air-conditioned spacious Superior King rooms located on the first floor. It had a very comfortable king sized bed and lounge chairs, flat screen TV, mini-bar, tea and coffee making facilities and an ensuite with complimentary toiletries. I was impressed with the cleanliness of the room and the high quality of the bed linen provided. All the Superior King rooms offer an exceptional standard of accommodation each with its own style and unique features that combine a blend of historic elegance with 21st century comforts.

The Deluxe Queen style rooms are found on both the ground and first floors of "Simpsons Boutique Hotel". These air-conditioned rooms, with queen size beds,  have superb decorative detail and large bathrooms. Warm, contemporary comforts combined with 19th century charm makes staying in a Deluxe Queen room a delightful  experience.

The Dormer rooms are comfortable, attic-style rooms with a more intimate atmosphere. They are located on the second (top) floor of "Simpsons Boutique Hotel". These pleasant, newly refurbished rooms are air-conditioned, with queen size bed, ensuite with shower and ceiling fans.

There are 2 larger Family rooms, decorated in the same comfortable style as the Deluxe Queen. Furnished with one queen bed, one single bed and one double sofa bed. These rooms are suitable for families or groups of up to 4. Rooms are air-conditioned with ceiling fans, opening windows and ensuite shower and toilet. 

The beautiful Cloud Suite features king sized bed and a 2-person Jacuzzi-spa, and is ideal for the  "Honeymoon Package" which includes complimentary chocolates and sparkling wine on arrival.

"Simpsons of Potts Point" luxury boutique hotel is in an outstanding location. It is situated in a leafy short one-block long street in cosmopolitan Potts Point. Surrounding it are imposing three storey  historic terrace houses. A former Prime Minister of Australia lives in one of the homes in the street. Nearby are coffee shops, restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and a supermarket.

It is an easy walk past the Woolloomooloo Wharf, through the Botanic Gardens and past the Sydney Opera House to Circular Quay and the historic Rocks area. You can walk through the Domain to St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney Museum, Parliament House and the many shops and department stores around the Pitt Street Mall.

Simpsons was originally known as ‘Killountan’. The mansion originally consisted of two adjoining buildings – the main house at the front and a kitchen and servants wing at the rear. It was designed by John Bede Barlow, an important turn of the century Australian architect. It was built in 1892 in the English Queen Anne style and Arts and Crafts Movement of that period, typified by its many nooks and crannies, and use of red brick and moulded timber as distinct features. 

During the 1930’s the property was divided into six apartments, with some of the original features lost. Fortunately most of the original stained glass windows survived intact and undamaged.

In 1987 the building was restored to its former glory and en-suite bathrooms were added without spoiling the style of the original building. A conservatory, now the breakfast room, was erected in the former rear garden. 

The rooms and halls feature paintings of Australian flora painted by noted artist Ellis Rowan during the late 1800’s. The property is listed by the National Trust of Australia as a Heritage building, and is one of the very few privately owned, free-standing Victorian mansions in the Potts Point area.

To get to the hotel you can either walk from the Sydney CBD, or take the train on the Eastern Suburbs Line to Kings Cross Station and then walk about 12 minutes to "Simpsons",  or take the 311 bus from Railway Square and get off just around the corner from "Simpsons".

"Simpsons of Potts Point" offers personal and intimate accommodation in a boutique historic mansion. It has very attractive room rates with reduced extended stay and off-season rates available. Just make a booking on the hotel enquiry form found at http://www.simpsonshotel.com/potts-point-hotel.aspx

"Simpsons of Potts Point"

8 Challis Avenue Potts Point NSW Australia 2011
Phone +61 (2) 9356 2199 

THE AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM'S FIRST GALLERY TRANSFORMED

Australian Museum (AM), Westpac and the NSW Government will restore the nation’s first museum gallery, showcasing its 200 most significant treasures. The $9 million project is jointly funded by Westpac, the NSW Government and the AM’s philanthropic efforts. It will transform the current Long Gallery into the Westpac Long Gallery in 2017, to mark the AM’s 190th year and Westpac’s 200th anniversary.

NSW Premier Mike Baird said this week, “These significant national treasures are too valuable to be hidden away inside vaults and it’s fantastic that they will be put on permanent public display in the Westpac Long Gallery. This type of collaboration demonstrates the NSW Government’s commitment to developing innovative models of investment in our cultural institutions.”.

The AM’s Executive Director and CEO, Kim McKay AO, said the historic partnership had contributed renewed vision to Australia’s first museum, with the Westpac Long Gallery set to become the ‘must see’ gallery in Australia. “The incredible stories of the most significant treasures from the Australian Museum’s collection of 18 million objects will be made available for current and future generations to discover the history of our nation and our region,” she said.

Southern Laos launches new destination brand

The new brand “Southern Laos, Charming by nature”, has been officially launched to promote the four southern provinces of Saravan, Xekong, Attapeu and Champassak as one tourism destination.

The event took place recently in Champassak province and was attended by high level public and private sector representatives from Saravan, Xekong, Attapeu and Champassak provinces, as well as the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

In his opening speech, Deputy Governor of Champassak Buasone Vongsongkhone said “Like the anniversary of our country, the brand launch event is about our identity, about who we are, about what we stand for.”

He further stressed that, “The brand reminds us about what we need to treasure and what kind of tourism we want to promote such as a sustainable tourism which is respectful to our culture, to our environment and which helps to share economic benefits amongst all members of the society in southern Laos.”

The brand was developed in a participatory process over a period of 10 months, facilitated by Swisscontact and supported by international branding expertise from the marketing agency QUO, based in Bangkok.

When the topic of Laos tourism comes up, the conversation usually focuses on Vientiane or Luang Prabang. So, when faced with the challenge of creating a brand for Southern Laos, the Champasak Tourism Taskforce and Swiss Connect came to Bangkok-based marketing agency QUO for help in communicating their magical region to the world.

Southern Laos, like its northern counterpart, has a wealth of natural, cultural and historic attractions, yet this up-and-coming region is currently lacking when it comes to consumer recognition.

The project kicked off in Pakse with a two-day branding workshop attended by key stakeholders from the region, including tour operators, travel agents, hotel owners and local government authorities.

According to Tim Gamper, country manager of Swisscontact in Laos, the most important element of the branding process for southern Laos was not its output of a logo and a tagline, but the fact that it brought tourism stakeholders together from the public and private sector, across provincial borders and across business interests.

CEO of QUO David Keen underlined that the brand launching event was just the start of a journey which is likely to contribute significantly to the economic success of the four southern provinces of Laos. But he stressed the importance for local stakeholders to take ownership of the brand and to live it in their day-to-day operations.

A big list of media tools was also launched for stakeholders to incorporate with their own material creatively. Part of the media package is a new website (www.southern-laos.com) filled with highlights on things to do or see, as well as an area for tourism trade professionals.

Of the four southern provinces, only Champasak and Attapeu have airports designated for international travel.

There are very few travel itineraries featuring the four provinces other than Champasak that should be linked to destinations in Thailand’s Northeast and Cambodia on an international travel trail.

According to Tourism Development Department, last year Champasak attracted the most tourist arrivals at 535,413 up 8.56% from 493,180 following by Attapeu 153,846 (+35.97% from 113,151), Saravanh 78,534 (+12.96% from 69,524) and Sekong 26,509 (+17.22% from 25,175).

Cute and Cuddly 'Roos Rule Instagram in 2015

The photo of the joey from the Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs attracted 5,161 likes on @AusOutbackNT and melted just as many hearts.

The Kangaroos Sanctuary dominated the social media platform with photos of locals from the tourism attraction taking out six of Tourism NT's top 10 most liked photos of the year.

The quirky Kangaroo pics included a joey learning how to walk (2); a joey called “Little Indi” caught red-handed playing with a roll of toilet paper (3), a video of a joey giving a visitor a hug (6) and a photo of “Roger the ripped Kangaroo” flexing his muscles (10).

“The Northern Territory is renowned for its unique native wildlife and quirky characters so it's no surprise that when combined this proved a powerful combination on Instagram,” said Tourism NT CEO Tony Mayell.

“The photos of the joeys in Alice Springs are not only cute and cuddly but also represent the iconic Northern Territory outback and true Australia. It's no wonder these moments attracted thousands of likes from all over the world.”

Sunsets also proved popular in 2015, with two sunsets from Central Australia making the top 10, including a spectacular time-lapse photo at Uluru. The Territory's natural landscapes also won over Instagrammers with the list of “most-liked” photos from each region featuring pristine beaches, rivers, and waterholes.

Mr Mayell said Instagram was an extremely valuable and cost-effective form of marketing with the annual “State of the Nation” report by travel search site Expedia.com.au recently finding 85 per cent people surveyed considered social media potential before booking a vacation.

“Instagram is a huge marketing platform for us with travellers sharing hundreds of pictures a day via @AusOutbackNT and the Northern Territory's official hashtag #NTaustralia,” he said.

“In 12 months, our Instagram audience has doubled reaching over 126,000 individuals with our overall social media audience at more than 450,000 which just goes to show just how popular the Northern Territory is with travellers.

“With stunning sunsets and spectacular landscapes there's a unique photo opportunity around every corner so it's about time everyone came an experienced the Northern Territory for themselves.”

@AusOutbackNT Top 10 Instagram Posts for 2015

1. Joey hugging a hand at Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs

2. Joey learning to walk at Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs

3. Joey with toilet paper at Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs

4. Sunset, Kings Canyon

5. Dog in front of Welcome to Northern Territory sign, QLD and NT border

6. Joey hugging visitor at Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs

7. Sunset timelapse, Uluru

8. Rain puddles at Walpa Gorge, Uluru

9. Maguk Gorge, Kakadu

10. Roger the Kangaroo at Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs

St. Regis Hotels & Resorts Makes Grand Debut in Macau

St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (NYSE: HOT), today announced the much-awaited debut of The St. Regis Macao, Cotai Central in Macau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than 450 years of history and cultural exchange between China and Europe. Owned by Venetian Orient Limited, an affiliate of Sands China Ltd, the 400-room hotel is set to elevate Macau's luxury hospitality landscape with its uncompromising experiences, signature butler service, exceptional culinary venues and grand design – all underpinned by the St. Regis brand's legacy. The opening of The St. Regis Macao marks the brand's seventh hotel in Greater China, and will be followed by the unveiling of five new St. Regis hotels in 2016 in the world's most coveted destinations, including Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi in Malaysia, the Maldives, Changsha in China and Cairo, Egypt.

“There is an ever-increasing demand for luxury around the globe and Macau is no exception, especially with the recent proliferation of luxury brands in the market and a record number of visitors to the destination in 2015,” said Jim Petrus, Global Brand Leader, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts. “The original St. Regis hotel opened in New York City in 1904, and the debut of The St. Regis Macao marks the brand's 36th property, following openings this year in Istanbul, Mumbai and Dubai.”

“We are delighted to continue our partnership with Sands China Ltd following a very successful collaboration with Starwood to open Sheraton's largest hotel globally, Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central,” said Stephen Ho, President, Asia Pacific, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. “After ten years of rapid development, the Cotai Strip has elevated its status to a world-class tourism destination. The second phase of the Cotai Strip will offer a much more diversified experience for a new generation of luxury travelers, and St. Regis is delighted to be a part of that continued growth momentum.”

“Whether it's hotel, restaurant, retail or other amenities or attractions, our developments on the Cotai Strip have become home to many of the world's most-renowned and important brand names,” said Mr. Sheldon G. Adelson, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Sands China Ltd. “The opening of The St. Regis Macao is another significant step in Macao being able to differentiate itself from other destinations and further enhances Macao's ability to draw even more leisure tourists and business travelers from throughout the region and across the globe.”

Macau's Finest Address

The St. Regis Macao marks the largest hotel in the brand's portfolio and the property is ideally positioned within the coveted Cotai Strip, which offers a fully integrated resort destination, including premier shopping, dining and entertainment facilities. The hotel serves as the ideal gateway to be immersed in Macau's rich heritage and offers front row seats to exhilarating events such as the International Fireworks Competition and the Macau Grand Prix. Golf enthusiasts can enjoy a round on several 18-hole international championship courses. Hong Kong International Airport can be reached in 60 minutes by ferry or in 15 minutes by helicopter, while Macau International Airport and the Taipa Ferry Terminal are less than 10 minutes away.

Macau has rapidly emerged as a sought-after destination, free from the hustle and bustle of major Asian cities. The St. Regis Macao provides convenient access to more than 600 designer boutiques, award-wining gaming facilities, and an endless array of nightlife and exceptional culinary experiences, from authentic Macanese and Portuguese cuisine to an impressive line-up of Michelin-starred restaurants.

Refined Facilities and Bespoke Services

Commanding sweeping views of the dazzling Cotai Strip, The St. Regis Macao features 400 lavishly appointed guestrooms and suites, ranging from 53 to 477 square meters. Celebrating Macau's reputation as a world-class gastronomic destination, the hotel includes a multi-experience dining venue, comprised of five distinctive offerings from cosmopolitan, high-end cuisine to a bistro-style indoor garden experience.

The St. Regis Macao houses the signature St. Regis Bar, an elegant space to indulge in a selection of fine wines and spirits, as well as the hotel's twist on the legendary Bloody Mary cocktail, which was first created at the brand's flagship hotel in New York in the early 1900s. Called the Maria do Leste (“Mary of the East”), the potent local concoction fuses classic ingredients with spices that Portuguese sailors originally brought to Macau, such as pink peppercorns, piri-piri and cinnamon.

The Iridium Spa, located on the 38th floor with panoramic views over the Strip, sets the mood for a luxurious and revitalizing journey, while the expansive outdoor pool with 2,457 sqm of deck space and private cabanas creates an idyllic oasis in the center of the city.

To further enhance the guest experience, The St. Regis Macao offers the signature St. Regis Butler Service for all guests – a first in the destination of Macau – providing 24-hour anticipatory service, customizing each guest's stay to their specific needs, tastes and preferences.

Private Events Beyond Expectation

Boosted by financial support for delegates from the Macau Government, as well as liberal visa requirements, the local MICE market is second to none. The St. Regis Macao features a number of refined venues, including the regal Astor Grand Ballroom which seats 350 guests. In addition, five smaller meeting rooms with natural daylight through floor-to-ceiling windows, two stately boardrooms, and an exclusive VIP meeting room, cater to a range of private events. These facilities connect seamlessly to its sister property, Sheraton Macao Hotel, presenting meeting planners with a variety of options across the two hotels. The Sheraton Macao Hotel, boasts 4,001 rooms, with the largest pillar-less ballroom in the city, accommodating up to 5,000 people.

For more information, please visit www.stregis.com/macao.