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Melbourne – Outdoor Living


Australia’s great coastal cities enjoy world renown for their incomparable outdoor lifestyle. Sydney and Brisbane for their sun-drenched, water-based relaxation; Perth for great beaches; and Adelaide for parks and scenic hills. Yet Melbourne stands apart with an open-air character of its own; cosmopolitan and sophisticated, yet still essentially Australian in every way.

Set out to explore Melbourne and you’ll find a multi-faceted city full of surprises. And with an explorer’s mind, you’ll uncover things mere tourists will almost certainly overlook. To get your adventurous juices flowing, start your journey at the vast Visitor Information Centre in Federation Square, that un-missable landmark right across from Flinders Street Station. You can book tours, buy tickets or just get maps for your own self-guided voyage of discovery.

Outside in Federation Square you’re just as likely to see street theatre, musicians or all manner of performance artists – and if you’re not careful, you may end up as part of the entertainment! Opened in 2002 to celebrate the nation’s coming of age, futuristic Federation Square offers a wide assortment of art, dining and entertainment options all ideally located. And if the clouds gather, there’s plenty to do indoors.

Australians, as you’ll find out, enjoy a special sense of humour and Melbourne is often teased about its varying weather. But in truth, a glorious sunny day in Autumn or Spring is no time to be hanging around inside and Melbournians and their guests can be found strolling the leafy banks of the Yarra, picnicking, cycling or enjoying one of the superb al fresco dining experiences along Southbank or any of the city streets.

If the classic river steamer passing under Princes Bridge looks inviting, why not give it a try? Climb aboard M.V. Grower, the river’s oldest working ferry, just in front of Southbank for a half- or one hour tour.

You just can’t get a bad coffee in Melbourne. Pull up a seat at any outdoor café and sit back for an hour and just soak up the atmosphere while you ponder an aromatic macchiato or dense restrito. Just like a good café, Melbourne offers way more than a simple cappuccino.

If you want to cover some ground in a short time, you can hire a bicycle at Federation Square and head down to the new docklands area on the western edge of the CBD; a recently redeveloped cityscape, transformed into a modern living space from grungy warehouses and wharfs. Even the locals are only starting to discover this new part of town. With the massive Telstra Dome, the new home of Aussie Rules football, as its centrepiece, the list of quality eateries, restaurants and cafes rolls on like the never-ending movie credits. Stop for a moment though and admire the Variety Australian Entertainers of the Century and Walk of Stars, where 100 plaques, a mosaic wall and bronze figures commemorate Australia’s finest entertainers.

Pedal northeast past the historic Flagstaff Gardens to the Queen Victoria Market. No matter where in the world you travel, the local outdoor markets will always give you an insight into the character of a city. The Queen Victoria Markets are Melbourne’s market and, in keeping with the outgoing flair of the city, often provide entertaining street theatre and music that can be as simple as talented buskers, right through to the lavish Opera in the Market with a lineup including Opera Australia’s Taryn Fiebig, tenor sensation Roy Best, and the international flautist Jane Rutter. Sunday’s the day.

Let’s do lunch – and where else but the thriving cosmopolitan and gastronomic centre of Melbourne; Lygon Street, Carlton. Nationally recognised for its wonderful diversity of cuisine, it is probably best known for fabulous Italian dining. The historic heartland of Melbourne’s Italian community, it’s the place where the city’s famous café culture was born – or so they say!

In Lygon Street, you’ll find pasta and pizza like you’ve never imagined. Such wonderfully evocative names such as Il Gusto, Il Fresco and Piccolo Mondo will greet you as you try to make a choice from the scores that line both sides of the street. Relax, you can’t choose a bad one.

After a satisfying repast and perhaps a vino, stroll or pedal across the few hundred metres to the magnificent Carlton Gardens and Melbourne Museum. Established in 1857, the classically-designed gardens are dominated by the imposing UNESCO World Heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building.

Following the garden trail, we can continue clockwise around the CBD to the expansive Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens with its superb conservatory and the relocated Cooks Cottage, brought out from Yorkshire in barrels and crates and reassembled in 1934 to commemorate the great navigator and discoverer.

Back in the city we can track down a few unusual and eclectic attractions. In summer, climb to the top of 252 Swanston Street, right in the heart of the city, and enjoy some al fresco shopping. That’s right, The Rooftop Market, is open from 11am until 3.30pm every Friday and is “chock-a-block” full of quirky and cute designer label like Aduki, Hamb, Gorman and Boy on a Bike. At night the space reverts to the Rooftop Cinema where you can relax in a deckchair and take in a classic with a drink from the bar.

Did I say bar? No-one goes thirsty in Melbourne and the cocktail bars and nightlife are an institution in Melbourne. Within the city, try a Manhattan at Madame Brussels, a Long Island Tea at The Order of Melbourne, or a Margarita at the Meccca Bah, Docklands. You’ll never run out of choice.

To top off your Melbourne experience, book in advance for a table or bar stool at Taxi back in Federation Square. Immensely popular, multi-award winning Taxi is *the* current hot ticket in town. Michael Lambie’s vast and intriguing menu can only be conquered by repeat visits, but a degustation is a wise choice for those wishing to get cross section. Just make sure the wagyu beef is on the list.

Fact File:

Tour planning and attractions:

Visitor Information Centres: Federation Square, Burke Street Mall

Taxi Dining Room – Level 1, Transport Hotel, Federation Square, Cnr Flinders and Swanston Sts, 9654 8808
Rooftop Market – 252 Swanston Street –
Queen Victoria Market, Corner Elizabeth and Victoria Streets Tel: (03) 9320 5822
City of Melbourne Local Government (for Parks and Gardens) Phone: +61 3 9658 9658

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Plan Less, Travel More, Grab a Bargain

Abandon your plans, throw away the brochures and take the flight of fancy. Jump into the swirling pool of last minute travel opportunities and see where you end up. Roderick Eime dares you.

For many, the family holiday is as meticulously planned as a military operation. Timetables, visas, schedules and check-in/check outs all conspire to make vacation planning as stressful as the life we are attempting to escape from. How about throwing plans out the window and trying some of the many “last minute” travel, holiday and adventure possibilities flourishing on the ‘net?

It’s no secret that hotel and resort bookings can be found on the Internet at rock bottom prices, especially if you seek them out close to your anticipated travel time.

Industry leader in what the trade calls “distressed inventory” is perhaps the website which currently offers more than 10,000 properties in 40 countries and books almost 3 million room nights each year – numbers that grow every day.

“Large hotels will always drop their rates if they look like getting stuck with unoccupied rooms,” advises Carolyn Prendergast from, “a conference cancellation, for example, can result in a lot of empty rooms at short notice and this is the time to act. The downside, if there is one, is that it might not be the exact hotel in the preferred location, but that’s the fun of it.”

Prendergast also says slightly out-of-the-way locations, serviced apartments and avoiding peak times should be considered.

About 12 months ago, the other industry leader,, announced Secret Hotels, a stealthy plot to offer premium 5-star properties at bargain basement rates.

“Secret Hotels is the proactive way for hotels to sell discounted rooms without fear of brand erosion because the hotel name is not advertised to the general public. The results have been incredible; with some hotels selling in excess of 1000 room nights in a single month, which would otherwise have stayed empty,” says Brad Gurrie, General Manager Hotels at

Recent examples from the Secret Hotel menu include rates as low as $155 per person, per night twin share for 5-star Sydney CBD hotel. Full relaxation or naughty weekend packages are well under $400 per couple per night and often include such niceties as spa treatments, champagne, chocolates, premium in-room movies, full breakfast or even dinner. A spokesperson for was tight-lipped about which properties are participating in the programme, but would neither confirm nor deny such landmark Sydney hotels as Marriott, InterContinental, Park Hyatt, Four Seasons or Amora Jamison.

Tip: offers a similar service with their WotHotel? listings at their site. is quick to remind us that their array of product extends well beyond crisp linen and comfy pillows. If you’re on a loose end, you could choose from a joyride in an authentic combat fighter, bunk down with the animals at Taronga Zoo, skydive or go rally driving in a fully-tricked Subaru WRX. These spontaneous activities can set you back up to $750pp, but for penny-pinchers, why not take The Rocks Ghost Tour and be scared witless for just $34.

Fancy a Cruise?

Just like hotel rooms, cruise lines must fill cabins and there are some wild bargains to be had.

Since launching in 2000 with just two staff, on-line cruise agency,, has grown on the back of Australians’ love of the cruise ship product to become one of Australia’s top cruise-only agents with over 30 consultants.

“Even though we are not strictly a ‘last minute’ agent, we have sold thousands of cabins through our ability to reach people quickly and efficiently via the ‘net and through our regular newsletter,” says MD Brett Dudley. “Cruisers have become used to finding amazing cruise bargains at our site. They can find a cruise and be booked and ticketed, with flights if needed, often in less than an hour and sometimes sail within a few days.”

Dudley advises that it is often the less desirable cabins, low and inside, that cruise lines find harder to sell. If you don’t care for a balcony or an owners’ suite, then all your other shipboard facilities are equal. Savings of up to 65 per cent are possible and Dudley predicts that with P&O’s newer, much larger Pacific Dawn now in Australia, bargains will be easier to find.

Timing is Everything

Just as airlines have peak, shoulder and off-peak times, so too have hotels, resorts, cruise lines and experiential products. Needless to say, the holiday crush is the least likely time to yield bargains, but if you can defer to outside peak seasons, your savings will quickly add up.

Tip: Stay flexible with travel times and be ready to pounce on a deal as soon as you see it. If you wanted to travel on Friday but there’s a better deal on Saturday, consider changing your plans slightly.

And don’t give up. Keep checking the sites regularly, maybe even more than once per day, as the dynamic information can, and does, change any time.

Don’t fixate on a destination. You just want a getaway at the right price, yeah? Look in the general regions and states. For example, if you can’t get the deal you want in Surfers Paradise, there may be a better offer from Noosa, Townsville or Cairns. That’s the joy of spontaneity!

Stay Connected

Every travel supplier will want you to stay in touch with them regularly, and why not? Each one has their own bulletin and newsletter packed with opportunities and must conform to stringent e-mail privacy guidelines. You can opt out at any time and just get the information when you want it.

Get a Lesson in Life

It’s a great double header to snare a deal and have great holiday, but to spice the recipe with spontaneity can add an element that might lift your next vacation from routine to truly memorable.

The Last Mahouts

They stood before us like condemned men, their proud tradition and heritage had run its course. These well-weathered, handsome men of the jungle were the last real mahouts, trained in the ancient and dangerous art of wild elephant capture.

The mighty Asian elephant has featured large in Asian culture for centuries. This enormous beast, a perennial symbol of strength and power, has been tamed and trained to perform in a variety of roles in agriculture, royal ceremonies, circuses and even combat.

The Brand of the Long White Cloud

Published Sunday Telegraph Escape – 6 May 2007 – © Roderick Eime [PDF]

“New Zealand. Show me one good thing about it,” asked a cynical Peter FitzSimons in Tourism NZ’s highly successful 2004 TV campaign. His artificial rhetoric has come home and our Kiwi cousins are basking in tourism success.

Of course, catalysts like Lord of the Rings and even Zena, Warrior Princess catapulted New Zealand’s spectacular scenery and landscapes onto the world stage. Almost at once, Middle Earth and 100% Pure New Zealand were indistinguishable.

I’ve made three trips across the Tasman in as many years and one thing that sticks with me is the Kiwis’ consummate expertise in service excellence. And not just the five star hotels and resorts in which they excel, but right down to the little corner shop. Regular folks, it seems, are ready to go the extra mile for visitors, something I’m sure we don’t manage here at home. “Youse right there?” I still get from staff at large retailers here when I attempt to interrupt their leisure time behind the counter.

Eco-tourism, adventure tourism, adrenalin jumps, luxury lodges and indigenous tourism are all putting a swagger into the step of the New Zealand tourism industry as they command world attention and premium pricing for their products.

“The fact is, times are good and high-end American travellers generally remain unflustered by the lofty rates,” asserts de luxe maestro, Andrew Harper, editor of the salubrious Hideaway Report.

But for just how long can they keep it up?

The luxury sector for example, is a wriggly one and hard to define. What is luxury exactly and who exactly is buying it? For some clues on this I consulted a panel of of acknowledged luxury experts:

“First of all you must define just what luxury is. Luxury isn’t just a commodity. It is a rare quality that isn’t available in abundance,” explains Welf J Ebeling, Executive Vice President and COO of The Leading Hotels of the World (LHW).

“The upscale traveller wants authenticity and individuality when he travels, especially for leisure. They are looking for an experience that matches the destination and the cultural and natural environment. And of course, the human touch, service.”

And New Zealand has produced some eye-popping examples of blockbuster locations for their lodges. Take Huka, Grasmere, Peppers on the Point and Blanket Bay to name just a few. Ebeling was in this part of the world for a good reason. He was having a darned good look at these properties for his company which already has nearly 500 elite establishments in its portfolio. Just not enough down here.

And they’re getting the asking price, for now. All-inclusive tariffs for the Kiwi properties listed above start at $1000 per couple per night. No tyre-kickers here thank you.

So what does this mean?

For this one I asked Richard Rosebery, executive director, Select Hotels and Resorts International. The NZ “super lodges”, as he calls them, have earned their prestige, position and pricing, but concedes there is downward pressure on tariffs generally.

“Australia’s problem,” he proclaims with gusto, “is that we are underpriced! Traditionally our (marketing) reaction has been to discount in the event of crisis. We seem to be forever trying to recover our tariffs, not grow them. And even though our friends the Kiwi’s may have to moderate only slightly, their lower dollar keeps them attractive.”

In pulling this rationale together, Richard views the problem as more on our side of the “ditch.

“So, in effect, we have the best value up-market lodges here, but the danger is that they become potentially unprofitable.

To illustrate his point, an equivalent all-inclusive package at the glorious Cape Lodge on WA’s Margaret River is roughly half of the NZ rate.

Across the street, Lynn Ireland, regional director, Asia Pacific, Small Luxury Hotels of the World says the luxury travel market is extremely resilient and New Zealand, in particular, has demonstrated stalwart “year-on-year” growth.

“Pricing may sometimes be adjusted due to seasonality, events or trends in the market; however these have not been significant, remaining at a maximum (negative swing) of 7 per cent on average rate over the toughest times,” says Lynn.

“Australians are actually the second largest market for New Zealand SLH properties and the third largest worldwide. How about that?”

So despite our convict upbringing and propensity for underarm deliveries, we are waking up to luxury products and falling in line with international luxury buyers.

As a person intimately in touch with the luxury travel mindset, Claudia Rossi Hudson, managing director, Mary Rossi Travel is quick to acknowledge the growing sophistication of the discerning Australian clientele.

“New Zealand was once the preferred budget blue rinse destination but, to the credit of Tourism NZ, it has completely turned around,” says Claudia, “clients are often surprised at the range of superb properties across the Tasman.”

And what about Australia’s perception in the luxury destination market compared to New Zealand?

”I don’t think Australia’s international marketing is doing any favours for our best properties. Shrimps on barbies and ‘bloody hells’ are not raising our profile in this segment,” concludes Claudia with thinly disguised understatement.

And the luxury market is changing all over the world as countries like China, India and Russia soar headfirst into the rarefied atmosphere of the high flyers.

Robb Report’s Chief Luxury Officer, Carol Brodie, says “The whole face of luxury is changing. Even though luxury consumers across different cultural backgrounds have one thing in common, namely wealth, their desires, passions and interests are very different. They are attracted to luxury brands, but they want different things from each brand.”

So how is this forever shifting landscape going to affect us? Will we entice the nouveau luxophiles from China and the sub-continent, growing at a rate of 15 per cent per annum according to BNP Paribas’s World Luxury Index, or will our barbies and bikini bottoms send them scurrying for the Kiwi alternative? Watch this space.

Palin’s Travel Tonic

Michael Palin, that icon of independent travel, actor, comedian and grandfather made his seventh visit to Australia to promote his latest book and TV series, New Europe. Roderick Eime hounded him, and his PR people, for two weeks to get this interview.

Almost one thousand expectant guests crammed the auditorium, a record-breaking sellout for the Sydney Morning Herald Dymocks Literary Lunch. The mainly grey-haired, bespectacled audience sat entranced, their veal fillets a mere side dish for the main course; English adventurer and raconteur, Michael Palin.

With New Europe, Michael claims to fill what has been a void in his own experience and that of many of his own generation. In all he visits 20 countries, starting high in the Julian Alps on the border between Slovenia and Italy where the Iron Curtain once ran, he travelled through the Balkans and the countries bordering the Black Sea before turning northwards through the heart of old East Europe to the Baltic States, almost as far north as St Petersburg.

I sit diligently listening and making notes, preparing for the scant fifteen minutes I will get to ask him my own questions, when he answers one, unprompted, from the podium.

It’s day 86, Estonia, and Michael has an appointment with a hirudotherapist. “After a small striptease, Ms Agajeva, a woman in her fifties and buxom in a generous, motherly sort of way is applying leeches to my torso. Why? Because Roger the cameraman thought it would be painful and unpleasant – and therefore mandatory. Apparently the application of leeches is an ancient and proven way of treating impotence, high blood pressure and a myriad other complaints.

“After fifteen minutes the little buggers are swollen and satisfied and have supplied sufficient discomfort to delight Roger. Lyudmilla, we’re on first name terms by now, dresses my wounds with a thick, industrial sticking plaster warning me that further blood loss is likely until the anti-coagulant is absorbed. Back in Tallinn I feel a celebration is in order and I end having more than a glass of wine or two at the excellent restaurant in Tallinn’s Hotel St Petersburg.

“Next morning I wake to a re-run from The Godfather, the bed and my T-shirt are soaked in blood and I look around for the horse’s head that thankfully is not there. I rip off Lyudmilla’s military grade bandages to an ear-splitting noise and the promised 300 mls of blood sprays around the bathroom. Now it’s like a scene from M*A*S*H. I tidy up, check out and am well on the way to Latvia before someone discovers the frightening scene I’ve left behind. It was a charming hotel though.”

The lunch continues amid intermittent waves of laughter and applause, and yes, someone urges Michael to sing the lumberjack song, which he obligingly does, only in German, to a rapturous ovation.

After the 200 metre queue for book signings disperses, I prepare for my introduction. “Hello Michael, I’m Roderick” to which he looks at me with the hint of annoyance reserved for such a feeble attempt at humour. “No, really” I say, handing him my card. He looks at it and then at me with a revised, apologetic gaze, “Oh, you poor man.” My copy of New Europe is duly signed with an official apology from Pontius Pilate. But I’m forgiving, after all I have him to thank for my freedom. (If you haven’t seen Life of Brian, then the joke is lost and you’re probably not reading this anyway).

My turn. Michael, your experience at the Hotel St Petersburg had us in stiches, was that your worst hotel experience?

“Well, to be fair it was me who spoilt it, the hotel was excellent. But several places in China were pretty strange and one comes to mind: the Rongbuk Guest House was a stand out.”

This is how Michael describes it. Day 60, Himalaya. “From the filthy, littered courtyard to the soulless concrete rooms with broken windows and the foul, doorless lavatories, Rongbuk Guest House is pretty much a hell hole.”

Michael adds some flavour that was missing in the book. “It’s run by a bunch of monks whose minds are clearly elsewhere. The toilet was down a freezing corridor and just a slit in the floor. So many people had used it over the years that there was this stalactite of frozen excrement protruding out of it. A shame, such a spectacular location right next to Mount Everest.”

Your favourite hotel?

“Our lodge in the Torres del Paine National Park overlooking the glaciers was just the most magnificent location.”

Day 161 from Full Circle: “Few souls have ventured far into the park at this time of year and we have the hosteria almost to ourselves. Sit by the wood-burning stove, playing dominoes and drinking seven-year-old scotch with seven thousand-year-old glacier ice. Sometimes work is almost bearable.”

On a more serious note, I ask Michael – with all his experience in branded city hotels – what is the one thing a hotel needs to get right?

“Well I think that, just like in good restaurants, a manager or person in authority should be around at all times. When a manager says, ‘Call me anytime if you need something’ they should mean it, not just between 10 and 12 or after 9. It’s service after all.”

“Hiltons, I find are particularly good. The name certainly stands for something and they have a standard of service I can trust.”

Day 80 Pole to Pole: Addis Ababa. “Culture shock as we arrive at the Addis Hilton, into a world of white faces, blond hair, thick legs, full bellies. Curfew from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m, but telephones and mini-bars. Gorgeous, sensational and wonderful shower. The dust runs off in muddy channels. My eyes are red-rimmed and sore, and I have picked up a cluster of flea bites from somewhere but I suppose that’s a small price to pay for what we’ve just been through.”

At 65, Michael Palin seems as bright and spritely as a man half his age, or just a bit older than me. For a bloke who has circled the Earth on both the horizontal and vertical perimeters, climbed mountains, crossed deserts and stood in front of a camera (for two takes) at minus 50 degrees at the South Pole, he’s in pretty fair nick. I don’t need to ask him the next question because it’s written all over him. Travel is obviously a great tonic. Drink your fill!

Palin Trivia

Palin became a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to television in 2000.

Along with each member of Monty Python, Palin has an asteroid named after him. His is Asteroid 9621 Michaelpalin.

In recognition of his many rail journeys, Palin has two British trains named after him. In 2002, Virgin’s new £5m high speed Super Voyager train number 221130 was named “Michael Palin”.

Michael Palin is president of Campaign for Better Transport whose motto is “transport that improves our quality of life and reduces our environmental impact.”

In 1993, following his award winning performance in A Fish Called Wanda, Michael agreed to (well, he had to) the naming of the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children.

New Europe

Michael Palin

As in all his series, Palin’s NEW EUROPE takes the form of a journey through countries with rich and complex cultures. Few have survived intact, as the ebb and flow of warring armies have continually changed the map of Europe.

ISBN 0297844490 (978-029-784449-5)
RRP $49.95

Great Aussie Cruise with Real Bite

The enormous chunk of tuna flesh bobbed on the end of the line supported by a small foam ball. Matt ladled great gobs of minced gills and guts onto the surface creating a lumpy, letterbox red slick just behind the boat. Then he struck.

We’d seen his ominous black shadow patrolling beneath us like a menacing midget submarine probing for a weakness, but nothing prepared us for what happened next. In a heart-stopping explosion of gaping crimson jaws filled with rows of razor sharp teeth, the 5 metre, 1000kg monster breached its full torso out of the water in a triumphant display of total dominance. Gotcha!

Underwater, the view is even more terrifying. The seemingly flimsy aluminium cage appears barely strong enough to withstand the fury of this consummate killing machine. Those who remember the Jaws trilogy will recall the complete inadequacy of the metal sanctuary and in no coincidence, many of the scenes that employed live sharks as stunt doubles to the mechanical star were filmed in these very waters. Rodney Fox, the famous diver who displays gruesome body décor courtesy of the great white, is moored alongside with his own clients.

The cage is tethered to the stern with tough mooring lines and divers enter via a manhole in the top. Air is surface fed via a compressor and up to four ‘clients’ squeeze together in a tantalising clump that draws hungry and inquisitive gazes from the circling creatures. Our feet are hooked under a rail in the floor and we cling nervously to handles arranged around the sides while surveying the waters for sharks through viewing holes which strike me as overgenerous. Suddenly there’s a tug on my shoulder and a rubberised finger jabs frantically into the gloom. That famous theme tune plays in my mind as a dark shadow slowly morphs into a full size predator with a very determined purpose.

For thirty minutes we watch totally awestruck as three adult great whites glide effortlessly past in search of the tuna bait dangling rather too close for my liking. That lifeless, inexpressive eye is a porthole to a tiny brain pre-programmed for one task only. A ladle of guts excites them and they’re now intent on the juicy prize. Mouth agape and on target, Matt jerks the bait away at the last minute but the shark lunges again taking the chunk whole, thrashing heavily against the cage’s already dented structure. The water around us is full of bubbles and froth both from the shark’s turbulent antics and our combined hyperventilation. “Mmmerrh!” I scream incomprehensibly into my mouthpiece.

Moose, a 5m male Great White Shark, is a regular visitor off Neptune Island at the very end of South Australia’s Gulf St Vincent and is identified by the red tag applied by Andrew as well as the multitude of battle scars. The nearby Australian Sea Lion colony keeps the carnivorous monsters hanging around, preying on some of the four thousand pups born here each year. Andrew and Matt operate shark cage diving expeditions from nearby Port Lincoln and are regularly booked out months in advance, but today is a special charter for passengers from the luxury expedition yacht, True North, undertaking its inaugural Southern Safari itinerary in the azure waters around South Australia’s peninsulas.

Purpose built for the burgeoning domestic adventure cruise industry, Broome-based North Star Cruises operate the 740 tonne, 36 passenger boutique vessel between March and September among the astonishing rock formations and wilderness waterways of Australia’s Kimberley region. But such is the demand for new and exciting destinations from the growing throng of repeat customers that the company has been obliged to seek out new activities during what were once the off months.

“Our style of touring is very Australian,” says director Craig Howson, also along for the ride, “Some folks take a little while to settle into our deliberately informal atmosphere, but after they’ve got used to bare feet, t-shirts and char-grilled Wagu beef fillet or lobster tail for dinner there’s no going back.”

At the close of the Kimberley season she sets sail for Papua New Guinea via Darwin and Cairns before heading to Sydney for New Year festivities. The brand new, 8-night Southern Safari is a creative utilisation of the return journey to Perth. After taking on its cargo of discerning guests in Adelaide, True North then heads momentarily south to explore the abundant wine region of McLaren Vale before making the crossing to Kangaroo Island. After that, it’s the visual and gastronomic delights of ‘tuna town’ Port Lincoln, Coffin Bay before the trip’s culmination in Streaky Bay.

Expedition cruising is often a mix of the sublime and the ridiculous and North Star Cruises’ version is a well-balanced blend of gourmet cuisine, natural, historical and ethnological enrichment with the occasion adrenalin burst thrown in for good measure. True North is one of the very few local vessels equipped for helicopter operations which she makes use of in the Kimberley and PNG.

After the jaw-dropping exploits of the great marine marauders, those not totally spooked don wetsuits for a serene swim with the sharks’ preferred foodstuff. The playful pups and young adults are almost jumping out of their skin in anticipation and are quick to engage in exuberant interaction when the swimmers enter the water. The mammals swirl and twirl in an aquatic ballet around their hopelessly inept and oversize playmates, yet display a generous tolerance that keeps us entertained for over an hour. It’s tragic to recall this delightful naivety was repaid with lethal consequences when both British and American sealers plundered the happy herds to near extinction in the 19th century. Even today the species are still listed as rare and endangered.

Back in Port Lincoln, there’s a visit to Matt Waller’s tuna farm and again we’re in the water hand-feeding his baby (20kg) Southern Blue Fin. More foodie frolics ensue in Coffin Bay where tray after tray of delicious oysters are served up in various concoctions with surprisingly good local Port Lincoln wines. Coffin Bay oysters are not, as the name might suggest, endemic shellfish, but rather the imported Pacific gourmet variety which thrive in the ideal conditions along the west coast of Eyre Peninsula.

The adventure winds down in Streaky Bay and the passengers, many now friends for life, gather to exchange final farewells before setting course for home. The chatter is overwhelmingly positive with many openly scorning the mass market, big ship alternative. Even by local standards, True North is one of the smaller such vessels but its track record, including two national awards for adventure tourism, speaks volumes for the little company in far-flung Broome and for the growing appreciation among sophisticated travellers for small capacity, intimate and personal vessels offering destinations and experiences that will always be off limits for the mega vessels.

Fact File:

North Star Cruises’ annual 8-night Southern Safari departs Adelaide in January and visits McLaren Vale, Kangaroo Island, Neptune Island, Port Lincoln, Coffin Bay, the Investigator Group and Streaky Bay.

Prices start at $6995pp and includes all meals, shore excursions and activities. Alcohol, laundry and satellite communications are extra.

True North accommodates 36 passengers in three cabin grades and offers al fresco bar, lounge/theatre, dining room, observation deck and boutique. Scuba diving is offered on selected itineraries.

ails: North Star Cruises 08 9192 1829 or

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Lake Taupo – A Scenic Spot so Hot, it’s Steaming!

Australasia’s largest inland lake was created by an enormous volcanic eruption less than two thousand years ago. Today it’s a hive of activity for lots of different reasons. Roderick Eime visits.

Adrenalin junkies swarm to Taupo and the lake for sky-diving, jet-boating and waterskiing. Motorsport fans congregate in droves for the annual A1GP and fishermen love the challenge of the trout, but the region’s abundant natural beauty is its own attraction.

The great land of Aotearoa was still untroubled by man when the great eruption took place in 181 AD. So fierce was this event it is estimated that 30 cubic kilometres of debris was ejected in just a few minutes and about 100 cubic kilometres in total. We know the date because ancient Roman and Chinese historians recorded the red skies over their cities and ash was found in recent ice core drilling in Greenland.

  • “Taupo’s name in full is Taupo-nui-a-Tia. ‘Taupo’ means shoulder cloak, ‘nui’ means big, ‘a’ means of and ‘Tia’ is the name of the discoverer of the lake. Therefore the literal translation is ‘the great cloak of Tia’.

This cataclysm would have emptied the lake and then resealed it with huge pyroclastic (lava) flow, creating the 616 square kilometre freshwater lake we see today. It’s as big as the entire island of Singapore, over 100m deep, full of trout and easily seen from space.

Fed by 47 rivulets and streams, the only outlet is the mighty Waikato River that runs through magnificent canyons where it reaches the famed Huka Falls, one of the most visited natural attractions in New Zealand. Over 200,000 litres of water crashes through the narrow 15 metre wide opening every second and is later harnessed to supply 90 megawatts of hydro-electric power to the city. The ultra-exclusive Huka Lodge is just visible from the lookout.

The volcanic and geothermal landscape typifies the scenery around Taupo and just to the south is the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage listed Tongariro National Park. The 80,000 hectare park was inscribed in 1993 under new criteria covering cultural landscapes. According to UNESCO, “the mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolise the spiritual links between this community and its environment.”

The park is easily accessed via New Zealand’s excellent road system and offers a diverse range of nature-based activities with a particular focus on walking, or ‘tramping’ in the local vernacular. Forests, lakes, waterfalls, rivers, craters, wildlife and dramatic snow capped-ridges all form part of Tongariro’s personality. Those with a more active bent can visit either of the two ski fields, one on an active volcano, or even rock climb.


Craters of the Moon thermal area in Wairakei Park. Walk among steaming mud pools and hot springs in this otherworldly park just outside Taupo. Free admission.

East of Tongariro National Park, the Kaimanawa Forest Park is a large area of ancient native forests, shrublands and tussock grasslands where you can hunt, fish, camp or trek.

Waipahihi Botanical Reserve was established in 1966 as a 35 hectare park of native trees and plants, and a refuge for native birds and has been developed and beautifully maintained by dedicated volunteers.

More information:

  • NZ Department of Conservation (search Tongariro)
  • Lake Taupo Tourism
  • New Zealand


Endless Vacation is the magazine for Resort Condominiums International (RCI) members. RCI is the world’s leading global provider of products and services to the timeshare industry with more than 3,700 affiliated resorts in 100 countries.

Soaring to New Heights

Roderick Eime takes to the wing over the NSW Central Coast

Main image: Al Sim/

“Today we’re going to learn to fly,” I told my 12-year-old son. His eyes briefly lifted from the Playstation console, looked doubtfully at me and then proceeded to hammer away at the hand control as he massacred the next wave of invading aliens.

These days, it’s all too easy to fall into the abyss of virtual entertainment: racing the latest Formula 1 cars, test piloting jet fighters and creating mayhem with semi-automatic weapons. As fun as these indoor pastimes may be on a rainy Sunday afternoon, when the weather’s fine there’s no substitute for outdoor fun.

Despite the promise of great satisfaction, most people recoil at the thought of learning to fly. The expense and mental application of aircraft ownership is just too daunting. Yet the sport of soaring (or gliding) offers great opportunities for late-onset pilots and those wanting to get a real joystick in their hands.

Pried away from his PS2, Alex and I head out to meet an old friend who beseeched me earnestly to come for a fly. I think Mike was surprised to see us both as I parked the Outback 2.5 next to two twins on the edge of the airstrip.

“Gliding is becoming popular with retirees,” says Mike Woolley, a former travel trade publisher and resident instructor at CCSC, “It’s a very social and relaxing sport and an opportunity for chaps (and ladies) who’ve always wanted to fly to fulfil a latent dream.”

I have visions of Battle of Britain lads sitting around on wicker chairs waiting for the scramble siren to blare. Yet, the atmosphere is relaxed and the facilities rudimentary.

George Heard, one of the Outback owners, pours himself a steaming mug of tea from a Thermos just like my mother has, and tells me his soaring story. A Qantas chief steward for over 30 years and recently retired, George first flew a glider over Heroes Hill near Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1984 when a friend insisted he have a go at the pointy end of a plane for a change.

“I was hooked,” confesses George, “and I joined my local club the minute I got back!”

All this talk was getting me excited and it was time to strap into the vintage, all-metal Czech two-seater the club uses for introductory flights. Imagine climbing into the constricted cockpit of a Formula 1 car – and it’s a tight squeeze for my ample posterior. The racing harness is attached, jockey-sized Mike jumps in behind, the canopy is shut, rope attached, two-way comms on [crackle!] – clear!

The blokes at Mangrove mountain use a winch launch – a monstrous Ford V8 spinning an enormous reel of nylon anchor rope. The rope is taut and, like a slingshot, we’re off. No sooner are we mobile and Mike has the nose up in a steep climb. The anticipation is like that first bit of a roller coaster when you know the best is coming.

We reach the end of the tether and release. Most modern gliders (or sailpanes) are made from composite material and some fibreglass, but this old girl is a big tinny. The wind buffets us slightly making that noise you hear inside an empty shed in a storm. Mike finds a thermal (pretty much where they are all day) and it’s like the up elevator in Centrepoint Tower and we circle gently for a few minutes, occasionally shoved upward by a new thermal.

I’m gazing, almost hypnotised, down at the mountain scenery beyond when Mike comes over the 2-way softly; “Just look to your left, out by the wing tip.” There is the most magnificent wedge-tailed eagle escorting us in formation, his laser-like gaze on the cockpit. “… and above us now.” Oh my! There’s another, talons extended trying to calculate whether we constitute a mate or a meal. Too big for either, I’d suggest.

“We see them quite regularly up here,“ says Mike in his matter-of-fact tone. “Time to go in …” And we begin our descent and culminate in a slightly bumpy touch-down on the grassy strip. Alex is the first to greet me as the aircraft comes to halt. “How was that Dad?”

“Your turn, son!”

Sky High

Have you long dreamed of learning to fly? Then Roderick Eime recommends that you pursue your passion and soar to new heights in a liberating glider.

Today we’re going to learn to fly,” I said to my 12-year-old son. His eyes lifted briefly from his PlayStation console, looked doubtfully at me and then proceeded to hammer away at the hand control as he massacred the next wave of invading aliens.

These days it’s all too easy to fall into the abyss of virtual entertainment: racing the latest Formula 1 cars, test-piloting jet fighters and creating mayhem with semi-automatic weapons. As fun as these indoor pastimes may be on a rainy Sunday afternoon, when the weather’s fine there really is no substitute for active, outdoor-based fun.

Read more

Weaving a Royal Yarn

Originally Published in Fah Thai Magazine (Bangkok Airways)

Roderick Eime visits the villages in Thailand where Her Majesty Queen Regent Sirikit has helped to preserve the ancient art of traditional Thai silk weaving

Deep in the Isaan jungles, away from the bustle of nearby Surin, is the tiny village of Ban Tha Sawang. It’s one of several villages around the region that specialises in the ancient and royal art of silk weaving, and holds special favour with the royal court.

Inside a shelter, a dozen young Thai girls are chatting and giggling, busily engaged in intricate weaving with fine gold and silver threads. More industry is taking place in adjoining rooms, where small looms and busy fingers weave the fine thread into glorious detail. The girls’ nimble fingers delicately thread shiny Chan Soma silk thread strands together to make brocade with that signature sheen of true Thai silk that changes colour depending on how the light strikes it.

Royal silk, or Pha Yok Thong, is reserved for monarchs and heads-of-state and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s Promotion of the Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques (SUPPORT) Foundation is striving to preserve its unique traditional weaving process. Thanks to the Queen’s personal funds, Ban Tha Sawang’s villagers have the facilities to produce the world-renowned silk. As well as establishing colleges and workshops throughout the country, the royal family helps to maintain the ancient craft by and ordering and wearing materials for themselves and visiting dignitaries. Queen Sirikit is a grand champion of Pha Yok Thong often wearing the fabric to state functions. And at the 2003 APEC conference, world leaders were presented with shirts and shawls fashioned especially from their special fabric for the occasion by the resident royal artisan and teacher, Ajarn Weeratham, and his team of 100 Ban Tha Sawang villagers from their special fabric. Ajarn also presented an incredibly intricate piece to the Queen as thanks for her birthday and an identical replica hangs in the village’s studio.

The enormous neighbouring building houses the huge hand-built loom. This complicated machine is made precisely to a traditional design dating back centuries. It’s an unwieldy device that requires four simultaneous operators working non-stop to produce perhaps two centimetres of fine silken yarn per day. The more complex designs, Ajarn says, require some 50 days to produce a single metre of cloth. That equates to 1600 hours of combined labour time. The cost: 40,000 baht (US$1500) per metre. Royal endeavours for a royal material, and one that shows no sign of decreasing in popularity.