Category Archives:Travel guides

Wine Regions to Visit in New Zealand

New Zealand's Wine Regions
New Zealand’s Wine Regions. Image: Mick Stephenson

New Zealand is starting to gain a significant following within the wine industry for a few good reasons, not the least of which is that their style of crisp, acidic and affordable offerings are becoming more and more popular with younger generations of wine buyers. While our selection of New Zealand wines can still be limited at times since it often takes the international distribution model years to catch up to consumer sentiments, this small country of around four million offers some of the most interesting and unique wine tasting experiences anywhere in the world.  The following three wine regions are great places to take a trip and experience New Zealand wine, culture and the islands people.

Hawke’s Bay:

Located on the North Island, on the East coast Hawke’s Bay has become something of a home for Bordeaux varietals in New Zealand.  While most of the wine production is centered around relatively new start up style wineries, the Mission winery is the oldest in New Zealand having been founded over 150 years ago by French priests looking to gain followers to the Catholic Church in the region.  Hawke’s Bay is also well known for its local food movement as the birthplace of the modern Kiwi Farmer’s Market.  A world heritage center site for its large collection of 1930’s Art Deco style architecture Hawke’s Bay offers a little something for everyone and it doubles as one of the most beautiful places on Earth, making it a nice relaxing few days on any vacation to New Zealand.

Hawke's Bay wine region, New Zealand
Hawke’s Bay wine region, New Zealand

 

Central Otago:

The world’s southernmost vineyard sites belong to Central Otago, a mountainous area, inland on the southern island of New Zealand.  Originally known for little more than sheep farms and orchards, the advent of the modern wine industry in New Zealand has been a boom for the sleepy towns sprinkled throughout the mountains in Central Otago.  Of course, if one considers Hawke’s Bay to be among the most beautiful coastal settings in the world, they couldn’t argue that these rugged fog capped mountains are among the most beautiful inland settings one could ever find.  It’s a lot like stepping back in time when you visit Central Otago, take the time to bicycle through Central Otago on any trip to New Zealand.  Yes, biking on a dirt road is a challenge for most of us, but the opportunity to see nature literally untouched by human hands is becoming more and more rare every day.

Central Otago Wine Region, New Zealand
Central Otago Wine Region, New Zealand

 

Marlborough:

No conversation about wine growing regions in New Zealand would be complete without at least a passing mention of Marlborough.  Located on the northern most point of the Southern island, Marlborough offers an opportunity for a little bit of everything from food- and wine-centric vacations, to some of the best kayaking spots on the planet to the ability to visit the sets from the famed Lord of the Rings movies.  Home to the best known New Zealand wineries like Kim Crawford, there are over 120 wineries within a short distance of each other on Marlborough’s wine trail.  It’s an outstanding place to visit, offerings some of the most dramatic vistas that you’ll find anywhere, especially looking out across the Pacific Ocean toward the north island of New Zealand.

Queen Charlotte Sound-001 02-04-2012 10-21-52
Queen Charlotte Sound in the Marlborough Wine Region, New Zealand

Mark Aselstine is an owner of Uncorked Ventures, a high-end wine business. Mark loves to travel to wine regions around the world.  If anyone knows wine, it’s Mark.

Thailand – Take to the Waters!

Looking to try something new? With over 3000km of coastline and countless rivers, Thailand is a premiere spot for water sports in South East Asia. Whether it’s surfing or snorkelling, white water rafting or sailing, no matter what strikes your fancy, there’s an unforgettable experience waiting for you in The Land of Smiles. Boasting a year round tropical climate, and prices that won’t break the bank, there’s no better place to take to the water!

Divers surfacing - Phi Phi islands, Thailand
Divers surfacing – Phi Phi islands, Thailand

In the northern region you’ll find wild mountainous jungle and enchanting waterfalls, alongside vast rice fields. To the south, you’ll indulge the senses with pristine beaches and limestone outcroppings towering over Palm Tree plantations. And you’ll always find something strange and exotic on the bustling streets of the City of Angels – Bangkok. Each distinct area has a personality and charm all its own, providing the foundation for unique memories, and because of the infancy of many of these sports in Thailand, be assured that you can easily find plenty of roads – or rivers – less travelled.

Scuba tanks
Scuba tanks

The south of Thailand is famous world-wide for its SCUBA diving, a sport which provides a door into the underwater world. A tank of oxygen strapped to your back is your key to unlock a delightful inner space adventure. Experience new and different sensations, and gain a perspective that brings with it a cool mix of quiet reflection and exhilaration. The shores of Thailand offer some of the most stunning scenery in the world, above and below the water line. Lush limestone islands jutting out of warm turquoise water, colourful soft corals and even a local whale shark population; Don’t forget to pack or hire an underwater camera, you won’t want to miss out on the photo opportunity of a lifetime.

Prefer to keep your head above water? Cable Skiing on specially built manmade lakes is quite popular. The obstacle courses will offer a challenge to just about anyone who crosses their path! Grab a paddle and helmet and get ready to ride the rapids, white water rafting on one of the many rivers in the north. Enjoy the simple relaxation as you skim the surface of the water paddling a kayak or canoe. Put some wind in your sails, windsurfing, kite-boarding or even cruising on a yacht. Hire a jet ski for a ride down the coastline in the south. Paddle your way across flat water or down the face of gentle waves on a Stand Up Paddle board, or carve some gnarly swells surfing off the west coast of Phuket. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination!

A few factors one should consider when planning a trip to Thailand; How much time do you have available? A short trip is satisfying, however, I would recommend spending as much time as you can in this amazing country, especially if you plan to travel long distances over land. Bus and train travel are my favourite ways to absorb the countryside but not if you’re time poor as both modes of transport are notoriously slow. Next, think about the climate. Thailand has two seasons in the south (hot: March- May / rainy: June – February) and three in the north (hot: March – May / rainy: June – February / cool: November to February). Certain times of year are better to visit certain areas; for instance, a trip to the North during the rainy season, will not be as fruitful as going there just after the rainy season ends, when the rivers are swollen and perfect for rafting. Always check the local weather forecasts. Interest in a specific water sport will effect what region you decide on. Let’s take a look at the different regions we will explore together; The North (everything north of Bangkok), The South (everything south of Bangkok), and of course the capital city itself.

Banana Beach Cove, Coral Island, Phuket, Thailand
Banana Beach Cove, Coral Island, Phuket, Thailand

Located 700 km’s from Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the largest city in the north. Arriving by train in the beginning of March I found myself roaming the streets, just as the hot season was starting to take a hold on the country. The northern part of Thailand is great for an escape from the heat during the hot season and subsequently locals, and tourists alike, flock to the north at this time of year. Heading north out of town on a hired motorbike, we settle in for a long and exhilarating, if not slightly terrifying at times, ride ahead of us. Armed with plenty of sunscreen and bug repellent we cruise north to a town called Pai, a well-known rafting and kayaking epicentre 80 km to the northwest. Hugging the curves of the road, zipping through the jungle dotted with a handful of subsistence farming communities, we occasionally gazed to the horizon where a red sun hung low in a hazy sky. Upon our arrival in Pai, we quickly booked a hut on the riverfront, a serene and intoxicating home-base.  As the water levels were low, we were happy to take a kayak tour down the Ping River. Paddling in rhythm, slowly meandering down the river, a gentle hum of Cicadas in the background, our local tour guide informed us on many of the native plants and animals in the area. As we entered into the more rural areas, we exchanged smiles and waves with the locals on shore, who were always friendly if not a bit surprised to see foreigners. Kayaking is a great way to get closer to nature and explore remote areas, but I’ll have to go back just after the rainy season ends in late November for an exhilarating white water rafting experience. You can also organise bamboo raft tours, which is an excellent way to see the river and local hill tribes as well.

If you have your own transport, Mae Ngat Dam is a twenty five minute drive from Chiang Mai where you’ll find lovely houseboats available for accommodation and kayaks for hire. Many tour companies operate out of Chiang Mai that can take you to Pai, Chiang Dao, near Chiang Rai or to the Nan region, all of which have excellent single or multiple day kayak and white water trips. Closer to Bangkok, Ayutthaya has some exciting kayaking options, and a great way to see the temples and stupas near the river banks in the former capital city. You can also look into the Kanchanaburi region, which offers scenic trips of the River Kwai and is only a few hours northwest of Bangkok.

With so many river systems and tributaries, the north of Thailand is a treasure trove for freshwater fishing. Aside from the rivers there are a variety of fishing holes and lakes that any angler would be foolish to miss. Some of the world’s largest freshwater fish have been caught in Thai lakes and rivers. Fishing is a huge part of Thai culture and is brightly reflected in Thai cuisine. There are many different traditional styles of fishing to be found, don’t be afraid to ask the local fishermen for some tips.. Some of the species that you can battle wits and strength with are Alligator Gar, Arapaima, Freshwater Dorado, Monster Pacu, Chao Phraya Catfish, Mekong Catfish, Giant Snakehead, Striped Catfish and Giant Siamese Carp. Growing in popularity by the minute, Bungsam Lan Lake, just forty minutes outside of Bangkok, is a fisherman’s heaven. The tour operators here can provide you with a wealth of knowledge concerning best bait mixes, tips on equipment and how to handle large fish (they might even give you a recipe to use with your catch!).

Big Buddha, Phuket Island
Big Buddha, Phuket Island

As we travel south, we may lose and/or find ourselves in Bangkok. A recent and unexpected addition to the city, the capital city now has a Flow-boarding centre. You can catch a continuous wave right in the heart of the city! Unlike surfing, you ride an artificial wave, allowing more time to concentrate on balance and perfecting tricks, rather than swimming out in the ocean, waiting for a swell. There is also a Cable Ski lake not far from Bangkok, and you can find many tour operators that can organise your trip on Khao San Road. Once labelled “Venice of the East”, there is an extensive network of canals (khlongs) throughout the city. The Chao Phraya River is a central artery for commerce and travel in Bangkok and believe it or not, it’s possible to kayak in the river, watching the city slide by! There are also many river cruises available and offer a brilliant way to discover this vibrant city.

A ride in a boat going down the khlongs is not to be missed. The largest Khlong in the city, the Saan Saab, is an ideal place to catch a water taxi ride. Not your average boat ride; whiz beneath low hanging bridges watching the crew members quickly duck, feel the spray of the water in your face, experiencing how the locals commute. Unsure if it classifies as a’ water sport’ Songkran, the festival of water is one of my favourite watery activities! The celebration happens all over the country, but the colossal water fight that unfolds on the streets of Bangkok is my personal favourite. Expect to be soaked and expect to love it! Songkran occurs at the beginning of the hot season, (April 13-15) and is a fun way to beat the heat! Three solid days of water fights all over the city… watch out for kids throwing buckets of ice water. Refreshing? Yes. Shocking? Very! Make sure to stock up on Sangsom and have a blast!

Leaving Bangkok behind, let’s head down to the eastern seaboard. First stop, Pattaya, home to a multitude of water sports and a spectacular nightlife.  If you’ve never tried Kite Boarding or Windsurfing, Pattaya is a great place to learn, the conditions are great most of the time, and there are plenty of places to have a coldie with your mates afterwards (trust me, you’ll need one!). If the winds aren’t cooperating, hire a jet ski anywhere along the beach, or soar above the landscape for a bird’s eye view, on a quick parasailing ride. I would recommend going to some of the offshore islands, if time permits, where the water is a bit cleaner. Koh Samet, an island southeast of Pattaya has some incredible sailing opportunities. A bit further south east is the gem of the eastern seaboard, the island of Koh Chang. Arriving on the island via ferry from Laem Ngop, near Trat, we catch the local bus to Hat Sai Khao where we rent a motorbike and head south towards our first dive site. The southern end of the island is not quite as touristy as the more well know dive sites at Koh Tao, or Phuket, and still offers first-rate dive sites. June through October is a great time for diving this area and be sure to keep your eyes open for playful dolphins and inquisitive turtles.

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

On the opposite side of the Gulf of Thailand let’s take a quick visit to the seaside town of Hua Hin. It’s worth doing a weekend trip here, or a rest stop on the way from Bangkok to Phuket. Water Skiing and Kite Boarding are available here, and you can rent inner-tubes on the beach for a lazing about in the gentle surf. Continuing south, you’ll want at least a week (if not more) for the adventures ahead in the lower Western Gulf, home to the infamous islands; Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. True paradise on Earth, and excellent for almost every water sport imaginable! Ferries link all the islands to each other and to the mainland, making travel here convenient and relaxing. For the SCUBA enthusiast, Koh Tao is the place to be. Kite boarders and windsurfers will find good conditions on all three islands but the time of year dictates which side of the islands have better wind. Kayaking is readily available at all the islands and surrounding areas as it is grown in popularity in the last few years.

If you’re looking to get rural, you can arrange a trip to Ang Thong Marine National Park from Koh Samui. The park is made up of over forty islands and is largely untouched, great for Kayak, Snorkel or Scuba. Back on land heading south west, take some time to visit the lovely Khao Sok National Park. You can book single and multiple day Kayak trips through the jungles on the Sok River. True wilderness at your fingertips, you’ll hear the call of monkeys in the distance, pass ancient limestone cliffs and caves, glide by waterfalls, and if you’re lucky you might see a Great Asian Hornbill soaring overhead. The early morning is the best time for spotting wildlife.

Phuket is The Pearl of the South and it’s easy to see why when you first lay eyes on the surrounding natural beauty. If you only have a short amount of time in Thailand, Phuket is the perfect place for you, as it offers the largest variety of sports in one location. If you are looking at doing multiple activities in different places on the island, not to worry as Phuket is a relatively small island and great for motorbike riding. Regardless of what you are searching for, or where you stay, you won’t need to ride far.

Floating down a river in Northern Thailand
Floating down a river in Northern Thailand

The tourism industry is in full force on the island, and there is a tour package for just about anything you can think of. It won’t be hard to find the activity that you’re after and with so much to choose from, it can be difficult to make a choice! A piece of advice, with so many tour operators, it pays to do some homework to make sure your guides are qualified, equipment is in good shape and that you are getting the best value for money; do yourself a solid and shop around first. A bit of research will help optimise your valuable time. If you aren’t the ‘tour’ going type, you can hire gear and explore independently, just make sure you know your surroundings and can take responsibility for yourself.

The west coast of the island is typically better for surfing and the east side better for diving, but this can change with the weather. Whichever side you choose, consider starting with renting a Stand up Paddle Board and take in the coastline, getting a feel for the island and the surrounding water. It was late May when I stepped off the bus in Phuket and the waters were looking good off the east coast, so I decided to go on a 3 day live aboard dive trip around Phi Phi Island. The scenery in this area is even more striking than the pictures we’ve all seen! I think if I had more time to spend, I would have booked a week-long trip to the Similan Islands north of Phuket in the Andaman Sea.  Boat life is truly the life for me, and with such calm waters, it’s an enjoyable trip even for land lubbers! There are several dive trip options, ensuring you can find a trip that suits your needs and itinerary. In the last decade or so, windsurfing has taken off in Phuket and provides an extremely satisfying rush and requires very little gear. There are quite a few operators that hire gear and offer lessons. For the novice; when you stand up and feel the force of the wind and sail for the first time, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.

With so much to see and do in Thailand, just remember you could travel here for your whole life and still not see it all! We have only just skimmed the tip of the iceberg on our travels together. Not only are water sports physically and mentally challenging (not to mention FUN), the simple act of being on the water builds a connection with the Earth. If you think about it, water is something that touches all of our lives; and experiencing the power and beauty of this natural element can only foster awareness in our planet and the forces of nature. Thailand is an unforgettable country and will no doubt grab a hold of you. Find out for yourself what’s around the next corner, live life to the fullest, and don’t forget to bring a towel!

 Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog. And click here to check out her amazing new travel photography page! 🙂

Maui’s Finest: Costantino Studio & Lahaina Surf Experience Art, Surf, Music and Inspiration!

Costantino Art Studio
Costantino Art Studio

It’s known as the “Valley Isle”, and it seems impossible that anyone could make this tropical island paradise more enchanting than Mother Nature herself… but the artists at Costantino Studio in Lahaina have managed to do just that! And it’s not only the artwork that sets this private home studio apart. It’s the family that runs it and the engaging atmosphere that will keep you coming back for more.

Following the footsteps of his late father, renowned painter Ralph Costantino, Auggie and his wife Steph and their son Carlo bring to life a collection of vibrant and colourful original abstract works which they display at their home on Front Street in Lahaina. They’ve carefully transformed their backyard into a gallery full of surreal magic and whimsical pleasures. Sheltered beneath a majestic Mango tree, an ever rotating collection of paintings frolic, inspired by the spirits of the island.

Any chance you wanted to learn how to surf on your trip? Well, look no further as Auggie has been surfing his whole life and runs Lahaina Surf Experience. Maybe you think that you’re not cut out for surfing, well think again because Auggie can literally teach anyone to surf! His down to earth style of teaching and one on one instruction is a great help to those of us who are a bit timid. He’s a delight to hang ten with and will probably impart a handful of wisdom to you while watching the sets roll in. A fantastic day out that you will never forget, mark my words.

The perfect combination of art, surf, and lifestyle, the Costantino’s will quickly make a genuine impact on your Hawaiian holiday. Make it a top priority to visit Costantino Studio and in the meantime check out their websites, browse the extensive collection of paintings, and tell them that TravelGoss sent you!

Costantino Art Studio & Lahaina Surf Experience

1057 Front Street, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, 96761

https://www.facebook.com/CostantinoArt?hc_location=stream

http://www.costantinoart.com

https://www.facebook.com/LahainaSurfExperience?fref=ts

Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

Flying Jetstar Melbourne to Honolulu

It was almost a year ago that I bought $350 return flights to Honolulu as part of Jetstar’s promotion of its new direct Melbourne to Honolulu route (a steal, I know!). After adding on luggage (I needed lots for all the shopping I had planned!), this price neared $500, but I’m still not complaining.

After two sunny, shopping-filled weeks exploring the Hawaiian islands, I write this blog post as I’m returning home. Reluctantly, I might add. I’ll go into greater detail about my trip in later blog posts, but for now I’ll just give you a quick review of my Jetstar experience.

Despite such cheap flights (typically you can fly Melbourne to Honolulu for around $1,000 on Jetstar), I have no complaints about any part of my journey. The planes left on time both ways and there were no issues checking in.

Jetstar Jump
My 100th attempt at a Jetstar jump….

One thing that amazed me though, was when we arrived at Melbourne airport my boyfriend and I were one of only a handful of people who had checked in online prior to leaving home. The queue for web check-in took around 5-10 minutes to get through, whereas the main queue was as long as airport queues come (and any frequent flyer will know how long that is!). So, bear this in mind next time you fly.

The most unexpected part of the trip was getting aboard the flight and having USB ports and in-seat TV screens. I’m used to seeing these on airlines such as Singapore, QANTAS etc., but didn’t expect it on a budget airline. Big brownie points from me! Although unfortunately I didn’t know about this option beforehand, otherwise I would have loaded up on movies on my iPad or USB drive; you can even open documents, photos and videos on the in-seat screen at no charge.

For $20 you can purchase inflight entertainment, which isn’t badly priced considering it offers a whole range of the latest movies, TV shows, music albums and plenty of games to play – especially ideal for restless kids.

We refrained from buying the entertainment, but did briefly amuse ourselves with the free seat-to-seat chat function. The novelty wore off quite quickly though!

The flight was just over 10.5 hours heading there, and 11 hours on the way back. The flight back, however, didn’t have the in-seat TV units – but you could still hire iPads loaded with the same entertainment options.

Personally, I think that where you sit on a plane is crucial to how good or downright bloody awful your flight can be (think people kicking your chair, screaming kids and being wedged between two strangers), so I didn’t hesitate to pay the $7 or so each way that Jetstar charges to choose your seats (premium seats, such as emergency exits are more expensive). Get in fast though, because you won’t be the only one with that idea.

My preference? Back row, window seats. You might be last off, but you eliminate the risk of having bad ‘seat-buddies’ behind you, there’s easy access to the toilets (essential if you enjoy a sneaky pre-holiday beverage) and it’s just that little bit more cosy 🙂

So ‘mahalo’ Jetstar for making the first and last part of my holiday a breeze! I even did my own cliche Jetstar jump in recognition 😉

A Trip Back in Time – Broken Hill & Silverton, NSW, Australia

I’ve always been enticed by the seductive and mystical quality of wide open spaces and the rich earthy tones that only a desert can provide. Big skies, majestic views, and fortune welcome all those who heed the call. People have been drawn to this area for hundreds of years, seeking a better future in many different avenues. First it was mineral deposits that lured people out this way. Nowadays it’s the scenery, the isolation, the escape from society and the freedom that comes with that. It’s the chance to look back into the remnants of days gone by while absorbing the present moment, which draws tourists out to Broken Hill and its ghost town neighbour, Silverton.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silverton used to be a bustling mining town, until a larger mine was built in Broken Hill. Most of the residents and even some of the buildings were moved to Broken Hill, leaving the bare bones of a town behind. A handful of abandoned buildings are still scattered around in Silverton. There are about 60 people who call Silverton home today and their tenacity and charm will quickly win you over. Broken Hill and Silverton have an unbreakable historical bond that carries on to this very day, as both towns have become a well-known backdrop for a slew of popular movies  such as “Razorback”, “Mad Max II”, “Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, “Dirty Deeds” and the list goes on.

A true-blue mining town, Broken Hill is full of historic frontier architecture, and a majority of the roads are named after various minerals. On Chloride Street, you’ll find the Silver City Mint. This fascinating art gallery boasts a wide variety of beautiful silver jewellery created by local artists, a selection of gourmet snacks, and ‘The Big Picture’ by local painter, Ando – a magical painting that captures the essence of the outback of NSW on a canvas that is almost 100 meters long!

Silver City Mint

66 Chloride Street,

Broken Hill NSW 2880

(08) 8088 6166

http://www.silvercitymint.com.au/

Just 12km out of town you will find the Living Desert State park; home to 12 intricately carved sandstone sculptures, brought to you by artists from all over the world, which stand tall atop a peak overlooking Broken Hill.  The area is quiet and meditative, mesmerizing and inspiring, with the perfect surroundings to reflect that groovy feeling. A fantastic place for hiking, having an afternoon BBQ, and the bird watching here is top notch. You can easily organise tours of the park from Broken Hill, or drive there on your own. Opening hours: between 9am -5pm (Mar-Nov) and 6am 2pm (Dec-Feb).

Broken Hill has heaps of accommodation options available to suit every need and budget range. I spent a weekend at the West Darling Hotel and loved every minute of it. Perfect for travellers who are looking for something unusual that has heart and character (definitely not for those seeking luxury). The cracked, faded, and peeling paint on the walls, the warped floorboards, the haunted feel of the long corridors, the wrap around balcony where you can almost see the 1800’s come alive, all added something special to the whole adventure!

West Darling Hotel

Argent St (Corner of Oxide Street),

Broken Hill NSW 2880

(08) 8087 2691

To find out more about attractions and accommodation in Broken Hill, follow the link below:

www.visitbrokenhill.com.au

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo get to Silverton; there are a few busses and tour companies that will take you out to Silverton for the day. You can easily book this from Broken Hill however the freedom of renting a car will do you a number of favours, as there is too much to see in Silverton for just a day trip! On your way to, or from, Silverton make sure you allow time to take a camel ride at Barrier Ranges Camel Safaris. The camels here are actually related to the ones that you saw in the Mad Max movies! There are a few different options ranging from half hour jaunts to half day trips and even longer trips can be arranged as well. They also offer nightime moonlight rides, which I’ll make sure to indulge in the next time I’m out that way. The tours are very affordable, informative and fun, and surprisingly the camels are very easy to ride. You’ll instantly fall in love with these beautiful docile creatures that are perfectly suited for the desert. And don’t worry – these camels have been trained not to spit… I asked!  The owner even makes his own handcrafted saddles ensuring a comfortable ride, and I must say I found it to be much more comfortable than riding a horse! Located 25km from Broken Hill on the Silverton Road, just before the town of Silverton.

Barrier Ranges Camel Safaris

Ph#: (08) 8088 5316

Mobile# 0418406377

http://www.silvertoncamels.net/Barrier_Range_Camel_Safaris.html

When you arrive in Silverton you’ll certainly be hungry. Take a load off and grab a bite to eat at the famous Silverton Hotel. A real hot spot for filmmakers, many movies and countless commercials have used the Silverton Hotel as their stage. My favourite band INXS stopped in here in 1992 and there are a few pictures of the band visiting the hotel on the wall, along with hundreds of rare behind-the-scenes photos of various movies shot in the area. Enjoy the simple Australian fare, great service and atmosphere while admiring the unforgettable surroundings. And if you time it right, there is a one-of-a-kind stage in the back courtyard that hosts live music fairly regularly, giving you a chance to let your hair down with the locals – an experience not to be missed! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A must-see for all visitors to Silverton is the Mad Max Museum. For anyone who’s seen Mad Max II, this attraction will absolutely blow you away! A true celebration of an important facet of Aussie culture, the museum is great for fans and lookie-loos alike. I recently had a chance to chat with prominent Silverton figure, and owner of the Mad Max Museum, Adrian Bennett.  He’s hands-down one of the most inspiring individuals I’ve ever met in all my travels. Truth be told; I’d never even seen Mad Max II before I visited the Museum! However, I heard the story of a man who moved his whole family here from England with the intent of opening a museum dedicated to Mad Max II in the area where the movie was filmed. The story struck a chord with me immediately and I knew I had to see it with my own eyes. For a person to follow their dreams so unabashedly and have the courage to fly in the face of convention against all odds is a rare and beautiful thing. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to take part in such an exceptional place. Here, Adrian shares with the TravelGoss community some of his favourite things about the area and a few of his most memorable moments at the museum:

“Owning and running the museum has been a joy since the doors opened in 2010. We have met some incredible people and make new friends on a daily basis. We have had some great shows filmed at the museum and meeting famous people from TV has been a real honour for us. Many of the original cast and crew from Mad Max 2 have visited the museum with still many others I’ve met, promising to call and see us. One of the biggest highlights for the museum was in September 2012 when Mad Max 2 villain Vernon Wells visited the museum over a 2 day period. This was such an incredible experience and a real honour for me as Vernon was my hero from the film and to think that 31 years after I first watched the movie not only would I build a museum where the movie was made but also have one of the stars of the film come and visit is sometimes still hard to comprehend!”

“When ordinary people end up in an extra-ordinary situation it sometimes makes you wonder why, and since I arrived in Australia there were certain coincidences that happened in my ‘journey’ to the outback that made me wonder if certain things were just meant to be! All of these coincidences came together, to bring me to one of the most beautiful and unique places in Australia. Of course you could say I was biased purely because I was drawn to Broken Hill and more-so Silverton because of my fascination with Mad Max 2 which was filmed in the area but, it goes way beyond that for me now.”

“One of the most incredible things to witness is the sun setting at the beautiful Mundi Mundi Lookout just 5 kms past Silverton where the curvature of the earth can clearly be seen!  Even the walking trails are incredible and not knowing what wildlife is going to pop up and greet you is also an added bonus for that photo opportunity. The area is rich with history and full of great characters with stories to tell. It’s also a must for stargazers, something I do often due to the perfectly clear night sky out here in Silverton. Just being surrounded by the great Australian outback and bushland in every direction gives you a sense of freedom that everyone should experience.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“I think the area has a magical magnetic pull on people, it’s why artists and musicians and movie makers come here. For film makers it has the perfect backdrop, clear light and just an all-around great looking place which has everything to offer them for those perfect shots. Artists are spoiled by the incredible landscape and peaceful surroundings in which to work and the great history and people of the area supply enough stories for the lyrics of any song. It’s sometimes hard to explain why a place is so special, you really have to experience it for yourself and see why so many people fall in love with this stunningly beautiful place.” – (Adrian Bennett)

Mad Max II Museum

Sterling Street

Silverton, NSW 2880

Mon – Sun: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mad-Max-Museum/113085982075455?fref=ts

On the edge of town, you’ll find the Silverton Cemetery. Take a glimpse at the hard truths and harsh realities the local mining families would’ve faced out here in the 1800’s; things like Typhoid epidemics, mining disasters, unsafe, overheated and cramped working conditions, fibrosis and emphysema due to poor air circulation in the mines, all this took a toll on the residents of Silverton. It’s a place full of powerful stories. I found that visiting this small cemetery gave me a perspective on what life out here would have been like and made me appreciate just how much easier our modern life is. It’s an eye opening experience to spend a moment to realize what it actually takes to dig these minerals out of the earth that so many of us have taken for granted for generations.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Silverton, I recommend Penrose Park. The site was built in the early 20th century for miners and their families to have a place to relax and escape the hardships of the times. Fully equipped with powered caravan sites, campsites, and dorm style cabins, Penrose Park is a wonderful place to spend the weekend with the family and friends. The park is absolutely teeming with wildlife, the air is clean and the owners are very friendly and helpful. The perfect spot for a picnic, a BBQ, or even a game of tennis!

 

Penrose Park

Lot 34 Silverton Rd

Silverton NSW 2880

(08) 8088 5307

http://www.silverton.org.au/penrose.htm

For more info on Silverton visit:

http://www.silverton.org.au/

*How to get there:

Broken Hill is accessible by a limited service of Regional Express flights: http://www.regionalexpress.com.au/

Countrylink offers train service from Sydney to Broken Hill:

http://www.countrylink.info

Vline offers service from Melbourne to Mildura, (then arrange bus to Broken Hill in Mildura):

http://www.vline.com.au/

*There is a shuttle bus, and tour companies that operate between Silverton and Broken Hill.

If you have the time available, and access to a vehicle, this area makes a spectacular destination for a road trip from major cities such as Sydney, Adelaide or Melbourne. The effort it takes to get there adds to the satisfaction of a genuine outback experience! No matter how you choose to get there and away, rest assured that Broken Hill, Silverton and the surrounding area will easily find a way into your heart!

Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

An Out of this World Experience in Broome, Western Australia

It’s easy to forget, with our busy day to day lives, that we are actually riding around on a planet in an unfathomable infinite universe. On a clear night, away from light pollution, it never ceases to amaze me, the sheer magnitude of the heavens. As my focus turns to the sky it seems to soothe and comfort, reminding me that whatever my problems may be they really and truly are insignificant in the face of the grandeur of the celestial reality. At Greg Quicke’s Astro Tours located in Broome, Western Australia, you’ll gaze at the splendour and immensity of the cosmos, while learning a bit about ourselves and our planet’s place in this intricate web of energy. We’re all intrigued by the galaxies above us, and with Greg Quicke’s Astro Tours, you’ll learn to recognise the constellations and planets, allowing for a much broader perspective on our own existence.

Astro ToursI met Greg while volunteering on Sea Shepherd’s vessel, the Sam Simon. I was completely blown away with his lexicon of knowledge. In just a few days he had made a huge impact on my understanding of the night sky, and helped me to realise that there’s a strange synchronicity within the cosmos. His friendly demeanour, inherent curiosity, and refreshing outlook on life, is contagious and he will surely help you see things in a way you’ve never experienced! I had a chance to pick his brain for the TravelGoss community and here is what he had to say:

Greg Quicke: “Stargazing is a sure way to tune into the universe. Simply getting out there under the stars is enough. Looking outside of yourself is healthy and encourages you to be more of who, and what, you truly are. We are connected with the universe, and all we need to do is become aware of this. The aboriginal people of Broome and the Dampier peninsular have many stories about the stars. They use them as seasonal indicators to know when the stingrays are fat, when it is time to catch goanna, and when to go fishing.”Astro Tours3

“The celestial events that happen every day, every month and every year are the most profound ones. The earth turns, the moon goes around the earth and the earth goes around the sun. If you tune yourself into these very simple cycles that are in our lives every day, you will achieve enlightenment. The good thing about enlightenment is that there is always further to go, more to learn and greater things to be.”

“Broome has some of the cleanest and clearest skies on the planet. Getting only a little distance out of the township is enough to get out of the light pollution caused by archaic and poorly designed street lights. Broome has 300 clear nights a year. We are close enough to the equator to see all of the southern hemisphere and most of the northern hemisphere.”

“Astro Tours was established in 1995 with one telescope and a desire to share. Today we use a fleet of telescopes to help put beautifully switched-on people in touch with the universe on a regular schedule of up to 6 nights a week from April through to October and November and sometimes if the wet season lets us, up into Christmas. As well as regular 2 hour shows run just out of Broome, Astro Tours is often invited to do Kimberley coast stargazing trips on exotic cruise boats. We run corporate events, school events, and our mobile fleet of telescopes will go anywhere that we are invited to set up and guide people through the amazing night skies of the Kimberley and beyond.”Astro Tours2

Bookings can be made by email through the website at www.astrotours.net. You can call on 0417 949 958 and you can find Greg Quicke’s Astro Tours on Facebook. Greg also offers backpackers discounts for group bookings! So if you’re looking for a new adventure in Western Australia, take a trip with Greg that will absolutely be out of this world! And make sure to mention that TravelGoss sent you!

 

 

Ph#: 0417949958

Email: [email protected]

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Greg-Quickes-Astro-Tours/167670281850?fref=ts

Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

Melbourne’s Fiesta in your Mouth – Los Hermanos Taqueria

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the sun makes its daily westward pilgrimage, a warm breeze plays in the dusky streets inspiring leaves to dance freely through the air. Brick buildings toss out their lengthy end of day shadows with ease. Exuberant notes from a distant accordion bounce alongside subtle vibrations plucked from a lonely guitar, gently beckoning the weary traveller. Intriguing aromas levitate the senses, luring you to a fiesta of flavour deep in the heart of Melbourne’s nightlife hot-spot known as Brunswick. Specializing in authentic Mexican cuisine, with a focus on simple yet addictive tacos, Los Hermanos will transport you halfway around the world one dish at a time.

In a city known for its culinary diversity, it can be overwhelming to pick a place to dine while on holiday. Los Hermanos stands apart from the crowd with its ingenious and unique recipes that restaurateur Bruno Carreto searched far and wide across the Mexican countryside for. Born in Mexico City, Carreto shares with Melbourne a genuine taste of his homeland. Once through the doors the friendly and warm atmosphere will envelope you and with single plate dishes it’s easy to enjoy an evening out trying a bit of everything, or pop in for a quick snack that won’t hurt the wallet.

Cactus Salad
Cactus Salad

Begin your journey with the Ensalada de Nopales, strips of cactus cooked in lime juice and topped with crumbled feta, diced tomato, grilled onion, and fresh coriander. Continue along with a plate of Flautas de Pollo, three rolled crispy tacos filled with chicken, drizzled with sour cream and covered with shredded lettuce. Try Las Gorditas, a maize flour pocket stuffed with refried beans and a blend of ricotta and mozzarella cheese. Or give Los Sopes a taste, a maize flour base under refried beans, cheese, home-made salsa and lettuce

with your choice of Chicken, Mushroom or Zucchini. If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t be afraid to add a bit of hot sauce, each table had 3 different fiery sauces to choose from.

Next, take some time to peruse the assortment mouth-watering soon-to-be-famous tacos on the menu. For meat lovers; Tacos ‘de Pescado’ (Fish), ‘de Barbacoa’ (Lamb), ‘de Pollo’ (Chicken), and ‘de Res’ (Slow cooked Beef – a personal favourite; the meat has been twice cooked and is chocked full of flavour). Vegetarians have quite a few choices as well; try the Tacos ‘de Ejotes Papita y Huevo’ (Green Beans, Potato and Egg), ‘de Calabazita’ (Zucchini) or ‘de Hongos’ (Mushroom). There are also some tantalizing vegan options available, just ask the staff.

Authentic Mojitos
Authentic Mojitos

 

As for drinks, the Mojito is a real treasure with the perfect balance of mint and lime, or try the spicy Michelada; a mix of beer, chili, and lime on ice. Margaritas are always a treat and the home-made, not-to-be-missed, easy-to-drink, Sangria is sold by the jug and you’ll understand why when you try it.

If you’re looking for something stronger, have a shot of tequila with their home-made Tequila chaser. It’s a lovely shade of green, and surprisingly one of the most delicious liquids ever invented. With a long list of cerveza, wines, spirits and cocktails, you’re sure to find the right thing to wet your pallet. If you don’t feel like drinking alcohol, have a crack at a Jarritos, a popular Mexican soda available in a wide variety of refreshing fruity flavours.

Los Hermanos is perfect for small functions, with outdoor and indoor seating available. Call for reservations for parties of 6 or more. It’s super easy to get to, just a few steps down the street from the Brunswick Railway Station; however there is currently no signage on the building so keep an eye out for the street numbers. Limited street parking is available. Don’t miss out on Melbourne’s best Mexican eatery, spice up your holiday and head to Los Hermanos today!

339 Victoria St
Brunswick, VIC
3056

(03) 9939 3661

M-Sat 6pm-10pm

Closed Sunday

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Los-Hermanos-Mexican-Taqueria/124943380962858

Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

4WDing in Victoria, Australia – You’re Never Too Old to Play in the Mud!

Home to a cornucopia of incredible wonders, beyond the tourist traps and well-worn paths, the state of Victoria truly is ‘the place to be’. With a wide variety of terrain from forest covered mountains, to arid deserts, to coastal plains, you’re sure to find the perfect spot to relax and escape the pressures of daily life.

4WDing is mucky business
4WDing is mucky business

And what better way to get away from it all, to see what lies around the next corner, than exploring one of the many off-road trails Victoria has to offer. Dust off your camping gear… it’s time head out to the country for a 4WD adventure in The Garden State!

Out on the trails, it’s the sense of freedom and discovery that will quickly carve its way into your soul. Leaving the pavement behind and boldly going where most vehicles simply cannot go, affords a true pioneering experience. Enjoy a place without traffic lights or stop signs, and the speed limits are enforced not by cameras but by your own driving skills and how much of a beating your rig can handle. Of course, it’s not all about driving… Take some time to call ‘home’ that never-before-seen campsite you’ve just stumbled upon. Crack a coldie with your friends and howl at the moon, or tell ghost stories with the family around a campfire.

Plenty of time to relax
Plenty of time to relax

In Victoria you will find trails for all skill levels from novice to expert, in an assortment of different landscapes, each with its own specific challenges. Bunyip and Wombat National parks are great for sliding around and getting muddy… And I do mean MUDDY! The Alpine Region to the northeast of Melbourne is wonderful for longer trips with many river crossings and steep inclines and declines as you traipse across the mountain ranges. This area has stunning views that would almost make you believe that the whole world has turned into a forest! In the northwestern part of the state, you will find sandy trails at Little Desert National Park and gorgeous rock formations surrounded by red dirt in the Grampians National park. Going off-road allows you to travel to remote parts of the state that most people never see. Relish at a unique chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat.

Victoria's Alpine Region offers the perfect backdrop for adventure activities
Victoria’s Alpine Region offers the perfect backdrop for adventure activities

Don’t own a 4WD vehicle? Just visiting Victoria? Not to worry! There are a handful of 4WD tour operators in Victoria that will assist with everything it takes to get you started. Among them I recommend booking a trip with: Mountain Top Experience (03) 5134 6876. www.mountaintopexperience.com . They have their own fleet of Land Rover Defenders for hire, to give you a taste of driving on your own. You can book day-trips or weekends, they will cater to your needs. They offer tag-along tours for folks who have the vehicle, but might not know where to go, and they also offer driver’s training courses for people seeking guidance. They will surely teach you how to read the road, providing an excellent introduction to the sport.

Travelling in the bush, one of the most important things is to be as self-sufficient as possible. Try to anticipate any potential problems and have a solution ready. Things which are vital to bring with you on your journey include:

Don't forget your maps!
Don’t forget your maps!

– Regional Maps: Don’t risk getting lost! You can get maps of ALL off road trails from: Melbourne Map Centre: http://www.melbmap.com.au

 

– Jerry Cans (20Liter): There are no petrol stations in the outback, so make sure to bring your own!

– Tow straps: Always a good thing to have; they will not take the place of a winch, but can prove extremely helpful in recovering stuck vehicles.

– Hand-held CB radios: Stay in touch with the rest of your group, they can alert you to upcoming dangers or help if you should need assistance.

– Rope: When you’re bouncing around on the trails, so are all of your belongings. Secure everything you can with rope for a safer and quieter ride.

– NO Glass!: Should you decide to bring beverages of any kind, do not bring glass as you might soon find broken glass shards littering the back of your vehicle after an unexpected bump in the road.

– Air Pressure Gauge: A simple and very inexpensive piece of equipment, but will be very helpful when you deflate your tyres to enjoy more gripping ability. Make sure that all 4 tyres have relatively the same air pressure. (Usually between 12-20PSI, depending on the vehicle and terrain)

– Things to remember: Check the weather before you head out. Rivers can rise faster than you think and a sudden change in the weather could become an issue you’d rather not have. When in doubt, do NOT attempt; only drive trails and obstacles that you feel confident with. No one wants to have their vehicle delivered home on the back of a tow truck! When it comes to river crossings, take time to check the depth in several places. Remember that there may be obstacles submerged that you cannot see. A snorkel is very much preferred if you are frequently crossing water.

Whether you have your own vehicle, or are thinking about getting one, a great way to get started in the sport is to network. One thing you will definitely notice is the sense of community with 4WD enthusiasts. I find this aspect of the sport to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things about it; a subculture unto itself. These are some of the most helpful sites I have found and regularly use:

– Aussie 4WD: Database of enthusiast groups as well as information regarding tracks and vehicle specific groups.

http://aussie4wd.com/groups/     or     www.facebook.com/aussie4WD

AusJeepOffRoad: Networking tool for Jeep and other 4WD enthusiasts. Plan trips, get advice, find parts and deals on all things ‘off road’. This site has EVERYTHING you need to get started.

www.ausjeepoffroad.com     or     www.facebook.com/ausjeepoffroad

– Melbourne 4×4 Owners: www.facebook.com/groups/360205937357314/

The owner of this site, Alicia Newman, is very active in the 4WD scene in Victoria, and gives us a few hints for our future trips:

Make sure before you hit the trails that you go prepared. A good recovery kit and some basic tools are a must to carry. Never hit the trails alone as you may get yourself into a situation that you can’t easily get out of, especially if you don’t have a winch. Neerim/Gembrook areas have a range of trails, from beginner all the way to advanced levels, for you to test out your vehicle’s capabilities and your own driving skills. Get out as often as possible, it’s the best way to learn how your truck drives and also gains you more experience and confidence in all sorts of terrain.”

Nothing gets in the way of a 4WD
Nothing gets in the way of a 4WD

When you own your own vehicle, it pays to find a shop that specialises in 4WD modification, so you can rest easy with the peace of mind knowing that you and your rig are in capable hands. For Jeep modifications, I highly recommend Double Black Offroad: The ultimate one-stop-shop for Jeep Wrangler JK owners. (17/150 Chesterville Rd, Moorabbin, Victoria, (03) 9553 0744). One of the owners, Bill Barbas, took a minute to discuss some of his own 4WD endeavours with us here at TravelGoss.com

What was your first off-road vehicle?

Bill: I’m embarrassed to say it was a Holden Frontera. It was a disgraceful vehicle… I modified it and modified it, to try to keep up but then it just gave up. Then after that I got a Suzuki Samurai, went crazy with that, became president of the Suzuki club, ended up with one on 34” tyres which was a bit of a weapon! That was good fun!

What are your favourite things about 4WD in VIC?

Bill: Going to places where my mobile phone doesn’t work. Being able to relax, sit around a campfire, and do some good tracks, especially in winter with the mud that we have down here, it can be quite interesting. Labertouche, Warburton, Neerim, Bunyip, Toolangi, the Otway Ranges, the High Country; we don’t need to drive far to have a bit of fun. We’ve got a lot of places within an hour, hour and a half [of Melbourne] which are quite challenging.

Do you have any tips for first-timers?

Bill: Research, research, research… It really pays to start with a solid platform. A lot of people will buy a vehicle with the idea to get into the sport, like I did with the Holden Frontera, thinking I could keep up with Land Cruisers and Patrols and clearly I couldn’t unless I sold my house to modify the thing. That’s why the Jeep JK is such a good vehicle to start with. It’s the perfect foundation to build your rig on. The JK is so easy to modify, and easy to put big tyres on without a lot of work to make them capable. Even the short wheelbase, a 2” lift and 33” tyres in the right hands, is an absolute weapon. We have some customers’ vehicles that are modified to the hills, but if the driver doesn’t know what they’re doing, it won’t make a bit of difference. We’ve been on some trips with some stock Jeeps and it just amazes me how far they go. www.doubleblackoffroad.com/main.php www.facebook.com/doubleblackoffroad

Exploring the wild lands of Victoria requires no more than a healthy sense of curiosity and adventure! Fun for all ages, 4WD opens the world up and allows us to travel beyond our modern civilization and society to a place where nature is still the dominant force. It helps strengthen our problem solving and navigational skills, makes us more aware of our surroundings, while providing a new social platform for us to network with other like-minded individuals. Now you have a great excuse to go somewhere new, to see what’s hidden in your own backyard in this amazing and diverse state. Take the drivers wheel and become the master of your own expedition!

Read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

 Click on images below to see them in full size.

A Lush Oasis in a Concrete Jungle: Phra Pradaeng, Bangkok

Looking for something different to do in Bangkok? Tired of the hustle and bustle of the city streets? Then take a trip to Phra Pradaeng, a small peninsula situated on the southern side of Bangkok in the Samut Prakan district. Phra Pradaeng offers visitors a relaxing escape into another world filled with all sorts of exotic flora and fauna. This community has one of the lowest population densities in Bangkok and gives us a glimpse at a more rural lifestyle without having to travel far. A construction ban was placed on the area in 1977 in order to preserve its natural beauty, which means it is the only district in Bangkok where you won’t find any high-rise buildings. Here, you can enjoy a break from the hectic day-to-day life that the City of Angels is so well known for.

Phra Pradaeng Jungle
Phra Pradaeng Jungle

There are a few ways to get to this verdant jungle paradise, but I highly recommend taking a taxi to the Chao Praya Port in Klong Toey. From there you can purchase inexpensive tickets on a small wooden boat that whisks you across the river to the pier at Phra Pradaeng called Tha Bangkrachao. The ride is an exciting way to distance yourself from urban Bangkok and a perfect start to your adventure, with fantastic views of the city.

Riding a push bike is the best way to get around once you have arrived in Phra Pradaeng. The peninsula is criss-crossed with a labyrinth of narrow concrete passageways elevated over the klongs and swamps, which allow you a chance to explore places that you can’t reach via car. A few steps from the boat terminal you can hire your own

push bikes for the day at a very reasonable price of about $100 BHT / day. (Make sure to check the brakes, gears and tyres before you take off). There are also several push bike companies that advertise full day-trips with a knowledgeable guide, brand new bikes and meals included for around $5000 BHT.

Phra Pradaeng View from Bangkok
Phra Pradaeng View from Bangkok

Visiting Phra Pradaeng is akin to travelling back in time, to an era when Teak houses built on stilts dominated the landscape of Bangkok. There are also several attractions to hunt down as you cycle along, such as the Siamese Fighting Fish Gallery. This building has two different sections that are filled with a diverse range of fighting fish on display, and the gardens surrounding the gallery are absolutely filled with flowers and butterflies. It’s a great place to catch your breath and take in the scenery. Or why not enjoy a picnic at Pom Phlaeng Faifa Fort, built in 1815. Once a military stronghold, now it’s an enchanting place to spend the day, with gorgeous gardens surrounding ruins of the fort. The facilities are open 7 days a week, from 8am-5pm.

PhraPradaengMarket
Phra Pradaeng Market

Every weekend there is a lovely market where locals come to sell their products to passers-by. A famous lunch to be enjoyed here is Kuai-tiao Ruea , also known as “boat noodles”. There are a handful of longboats in the main Klong that serve Kuai-tiao Ruea, which is not to be missed. It’s a simple soup with rice noodles, broth, spices and assorted meats, a tasty delicacy that will win your praise instantly. Take some time to browse through the stalls at the market and marvel at the traditional handmade crafts. You can even improve your karmic disposition by making merits at the nearby Wat. For a few Baht you purchase small caged birds, or snakes, fish, eels or turtles, and release them back into the wild thus improving your karma, so they say.

Depending on what time of year your stay in Bangkok happens, there are a couple festivals that are spectacular to view from Phra Pradaeng. The area was originally settled by the Mon tribe and, to this day, it is one of the only places that celebrate Songkran (the Thai New Year’s water festival in mid-April), in the traditional Mon way. At the end of the calendar year, Thai’s celebrate Loi Krathong, the festival of light. The tradition is to float an offering down the river on a vessel made of banana leaves carrying candles and other objects in order to give thanks

Phra Pradaeng Spirit House
Phra Pradaeng Spirit House

to the river and all of its life-giving attributes. Phra Pradaeng is a great place to avoid the major crowds and enjoy the spectacle with the locals.

If one day isn’t enough for you, there are a few options for overnight stays. For a luxurious experience, consider the Bangkok Tree House with stunning architecture and views combined with a nature-centric atmosphere. For those of us on a tighter budget, there’s a more affordable option available at the Phuengnang Homestay, a lovely guesthouse equipped with a variety of amenities. Whichever you decide be sure to bring your camera and some mosquito repellent. You can rest assured that your time on Phra Pradaeng will not soon be forgotten!

Read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

Click on the images below to see them in full size.

Inspiration for Solo Female Travellers

Not everyone has a snuggle bunny or a bubba bear to take away on romantic weekends, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the fun. Sometimes the best travelling is done with the person that knows you and your interests the best – yourself.

Here are our favourite destinations for spending some time with yourself – and the new friends you’ll make along the way.

Fly off to Fiji

Yes, it might have a reputation for being a honeymoon destination, but don’t let that stop you considering Fiji for your solo adventure. Away from the honeymoon resorts and couples cruises are sumptuous spas, lively bars and beautiful beaches for lying back and doing some soul-searching.

Whether you want to mingle with other travellers at one of the many backpacker hostels or want to treat yourself to some 5 star luxury, you’ll find the perfect option.

If you want plenty of socialising opportunities or want access to the most activities, the main island of Viti Levu is the place to stay. The outer islands tend to be much quieter and more suited to couples.

Relax in Byron Bay’s Hinterland

We’re fortunate here in Australia that we have some of the world’s best locations right on our doorstep. With a country as big as ours there’s always somewhere new to explore.

Byron Bay, however, is one of those places that you can keep going back to. The chilled-out vibe, the happening nightlife and the fantastic boutiques and markets – it’s hard not to fall in love with this beachside town.

Although most people head straight to Byron Bay’s beachfront the real magic is a short drive west into the Hinterland. You’ll feel a world away from the backpackers paradise of the main town and can indulge yourself at one of the spa retreats. Spend a day, weekend or even a week or two at one of the retreats and you’ll feel like a new you.

If you want to meet people while at a spa, join in with yoga classes or simply introduce yourself to someone new.

Sex and the City

Just think how much more shopping you can get done on your own!
Just think how much more shopping you can get done on your own!

Relive your favourite Carrie moments on a trip to the Big Apple. While it’s not the best choice for the budget conscious – as your credit card will undoubtedly take a hit – one of the best ways to see New York is on your own. Think how much shopping you can get done without someone else there!

The public transport network is extensive and the famous yellow cabs are easy to use – so you won’t have any trouble finding your way around. Try to stay in the centre of New York – close to Times Square – so everything is close by.

None of these tickle your fancy? Try these:

– A city break in Sydney or Melbourne

– Join a Contiki tour in almost any part of the world – you’ll make friends and see the sights

– Spend the weekend visiting the museums and markets in Hobart, Tasmania

World’s Most Luxurious Spa Vacations

Spa vacations are gaining more and more popularity by the minute. They allow people to tend to their aches and pains, relax, take care of their appearance, and much more. While an ordinary beach vacation does offer a chance to take a break from reality, it doesn’t offer the same level of TLC as you will receive at a Spa. So if you have decided in favour of the Spa for your next vacation, where should you go?

The Spa at Coworth Park in Berkshire, England
This is the most eco-friendly spa you could find anywhere. Natural light floods the entire building all throughout the day and there is a plethora of available organic and natural treatments. On top of enjoying amazing procedures, you will be able to indulge in mouth-watering, yet very healthy dishes at the Patisserie.

The Spa at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris, France
If you want to feel like royalty, this spa is the easiest and most amazing way to do it. Everything from the interior to the treatments and the cuisine is absolutely astounding and filled with elegance and sophistication. Massages, facials, body scrubs, hair treatments, dining… everything is breathtaking and certainly worth its price.

SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain
This clinic is renowned as one of the best European medical spas, offering a chance for spa-lovers and for those with health issues to experience true bliss. The treatments include the best from all over the globe, from traditional Chinese acupuncture to cutting-edge Western ultrasound. All of this is accompanied by serene surroundings and mouth-watering cuisine.

The Verdura Golf & Spa Resort in Sicily
This is an amazing resort where guests can enjoy a wide range of detoxing, anti-ageing and fitness treatments, mostly involving Mediterranean products and ingredients like mud, seaweed, seawater and olive oil. The resort offers many additional amenities such as swimming pools, beauty centres, bars, saunas and more.

The Peninsula Spa by ESPA in New York, USA
This spa offers an amazing chance to enjoy the bustling city of New York from a calm and relaxing environment. The treatments cater to a wide range of needs and come from European, Ayurvedic and Asian traditions. There are even some exclusive treatments which you can’t find anywhere else and are definitely worth their money.

The Ananda Spa in the Himalayas, India
The perfect place for those who want to experience the true wisdom of the ages, this spa offers amazing Vedanta and Ayurveda yoga programs which are bound to leave you relaxed and refreshed. You will be surrounded by magnificent views and cared for by welcoming staff, all of which will take you to a dream world you never imagined even existed.

The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat in Malaysia
This spa is mostly known for its amazing facials which can take years off your skin. But its other treatments are also amazing – you can enjoy anything from acupuncture and Chinese Gua Sha to traditional massages, body wraps and Ayurvedic treatments. The staff are highly renowned for their care for their guests so you are guaranteed an amazing experience.

The One&Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives
This spa focuses mainly on the amazing benefits of the sun, and the staff make sure that all guests get enough of it. The treatments are mainly aimed at preparing your body for the exposure and tending to it afterwards. The spa is also renowned for the luxury accommodation and the amazing oceanic views guests can enjoy from their rooms.

The COMO Shambhala Retreat in Bali
This spa is very tradition-oriented and not only offers its guests various treatments, but actually makes them feel and understand how connected their bodies are to nature. You can indulge in various types of massages, take yoga classes early in the morning, or just enjoy the beautiful and well tended gardens.

Despite the expensive price of a spa vacation, nothing can top the feeling of complete rejuvenation. Visiting such a resort doesn’t just take care of your body, but also takes care of your soul. Although it’s absolutely worth the expense, you won’t always have to pay full price for your spa. From time to time, either the spas themselves or the travel companies will promote special offers and it’s worth being patient in order to get your luxury vacation at the best price.

 

Rita Rova is a luxury holiday writer for discount code website, LoveMyVouchers.co.uk – where you can find the latest travel deals from top UK companies online.

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Top Disney Attractions too Scary for Young Ones

Is Walt Disney World ever too scary for younger children?  I’m a mother of five and we’ve been hauling them to WDW for years.  While the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ truly is magical, most of the time, there are a few attractions to be weary of for your youngest family members.

I remember our first family visit with our oldest daughter (just the one kid at the time) and the grandparents.  She was four.  We started our day in the Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom.  She saw the Snow White sign and just had to go.  We somehow missed the small sign stating it might be scary for young children and boy was that a mistake.  The ride was loud with dark frightening scenes, so we exited with her in tears and ready to leave the park entirely. Fortunately, that attraction is gone now, replaced with Mickey’s Philharmagic which is delightful and not the least bit scary.

Let me share some tips for avoiding, or at least minimising, the dramatic bawling scenes that can ruin a pleasant and exciting day.

Volume Level

Before boarding any attraction explain that it will be loud.   Believe me; you can count on any attraction being very loud.  If your child is sensitive to this sort of thing, prepare him with the truth but don’t make a big fuss about it.  Just say its “loud at first.”  That way he relaxes and knows it won’t stay loud the whole time.  He adapts to the volume and it stops being a bother.  By the time you’ve been on two or three, volume won’t be an issue.

Dark & Scary Scenes

Besides volume, some attractions are simply too scary for young children.  After all, every Disney animation movie that comes to mind has at least one evil witch or bad guy and a few scary scenes.  Think Malificent in Sleeping Beauty or the evil Emperor Zurg in Toy Story.  Disney does scary as an art form.  Again, truthfully state the ride may be dark for a minute but won’t STAY dark.  Again, little eyes adjust and if parents are having a blast, so will the child.  Following our Snow White’s Scary Adventure debacle, we told our daughter she would love Small World and it would only be loud for a minute or two and not dark at all.  We had to ride it five times but that’s another story.

List of frightening rides for little ones by park:

Magic Kingdom

  • The Haunted Mansion – Dark and loud with ghoulish scenes
  • Flight of Peter Pan– Dark for most of the ride with an incredibly long queue.
  • Stitch’s Great Escape – Dark, loud, smokey with the added bonus of feeling trapped inside a very tight shoulder harness.  I’ve seen 10 year olds flip out on this one.

Animal Kingdom

  • Dinosaur – It does have a height requirement, so likely a moot warning for parents of the very young.  It is extremely loud even by Disney standard and bone jarring to boot.  We rode it once, years ago, and once was enough.  Nothing redeeming about it really.  It is dark, loud, scary dinosaurs that often jump out and the ride is very jerky.
  • Tough to be a Bug Show- Harmless enough in the beginning, this one builds to a crescendo of fright with giant spiders coming out of the ceiling, a scene of chaos and confusion for many little ones.  Skip it unless your child has become sensitised to volume, dark AND fright all at once.

Hollywood Studios

  • Fantasmic- This is a favorite of many teens.  However, a few scenes can be frightening for very young ones.  If you can get through the scary dream sequences which include yelling, fire and smoke, the end is jolly and light with paddle boats full of favorite characters happily waving.  Not to mention that the music, throughout the show, is incredible.
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid- Again, dark & loud with scary scenes but not all the way through.  If your young one has seen the movie, it’s more likely she’ll love this stage production even if a little scared at first.

EPCOT

  • The Spirit of the Viking in Norway’s pavillion- Dark, loud, backward tipping and not enjoyable.  Let your little one play on the Viking boat run around by the pavilion instead.  Or Try the Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico’s pavilion when traveling with the very young.

To be honest, any attraction has the potential to be scary for young ones.  Some with good reason, and others simply because the child has a preconceived anticipation to be scared.  Your child may be just fine with the ghoulish scenes of the Haunted Mansion but be scared senseless on Dumbo.  Most kids follow the example of the others around them so relax and enjoy yourself and so will the little ones.

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Related posts: Travel Packing List for Small Children

 

 

Would you share your travel secrets?

Well, hundreds of Australians shared theirs with Australian Traveller magazine who have compiled a list of Australia’s 100 Best Travel Secrets.

And unlike most ‘secret’ lists, there really are lots of surprises in this one that will inspire you to stay in Australia for your holiday this year.

As well as over 1,000 nominations from the magazine’s readers, a panel of 11 travel experts, including Dr Chris Brown, Kate Ritchie and Sonya Kruger, helped decide the final list.

Among the surprises on the list were Wilpena Pond in South Australia — a near perfect oval that is large enough to fit six Ulurus, and the ‘ultimate secret treehouse’, which has been revealed in the Blue Mountains.

 The full list is available in a special collector’s edition of Australian Traveller on sale April 3, but here are the top 10 to whet your appetite:

Top 10 Best Secrets in Australia

1. White’s Beach, Byron Bay, NSW

2. Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges, SA

3. Swimming with Minke Whales, QLD

4. Baird Bay Eco Experience, SA

5. Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, NSW

6. Cape Range National Park, WA

7. Shelly Beach near Manly, NSW

8. Karijini National Park, WA

9. Paperbark Camp, NSW

10. Secret Bush Camps of Arnhemland, NT

How many have you been to?

Top 10 Things To Do In Sydney That Locals Recommend

Sydney is a magnet for holidaymakers from all over the world, and after you’ve spent some time in the harbourside city, it’s easy to see why – it’s one of those places where the locals seem to be having just as much fun as the tourists, if not more. While the Opera House and its majestic Bridge are appreciably its most recognisable icons, you don’t have to do much digging to uncover the many hidden gems that make the hub of Australia’s east coast an exciting place all year round. Here are ten of the best.

The Bridge Climb at Sunset

If you’re wanting to take in as much of Sydney as you can in the shortest time, one way is from 130-odd metres above its famous glittering harbour while the sun sets behind the Blue Mountains. After suiting up, your group of intrepid adventurers start the guided trek to the top of Sydney’s most impressive feat of engineering. With adult twilight packages starting at $278 it ain’t the cheapest thrill, but the 360 degree view of the city at dusk is unforgettable.

The Rocks Market on Weekends

On the northern doorstep of the CBD and a short hop from the Opera House, the Rocks Market is a trove of handcrafted jewellery, original artworks, and bags and dresses designed by some very talented stallholders. Open 10am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday, all year round. Catch a bus, train or ferry to Circular Quay.

Day Trip to the Blue Mountains

Many tours head daily to the World Heritage-listed wonderland of mountains, gorges and bushland that starts on the banks of the Nepean River, 50km west of the Sydney CBD. Highlights include the Flat Rock Lookout at Wentworth Falls, the famous Three Sisters at Katoomba, and fine dining and local produce at Leura. Oztrek’s tours start at $59 per person.

Star Casino at Night

For the card shark who likes fine food and entertainment with their high stakes gambling, the Star Casino in Pyrmont, located opposite the CBD across Darling Harbour, has it all. New additions include the Marquee Nightclub with a dance floor accommodating over 700 people, and the 5-Star Darling hotel, with impressive views of the city skyline.

Shows at the Domain

If there’s a show on at the Domain, you owe yourself to make the short trip to Sydney’s ultimate outdoor venue on the eastern fringe of the CBD. The Sydney Festival in January is when the place really comes alive, but there’s still plenty happening year round, including, of course, Carols in the Domain.

Water Taxi to Fort Denison

For history buffs, the former penal colony of Fort Denison features Australia’s only Martello tower and the very last built in the British Empire. If that means anything to you, you’ll definitely want to hop on a water taxi from Circular Quay to the island, which also boasts a well-reviewed restaurant/cafe. H2O Water Taxis start at $80 per person.

Kayaking on the Harbour

Suitable for both beginners and advanced paddlers, the half-day and morning kayak tours offered by Life’s An Adventure are, along with the Bridge climb, the best way to appreciate the Harbour’s natural beauty and landmarks. The day tour breaks for a picnic lunch of smoked salmon, fresh salad and other delectables.

Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi Beach

It’s just wrapped up, but don’t despair – it’ll be back in 2014. This year, Sydney’s premier outdoor art show featured around 70 works by artists from around the world, against the beautiful backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Definitely one you can bring the kids to.

Taronga Zoo

The Zoo, in Mosman on Sydney’s lower north shore, is a family favourite. Twelve minutes from the city by ferry, it features around 340 species, free shows and grand views of the Harbour. Children under 4 get in free.

Dinner in Centre Point’s 360 Restaurant

Fine Australian cuisine and cocktails are served up with unmatched views of the city skyline from 360 Bar and Dining at the top of Sydney Tower. The revolving restaurant offers red carpet service in gently lit mahogany surrounds. The $30 Mon-Fri lunch special is a favourite with local high fliers.

Should You Risk Eating Street Food in Thailand?

As someone who declares ‘food’ as one of my main hobbies, I find it very difficult to tell anyone not to try any type of food they can get their hands on. Street food is no exception.

By far some of the best food I have eaten on my numerous trips to Thailand is from a local man or woman selling their homemade delights from their wooden cart on the street or from a stall at the market. Not only is it fresh, delicious and as authentic as it gets – it’ll cost you less than the morning paper.

Yes there is the possibility that it can result in a day on the toilet, but if you follow these tips you can practically eliminate the risk of getting sick.

1. It must be piping hot

If you’re ordering cooked food always make sure it’s steaming hot – the hotter it is the less chance that bugs and germs can survive on it.

2. It must be fresh

The main reason that people get sick from street food is because they eat food that has been sitting around for a while. Especially when eating meat and seafood, the food should – where possible – be prepared in front of your eyes and not the leftovers from the day before.

3. Avoid salad and prepared fruit

Like in most developing countries, the tap water is not suitable for drinking. Despite that, the locals still use it to wash salad and fruit – as well as use it to make ice cubes. And while their stomachs may be able to handle it in small doses – you will probably not be quite as lucky.

Fruit that has just been picked and is still in its skin is fine to eat – but avoid any that has been washed and prepared. Likewise with salads, save those for when you get home!

4. Look for locals

Just as you’d hesitate to go into an empty restaurant at home, the same goes for street and market stalls. If it’s empty while all the ones around it have people lining up – then it’s probably for a reason.

The locals naturally know the best places to eat – so if they’re there, you know it’s good. Plus, the turnaround of food is much faster when it’s busy – so it’s more likely to be fresh.

5. Enjoy!

Finally, ENJOY what you’re eating and soak in the flavours. Because, if you are sick the next day you can at least tell yourself it was worth it (sort of!).

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Australia’s Best Health Retreats

Whatever your health issues, whether its stress, weight loss or you simply need to cleanse your mind– sometimes the best medicine is to get away. Below we shall look at four of Australia’s best health retreat destinations for uninterrupted, healing bliss.

Golden Door Retreats – Hunter Valley and Queensland

Golden Door has two health retreats and three spas across Queensland and New South Wales.

Enjoy at treatment at the Gold Door Retreat
Enjoy a relaxing treatment at the Gold Door Retreat

Situated in the picturesque Hunter Valley is The Golden Door – Elysia, one of Australia’s best health retreats. The retreat runs a range of relaxing health and wellness programs to unveil “a healthier, happier and motivated you.” There are weekend, 3-day, 5-day and 7-day packages to choose from as well as single treatments.

The Golden Door Health Retreat Queensland boasts an unrivalled location in the heart of the state’s Hinterland, just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Surfer’s Paradise.  Spoil yourself with their exquisite menu of spa treatments such as a Hawaiian lomi lomi massage, reiki, herbal volcanic heat wrap and organic body revitaliser.

Links:

Samadhi Spa and Wellness Retreat – Daylesford, Victoria

Regularly listed in the top 10 Australian health retreats, Samadhi Spa and Wellness Retreat offer the ultimate relaxation and indulgence experience.

Samadhi Retreat is situated just outside of the picture-perfect town of Daylesford in Country Victoria. You can choose to visit for as little as a half or full day with packages such as: ‘Half Day Balanced Lifestyle Retreat’, which includes guided meditation, therapeutic massage, use of the spa and more; or try the ‘Full Day Rejuvenation Retreat’ and spoil yourself with an invigorating head and scalp massage, oriental butterfly eye treatment and more.

Samadhi Retreat: Life doesn't get much better than this!
Samadhi Retreat: Life doesn’t get much better than this!

For longer stays, accommodation is everything and more that you’d expect from this world-class retreat. Think peaceful, tranquil and simple décor in amongst quaint lush gardens.

Gaia Retreat – Byron Bay, NSW

Where better place to go to de-stress than the beautiful Byron Bay? As one of the most relaxed regions in Australia, it seems fitting to have one of the best health retreats there.

Gaia Retreat is co-owned by Australian icon – Olivia Newton John – and its isolated location in the stunning hinterland is ideal for helping you achieve all of your health and wellbeing goals.

There are both day spa and longer packages available at Gaia Retreat. The staff can create a personalised program for you depending on your goals – be it to get fit, lose weight or detoxify yourself.

Let your worries melt away in the salt water pool or spa while taking in the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you, or wake up to morning yoga, Pilates or meditation class.

Ki Health Retreat – Kangaroo Island, SA

The final top Australian destination on our list is Ki Health Retreat, situated on the idyllic Kangaroo Island off the south coast of South Australia.

Ki Health Retreat is more about healing and less about pampering than many of the other health retreats in Australia. You’ll be expected to follow strict regimes, but can expect outstanding results by the end of your program.

All programs last for 6 nights and you can choose from either a Dynamic or Moderate Detox program. Private rooms with views of Emu Bay are included as well as a range of fitness classes, meditation sessions, cooking classes, a deep tissue massage and more.

You’ll have to book flights to Kangaroo Island to get to the retreat, so ensure you plan ahead.