Category Attractions

Brisbane is Australia’s New World City with great food, shops and culture

Overlooking the Brisbane CBD as it wraps around the Brisbane River

There’s an old joke that does a pretty good job of describing Brisbane compared to Australia’s other major capital cities. It goes something like this. In Melbourne, people ask where you went to school. In Sydney, they ask what suburb you live in. But in Brisbane they say, ‘Come and have a beer mate!’

Brisbane has always had a big country town demeanour, which of course has its plusses and minuses. Growing up here in the 1970s, it felt like I was drowning in its laconic torpor with not much more going on than the horse races and cricket on muggy weekend afternoons. Fast forward forty years and Brisbane is now marketing itself as Australia’s New World City and there are plenty of cultural and culinary adventures in store.

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What to Do Along the Great Ocean Road: beaches, forests, coastal towns

Victoria's Great Ocean Road is one of the world's great drives

Photo by Robert Blackburn

Not the ok ocean road or the good ocean road, Victoria is home to the GREAT Ocean Road, one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives that spans 243 km of Victoria’s stunning coastline southwest of Melbourne.

All too often visitors zip past The Great Ocean Road’s spectacular beaches, zigzag around its jagged cliffs, plough through its soaring rainforests, and scarcely make a pit-stop in its pretty beach towns in their rush to get to the 12 Apostles.

If the truth...

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Photo Friday: Sailboats at the Tuileries in Paris

Model sail boats for rent in the Tuileries gardens in Paris

I took this picture of the rickety cart filled with handmade wooden sailboats with their much-patched sails one spring day in the Tuileries gardens in Paris.

In fact, I’ve taken pictures of these boats  and the kids sailing them every time I have visited Paris over the past 25 years. And the same man has been there renting them every single time. I’ve tried to talk to him over the years to learn a little bit more about him, where he makes the boats and mends the sails and just how long he has been doing this. But he is a cagey fellow and doesn’t like all those inquisitive questions.  His face is tanned from spending every afternoon outside in the park, summer and winter, rain or shine.

The first time I saw him my oldest daughter was just a babe in arms and she has now just announced her engagement at the age of 26! I feel like he has watched my family grow up just like he must have seen hundreds of other little kids get big and have children of their own, which they bring down to th...

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Discover Hawaii’s Ukulele Culture

Roy Sakuma in his Ukulele Studio

Roy Sakuma in his ukulele studio

Hawaii is the birthplace of the ukulele and there are so many places where you can discover the passion and the precision behind these islands’ love affair with the little stringed instrument that could!

It is Thursday afternoon at Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios in suburban Kaneohe, about 30 minutes and a million miles away from Waikiki’s tourist strip. I feel a palpable Hawaiian spirit upon entering the room jammed with kids, mums and dads, retirees and young ukulele instructors. A crazy quilt of photos and festival posters covers the walls. At the centre of it all is Roy himself, a smiling grey-haired man whose name has become synonymous with the Hawaiian ukulele.

Ukule...

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Paris Beach: Sand by the Seine in Summer

Every summer for four weeks Paris is turned into a beach

It’s the middle of summer in Paris and all you see are other tourists flocking to the usual sites…the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Les Parisiens have escaped to their summer houses.  But wait, what’s that down by the Seine? A guinguette, or outdoor café, locals sunning themselves on deck chairs, a few petanque pitches, kids playing in the sand, and people singing French tunes around an outdoor piano.  And there’s not a map-toting, camera-wielding, white-sneaker-wearing person in sight.

For four weeks each summer, starting around July 20, a couple of the busiest quarters of Paris are transformed into beaches! Yes, you heard me, beaches! In French it is called Paris Plage.

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Great Overnight Getaway from Tokyo: Karuizawa

The onsen in Karuizawa, an hour out of Tokyo

The mountain retreat of Karuizawa, just an hour by bullet train from Tokyo, offers a delightful overnight getaway from the frenetic metropolis. In winter, it has skiing, snow shoeing, and steaming onsen baths. In summer it offers a wonderful respite from Tokyo’s heat. And year-round it has great shopping, walking, restaurants and other adventures.

Karuizawa,  has long welcomed travellers. From the early 17th century, when Japan was ruled by the Edo (Tokyo)-based shogun, Karuizawa was a post town along the busy Nakasendo highway between Tokyo and Kyoto.

You can still explore the long narrow post-town street once lined with wooden restaurants and inns catering to samurai lords and merchants. These days the offerings lean more towards trinket-filled Japanese souvenir outlets, bakeries and sweets shops.

What distinguishes Karuizawa from other post towns is…surprisingly…how it became a getaway for Westerners in the late 19th century.  After first coming in 1886, Canadian-born missionary Alexander Croft Shaw recommended what he called Happy Valley to fellow missionaries and other foreigners as a wonderful place to escape Tokyo’s summer heat. Soon an entire community of western-style houses was built among the larch and fir trees.

A ret...

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Darwin’s Top Attractions: crocodiles, markets, and World War II

Darwin's Mindil Street Markets

As the gateway to Asia and Aboriginal Arnhem Land on the northernmost tip of Australia, Darwin exudes a laid back tropical style and a fascinating multicultural mix. Closer to Jakarta than to Sydney and with vibrant Greek, Indonesian, Thai, Indian, Aboriginal, East Timorese, Malay and African communities, Darwin is no white bread movie set. Here is the definitive insider’s guide to make the most of your visit to the capital of the Northern Territory.

History

Darwin was founded in 1869, its harbor named after Charles Darwin by his one-time shipmate the surveyor John Wickham.

An ob...

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Insider’s Guide to Fez

The leather dyeing vats in the Fez medina

The leather dyeing vats in the Fez medina

Fez is the cultural and spiritual heart of Morocco, its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Medina the world’s largest car-free urban area. The American writer and longtime Moroccan resident Paul Bowles called it “an enchanted labyrinth sheltered from time”. Today people live and work in its 9000 lanes in much the same way as they have for a thousand or so years. Donkeys remain the main form of transport. For a visitor this ancient city can seem inscrutable so it is important to find ways to connect with the locals in order to gain an insider’s view of this fascinating place.

On my first visit to Fez I had felt very much the tourist with an official guide leading me along a hackneyed path of historical highlights (such as the tomb of its founder, Moulay Iddriss II, the great, great, grandson of the prophet Mohammed) and shopping meccas where I’d bargained for leather, carpets and jewelry in government-approved shops.

Yet I was fascinated by this place of secrets, of veiled women and hooded men navigating narrow passageways that weave between high windowless walls. It was so radically different to Marrakesh, six hours drive to the south, which has become a sort of Sub-Saharan Costa Brava, with mega resorts and nightclubs fed by a constant stream of budget flights filled with sun-starved Europeans. Fez, on the other hand, followed a fervent daily rhythm in a time capsule, like a lost tribe in the middle of a maze, unaware that the rest of the world had moved into the 21st century.

It was time to take a different tack on my next visit.

Lucki...

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The Best Farm-Based Cooking Class in Tasmania

Rodney Dunn teaches at Tasmania's Agrarian Kitchen

Locavores strive to eat food grown within a hundred mile radius, but The Agrarian Kitchen goes one better by creating Tasmania’s first hand’s-on, farm-based cooking school, where many of the ingredients are found just outside the kitchen door.

The ...

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Melbourne’s Best Weekend Getaway: Mornington Peninsula

Millionaire's Walk in Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula

Millionaire’s Walk in Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula

About an hour’s drive from Melbourne and wedged like the boot of Italy between Port Phillip and Westernport Bays, the Mornington Peninsula can make you wonder, at times, whether you are in Australia. Great swathes of blue water peak out between horse studs, alleys of pines and vistas of vines making it feel like a playground more Mediterranean than Melbourne.  But then those rolling green hills dotted with sandy bunkers could easily be in Scotland. Yet one glance at koalas lazing in aromatic gum trees and sun-drenched beaches with brightly colored bathing boxes and you realize you are in in the middle of one of Australia’s most appealing holiday destinations. Up until now, it has been a well-kept secret amongst Melbourne’s savvy insiders, but the Mornington Peninsula has so many world-class wineries, restaurants, beaches and gardens that it’s time the rest of the world discovered what it has to offer. For most of the p...

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