Destination: “Batchelor” Northern Territory. Population: No eligible blokes.
A FRAGRANT frangipani guard of honour framing the road from the airport announces my arrival into Darwin city. I’m driving an automatic hire car and I must be the only person on the entire planet who can’t handle an automatic, my feet fumbling every few metres for the clutch. So poor am I at mastering this skill, that I realise I am actually driving the car in neutral. That explains the odd looks from the people outside the vehicle and the strange sounds from inside. In retrospect, it’s not a bad thing to arrive in a new city in neutral. No expectations. And Darwin is my last Australian capital city to conquer.
Yes, 30 years of travelling the globe and I am possibly the only Australian who hasn’t been to Darwin. In human terms, I am the last cab to Darwin, so to speak. But I’ve heard all the stories. About the croc attacks and bum cracks. Those Top End “terrors” (I’m talking about the blokes here), apparently even more daring than those in my hometown of Brisbane. I’ve seen NT Cops on television and I’m an avid follower of the Northern Territory News’ front-page headlines such as “A croc ate my cock” (you should be so lucky, mate) and frankly, I can’t wait to see what this final frontier is all about. A female friend finds out I’m going to Darwin and assures me there’s a “mansoon” happening up here. Yes, the ratio of men to women is apparently 13:1. The very same time last year I was in Mount Isa where the bloke/sheila ratio is 7:1. Things are improving. According to another friend, the odds are good but the goods are odd.
While I expect to meet plenty of men, what I don’t expect is to find a city that is thriving as much as those frangipani trees. I walk down the Smith Street Mall on a glorious winter day, past the posh Paspaley Pearl store with its swanky shell handles. A few doors down, di CROCO Boutique is selling handbags made from NT crocs for around $3000. I spy some $20 key rings more in my price range. All the beautiful people are sipping skinny chai lattes in the Star Village courtyard, home to local designers.
Down the Mall I wander, stumbling across an old black caravan. There’s a pretty girl inside with a killer smile and I ask to take her photo. She’s selling tickets to the Darwin Festival in August. She points out a plaque on the caravan. Turns out this van is called Tracy, and it’s the original van used to house one of the 25,000 people rendered homeless when Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city on Christmas Eve 1974. It is at this exact point I fall in love with this city. I love a destination with a story and soul and Darwin has both in spades surviving not only the Japanese bombing in 1942, but Tracy too.
Around the corner, I bump into the old Country Women’s Association building. Fair enough, I think to myself, there’s a CWA here. But as I step closer I discover it’s now an eco café serving the kinds of things our grandmothers had never heard of. Yes, there’s acai bowls and skinny lattes where once there was crochet and black tea. On this particular afternoon I have time, and I let the gentle breeze off Darwin Harbour blow me in whatever direction it chooses. I find myself in Austin Lane, just off of Smith Street, where I discover graffiti art galore. Little do I realise that in a few days I’ll be back here, taking a cooking class in Little Miss Korea, a converted loading bay at the back of the old Woolworths complex. Korean chef Chung Jae Lee, who was born on the floor of his mother’s Seoul restaurant kitchen, will teach me how to make a seafood pancake. And God, will we laugh.
But before I cook with Chung, I’ll head to the Wave Lagoon where I’ll grab a boogie board and join a bunch of excited kids in Darwin’s answer to the ocean. And it’s pumping. Queensland board riders hate this sort of choppy onshore surf, but on this divine Darwin day I can’t think of anything more swell.
Days later I’m swimming at Litchfield National Park, spending the day wading from waterhole to waterhole. It’s on this journey we pass through that town called Batchelor. While the spelling is slightly skewiff, the sentiment is spot on. There’s even a Batchelor Museum which forces my face into a wry smile. Yes, single blokes are so rare in Australia, they are now building shrines to them. Of course, this museum is about something entirely different, but it keeps me amused all the way back into Darwin.
I’m in Larrakia country, the birthplace of Australian singer Jessica Mauboy and actress Miranda Tapsell, who I had the great pleasure of interviewing before I came to Darwin. Tapsell was a pure delight and so in love with Darwin it was infectious. I adore how at this time of the year, when the wet season finally concedes to the dry, Aborigines describe the weather as “knock-em down storms” and “clean em-up country”. Everything is fresh. And with it comes an air of possibility. Of Dreamtime and daydreams.
It’s my last night in Darwin and I head out to Mindil Beach for the sunset markets. No one told me how much Darwinians love a sunset and I watch in utter fascination as hundreds of locals and tourists flock to the cool sand at this magic hour to watch the sun collapse into the ocean. The crowd applauds in a gesture which makes me love this city even more. What is this mystical place where hundreds gather to celebrate Mother Nature at her finest? I head to the Deckchair Cinema where the cool breeze blows off the harbour and sit under the stars, slouched in a canvas chair. It’s one of the most romantic settings in Australia and I am all alone, but I am not lonely. For I am sitting in a city which has had everything thrown at it and not only keeps bouncing back, but flourishing. And that feeling, that delicious Darwin magic, is contagious.
The Global Goddess travelled to Darwin as a guest of Tourism Northern Territory – http://www.travelnt.com
ON the weekend, I was in Sydney as a finalist for Best Travel Writer at the Australian Federation of Travel Agents’ (AFTA) National Travel Industry Awards. My piece, which first appeared in TravelBulletin Magazine late last year, examined some of the big issues which have plagued Bali for the past decade, and the future impact on Aussie travellers to this Indonesian island. Trying to convince anyone to talk about Bali was harder than you may think. No one wants to upset our Indonesia neighbours, at the same time recognising there are some serious challenges facing the tourism industry.
It was tempting to submit a delicious destination piece, waxing lyrical about sunrises and surprises, but as a travel writer who also specialises in tourism trade stories, I believe it’s equally important to tell the news of our industry. Congratulations to my long-time peer Allan Leibowitz for winning the award, you’ve been fighting the good fight of writing great tourism trade stories for years and your accolade is much deserved. Please find my award entry, below…
IS it a case of back to Bali, or have Australian travellers actually never left? Despite a turbulent few months for the Indonesian holiday haven, courtesy of its smoldering volcano, early figures suggest Australians will continue their insatiable love affair with the island destination.
Airlines travelling the lucrative Australian-Denpasar route were caught in a game of Snakes and Ladders throughout July and August when a giant ash cloud from Mount Raung forced carriers to repeatedly cancel, then resume, then again cancel services. Some holidaymakers were stranded in Bali for weeks, while others were unable to reach their desired destination.
Alison Roberts-Brown, the most recent Australian Representative of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism (the newly elected Indonesian Government is yet to confirm any firm contracts), says Aussie tourists to the destination are far more resilient than some people believe.
“The Australian public doesn’t seem to be deterred by the volcanic activity in Indonesia and passengers continue to travel to Bali and beyond regardless,” she says.
“It has so many selling points. It is our very closest neighbour, it has a rich and exotic culture compared to ours, it has a unique price point and its proximity in terms of distance is second-to-none.
“It doesn’t matter where you go in the world there will be all sorts of dangers but the people who have been to Bali continue to return.”
Roberts-Brown says a lot of experiences such as diving, hiking and sacred Buddhist shrines remain “under marketed” in Indonesia and are waiting to be discovered.
“The Indonesian population relies heavily on tourism and they are an extremely warm and welcoming country with lots of diversity to offer,” she says.
“There are nearly 17,000 islands and Australians are now remembering there are other parts to Indonesia as well such as central Java and Lombok.
“Indonesia attracts every segment from families to students to well-heeled travellers. There is something for everybody, from high-end product as well as things for the adventure traveller.”
Roberts-Brown’s claims are supported by the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. Outgoing Australian travellers to Bali show remarkably little difference in month-on-month visitors between January and June. In January, 93,300 Aussies departed for Bali with the number peaking, somewhat predictably around Easter to 94,200 before slightly tapering off to 93,900 in June.
While there are no figures yet available for the months affected by the volcanic ash, and beyond, there is little to suggest Mother Nature will have a long-term impact of Australian visitor numbers.
After all, Australians have been through much with this destination, including the Bali bombings in 2002. Tourism operators around the island have always been quick to praise Aussie tourists as being the first to return and start spending again. While the jailing of convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, followed by that of the Bali 9, spooked some travellers and prompted an outcry of outrage in some quarters within Australia, Aussie tourists continued to flock to the island. Not even the April execution of Bali 9 ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, which sparked arguably the greatest pressure on Australians to boycott Bali, has had an effect.
Beanca Daluz, General Manager of Garuda Orient Holidays which is owned by the same parent company as Garuda Indonesia, says they experienced “a number” of cancellations due to the ash cloud as insurance companies did not cover disruptions after July 3.
“Garuda Indonesia, operating Airbus 330s out of Australia, were able to still fly to Bali on some days given their larger engine capacity and aircraft type, and also had the ability to reroute to neighbouring Jakarta and Surabaya airports,” Daluz says.
“We therefore did not experience as many disruptions compared to Jetstar and Virgin Australia passengers. Short-term confidence was challenged due to the ash cloud but due to school holidays as well as other holidays coming up, we anticipate a bounce back.
“Our partners on the ground (hotels and ground suppliers) have been extremely aggressive in promoting Bali and their own properties by providing numerous special offers and exclusive deals.
“We expect numbers to increase for travel during our peak season over the Christmas and New Year period.”
Recent figures reveal one Australian dies in Bali every nine days including Queenslanders Noelene Bischoff and her daughter Yvana who died last year from food poisoning and 18-year-old Jake Flannery who was electrocuted in 2011 after accidentally touching an exposed power line.
But still, Australians keep flocking to what Balinese have dubbed “the land of love”.
And from October 1, Australian visitors will be exempt from having to pay a USD35 visa on arrival, making the south-east Asian destination even more attractive, particularly to the budget-conscious holiday maker.
Despite the fact the odds seem repeatedly stacked against this Indonesian destination, it appears there is little to deter Aussie travellers from returning in the long run.
The Global Goddess stayed in Sydney as a guest of TFE Hotels in the glorious Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Central. This historic hotel, built between 1910 and 1915, was once The Australian Post Office. A landmark restored building on the Sydney streetscape – replete with giant loft windows – it boasts 98 one and two bedroom apartment and studio rooms. And best of all, it is located right next to Central Station, and is an easy train ride to and from Sydney Airport. Check it out next time you are in town – http://www.TFEhotels.com/adina
THE chill wind is slapping my face like a jilted lover and the crisp air is transforming my breath into dragon smoke. It’s a grey, old mid-winter day in Toowoomba, where the mercury is fumbling to reach double digits and failing miserably. In fact, if I combine the weather, graffiti art, and cacophony of cool coffee shops I might just be in Melbourne. But I’m not; I’m 90 minutes west of Brisbane, visiting the darling of the Darling Downs.
I should be hating on this day. I despise bleak, cold days made even worse if you have to be out in the elements. But I am having a ball in spite of myself. I’m on foot, exploring Toowoomba’s street art scene, and every few metres am torn in a different direction as my eye catches a splash of colour down a hidden alley way. It is said that Rome is one of the best cities in the world to become lost. Toowoomba is another.
This is a tale of art deco delights. Of a city brimming with hole-in-the wall coffee nooks, great cafes, ambitious chefs, organic food and an equally organic evolution. There’s still the odd haberdashery shop and ancient facades redolent of the Toowoomba of old, including at the Quest Apartments in which I am staying, and whose reception area is in a charming old church. It’s a very Toowoomba thing, to combine old with new and Quest offers six levels of modern, fully equipped serviced apartment accommodation right in the heart of this city. And what a beating heart this is.
I meet First Coat Festival Director Grace Dewar in The Firefly café, a converted warehouse and art space. The third First Coast Festival has just been staged and there’s now more than 80 urban artworks within a 2km radius of Toowoomba’s CBD. Grace says graffiti art has strong links with Toowoomba, as this was where the coal trains rattled through the city, inspiring the tags of some of Queensland’s early graffiti vandals.
“Toowoomba has been well known for that. We are fostering that energy to provide a home for that culture,” Grace says.
“The whole street art culture is well documented with graffiti writers coming out of the 80s. It was that whole idea of putting your name of things and having that peer respect.
“The word graffiti has a lot of negative stigma. But we are sitting in a new place, we are in the thick of a movement.”
And the First Coat Festival is at the forefront of that change. During the event, the city transforms into an outdoor art gallery with works by overseas, national and local artists. Visitors can view artists live at work during the festival, and when it’s over can download an App (First Coat) or a self-guided map (www. firstcoat.com.au) and experience the city’s artwork bursting out of walls or hidden in secret lane ways. Grace believes unlike Melbourne, whose urban art grew around the Victorian capital, Toowoomba is actually evolving around its graffiti art.
“You don’t have to seek it out, you stumble upon it. It’s a really easy belief because it is coming from a real place. It is not a ‘wank fest’ which I really like. It is a public gallery that’s available 24/7,” she says.
“It’s that idea that people can experience a country town that offers so much culture, not just in public art but coffee culture and the restaurants and bars that are opening up. We’ve got a pretty great scene.
“It’s a different look community and a smaller version of Melbourne. It’s interesting that it’s referred to as a little slice of Melbourne or Melbourne’s little sister.”
It’s lunchtime by the time I reach The Finch and meet owner Dan Farquahar. This modern Australian eatery, opened a year ago, is in a former bakery with restored pressed metal ceilings and exposed brick walls. A bench at the front is made from recycled wood from the Bundaberg Distillery.
“A lot of people come in and say ‘it’s very Melbourne’ but this is typical Toowoomba with the high ceilings and original floor and walls. It is quite beautiful, we’ve tried to keep the integrity of the building,” Dan says.
“Toowoomba has seen a few waves. For a long time from a food perspective Toowoomba has been a fast food town. But now people expect and are looking for better quality products and ingredients.
“I like to think we are serving good quality locally-sourced food with our own slant.”
I pause for coffee at Ground Up Espresso, a laneway cafe consistently voted one of Toowoomba’s best, browse through Bunker Records & Espresso, and check out Toowoomba Regional Gallery before dinner at Kajoku Korean and Japanese Restaurant where I meet Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers Event Manager Mel Kite. Mel says even the festival, which started in 1949 and is Australia’s longest running, has evolved with the city.
The event now embraces “earth-art” projects and this year’s festival, to be held from September 16-25, will focus on bamboo and orchids. Celebrity chef Miguel Maestre will stage a paella kitchen and there’s a food and wine event within the festival.
“There will be several sustainable gardens and other things on trend. This year there will be a smoked barbecue pit and a barbecue competition,” Mel says.
“At night time we will have a concert series that showcases a lot of female artists who are dynamic and front row at the moment.
“It is a true celebration of spring and there is something for every age group.
We are constantly looking for ways to reinvigorate and create interesting things.”
There’s a Jack the Ripper fog the next morning when I drive down the Great Dividing Range back to Brisbane. I monitor the mercury as it rises every few minutes, climbing from 12 degrees to 23 degrees by the time I’m back in the Queensland capital. But things are hotting up in Toowoomba, and Melbourne, well, watch this space.
The Global Goddess travelled to Toowoomba as a guest of Southern Queensland Country Tourism. http://www.southernqueenslandcountry.com
• Check out First Coat Festival artworks at http://www.firstcoat.com.au; Quest Toowoomba at http://www.questapartments.com.au/Accommodation/478/Australia/Queensland_Regional/Quest_Toowoomba/Welcome.aspx
• The Finch at http://www.thefinch.com.au
• The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers at http://tcof.com.au
THREE weeks ago I returned to Europe to explore the Royal and Imperial elements of Monaco and Vienna, tracing the footsteps of the Grimaldi and Hapsburg empires. Did I find my prince? No. But I did discover that despite all of the bleak news coming out of Europe in recent times – Brexit; the Greek Financial Crisis; the Refugee dilemma – old, stately Europe still exists. And it’s a Europe laced in luxury. Today’s photo blog pays homage to European elegance.
1. The sweets were sweet
2. And the suites were sweet
3. The summer flowers were in full bloom
4. The berries were bright and brilliant
5. You don’t have to be in Italy to stumble across a vibrant Vespa or two
6. The watering holes were cool and varied
7. And there’s nothing like arriving in style
The Global Goddess travelled to Europe Business Class courtesy of Emirates – http://www.emirates.com and stayed in Vienna as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office – http://www.austria.info/au and in Monaco as a guest of the Monaco Government Tourist & Convention Authority – http://www.visitmonaco.com