Airline review: British Airways World Traveller Plus (premium economy)

Proper meals and generous baggage allowance: British Airways. Roomy ride: British Airways’ Premium Economy seats.
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Proper meals and generous baggage allowance: British Airways.

Roomy ride: British Airways’ Premium Economy seats.

Proper meals and generous baggage allowance: British Airways.

Roomy ride: British Airways’ Premium Economy seats.

Proper meals and generous baggage allowance: British Airways.

Roomy ride: British Airways’ Premium Economy seats.


London to New York THE PLANE

Boeing 747-400. British Airways operates 57 of these planes, the greatest number of the type in operation with any airline. THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Executive Club. Passengers can also earn points toward other Oneworld Alliance airlines’ programs. UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?

World Traveller Plus (BA’s name for Premium Economy), seat 28D TIME IN THE AIR

Seven hours between Heathrow and JFK Airports THE SEAT STUFF

38 inches (97cm) pitch, 18.5 inches (47cm) width. There are 30 Premium Economy seats in a mostly 2-4-2 layout. BAGGAGE

Two checked bags, each up to 23kg in weight. As carry-on luggage BA also allows one cabin bag and a smaller personal bag, each (believe it or not) up to 23kg in weight. COMFORT FACTOR

Our Premium Economy seats are in a small area between Business and Economy Class, with an air of exclusivity once the curtains are drawn. Unlike some airlines’ Premium Economy offerings, BA’s version feels like an incremental step up from Economy rather than a budget version of Business. Our exit row seats, with their fixed armrests, seem snug, however, the headrest can’t be raised quite high enough to match my height. There’s plenty of leg room though, and the seat has an extendable footrest and lumbar support adjustment. As we’re in a bassinet row and there are no babies present, we’re able to fold down the table for our own use. THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT

Entertainment comes via a tiny screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which swivels from beneath the armrest. The picture quality of my screen menu is occasionally dodgy, with interference lines, but movies look fine when played. There’s an impressively long and diverse selection of new release films, from Godzilla to The Grand Budapest Hotel via Muppets Most Wanted. A smaller kids’ section contains such British heroes as Postman Pat. The TV section includes such gems such as the aptly trans-Atlantic comedy series Episodes. A pleasant change of pace under Audio is a collection of spoken-word books, ranging from classics such as Moby Dick to Jennifer Saunders’ Bonkers. THE SERVICE

The cabin staff are a friendly and cheerful multinational crew who respond quickly and efficiently to requests. FEEDING TIME

Lunch is served an hour after take-off, and it’s reminiscent of Business Class with its cloth napkins, metal cutlery and wine glasses. I go for the seared fillet of British beef, which is pleasingly tender, accompanied by a decent French merlot cabernet sauvignon. My wife Narrelle opts for the most tongue-twisting dish I’ve ever seen on an airline menu: chicken malagueta with biro biro rice, roast peppers, okra caruru and chimichurri sauce. We joke about the airline making up some of the words, but Narrelle reports that it’s a tasty dish, moist and tender. She still doesn’t like okra (to which I reply “Don’t watch her show then”), but is positive about the orange chocolate mousse for dessert. I like it too. ONE MORE THING…

Sofitel has a comfortable upmarket hotel connected to Heathrow’s Terminal 5, so if you don’t fancy an early morning trek from central London it can be worth staying on-site. THE VERDICT

Though not a substitute for Business Class, BA’s World Traveller Plus is a notch above Economy and would be worth considering if you had the pounds to spare. THE FREQUENCY 

Nine times daily

Tested by Tim Richards, who paid for his flight but was upgraded to World Traveller Plus by British Airways.

Papua New Guinea cycling tour: This is not the Tour de France

Welcoming party: Local children are excited by the arrival of tourists. Photo: Inga Ting Welcoming party: Local children are excited by the arrival of tourists. Photo: Inga Ting
Shanghai night field

Welcoming party: Local children are excited by the arrival of tourists. Photo: Inga Ting

Scenic route: Cycling in New Ireland. Photo: Inga Ting

Traditional thatched roof houses in Papua New Guinea. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Scenic route: Cycling in New Ireland. Photo: Inga Ting

Traditional thatched roof houses in Papua New Guinea. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Scenic route: Cycling in New Ireland. Photo: Inga Ting

Traditional thatched roof houses in Papua New Guinea. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Scenic route: Cycling in New Ireland. Photo: Inga Ting

Traditional thatched roof houses in Papua New Guinea. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Welcoming party: Local children are excited by the arrival of tourists. Photo: Inga Ting

It usually begins with one kid. His eyes widen. His face, his posture, his whole body, come alive as he musters every ounce of energy into a single intake of breath.

“Turis! (Tourist!)” he screams. His cry has the kind of urgency that kids where I grew up reserve for truly life-changing events, like sightings of the ice-cream man.

“Turis! Turis! Turis!”

And so begins the madness.

Heads pop out from door frames. Women cast aside half-washed laundry. School children abandon books. People start to run: toddlers chased by mothers, children balancing babies, men and women of all shapes and ages, with the sick and elderly bringing up the rear.

Men and women rush to pick flowers for you. Children queue to exchange high fives with you. Everyone is smiling and calling out, until the entire village is a cheerful chorus of “Moning! (Good morning!)”, “Apinun! (Good afternoon!)” and “Halo! What’s your name?”

It’s like the Tour de France but at a fraction of the speed and much less skill.

It is the second day of our cycling expedition along New Ireland’s Boluminski Highway. I am a smelly, ragged excuse for a tourist. Yet this does nothing to dampen their excitement and even though this circus happens at nearly every village (and there are dozens), I still feel like I should do something, well, amazing. Or at least slightly more interesting than cycling very slowly and sweatily through the crowd. I summon the energy to ring my bell and call back, smiling and waving as though I am moderately fit and not at all bothered by the blazing heat.

Cycling in New Ireland is ideal for those looking for a cheap, eco-friendly way to experience the charms of village life and the natural beauty of Papua New Guinea’s islands. Surfaced for the first 200 kilometres with guesthouses scattered conveniently along the way, the highway is almost perfectly flat and surprisingly traffic-free.

Which makes it perfect for those who like getting outdoors but aren’t hardcore cyclists, and certainly don’t want to wear Lycra on holiday (or ever).

The journey from Kavieng to Dalom, roughly 180 kilometres, is our first attempt at a multiday cycling trip. We’re running late, having spent half our first day hiding from the teeming rain in a bamboo shelter by the side of the road.

Conscious of needing to make up serious distance, I am trying to pick up the pace.

“Stop riding so far in front of me!” This distant protest comes from my partner, who less than  24 hours earlier had declared 90 kilometres was not too far to cycle each day. I am carrying all our luggage, food and water in the (apparently false) hope that the lighter Kris’ load, the faster he’ll ride.

When I am not trying to work out if I could jog faster than Kris is cycling, the ride is supremely peaceful. From the saddle of an 18-speed, I watch scenes of island life slip by: clusters of thatched-roof houses by the beach; men and children fishing from banana boats; sleepy shopkeepers manning roadside stalls offering two-minute noodles, cigarette lighters and greasy pink donuts. (Who says all your island needs can’t be found in one place?) For long stretches, the only sign of civilisation is the odd buai (betel nut) stand: a dozen or so neatly arranged nuts on a plank of wood, no vendor in sight.

By 11 o’clock the vortex of tangled trees and vines around us goes still and gusts of hot air rise from the asphalt like the road itself is breathing. Time for a swim.

Rarely are we more than 200 metres from crystal clear water, gentle swells and white sandy beaches. We stop for lunch at a tiny village and immediately pick up a small entourage of women and children. As we lay out a towel under a coconut tree, we’re approached by a round, shirtless man with curly grey hairs on his generous belly.

Johnson has come to see what all the fuss is about. He shakes our hands; we exchange names. There’s an awkward pause as everyone falls silent. Somewhere, a tumbleweed rolls by.

Ah-ha! I realise what is going on. Johnson is the village bigman (leader) and we are visitors on their turf. We rummage around for a gift but all we come up with is tinpis (canned tuna) and a mangled packet of dry crackers. They make for a rather sad-looking gift.

But our embarrassment finds quick relief: Johnson nods his approval. “Please stay for lunch. The women will look after you.” And with that, he breaks the three crackers in the packet into tiny pieces and distributes them between the dozen or so villagers standing around us.

Johnson is the first bigman we’ve ever met and our brief interaction, as absurd as it might seem, felt remarkably genuine. Generosity, exchange and kinship are the backbone of Melanesian culture and this unexpected roadside encounter is like a first glimpse into its soul.

New Ireland is one of the few places in the world where people still live much like they did 100 years ago, and their warmth and curiosity is impossible to resist. Instead of cycling, we find ourselves chatting to school teachers, bathing in the river with students, learning to weave baskets and staying up late listening, wide-eyed, to tales of witchcraft.

In the end, we do make it to Dalom – on the passenger seat of a truck with our bikes stashed in the tray. Better to slow down, kick up your feet and let the island tempo take you, than tear past it all at 40km/h just so you can say you made it in time.

After all, it’s not the Tour de France. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

newirelandtourism上海龙凤419.pgGETTING THERE

Kavieng is 1.5 hours from Port Moresby by air. Air Niugini operates daily flights. Phone +675 327 3396, see airniugini上海龙凤419m.pgSTAYING THERE

Locals will tell you it is possible to stay in any villager’s house (just ask!) but staying at guesthouses allows you to phone ahead. Since most guesthouses generally host only a few guests each month, advance notice is much appreciated – and probably means you’ll be better fed since your hosts will have time to go fishing/shopping/bush gathering. The only time New Ireland gets crowded is when students from Melbourne do their annual cycling trip (usually in July). At other times, you’re likely to have the entire guesthouse to yourself.

Accommodation is basic. Most guesthouses rely on rainwater, cook on wood stoves and run a generator in the evening. The standard guesthouse price for two people is K240 ($A113)  a night, including dinner and breakfast. Village stays are about K160 ($A75) a night, including dinner and breakfast.

New Ireland Tourist Bureau (+675 984 2441; +675 7271 7426; newirelandtourism上海龙凤 can arrange bookings. Recommended guesthouses include Tabo Meli’s Guesthouse at Lauan (about 48 kilometres from Kavieng; +675 7322 2645; no website) and Dalom Village Guesthouse (about 176 kilometres from Kavieng; +675 7220 4031; no website).  SEE + DO

The Boluminski Highway runs the island’s east coast from the province capital Kavieng to Namatanai, roughly 260 kilometres away. How far you ride is up to you – you’ll need four to five days to cover the entire stretch. Kavieng is the only place on the island where you can withdraw or exchange money, and the only place you’ll find (relatively) large supermarkets, so stock up on water, lunch supplies and snacks for your entire trip before heading off. It’s a good idea to take a few items to offer to either your hosts if you’re at a village stay or to the village bigman for redistribution. Canned fish, rice, salt, sugar and other long-life condiments will win you friends.

You can hire an 18-speed mountain bike with a helmet and cushioned seat cover (for which you will be grateful by the end of your first day) for K60 ($A28) a day from John Knox, Noxie’s Place (+675 7369 3331; facebook上海龙凤419m/NoxiesPlace). If you’re planning to go one way, he’ll pick up your bikes from anywhere along the highway for K40 ($A19) a bike, and drop off any luggage you don’t want to take cycling at no extra charge.

India wildlife adventure: Watching tigers in the jungle

The holy grail: A Bengal tiger. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m
Shanghai night field

The holy grail: A Bengal tiger. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

The holy grail: A Bengal tiger. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Welcome to the jungle: Green tea plantationsin Munnar, Kerala, India. Photo: iStock

Trekking at Chinnar National Park. Photo: Julie Miller

Tourist boats at Kerala backwaters in Alleppey. Photo: iStock

I’ve just encountered the most terrifying creature in the Indian forest. It rears before me, ready to attack, riled by the scent of my blood. I back off slowly, hoping if I give it space it will capitulate. But I soon realise that my assailant is not alone – and there is no escape.

Fortunately, help is at hand, in the form of a brown tobacco powder. On contact, the dozen or so leeches crawling over my purple sparkly Converse recoil back into the mud, quelled until a less-prepared victim passes by.

Phew, crisis averted. It’s a jungle out there.

Here, in the dark, misty wilds of Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, southern India, every animal, from the smallest insect to the largest predator, is part of the food chain – including the most invasive presence, man. And while I long to see the jewel in this park’s ecosystem – the Bengal tiger – I’m quietly relieved that so far, we haven’t had to make a dash for our lives.

We are on an early-morning walking safari through the reserve – yes, on foot, not in a jeep: hence my reticence. But I’ve been told we’d be extremely lucky – or perhaps unlucky – to spot a tiger in this large, dense terrain, with the big cats extremely elusive, well camouflaged, and of course, extremely rare.

According to the latest census conducted in 2014, India’s tiger population has risen by nearly 30 per cent in three years from 1706 to 2226 – great news indeed and a triumph for wildlife conservation. The state of Kerala’s tiger population alone has increased from 71 to an incredible 136, based on data sourced from the latest technology, including camera traps, digital imaging of pug marks, tagging and satellite data.

The tiger’s wide territorial range, however, does make it difficult to pinpoint exact numbers, and our guide on this safari – a tribesman named Thankappan who has lived in this forest all his life and now works for the Parks Service – believes there could be as many as 55 tigers roaming Periyar Tiger Reserve, a 925 square kilometre wilderness.

Clearly, however, he’s not concerned about a close encounter; he doesn’t carry a gun, and his only weapon against rampaging wildlife is tobacco powder to deter ferocious leeches. He does, however, have excellent hearing, and reads this jungle like a book, spotting flitting birds, shy deer and canopy-dwelling monkeys without the use of binoculars.

Periyar Tiger Reserve is one of 47 designated areas governed by Project Tiger in an attempt to protect India’s vulnerable population of about 1700 tigers. At the heart of this mountainous terrain in the Cardamom Hills is a lake, created in 1895 when the Periyar River was dammed. The land has been a protected zone since 1899; it became a tiger reserve in 1978. While the preservation of the tiger population is paramount, the reserve also boasts a huge biodiversity of animals, with 66 species of mammals including Asian elephants, sloth bears, guar, sambar and leopard, and more than  300 species of birds.

The most popular way of viewing wildlife is on a boat trip along the lake; but with at least 100 shouting, jostling tourists clambering for photo opportunities and no interpretative information, this proves to be a fairly frustrating exercise.

“Did you see anything?” I overhear one tour guide ask his group on their return. “Nothing,” they collectively sigh. In other words, they didn’t see a tiger, a leopard or elephants. Despite the fact that our cruise had, indeed, glided past herds of grazing sambar, wild pigs playing in the mud and egrets nesting on submerged trees. To these visitors, only the “big” animals – the popular kids in the playground – seem to matter.

Our morning hike, fortunately, proves a stark contrast to the cruise debacle. Apart from a group of Munnan tribespeople – who retain hunting and gathering rights in the forest – we are the only humans venturing through this section of forest; and instead of incessant chatter and yelling, we are treated to the sounds of the jungle as the rising sun pierces the canopy – the buzz of cicadas, the caw of birds and the shiver of leaves as a giant squirrel leaps from branch to branch.

As well as having a sharp eye for watchful barking deer and being able to identify the distant whoop of a mating black monkey, our guide Thankappan delights in the small creatures, pointing out spindle-legged spiders in gossamer webs, iridescent dragonflies and resplendent birds, including rocket-tailed drongos, orange-chested rufus treepie, and lesser hornbills. By the end of our two-and-a-half-hour walk, we have become veritable twitchers, as excited by the feathered inhabitants of this pristine wilderness as the furry variety.

Two days later, we visit another Keralan national park, Eravikulam. The closest wildlife reserve to the hill station of Munnar, it provides sanctuary for a creature almost as rare as the tiger but certainly not as infamous – the nilgiri tahr. A type of mountain goat, there are fewer than 2000 left in the wild, with Eravikulam boasting almost half of them.

It’s raining as we set off from the national park ticket office on a shuttle bus, which winds its way up a perilous road to the small section of park open to the public. En route, we spot a herd of elephants trudging through a tea plantation, camouflaged amongst tall trees between sculpted emerald terraces. It’s certainly a good start to the day, and we’re feeling optimistic as we approach the ethereal, rocky slopes that the tahr is said to inhabit.

As it turns out, the nilgiri Tahr is as brazen as the tiger is shy, with several herds bounding over the slippery rocks without a care in the world. A proud buck eyeballs us fearlessly from his elevated throne, an ungulate Brad Pitt with his coarse grey coat, amber eyes and arched horns; while a couple of youngsters wander down the bitumen pathway, posing for photo opportunities and head-butting us to shift out of their way.

As awesome as it is to be this close to an endangered species, the nilgiri tahr’s bold behaviour has historically been its downfall, hunted and poached to near-extinction. Strict monitoring within the park now ensures the remaining herd’s survival, with the tourist zone closed during kidding season and private vehicles prevented from entering park boundaries.

Just north of Munnar, bordering the state of Tamil Nadu, is a very different wildlife preserve called Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. Falling in the rainshadow of the Western Ghats, its terrain is as scrubby, thorny and stark as Periyar and Eravikulam are lush. This park is home to elephants, gaur, sambar, macaques, endangered grizzled giant squirrels and a small population of tigers; it also has the most reptilian fauna in Kerala, including the mugger crocodile.

Average rainfall in Chinnar is just 500 millimetres a year – all of it seemingly bucketing down on us during our afternoon walking safari. Within minutes, we are soaked to the bone, the monsoonal downpour relentless for more than an hour as we shelter, miserable, beneath the spreading branches of an Indian almond tree. Rather than continue our trek in such inclement conditions, we decide to cut it short, returning to base via a watchtower with views across the river to Tamil Nadu.

As quickly as the storm commenced, however, so it clears; and as we climb to the viewing platform of the metal tower, we are rewarded with expansive views of the scrubland rejuvenated by the life-giving waters. In the distance we spy a herd of sambar, on high alert and seemingly looking our way; while some spotted deer dart from beneath bushes, skittish in the oozing mud.

Still dripping, we allow the warm breeze to dry our soaked clothing as we gaze into the far blue yonder, absorbing every flutter of a leaf, or stirring of grasses. From being cranky, wet and defeated, we are suddenly as invigorated as the landscape around us, our “failed” safari turned on its head into a beautiful, unexpected and positive experience. Five other Indian sanctuaries

1. Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand: The oldest national park in mainland Asia, this dense forest boasts a large population of aboutaround 200 tigers as well as leopards, elephants and langur.

2. Ranthambore, Rajastahan: This is arguably the most reliable place to spot tigers, with good visibility in the dry, scrubby terrain. Other creatures include sloth bear, jackal and leopard.

3. Kaziranga NP, Assam: An important stronghold for endangered Indian one-horned rhinoceros as well as home to manylarge numbers of elephants, water buffalo and tigers.

4. Sunderbans, West Bengal: This UNESCO World Heritage site bordering Bangladesh is a massive wetland where tigers have adapted to life in the saltwater mangroves. Tours of the wetland are by boat only.

5. Gir, Gujrat: This is the last bastion of the endangered Asiatic lion, of which there are only 411 left. It is also a popular bird-watching destination with more thanover 300 species of avifauna. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION


mantrawild上海龙凤419m.auGETTING THERE

Air India flies daily from Sydney via Melbourne to Delhi, with domestic transfers to Kochi.  STAYING THERE

Spice Village offers 4-star cottage accommodation near Periyar Tiger Reserve, see cghearth上海龙凤419m. Mantra Wild Adventures’ 11 day package to Kerala includes accommodation, activities and safaris in Periyar, Eravikulam and Chinnar National Parks from $3199 per person twin share. See mantrawild上海龙凤

The writer travelled as a guest of Mantra Wild Adventures.

Hakone Open Air Museum, Japan: The prefect arty escape from Tokyo

One of Henry Moore’s reclining figures. The museum has 26 Moores on rotating display.One of the joys of spending time in a mighty metropolis is getting out of it, discovering the green, scenic havens where locals go to recharge.
Shanghai night field

For Tokyoites, a weekend escape means mountains, lakes and onsens – the perfect recipe for relaxation, bundled into an enchanting, bento-box town called Hakone.

Less than 100 kilometres and just an 85-minute train journey from central Tokyo, Hakone offers scenes straight out of a classic Hiroshige  ukiyo-e woodblock print: distant Fuji views across a misty lake, flanked by dramatic rocky bluffs and deciduous forest reflecting the glory of the seasons. Terraced high altitude gardens provide nooks for quiet contemplation; while an ancient Shinto shrine, marked by a bold red torii gate rising from the waters of Lake Ashi, pays homage to the deities of nature.

Hakone first came under notice of travellers during the Edo period (1603-1868), when it was a checkpoint on the Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo) route known as the Tokaido Highway, established to “control incoming guns and outgoing women” –  in other words, to detain the wives of feudal lords attempting to escape from their shogun captors in Edo. More happily, it was also used as a base for pilgrims en route to Mount Fuji, revitalising weary bodies in the healing waters before they tackled the challenging ascent.

There are 17 sources of hot mineral waters surrounding the town, with 25,000 tonnes gushing from the volcanic bedrock each day. Most hotels and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in the area have private indoor and outdoor spa facilities; there are also several public bathhouses, including the themepark-like Kowakien Yunessun, which offers novelty sake, green tea, coffee and red wine baths as well as Roman-style baths, water slides and traditional Japanese outdoor rock pools.

With such indulgent temptations, you could forgive Hakone’s 20 million visitors a year for doing little more than soaking away the stresses of city life. For those seeking respite from waterlogged extremities, however, there is a wonderful cultural surprise at hand: a world-class open-air art gallery displaying some of the world’s most significant modern sculpture.

Established in 1969, the Hakone Open Air Museum is intended as a “dialogue between nature and art”, and has more than 120 grand-scale works scattered around 70,000 square metres of manicured lawns and gardens vying with misty views of forest-clad hillsides for the visitor’s attention.

This is the antithesis of a stuffy museum, and the perfect introduction to modern art for children, who can run around and play in interactive exhibits designed to be touched and climbed on. Even for those indifferent to art, it’s a pleasant place to linger, with an excellent gift shop, a cafe and a fabulous hot spring footbath to soothe weary soles.

For modern art lovers, however, the museum is a revelation, with a staggering collection of some of the world’s most important pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries. Overseeing the museum’s stark entry plaza, for instance, is Rodin’s Balzac, its stern gaze surveying a Henry Moore reclining figure (one of 26 Moores on rotating display, the world’s largest collection) and a towering podium where Carl Milles’ Man and Pegasus take dramatic flight.

From here, a concrete path winds down a terrace, a veritable yellow brick road of discovery, past a pond of floating sculptures, a mesmerising golden globe (Sfera con Sfera by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro), a garden maze and a colourful Joan Miro to the delightful “Woods of Net”, an architectural interlocked wooden nest in which children swing on a giant knitted jungle gym.

At the base of the hill lies a Picasso pavilion, an indoor gallery containing 300 paintings, sculptures, photographs and ceramic works donated by the artist’s daughter and revealing personal insights into one of history’s most enigmatic creators. There are also several other indoor spaces at the museum with smaller works by Brancusi, Giacometti and Medardo Rosso.

One of the most popular exhibits at the museum is Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire, a steel and stained glass tower rising 18 metres and topped by an outdoor deck with spectacular views of the distant mountains. Once again, the kids can run riot, yelling and giggling as they clomp up and down the spiral staircase, footsteps echoing around the structure.

From here, it’s just a few short steps to the museum’s piece de resistance, the steaming footbath. Here, under shadecloth sails for protection from the elements, you can soak in steaming mineral waters scented with floating oranges and lemons, massaging your tootsies on raised river pebbles. This surely must be the most practical and thoughtful addition to any art museum in the world – there are even tiny towels available from a vending machine with which to dry off before you continue your artistic exploration.

Of all the jaw-dropping pieces in Hakone’s collection, there are two that impressed me most with their whimsy and humour. Miss Black Power by Niki de Saint Phalle is an ode to strong and powerful women; while at her monumental feet sprawls Close by Antony Gormley, a naked bronze figure spreadeagled on the emerald lawn.

English sculptor Henry Moore, famed for his semi-abstract human figures, once stated “sculpture is an art of the open air”. Hakone Open Air Museum provides the perfect natural forum for these large-scale creations, bringing art to the people in the most enjoyable and fanciful way imaginable. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

jnto上海龙凤  Getting there

Japan Airlines flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Tokyo daily, see au.jal上海龙凤419m/aul/en/.

From Tokyo, catch the Odakyu Railway from Shinjuku station to Hakone-Yumoto station. An 85-minute journey costs $21.50 STAYING THERE

A double room at Hotel de Yama, on the shores of Lake Ashi in Hakone starts from $155 a person a night. See odakyu-hotel上海龙凤  MORE INFORMATION 

Hakone Open Air Museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Tickets $17 for adults or $15.50 purchased online; $8 for school children. See

The writer travelled as a guest of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu Tourism Association.

Grasse, France: The world’s capital of perfume

Olfactory factory: Parfumerie Fragonard is one of the largest in Grasse. Photo: 123rf上海龙凤419m
Shanghai night field

Green Grasse: The hilltop town is only 30 minutes from Cannes. Photo: 123rf上海龙凤419m

Olfactory factory: Parfumerie Fragonard is one of the largest in Grasse. Photo: 123rf上海龙凤419m

Olfactory factory: Parfumerie Fragonard is one of the largest in Grasse. Photo: 123rf上海龙凤419m

Green Grasse: The hilltop town is only 30 minutes from Cannes. Photo: 123rf上海龙凤419m

Green Grasse: The hilltop town is only 30 minutes from Cannes. Photo: 123rf上海龙凤419m

Old town charm: In the Middle Ages Grasse was known for its leather tanning. Photo: 123rf上海龙凤419m

Green Grasse: The hilltop town is only 30 minutes from Cannes. Photo: 123rf上海龙凤419m

Grasse smells. Not in the same way as Roquefort, a town whose cheesy aroma hangs on the breeze many kilometres before you actually get there; no, Grasse smells … nice.

Stroll past the shops in the meandering streets of the old town, which slumps insouciantly against a hillside in southern Provence just north of Cannes, and it’s like walking through cloud after scented cloud. After all, this is the perfume capital of the world, where you can buy pretty much anything that can be “perfumed”. You can even buy perfume.

But I’m not here for the fragrances. After a youth spent wafting around London in an eye-watering miasma of Hai Karate, Brut and Kouros –  not all at once, of course – it’s no longer my thing. I’m here for sun, wine, good food and to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday.

We are staying at La Rivolte, a 19th-century belle epoque villa overlooking the town and with views across the plains to the Côte d’Azur beyond. Old Grasse itself is a short walk away – just close enough to make painless the quest for fresh croissants and pain au chocolat every morning.

The villa, a pale yellow riviera beauty with eggshell blue shutters, sleeps 16 and is set in two hectares of tumbling terraces and garden, including a petanque court and a swimming pool. There is also a gravel drive at the front of the house which sports a long communal table. This is where we gather to eat every night, feeling very old Hollywood and decadent, sipping aperitifs as the sun goes down over the Bay of Cannes and the lights flicker on in the town.

There is also an old toy train track that chugs down through the gardens and on which little locomotives used to deliver G&Ts poolside but despite our best efforts it remains inoperable.

Grasse wasn’t always known for perfume. In the Middle Ages it was famous for leather tanning and leather products. Which means it still smelled, but really bad – as did the gloves that went out to the nobility. Then a local tanner, one Jean de Galimard, came up with the idea of masking the noxious odour with the scent of flowers.

Pretty soon scented gloves were all the rage among the aristocracy. This eventually caught the attention of the government which, as governments tend to do, saw a way to bring in more money. The resulting tax hike on leather saw the tanning industry evaporate, leaving the perfumeries behind.

Galimard, founded in 1747, went on to become one of the biggest names in the perfume industry and – along with Fragonard and Molinard – still has a large presence in Grasse. All three have perfumeries and museums in the town where you can take guided tours and even create your own perfume.

Today there are dozens of perfume companies in greater Grasse, employing about 3500 people. And that’s without the 10,000 locals employed indirectly by the industry.

But you don’t have to be into perfume to enjoy Grasse. Quite apart from the hours spent lazing and reading around the pool at La Rivolte, we also waste away afternoons just poking around the narrow, winding streets of the vieille ville. Here the fun is in getting lost (though you can’t, not really) and taking tiny, arched alleyways which eventually lead to precious, restaurant-fringed squares that we determine to come back to but can never find again.

One of the larger squares we come across quite by accident is the Traverse St Martin, at the back of Notre Dame du Puy, the old cathedral. Here, under the watchful eye of the cathedral’s 18th-century clock tower, a lookout boasts panoramic views south and a small square of grass has been fenced off and scattered with deckchairs for public use. Above, hung from the houses on either side and weaving through two trees, thin black piping sends out occasional puffs of cooling water spray.

It’s a thoughtful civic exercise that is repeated often through the more popular shopping streets. For although Grasse doesn’t get as steaming hot as its coastal neighbours it can get pretty sultry by noon in July.

The cathedral itself was originally built in the 12th century and if its basic construction – ribbed vault, no buttresses, 1.7m thick walls –  is a little primitive the same can’t be said of the artworks within, which include three paintings by Rubens, a Louis Bréa triptych and the only religious work (Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, the son of a Grasse glover and after whom the perfume company was named in 1926.

Our own capitulation came in the Rue de l’Oratoire and the understated, almost spartan, boutique parfumerie of Gaglewski. Originally from Paris, Didier Gaglewski is a slight, gentle man with a Nose – and by that I mean un nez, someone with a highly developed sense of smell.

We cannot help noticing that he also has for sale a fragrance called Journaliste. Far from smelling of yellowing paper, ink and desperation, Gaglewski describes it as “boisee and epicee” – woody and spicy, with hints of cedarwood and cinnamon. This will, he promises in his literature, “transport you to the door of an elegant and mysterious world”.

I don’t know what Gaglewski’s on but I want some of it so we buy a presentation box of the stuff. Turns out the main ingredient is alcohol, so he’s not too far off the mark after all. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION


La Rivolte villa sleeps a maximum of 16 people and is available to rent as a holiday home or for bed and breakfast throughout the year. It has five bedroom suites, all with views. B&B prices start at $150 a night (two-night minimum). See larivolte上海龙凤419m. GETTING THERE

Nice (about 45 minutes away) and Cannes (30 minutes) are the nearest airports. Buses from either airport drop off at the bus depot in the centre of Grasse, right outside the Tourist Office. Take bus number 500 from Nice and numbers 600 or 610 from Cannes. There is also a 25-minute regular daily train trip (Grasse-Cannes-Nice). See ter-sncf上海龙凤419m/paca. SEE + DO

The Fragonard perfume factory at 20 Boulevard Fragonard is in the heart of the old town and has been in use since 1782. Free guided tour and museum; fragonard上海龙凤419m.

Parfumerie Galimard is a little outside town at 73 Route de Cannes. Free guided tours here and at the company’s Studio des Fragrances (appointment only) you can design your own perfume; see galimard上海龙凤419m.

For a boutique parfumerie, visit Didier Gaglewski’s shop at 12 Rue de l’Oratoire, Grasse; see gaglewski上海龙凤419m.

The writer travelled at his own expense.

The Shipping News: Volga Dream II launches in Russia in March

Sailing away: Windstar’s Wind Spirit in French Polynesia.
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Sailing away: Windstar’s Wind Spirit in French Polynesia.

Sailing away: Windstar’s Wind Spirit in French Polynesia.

Sailing away: Windstar’s Wind Spirit in French Polynesia.

Canal travel: Volga Dream II will cruise between Moscow and St Petersburg.

Canal travel: Volga Dream II will cruise between Moscow and St Petersburg.

Canal travel: Volga Dream II will cruise between Moscow and St Petersburg.

Canal travel: Volga Dream II will cruise between Moscow and St Petersburg.

Czar attraction

Volga Dream II launches this March in Russia and will carry 160 passengers between Moscow and St Petersburg, stopping at highlights such as the mediaeval churches of Uglich, the trading city of Yaroslavl and 14-century Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. A cruise on Lake Onega takes in Kizhi Island for a walking tour to the open-air museum, noted for its domed wooden churches, before navigating the Svir River to Lake Ladoga, Europe’s largest freshwater lake. Volga Dream II will be chartered by several tour companies, including Abercrombie & Kent as part of its 12-day Russian itinerary. Phone 1300 851 800. See abercrombiekent上海龙凤419m.auNew two

Travelmarvel has acquired two additional river-cruise ships for Europe this year. MS Travelmarvel Sapphire debuted on a few dates in 2014 but is now entering full service, sailing on “European Gems” itineraries between Amsterdam and Budapest, as well as on Danube cruises. It hosts 164 guests and features French balconies on all category C staterooms and above. Meanwhile, MS Excellence Queen will sail on the Rhine River; it carries 142 guests and has three lounges, a sundeck and restaurant. Though neither ship is new, both have been newly refurbished. Phone 1300 196 420. See travelmarvel上海龙凤 along

Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2 has a new offering: mountain bike excursions with a dedicated bike guide. Guests can borrow the ship’s bikes and pedal off into the surroundings of some ports of call, opting either for an easy tour on flat ground at a comfortable speed, “active lite” tour, or a more fast-paced off-road experience over rougher terrain. All tours are between four and five hours long and a bike guide provides personal advice and is part of all excursions. The tours cost €59. Phone 02 9977 7100. See hl-cruises上海龙凤419mAncient wonders

Seadream Yacht Club is offering a nine-day cruise from Istanbul to Athens aboard SeaDream I in May, visiting Gallipoli, the ruins of Ephesus, and the Greek islands of Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos and vehicle-free Hydra, where locals still get about on donkeys. There’s also the chance to see the recently excavated Terrace Houses and House of the Virgin Mary near Kusadasi, the Monastery of St John on Patmos Island (said to be the place where he wrote the Book of Revelations) and Bodrum’s Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven ancient wonders. Phone 02 9958 4444. See seadream上海龙凤419m. Pacific pleasures

Windstar Cruises has announced year-round voyages in Tahiti starting in May. Itineraries include the seven-day “Dreams of Tahiti” voyage, as well as a new, extended 10- or 11-day journey with stops in the Tuamotu Islands, notable for their excellent snorkelling and diving. Windstar is also expanding shore excursions to include bespoke adventures such as private snorkelling at a black pearl farm in Raiatea, followed by a champagne sunset cruise along the coral reef. The voyages are aboard the renovated, six-sail, 148-passenger Wind Spirit yacht, whose cabins have just undergone renovation. Phone 1300 887 590.  See traveltheworld上海龙凤

Georgia travel guide: The land of milk and honey

Storybook setting: Ananuri architectural complex on the banks of the Argavi River, Georgia. Photo: Michael Gebicki Storybook setting: Ananuri architectural complex on the banks of the Argavi River, Georgia. Photo: Michael Gebicki
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Storybook setting: Ananuri architectural complex on the banks of the Argavi River, Georgia. Photo: Michael Gebicki

Storybook setting: Ananuri architectural complex on the banks of the Argavi River, Georgia. Photo: Michael Gebicki

A nun lights candles inside the Church of theAssumption, Ananuri. Photo: Michael Gebicki

The national fast food: Khachapuri, is a common sight on dinner tables in Georgia. Photo: iStock

Since we are only seven for lunch, our hosts have laid out a modest table beneath the vine arbour that runs along one side of their house outside the village of Gavazi, in Georgia’s eastern Kakheti region. Tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, spinach, fried potatoes, bread, pork rissoles made with onion, garlic, coriander and egg fried in corn oil and two kinds of cheese. To drink, we have four bottles of homemade red wine, “I hope this will be enough,” says my guide, Mariam Khukhunaishvil, of the one bottle of chacha, a clear firewater that tastes like grappa, and a bottle of local cognac.

It’s not quite ready. Pork skewers are sizzling on the barbecue so I wander among the beehives and under the apple, blood orange and fig trees in the family’s garden. Extending from the eastern shores of the Black Sea, at about the same latitude as northern Spain, Georgia is a land of milk and honey, once the balmy southern rump of the Soviet empire, the source of walnuts, cheeses, stone fruit and, before the fragmentation of that empire, most of its wine. On the drive here, through the flatlands east of Tbilisi, the capital, we pass through villages with roadside stalls selling strawberries, cherries and white peaches.

The hospitable traditions of the Georgian table are rich and inescapable. At the far end from me, the moustachioed man wearing a traditional long tunic has been appointed tamada, the toastmaster. It begins with a long and elaborate toast to one another, moves on to the enduring fellowship of all people regardless of language, colour or creed. We drink to the mothers who gave birth and nurtured us, to love and I forget what else. The traditional Georgian drinking vessel is the horn of a mountain goat and the idea is that you down the contents in one go, since it’s impossible to put the horn down without spilling it. The glasses are smaller these days, but the all-embracing tendrils of the Georgian feast, the supra, ensure that you rarely leave a table without swaying.

With the debris of lunch all around us, the singing begins. Including the tamada, four of our party are polyphonic singers, a Georgian specialty. Deep and sonorous, their baritone voices pick up the chant that comes from deep in the belly, a powerful sound that makes you think of mountains and wild places and a time before history. A sound that is emblematic of Georgia itself, and it demands an audience.

Stubborn, tenacious and stridently independent, Georgia might be small but cuts a fiercely individual presence on the world stage. Georgia’s religion – its own brand of Orthodox Christianity – sets it apart from the Islamic countries to the south and east and from Russia to the north. Its Kartvelian language is unrelated to any other language family, and rarely heard outside its borders. Its people are Caucasian, and racially distinct from the Turkic and Slavic people that surround it, and it sits in a messy part of the world’s geopolitical map. Georgia is surrounded by names that spell trouble – Dagestan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Chechnya, Abkhazia and Russia, ever a looming shadow – and these truculent neighbours nibble at its borders.

When I climb to the heights of the hill above the cave monastery of David Gareja there are four soldiers cradling AK-47s, looking furtive and slightly spivvy. I am reminded of ferrets. “Rossiya?” I ask, knowing they’re not. “No, no” they say, “Azerbaijani”, pointing to the shoulder flashes on their camouflage. This is a disputed border, the heights of the monastery complex claimed both by Georgia and Azerbaijan. “Ah, Eurovision,” I say, and we share a laugh, recalling the pop-fest that took place in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, in 2012. We’re getting along but when I point to my camera and raise an eyebrow, “Nyet,” they say.

Christianity came early to Georgia, and it stuck. At the beginning of the fourth century, a woman later to be canonised as Saint Nino began preaching the faith and converted Nana, the queen of the eastern province of Iberia, and later her husband, King Mirian III, who made Christianity the state religion.

In the sixth century, David Garejeli arrived on the scene at the head of a company of Assyrian monks and established a monastery in a harsh and remote part of the Kakheti region that suited their ascetic tastes. Over the next few centuries, the complex grew to incorporate hundreds of monk’s cells, chapels and living quarters hollowed from the rock face. Despite damage inflicted by Islamic invaders and during the Soviet era when the hills around the caves were used as a military training ground, the monastery remains the crowning achievement of Georgia’s early Christian period.

At the bottom of the hill, Lavra Monastery consists of a walled compound with a church and monks’ cells above, but the real treasure here is the Udabno Monastery, the caves cut into the brow of the hill. A snaking path along the edge of the cliff links caves where monks once prayed, slept and ate. Inside, these rough stone chambers and the frescoes that cover the walls and ceiling convey a palpable sense of the rigour but also the exultation of early monastic life, with a few surprises along the way, such as the image of wild deer being milked, a reference to the deer of this region that gave the monks sustenance when they were wandering in the wilderness.

The road to David Gareja monastery doglegs at the village of Udabno, established in the Soviet era to provide work and homes for Svan people, from Georgia’s mountainous north-west, a tough and unproductive part of the country. It’s a social experiment that failed the test of time. Today, the town is a wreck. Most of its houses and factories are hollow shells left to the weeds, a monument to the soulless, blighted aesthetics of Soviet communism that is repeated countless times throughout the Georgian countryside.

The landscape around the town is unusual for Georgia. Udabno means “desert”, yet this blonde grassland is far from the bleached aridity that the word conjures to an Australian ear. However, relative to the rest of their luscious landscape, Georgians might be forgiven for thinking that this prairie is truly desert.

Kakheti, in the east, is the breadbasket, a patchwork of farms, orchards, forest and vineyards, and its wine cellars are the place to try Georgian wines. As early as 6000 BC, farmers in the South Caucasus region discovered the happy process of fermentation that takes place when grape juice is buried in a shallow pit over winter, and Georgians have been enthusiastic consumers ever since. Georgia uses more than 500 indigenous grape varieties to make red and white wines, and not one of them familiar to the average Western consumer.

What makes Georgian wines intriguing is their continuity. Georgian winemakers have never really departed from the natural, preservative-free traditions of their ancestors. Some wines are still fermented in wax-lined clay jars that the Georgians call qvevri, and the result is astonishing. The rest of the world might have a standardised view of what should go into a wine bottle, but along come Georgian wines to waken the taste buds with a world of difference. The red Saperavi wines are the standouts, robust, ruby-coloured wines operatic in scale, with the  lighter Tavkveri and Shavkapito varieties as the runners-up. In a profound statement of national identity, the 20-metre aluminium statue of Mother Georgia that overlooks Tbilisi carries a sword in one hand and a wine cup in the other.

Tbilisi is the focal point in the Georgian mosaic, the capital and home to a quarter of the country’s population of around five million. The city takes its name from the word for “warm” and there are still hot springs and bathhouses below the ruined Narikala Citadel. Tbilisi teeters between East and West. In the Old Town, an anarchic tangle of shops and houses with teetering balconies, are caravanserais that would once have seen spices, silks, porcelain and glass, the luxuries of the Eastern and Western worlds.

The city’s showpiece is Rustaveli Avenue, a cultural promenade and home to the Georgian National Museum, The Tbilisi State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Rustaveli State Academic Theatre, the Georgian Academy of Sciences, the former Parliament building and the Tbilisi Marriott, the city’s only five-star hotel.

So Tbilisi might have remained, scruffy and slightly dowdy, but then along came a merry prankster by the name of Mikheil Saakashvili, whose reign as president between 2008 and 2013 was marked by a determination to chart a new, Europe-friendly course for Georgia. In particular his fascination for glassy modern architecture left the old city strewn with surprises. He even plonked a glass dome on top of the neo-classical Presidential Palace, which creates an odd effect, like a chap in a pinstripe suit sporting a pink Mohawk.

Most fetching of all Saakashvili’s fantasies is the Peace Bridge. Under a white steel honeycomb, this glass suspension bridge is implanted with thousands of LEDs that blink in unison at night, ushering pedestrians to the other side of the Mtkvari River in a wave-like crescendo of light. Another Saakashvili surprise awaits on the far side in Rike Park, its fountain lit by coloured lights, squirting and spurting in time to music, Ravel’s Bolero one night, Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World the next. The effect runs along the border between high camp and hallucinogenic.

The other inescapable fact about Tbilisi is religion. Orthodox churches are everywhere, a staunchly conservative anchor in the Georgian psyche, and if you happen to be in town on a Sunday, you might as well do as the rest of the city does and head to church. There are no pews so everyone stands, but this facilitates the free flow of the congregation. Church attendance is a social occasion, and leaving the service to chat to friends outside, make a phone call or smoke are all permissible. In the Metekhi Church on Sunday morning, I happen to stand near the men’s choir, eight mostly bearded young men who are furtively messaging until the very last moment when their voices are called into action and they begin as one, in a harmony that would make the herald angels stop and listen.

Despite its powerful religious streak, Georgia does not take its name from Saint George but from the ancient Persian “Gurg” or “Gorg”, meaning wolf, and in the north is where Georgia unsheathes its fangs. Running in a chain from north-west to south-east, the Caucasus Mountains rise skyward to form a border with Russia, Europe’s highest mountains. For anyone who travels in search of wild places in which to walk, climb or observe a unique and intact mountain culture, the Caucasus are an eye-opener.

In Svaneti, in Georgia’s rugged and harsh north-west, I’m walking across a sodden alpine meadow dotted with gentians in a wind iced with the snow breath of the peaks around me. A stream wanders through the throat of the valley and into muddy Ushguli just below, one of the highest villages in Europe. A walker approaches, coming down from a stone-ringed chapel where women are forbidden entry. He’s Polish, brimming with energy and we exchange enthusiasms. “Wow, Australia,” he says, “that’s a huge trip.”  Georgia is a fresh concept for both of us, and we struggle for the words. “But their hospitality,” he says, “you have to have a strong stomach. They can kill you with kindness,” and I watch him pound away over the tussocky grassland and into the mountains. Five must dos in Georgia

1. Admire the brilliant frescoes of Georgian saints and kings in the 900-year-old Cathedral of the Virgin at the monastery of Gelati near Kutaisi.

2. Hike to Gergeti Trinity Church, a 90-minute walk from Kazbegi township. The church sits dramatically on a ridge silhouetted against the massive bulk of Mount Kazbek.

3. Sample khachapuri, the national fast food, a kind of flatbread stuffed with cheese, frequently seen on the dinner table.

4. Spend a night at the Tbilisi Mariott Hotel, cosseted in luxury. There are two Mariotts in the capital but on Rustaveli Avenue is the deluxe version.

5. Visit Svaneti, a severe and potent region in Georgia’s mountainous north-west where stone towers protect the villagers against avalanches, invaders and one another, since blood feuds have traditionally been a major cause of death.  TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

eetbtravel上海龙凤419mGETTING THERE

Emirates has one-stop flights from Melbourne and Sydney to Istanbul, from where Turkish Airlines operates daily flights to Tbilisi. Return airfares to Istanbul with Emirates start at around $1912, from Istanbul to Tbilisi costs about $285 TRAVELLING THERE

Visit Georgia is the biggest tour operator in the country, with a range of individual tours as well as organised group tours. Special interest tours with themes from adventure to wildlife, mountaineering, culture and archaeology are also available.

In Australia, their tours can be booked through Sydney’s Eastern Europe Travel Bureau (eetbtravel上海龙凤419m)

The writer travelled to Georgia as a guest of Emirates and Sydney’s Eastern Europe Travel Bureau.

Where to eat on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland: Chef Cameron Matthews

Chef Cameron Matthews. Cameron Matthews: The Sunshine Coast is a world-class food destination.
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Chef Cameron Matthews.

Chef Cameron Matthews.

Cameron Matthews has built a stellar reputation in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, establishing The Long Apron at Spicers Clovelly as one of Australia’s finest dining experiences and cooking schools. See spicersretreats上海龙凤419m/spicers-clovelly-estate. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE TABLE ON THE SUNSHINE COAST?

Berardos at Noosa is iconic, but King Ludwig’s at Maleny captures the Sunshine Coast landscape brilliantly. You can feast on the Glasshouse Mountains while enjoying a stein of lager and sauerkraut. See berardos上海龙凤; kingludwigs上海龙凤  THE LOCAL FOOD DISCOVERY OF THE PAST YEAR?

Mojama cured and smoked tuna out of Mooloolaba. It’s called the “jamon of the sea” because it is like a Spanish ham. We shave it and use it almost as a seasoning on seafood dishes and pasta.  WHAT IS THE SUNSHINE COAST’S BEST-KEPT FOOD SECRET?

Cedar Creek Cheeserie’s Love Supreme cheese. Trevor Hart is well known for his buffalo mozzarella and haloumi, but the Love Supreme has a delicious soft, ricotta-like consistency with a citrusy finish that is really special. Cedar Street, Maleny.  PLACE TO GO ON A DAY OFF?

For beaches and food, it is Noosa or Caloundra with a coffee at Lamkin Lane (Tim Adams’ joint and one of Australia’s best baristas), but I also love Eumundi for its market and its Berkelouw book store, which not only has an incredible range of cooking books, but also great coffee and a kids’ park across the road. See timadams上海龙凤; eumundimarkets上海龙凤; berkelouw上海龙凤419m.  FAVOURITE INDULGENCE ON THE SUNSHINE COAST?

There is a very atmospheric patisserie in Cooroy called Maison de Provence. Eric Pernoud makes all his chocolates and pastries in-house and there’s always something different and special coming out of the kitchen. No website; 9/13 Garnet Street, Cooroy.  WHAT SHOULD A VISITOR AVOID, FOOD-WISE, ON THE SUNSHINE COAST?

Any restaurant that doesn’t offer fresh and local Sunshine Coast produce. There is no excuse, given that we are such a world-class food destination.

Police bugging inquiry: Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn denies wrongdoing

NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn also requests that if specific allegations are to be made against her that she be given “specific notice of what that conduct is alleged to be and what the allegations are”. Photo: Daniel MunozDeputy commissioner drops bid to keep submission secret 
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NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn has denied any wrongdoing in relation to a police bugging scandal and has raised concerns about the possible release of a secret report into the affair during a parliamentary inquiry starting next week.

In a submission to the inquiry, published on Friday, Ms Burn also requests that if specific allegations are to be made against her that she be given “specific notice of what that conduct is alleged to be and what the allegations are”.

The inquiry will examine NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour’s two-year investigation of the bugging scandal, which has at its heart a 2003 internal police inquiry codenamed Strike Force Emblems.

Strike Force Emblems probed allegations of illegal bugging by NSW Police Special Crime and Internal Affairs (SCIA) and the NSW Crime Commission in 1999-2001, known as Operation Mascot, but its report has never been made public.

More than 100 police officers and a journalist were placed under surveillance during Operation Mascot after warrants were approved by the NSW Supreme Court.

But some of the affidavits presented to Supreme Court judges contained no information that would justify the surveillance, and some of their contents were false.

The contents of the Emblems report are particularly sensitive because NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and Ms Burn worked at SCIA and one of the detectives bugged was Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas.

Ms Burn had written to the committee asking that her submission to the inquiry remain secret, but suddenly dropped the request on Thursday.

In her submission Ms Burn says she has not read the Emblems report but refers to the recommendation of the Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission David Levine that it not be made public in a 2012 letter to then NSW police minister Mike Gallacher.

Ms Burn quotes Mr Levine’s view that the report was “severely wanting in sound reasoning and logical exposition of investigations said to have been undertaken”.

“In such circumstances, the credibility of the report must be low,” she argues.

Ms Burn also issues a series of denials. They include: Denying that as head of Operation Mascot she instructed Internal Affairs officers to falsify evidence to a Supreme Court judge to obtain warrants to secretly bug police and others not suspected of any wrongdoing that would justify the warrant;Denying she knew Internal Affairs police “intended to fraudulently misrepresent that innocent police were suspected of committing indictable offences” in affidavits to secure the bugging warrants;Denying she directed Internal Affairs police “to use illegal warrants to secretly record conversations of my rivals in the police force”, in particular Mr Kaldas, when she did not suspect him of wrongdoing; andDenying she directed use of illegal warrants to bug Mr Kaldas “as part of a personal vendetta” when she had no reason to suspect him of wrongdoing and that she was seeking to use secrecy laws to cover up her actions.

The parliamentary inquiry is due to begin hearings next Thursday.

Press Council adjudication

THE Press Council has considered a complaint by Margaret MacDonald-Hill about a series of articles in the Newcastle Herald relating to chairs of Community Consultative Committees (CCCs) and selection of arbitrators to preside over land access disputes between mining companies and landowners.
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The first article headed “Mining dispute system faulted” was published on April 10, 2014 (print and online).

It reported that Ms MacDonald-Hill worked as an arbitrator while being paid undisclosed amounts by mining companies to chair nearly a dozen CCCs. It quoted her comments about declaring appointments and not arbitrating disputes for companies for which she chairs CCCs.

It also reported an instance where she had stood aside due to conflict of interest.

The second article “Consultation risks loss of faith – committee gravy train leaves no minutes”was published on April 12, 2014 in print (and under the headline “Consultation risks loss of faith” online on April 11, 2014).

It reported on the issue of potential conflicts of interest.

It mentioned Ms MacDonald-Hill in this context but did not give details of her work for CCCs or the payments she received.

The third article “Arbitration scrutiny” was published in print on April 15, 2014 (and online under the headline “Mining land dispute process in the spotlight” on April 14, 2014).

Its relevant content was similar to the first article.

Ms MacDonald-Hill complained that it was unfair for the articles to focus only on her because other chairs are also “high profile and act in multi capacities” and the articles did not mention there have never been any complaints from landholders.

She said the unfairness was exacerbated by comments suggesting that she is either acting inappropriately or is not acting in the best interests of the parties, but nothing positive is said about her work.

She said the headline “Consultation risks loss of faith: Committee gravy train leaves no minutes” unfairly and inaccurately suggests that the chair of the committees (including her) are paid highly for minimal work and does not fairly reflect the tenor of the article, as the article does not mention anything about the level of payment to her.

She also said the publication eventually agreed to publish a clarification but it was not published in the agreed position.

The publication said the articles were accurate, fair and balanced and related to matters of public interest about the CCCs.

It said both sides of politics, lawyers and landholders had raised or investigated potential conflicts of interest in the CCC process.

It said the articles include positive material in quoting from her and the Department of Planning. It pointed out that it mentioned Ms MacDonald-Hill had stood aside on at least one occasion after a possible conflict had been raised. It said that when asked to disclose her level of payment she exercised her prerogative to decline.

It also said it did not cause the delay in agreeing a clarification, which had then been published in accordance with the agreement.


THE Council does not consider that it was unfair or unbalanced for one of the articles in particular to focus on Ms MacDonald-Hill as part of their examination of the system, especially as she chaired so many CCCs and her side of the issue was quoted. Accordingly that aspect of the complaint was not upheld.

The Council considers that the reference to a “gravy train” in the headline of the second article suggested she was paid highly for minimal work.

It has concluded that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure accuracy, fairness and balance in this respect.

Also, the headline did not fairly reflect the tenor of the article, which did not say anything about her level of payment or the nature and amount of the work she does.

Accordingly the Council upholds these aspects of the complaint.

On the material available to the Council, it is unable to resolve the issues around the delay in the correction or its placement.