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Uluru: by drone

Drone footage of Uluru has been released by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia. It’s an incredible perspective of the 600 million year old monolith. The drone was the first ever to operate under permit inside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The area captured is of great spiritual significance to the local Anangu people and approval was given by the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board and the Film and Photography Consultative Committee.

“We are delighted to present one of the most astonishing landscapes on earth, and we thank the Traditional Owners for their support,”said Voyages Chief Executive Officer Andrew Williams.

Uluru is the tip of a huge rock that continues below the ground for up to six kilometres. The monolith is 3.6 kilometres long and 348 metres at its tallest point..

It’s breathtaking footage.

Watch here: or call 1300 134 004.



Review: Notel, Melbourne CBD

Six gleaming airstream trailers perched on a Flinders Lane rooftop, with retro tangerine décor and pale pink accents, make a fine first impression. But it’s the quintessential novelty of Notel that is most alluring. Young enthusiast James Fry, owner of Fry’s Fast Park, has realised a dream that he concocted two years ago and cemented during a trip to the US. Fry deflected multi-million dollar offers from others who wanted to develop the space atop the inner city car park he’s owned for ten years with his dad. Instead, he’s invested more than a million dollars in trans-locating and sprucing up the 1970’s airstreams.

Fry says “It’s prime real estate and after having a million ideas on what to do with the space, I think with Notel (“not a hotel’), we’ve nailed it.”

It’s a stylish and super fun concept. You use a smart phone app as an entry key after booking online. You munch on the bourbon and bacon popcorn or hand-made chocolate goodies while sipping on craft Shiki beer from the Lucas Group or even piccolos of Paul Louis bubbles while nestling in the comfy Queen size bed at one end of the trailer. The other end, thank goodness for smart design, has an in-built toilet, basin and shower – that’s where the bulk of the “tangerine theme” shines. An I-pad Plus pumped full of Netflix and free Wi Fi is attached to the wall next to the mini-fridge but can also be re-located to the trailer’s ceiling – above the bed. There are cushions on a bench that could fit five visiting mates or sleep a couple of kids.

Each suite has sourced products from local Melbourne businesses from the Aura home bed linen and bathroom towels to the Crown posture mattress. Nice touch.

There’s no restaurant but there’s talk of Uber Eats delivery soon enough.  Of course, just metres away is an array of coffee shops, bars and eateries. Easy. Or pack a picnic of sorts and dine-in.

Each airstream has a simple outdoor space with white chairs and table and cactus. The communal area is a vibrant red with a backdrop of graffiti walls. It’s unique. And while there’s no concierge and access is via a grungy flight of stairs, there is someone on call, 24/7. I see romantic escapades, milestone birthdays, proposals, weddings and novel getaways ahead.


The North Melbourne Hotel

The North Melbourne Hotel

Do not be deterred by the utterly plain façade of The North Melbourne Hotel on Victoria Street. Inside the latest restaurant offering from publicans Sandra and Jose de Oliveria (owners of Richmond’s Bouzy Rouge) you will find a delightfully enticing décor and a reasonably priced, modern European menu.

The black chandeliers, marble-topped tables and eclectic knick-knacks are charming. Bartender Marco bounces around, hoping you will be tempted by the cocktail list or perhaps try one of his own concoctions. His Pisco Sour with a twist (a dash of chocolate bitters) is excellent. Apparently, the wrong pisco turned up in an order but Marco has made it work and now the Muscatel Pisco is on the re-order list.

Share fare is encouraged so there are smaller plates such as Steak Tartare through to Duck Liver Parfait .The early crowd favourite are the Jalapeno Poppers. While the crispy fried lambs brains are a stand-out. Larger dishes include Seafood Paella and 12-hour roasted lamb shoulder.

Local breweries and craft beer have been embraced with the North Melbourne Draught at four dollars a pot. A house red or white is also four dollars while there’s a solid range of local and Italian, French and Portuguese wine.

Surprisingly, the par-baked bread imported from France is excellent, with a perfect crunch and teamed with a subtle olive oil for dipping.

Portions are generous. The Cajun spiced soft shell crab, brioche bun and spicy remoulade is enormous (11 dollars) while the side dish of Angry eggs (crispy potatoes, Iberian ham, aioli and fried egg) is nearly too large for two.

The char grilled pasture fed Eye fillet, sweet potato puree, jus and roast witlof makes a classy main while the king fish cerviche is both sizeable and satisfying.

The 100 seat pub is an elegant space for relaxed dining. There’s nothing dull about it on the inside.

Location: 480 Victoria Street, North Melbourne

Phone: 03 9329 1634

Review: Ricky Martin

There can be no argument: Ricky Martin (born Enrique Martin Morales) is a passionate performer. He positively glowed as he entered Rod Laver Arena stage – a veritable glistening specimen of a man, head to toe in white cotton.

The international superstar has earned the respect of a multitude Australians through his nurturing and caring role as a judge on talent tv show The Voice. And those who believe that those who judge should be able to do, can’t criticise this man. He can move. He can sing. He can entertain.

The crowd was transfixed as he gyrated through his hits. He was ably “assisted” by an impressive group of dancers who I am convinced wore less and less as the night wore on. And  I would suggest the black bralette and butt-cheek skimming shiny hot pants may have been a crowd favorite.

Martin dedicated the Melbourne concert to the victims of the quake in Nepal, with an intriguing “intermission” of a video montage of beautiful, smiling faces of underprivileged children being helped via the Ricky Martin Foundation.

The singer urged the crowd to forget their woes – all their issues of home, work and school. Perhaps that was an acknowledgement that his fans are of all ages. I know that there was at least one 86 year old woman in the audience, while in the row in front of me, a young girl of about seven stood on her seat to watch Martin shake his bon bon.

There were smoke machines, a spectacular light show, brilliant nine piece band (love a brass section) and an impressive, mega confetti machine. But in a way, these accoutrements were superfluous, since most of the time, I really couldn’t take my eyes off Martin – with the occasional sideways glance at the aforementioned barely-robed dancers.

Melbourne choreographer Jason Coleman, sitting nearby, was in awe of their expertise. “Every step, every dancer was amazing. Really world class and uber-hot.”

Coleman said of Martin’s moves. “When he started I thought he’d hit a bit harder than that but by the end of it he did exactly what he said he would do and left his soul on the stage.”

Martin welcomed onto his stage Melbourne singer Jackson Thomas that he’d mentored on The Voice. A powerful duet ensued and Thomas’ voice was gorgeous.

It was a lovely gesture indicating that Martin is giving that promised “leg up” to those who appear on the talent show.

Amongst Martin’s parting words. “I don’t care what people think. I don’t care what people say.” Then he managed to get the crowd to do a daggy dance involving throwing hands in the air and rubbing tummies to a song with Spanish lyrics. And yes I joined in. And no, I have no idea what the song was about. But it sure was fun.

First published 2015

Red Carpet: Absolutely Fabulous, Melbourne

Sigrid Thornton is a fan. So is Natalie Bassingthwaighte. The women joined hundreds of guests at the Melbourne premiere of Absolutely Fabulous The Movie at Crown Village cinemas.

The film, with 60 cameo appearances ( including a doozy from Jerry Hall and a wonderful stint from Rebel Wilson) is based on the hugely successful television series starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.

It was in 1990 when Saunders and her comedy partner Dawn French were writing scripts for the third series of their hit TV show, French and Saunders, that they came up with a sketch that eventually led to the creation of Ab Fab.

The big screen debut for Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone sees the pair still oozing glitz and glamour and clamoring to live the high life. They still love shopping, drinking and so on but things go pear-shaped when super model Kate Moss is accidentally pushed into the river Thames at a fancy launch party by Edina.

The crazy antics are back while persistently outrageous and silly behaviour ensues. And a ridiculous plan is hatched to escape the media frenzy and continue lapping up luxury forever more.

In Melbourne for the premiere, Saunders said, “When you’re Edina and Patsy, you can do anything. Being them is just a licence to be outrageous.”

She also revealed that occasionally she does slip into her Edina character for her children’s entertainment. “To make them laugh, you know, I’ll say I’m going to order a drink and just to make them laugh I’ll order it like Edina or fall over or something like that. Really, just to amuse my children.”

The film opens in cinemas across Australia this week

Watch the Melbourne premiere video here:


Chat: Sharon Stone

Hollywood siren Sharon Stone plays Dorothy Boreman, a haggard and exhausted housewife and mother in the film Lovelace, which tells the story of  1970’s porn actress Linda Lovelace.

The film portrays the domestic violence, the abuse and the pain Linda suffered during her years of fame.

The role for Stone is a far cry from her Hollywood sex symbol status.

I snared an Australian radio exclusive with the Basic Instinct star and soon realised that Sharon, at 55 years of age (at the time),  is very comfortable with being famous.

She also chatted about her admiration for Aussies and how she would change the world.

Lovelace, also stars Amanda Seyfried, Hank Azaria, Peter Sarsgaard and Chris Noth, opens in Australian cinemas on September 26.


Bush Tucker, Yulara, Uluru

I didn’t know what a quandong was when I sat down with Patricia Solomon to talk about her work at the Kulata Academy café at Ayers Rock Resort.

In less than two years, Ms Solomon has been promoted to Step-Up Leader at the incredibly busy cafe and training academy that churns out build-your own sandwiches, focaccias and wraps from morning to late afternoon.

It’s a basic concept – people select their sandwich fillings then add sauces, dressings and condiments to their stomach’s delight.


I’m told grabbing a kangaroo sanga is a visitor favorite but many ask for a taste test before committing to the whole sandwich – only to exclaim – “It tastes like roast beef!”

As you wander into Yulara Town Square, you’re more than likely to witness an extraordinary queue of keen and hungry visitors, patiently waiting for their reasonably-priced repast.

As Ms Solomon talked me through her life-changing decision to leave family in Townsville to take up a gig at the Resort, I was impressed by her passion and respect for her work, food and culture.

“I started off not knowing how to carry two glasses on a tray. Then I got the opportunity to learn from others who know five-star dining right through to working in a cafe,” she told me.

“I feel I’ve changed as a person. Two years ago, I was sour towards people but I feel now, through working in customer service, it’s opened my mind to how everyone has a story.

“Instead of being closed off, I’m now open to conversation. Everyone is so interesting.”

Ms Solomon believes visitors also change their ways after coming to Yulara.

“Being Indigenous, I feel this is the motherland because they still practice traditional ways. So, it makes me proud when customers and guests ask me questions about me or here.

“I feel that people coming here and learning about the culture and how people live off the land, they leave with a better appreciation for the environment.”

Ayers Rock Resort has introduced a new Bush Tucker Trail at its eateries, cafes and restaurants with flavours such as Lemon Myrtle, Kakadu Plum, Bush Tomato, Quandong and Wattleseed incorporated into dishes across every restaurant.

Offerings include braised pork belly sliders with kakadu plum chili sauce, cucumber and macadamia nut salad or grilled crocodile tail dusted with bush dukkah with spinach salad and lemon myrtle and mango dressing.

Naturally, a selection of Bush Tucker cocktails have also been whipped up by mixologist Ty Bennett. They include a Lemon Myrtle Martini, a Quandong Capriosca and Native Mint and Desert Lime Mojito

Tourism Australia says that Indigenous experiences and food and wine were key to Australia’s international tourism offering.

About 14 per cent of international tourists to Australia take part in an Aboriginal cultural experience, bringing in about 5.6 billion dollars a year.

Ray Stone from Voyages says the team of Executive chefs joined forces to create contemporary dishes that add ingredients that have been used in Indigenous cuisine for thousands of years.

After my inspiring chat with Ms Solomon (who is hoping to one day be promoted to manager), and as I sunk my teeth into the Quandong cheesecake, I realised I actually love the taste of wild peach.

The writer travelled courtesy of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia

Krabi, Thailand

It’s a clever, thoughtful hotel that compiles a series of indoor activities for those times you don’t feel like venturing outside for a drenching. Stretches of South East Asia, including Thailand, are known for afternoon downpours during monsoon or wet season, so ideas are welcome on what to do when it’s teeming rain.

As I absorbed the serenity of the expansive foyer at the Sofitel Krabi Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort, I noted the list of fun things to do written neatly on a solid, wooden framed blackboard.

The activities included batik, yoga, candle-making, Thai boxing, learn how to speak Thai and bag painting but what caught my eye, (the eye of someone often chided for being a dreadful cook) was the Thai cooking class.

I adore Tom Yam and just my luck, how to make the spicy soup was part of the rainy-day tuition.

Krabi 3

On entering the custom-made cooking school, tucked in amongst gorgeous gardens, I observed piled-up spices, fresh herbs, gleaming pots and pans, glossy bench-tops and shiny silver cooking stations.

Then I saw the man who would impress me for the next two hours with his knowledge, patience and humour: chef of 40 years Phak Phakphoom.

What a sweet smile he shared as he imparted the cooking tips he’d accrued over the decades.

Krabi 1

The following is what I believe is the ultimate (and authentic) Tom Yam recipe with notes attached as told to me by Chef Phakphoom.

Tom Yam Goong ( Hot and Sour Prawn soup)

200 gram prawns, cleaned,

3 cups water (or stock)

2 garlic cloves minced.

3 thin slices fresh galangal

¼ cup fish sauce

2 stalks lemon grass

2 shallots sliced

2 kaffir lime leaves

½ cup sliced straw mushrooms

5 green Thai chili peppers ( optional)

¼ cup lime juice

1 teaspoon chili jam

1 teaspoon chopped coriander leaves


Heat water to boiling. Add the garlic, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass and shallots to the water ( or stock). Add the mushrooms and chili peppers. Cook gently for two minutes. Add prawns to the soup and reheat to boiling. When the prawns are cooked, place lime juice, fish sauce and chili jam in a serving bowl. Pour the soup into the bowl, stir, garnish with coriander and serve.

Chef notes: Do not take the stems off the kaffir lime leaves. Only use skinny pieces of lemongrass. In order to “balance” the dish, it’s crucial to use an identical amount of lime juice and fish sauce. It’s okay to cheat and use bought chili jam since it takes a full day to make a homemade version. And as Chef suggested with a cheeky grin, “Chili jam okay for Europe people but only half spoon.” Smash chili peppers with a spoon to release the juices. Turn lime inside out to squeeze maximum juice out of it. Do not overcook prawns.

Footnote: The soup was delicious and I have proudly made it on my return from Krabi. However there’s just one thing missing at home: Chef’s guiding smile.

Krabi 2

Donna Demaio was a guest of Accor, Qantas and Bangkok Airways.

Roc’s Bar, Jam Factory, South Yarra

Roc’s Bar at the Village Cinemas at the Jam Factory has officially opened, describing itself as New York cool. At the launch, invited guests were treated to the theatre of freeze-dried popcorn, cool champagne and canapes (the prawn and chorizo skewers were a hit) – an apparent expression of gratitude for the crowd who had stepped out on a brisk Monday eve.

As the film fans snuggled into the V-max seat to watch Jason Bourne, a special mention was made of the founder of Village Cinemas, Roc Kirby. It was he who in the 1950’s founded Village Drive-Ins in Croydon ( later the operation was to be known as Village Drive-Ins and Cinemas) and who now has a beautiful bar named after him.

A brief video introduction from actor Matt Damon was impressive, as he noted the crowd was amongst the first in Australia to see the action-packed film.

Roc’s, with piano bar, comfy couches and chic décor, hosted more drinks after the screening.