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Friday, March 31, 2017

South America's First Luxury Train



Interest in South American Rail Spikes with Continent's First Luxury Train

According to Rail Plus, interest in South American rail journeys have always enjoyed strong growth, but the impending launch of the Belmond Andean Explorer in May, the continent's very first luxury train, is taking interest levels to a whole new level.

With year-on-year sales doubling from 2015 to 2016 for the company's current South American train experiences, Commercial Director of Rail Plus, Ingrid Kocijan, says as May 2017 approaches, the overwhelming interest pouring in for the brand new journey will not be slowing down any time soon, with tickets already being sold through the company's Great Train Journeys portfolio.

"South America remains one of the more exotic parts of the world for many rail travellers as the journeys take them through some of the world's most rough and raw terrains, remote villages and unspoiled nature reserves," says Kocijan. "There is, of course, also the element of affordability when compared to other Great Rail Journeys around the world.

The brand new Belmond Andean Explorer offers travellers a stunning new experience between Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, and the glassy Lake Titicaca. With four itineraries to choose from - the 1D/1N
Spirit of the Andes which goes from Puno to Cusco; the 1D/1N Spirit of the Water, the returning Cusco-Puno journey; the 2D/2N Andean Plains and Islands of Discovery which departs Arequipa to Cusco via Puno; and the 2D2N Peruvian Highlands, the return journey from Cusco-Arequipa-Puno - rail enthusiasts can easily tailor their journey according to the direction they are travelling.

All three cabin categories (bunk, twin and double) featuring ensuite facilities and Peru's hand woven fabrics will ensure travellers the utmost comfort, while the two dining cars serving menus designed by chefs from
Cusco's Belmond Hotel Monasterio will spoil palates with the best of local seasonal flavours.

Prices for this brand new luxury Peruvian experience starts from AU$676 per couple and includes all meals and tours. The Belmond Andean Explorer is the fourth addition to Rail Plus' South American offering which includes the Andean Explorer, the Belmond Hiram Bingham and Vistadome.

Festival time in Macau


Creating yet another splash in Macao this year is the annual International Dragon Boat Festival and a series of action-packed races and events that will have onlookers on the edge of their seats.

With thousands of supporters converging on the shores of Nam Van Lake, the highly-charged festival – to be held on May 27, 28 and 30 – attracts teams from around the globe, including Australia, to compete for the coveted trophies.

However, despite the dragon boat festival's widespread appeal, it is only one of a number of exciting - and vibrant - festivals and events to fill the Macao calendar which, for 2017, includes:

· A- Ma Festival (April 19), where locals pay homage to Macao's most popular deity, the Goddess of Seafarers, from whom Macao is said to derive its name.

· 28th Macao Arts Festival (April 28 to May 31) Organised by the Cultural Affairs Bureau, this year's festival carries the theme "Heterotopia" through texts, stories, images, music and imagery and makes up 25 shows and exhibitions, which, combined with the overall program, total more than 100 activities,

· 29th Macao International Fireworks Display Contest (September to October) Universally acclaimed as one of the best of its kind, the contest takes place on the shorefront of the Macau Tower each weekend from September to October with 16 teams from around the world competing.

· 17th Macau Food Festival (November 10-26) With the 338-metre-high Macau Tower as a backdrop, 120 local restaurants merge with 26 invited food and beverage merchants to put on this special food festival near Sai Van Lake.

· 64th Macau Grand Prix (November 16-19), a long-standing street motor racing event referred to as the proving ground of new legends. The Formula 3 challenge from the carnival is internationally recognised as the longest running event of its kind and most prestigious on the local calendar.

· Parade through Macao, Latin City (December 3) Marks the anniversary of Macao's Handover to China and highlights Macao's cultural features. Prepare for artists to present dazzlingly colourful performances, bringing the celebration to a vivid climax.

· 36th Macau International Marathon (December 3) Held on the same day as the parade, runners from around the world pound the streets of Macao. For those less physically inclined, there's a half marathon and mini event.

· Macao Light Festival (Dec 3-31) Like Sydney's Vivid, this festival brings to life small squares and major historic buildings through neon lights and colourful 3D mapping.

· International Film Festival and Awards (December) Macao will roll out the red carpet and reach for the stars at its second annual AFFAM, screening films from Asia and beyond in Europe and South America.

Details: Macao Government Tourism Office: www.macaotourism.gov.mo




Thursday, March 30, 2017

Uniworld Joie de Vivre set sails


The Boutique River Cruise Collection's First Super Ship to Sail the Seine River Embarks on Inaugural Journey through Northern France

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's newest Super Ship, the S.S. Joie de Vivre, set sail yesterday on its maiden voyage along the historic Seine River. The inaugural events included a christening ceremony in Paris led by the ship's Godmother, Dame Joan Collins. Following the event, the S.S. Joie de Vivre embarked on its journey through Northern France along Uniworld's Paris & Normandy itinerary, with unique programming in celebration of the highly anticipated launch.

"We are delighted to welcome the S.S. Joie de Vivre to our impeccable fleet of floating boutique luxury hotels, as the first of Uniworld's Super Ships to sail the renowned Seine River," said Ellen Bettridge, President & CEO of Uniworld. "Our company has brought travellers to France for more than 70 years and we are thrilled to introduce a new, enticing way to experience the country. Godmother Dame Joan epitomises the same 'joy of living' philosophy embodied by the S.S. Joie de Vivre, and we are honoured to have had her christen the ship before its inaugural journey."

With a length of 125 metres, rather than the typical 135 metres, the S.S. Joie de Vivre can conveniently dock in the heart of Paris in the shadow of its most beloved landmark, the Eiffel Tower. The ship has two Royal Suites, eight Junior Suites, and 54 staterooms for a maximum capacity of 128 guests. Sailings on the S.S. Joie de Vivre in 2017 run from 2 April to 27 December.

The family-run design team from Uniworld's sister brand, Red Carnation Hotels, has bestowed their creative talents on the S.S. Joie de Vivre with bright, colourful and classic design and décor inspired by 20th Century Parisian influence from the Golden Twenties to the free-spirited Sixties, all blending seamlessly with modern conveniences. The ship features a design influenced by its destination and reminiscent of the finest super yachts across the globe, including highly-polished wood finishes throughout the vessel, each surrounded by luxurious fabrics and carpets in a minimalistic setting.

Farm-to-table cuisine and superb local wines are on display throughout the ship's culinary venues, including Restaurant Le Pigalle, Salon Toulouse, Le Bistrot. Le Cave des Vins is the S.S Joie de Vivre's hidden gem – an intimate venue for an exclusive hands-on dining experience. Guests select fresh ingredients and prepare a seven-course meal with the ship's onboard chefs, with French wine pairings from the sommelier.

Passengers are invited to relax and indulge their senses at Club L'Esprit, the onboard spa and wellness venue. Club L'Esprit offers a variety of massage therapies and beauty treatments, as well as a fitness centre. Yoga sessions and aquatic fitness classes are also offered daily and refreshing smoothies are served in the L'Esprit Bar.

A pool with a hydraulic floor transforms the space from day to night for guest entertainment. By night the venue becomes Claude's and offers an authentic French Supper Club experience, serving delicious delights from a tapas menu accompanied by curated cocktails with live music. For a few nights throughout the duration of the journey, Claude's presents classic French cinema under the stars.

The S.S. Joie De Vivre joins the Uniworld fleet which feature all-inclusive itineraries in Europe, as well as voyages in Russia, China, India, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia – a total of 22 rivers in 26 countries worldwide.

For more details or booking, please visit uniworld.com Follow the inaugural sailing on Uniworld's social media community at facebook.com/uniworldrivercruises, instagram.com/uniworldcruises or twitter.com/UniworldAUS using the hashtag #ExperienceJDV.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Silversea Silver Cloud new designs revealed


The ship's multi-million dollar refurbishment to set new standards in luxury expedition cruising

Silversea has released a selection of renderings showcasing the beautifully crafted Silver Cloud interiors ahead of her conversion into an ice-class expedition ship, which will take place between August and October this year. Silver Cloud, which launched the Silversea fleet in 1994, will offer the ultra-luxury distinctions of a classic Silversea ship combined with the strength and maneuverability required for expedition cruising.

The new renderings highlight the luxurious design of Silver Cloud's public spaces including La Terrazza, The Restaurant, Observation Lounge, Panorama Lounge, and Venetian Lounge. The extensive refurbishment will include the creation of the Observation lounge, new teak flooring, upholstery and lighting in La Terrazza and new carpet and upholstery in The Restaurant. Silver Cloud will also feature a new gym with Technogym equipment.

In addition to interior updates, the multi-million dollar refurbishment will strengthen Silver Cloud's hull enabling her to explore polar waters. Silver Cloud's transition to an ice-class vessel will bring expedition guests the luxury, style and comfort synonymous with Silversea's classic ships. A guest capacity of 260 in non-polar regions and just 200 in polar regions means that guests will enjoy the highest levels of personalised and attentive service on board. The limited capacity in polar regions also means that all guests can disembark at the same time to explore each region.

"As the first ship in our fleet, Silver Cloud has a special place in Silversea's history, and we're delighted to reveal further details of her refurbishment. We look forward to welcoming guests aboard to experienceSilver Cloud's luxurious interiors as well as her incredible itineraries later this year," said Barbara Muckermann, Chief Marketing Officer at Silversea Cruises.

When Silver Cloud was launched in 1994 by Antonio Lefebvre, it set a new standard in luxury cruising. His son, Manfredi Lefebvre became chairman of Silversea in 2001 and has since expanded the fleet from four to eight vessels with a ninth currently under construction. The expansion has included the introduction of expedition cruising with the launch of Silver Explorer in 2008.

Silver Cloud will also have a team of up to 19 dedicated experts on hand to ensure guests leave with the best experiences from their voyages, whether they are the sights, the sounds, the history or the stories. Daily presentations and lectures by experts in the state-of-the-art theatre will also be streamed live to all suites.

For a copy of the Silver Cloud brochure or for more information contact your travel professional or Silversea Cruises on +61 2 9255 0600 or 1300 306 872 (Australia) or 0800 701 427 (New Zealand), or visit www.silversea.com

Saturday, March 25, 2017

MSC Cruises new generational mega ship MSC Meraviglia


MSC Cruises introduces flexible dining options – starting with MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside

MSC Cruises, the world's largest privately-owned cruise line, revealed their new innovative dining concepts – available on MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside.

Designed to meet the needs of today's cruise guests, the MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside will introduce flexible dining options and packages. These can be booked at any time prior to embarkation and whilst on board, with the ability to change it at any time during their cruise. For Fantastica booked clients the flexi dining options gives them the chance to choose their dining time in the main restaurant and the opportunity throughout the cruise, to change this timing to suit their needs. Clients will be able to allocate a dining time to their Fantastica booking from 60 days prior to sailing through their Manage your Booking on the website or throughout their cruise onboard. For Bella cruisers the Classic cruise dining experience is still available, with a choice of two sittings each evening. This is popular with guests who prefer a dedicated table each night - with personalised service from the same waiter.

MSC Aurea clients continue to enjoy "My Choice Dining" in the main restaurant for complete freedom, whilst MSC Yacht Club guests enjoy their dedicated MSC Yacht Club restaurant with free-time dining, with the option of reserving a table in advance for ease.

Casual dining venues are available for all guests 20 hours-a-day. The MSC Cruises buffet has been enhanced with a range of international food experiences. MSC Seaside will feature two casual dining venues, one of which will feature family-friendly options and child-friendly seating.

Speciality restaurants gives guests opportunities to experience cuisines from around the world. MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside will feature restaurants with innovative 'open kitchens' to experience chefs at work. Selected restaurants on MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside will also feature a Chef's Table deal
.
MSC Cruises will introduce a new Kaito Teppanyaki restaurant on board MSC Meraviglia to complement the ship's Kaito Sushi Bar. With a modern twist on Asian cuisine, guests can sit at cooking stations and watch chefs cooking at an open grill.

The Butcher's Cut, a new American Steakhouse restaurant concept, will celebrate the craft heritage of America. Guests can select steak from glass-fronted meat ageing fridges before chefs prepare fresh dishes in the open kitchen. The bold wine list features an appealing selection to complement the dishes. Cocktails are also inspired by American heritage, while guests can savour a wide range of craft beers.

MSC Seaside will also feature Ocean Cay a signature seafood restaurant. This will serve American-style fish dishes with a Mediterranean twist. Dishes will include Stone Crabs (a delicacy in the homeport of Miami), beautiful fresh Sea Bass (flown in from the Mediterranean) and homemade spaghetti alle vongole (with clams).

Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi will be a highlight on MSC Seaside. Three restaurants, created by the Japanese-American chef, will consist of: an à la carte restaurant serving gourmet Asian creations, a Sushi Bar and Teppanyaki Grill (each offering an authentic pan-Asian dining experience).

MSC Cruises is partnering with experts for dining experiences on new and existing ships. Roy Yamaguchi, world-renowned chef, is collaborating for the MSC Seaside. Chef Yamaguchi is involved in conceptualising and designing the new pan-Asian restaurant.

A long-standing partnership with Michelin chef Carlo Cracco will now encompass signature dishes for the main restaurant menus on MSC Meraviglia, including the Christmas and New Year menus.

Jean-Philippe Maury, French chocolatier and pastry chef, will bring sweet creations to the MSC Meraviglia. Jean-Philippe Chocolat & Café will feature an open chocolate atelier. Jean-Philippe Crêpes & Gelato will serve tasty treats at the ship's Mediterranean-style promenade.

MSC Cruises is introducing dining packages that can be booked prior to the cruise. Guests on-board the MSC Meraviglia can book a Dinner & Show Package for an exclusive table d'hôte menu and then experience a Cirque du Soleil at Sea performance in the purpose-built Carousel Lounge.
A special dining package Eataly Chef's Table will be available on the MSC Meraviglia, offering seven gourmet dishes cooked to perfection and all perfectly matched with seven wines. A package can be booked in advance to explore each of the speciality restaurants.

Find out about all of the new dining packages at: https://www.msccruises.com.au/en-au/Already-Booked/Cruise-Upgrade/Speciality-Restaurants.aspx

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Air Kiribati, Solomon Airlines sign agreement for new air links

Air Kiribati and Solomon Airlines have signed an agreement establishing a new aviation service linking Tarawa with Honiara, Brisbane and Nadi (Fiji).

The agreement holds even more significance for the Kiribati national carrier which recently relaunched as an international airline following a decision by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to provide the carrier with its official two letter designate code – IK.   

At an official signing taking place in Tarawa, the Kiribati Minister for Transport, Information, Communication, and Tourism Development, the Hon. Willie Tokataake heralded the signing as important both in its capacity to significantly boosts aviation access into Kiribati and also build on both countries' existing strong links.

"There is no doubt this new agreement will boost economic development opportunities and in particular tourism and export opportunities for Kiribati," the Minister said.

Welcoming the agreement, Solomon Airlines CEO, Brett Gerbers described the signing as an  important step for both airlines and would play a key role in forging an even closer relationship with Kiribati.

"Our partnership with Air Kiribati is an important one and we very much look forward to working together to see this become a success,

"This service is more than just a link between two nations – it is also an avenue for both nations to grow and prosper as we walk forward together."

Echoing Mr Gerber's words, Air Kiribati CEO, Tarataake Teannaki  aid his airline was excited to be working with an airline partner which understood the travel needs of both the Kiribati people and Air Kiribati.

"This service will be a major step up and will give the Kiribati people new options to travel beyond our islands," Mr Teannaki said.

Service start date and the service schedules will be announced in coming weeks with an official launch to be held in Tarawa. 

The development builds on an agreement signed last November for a new Air Service Agreement (ASA) and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Solomon Islands and Republic of Kiribati.

Aimed at promoting aviation between the two countries as one sector, the MOU is already showing development on a raft of activities intended to contribute to both countries' social and economic development.

W: www.flysolomons.com    
F: 
www.facebook.com/flysolomons 


Monday, March 20, 2017

Europe Holidays: A new choice for consumers

Consumers have a new choice for European travel, with the launch of Europe Holidays, a convenient reservations platform that gives travellers easy access to hundreds of escorted tours, cruises and island hopping packages, supported by an expert team 24/7.

Part of Magic Tours International Group, an Australian family owned company with 25 years' experience, which encompasses Select World Travel & Cruise and iFly.net.au, Europe Holidays offers meticulously curated itineraries throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East.

Managing Director, Chip Popescu, explains the inspiration for the company.

"We have brought together our passion for Europe, our vast real world experience gained through Select World Travel and our online expertise of iFly.net.au, to create the perfect combination that allows consumers the flexibility to book when and where they want, supported by the expertise and destination insights that only a true travel professional can provide," says Popescu.

"Europe Holidays really brings together the best of both worlds – online and offline – for the benefit of our travellers."

The company's signature tours include a 9-day Dalmatian Sunshine itinerary, which has an emphasis on the architectural and historical charms of Croatia, visiting Dubrovnik, Split, Plitvice Lakes, Postojna Cave, Bled, Ljubljana and Zagreb, and an 8-day Venice, Florence and Rome tour that encapsulates the renaissance splendour of the Tuscan capital, Florence, and the region's stunning panorama. It also specialises in Island Hopping arrangements in Croatia, Greece and Spain.

"Our tours provide a balance of expert escorted guidance and free time, providing flexibility to ensure our passengers see the highlights, but can also explore their own interests while travelling through some of Europe's most incredible cities."

To celebrate the company's launch, a competition is offering consumers the chance to win a Cannes & Monte Carlo Film Festival and F1 experience. The $10,000 value prize includes return economy flights for two to Nice, four nights on the French Riviera, the chance to go star spotting in Cannes, tickets to the 2018 Monaco F1 Grand Prix, a Michelin Star meal and a personalised itinerary.

Competition entry is via www.europeholidays.com.au/cannesmonaco..

Europe Holidays is headquartered in Queensland, and is IATA and ATAS accredited.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Kokoda 75th Anniversary Tour without Trekking


Until now, the only way to explore the battlefields of the Kokoda Campaign has been on a gruelling 10-day trek, a challenge that tests the fitness and spirit of all Australians who attempt it. But now, thanks to an innovative new tour designed by historian Mat McLachlan, travellers can visit key sites from this pivotal WWII campaign without the blisters and bruises of a Kokoda trek.

The Kokoda 75th Anniversary Tour -- Without Trekking, is a unique opportunity to visit the hallowed ground of the Kokoda Track with ease and in comfort -- without the need to pull on the hiking boots! This is the perfect opportunity to pay your respects to the 2000 Australians who were killed or wounded in this bloody campaign, and to walk in the footsteps of a relative who fought in one of the most famous Australian battles of all time.

Beginning in Port Moresby, the tour visits key WWII sites by air-conditioned vehicle, including Bomana War Cemetery, the largest Australian military cemetery in the world, and Ower's Corner, which marks the beginning of the Kokoda Track. From there the tour will fly by chartered plane to the village of Kokoda, enjoying magnificent views of the Kokoda Track en-route. At Kokoda the group will explore the scenes of some of the toughest fights of the Kokoda Campaign, and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the recapture of Kokoda by Australian troops with a flag-raising ceremony. The tour then visits the villages of Buna, Gona and Sanananda, scenes of heavy fighting during the Beachhead battles, which marked the end of the Kokoda Campaign.

"We are delighted to offer our clients the chance to visit the Kokoda battlefields without trekking, and to see these iconic sites which, until now, have been virtually inaccessible for most Australians," said Mat McLachlan, founder of Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours.

The Kokoda 75th Anniversary Tour -- Without Trekking, begins in Port Moresby on Oct 31, 2017, and runs for 7 days. Cost is AU$4397 per person (twin share, land only), and includes all accommodation, transport, guiding services by expert war historian and most meals.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Mat McLachlan, visit http://www.battlefields.com.au, or contact the team at info@battlefields.com.au or phone 1300-880-340.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Norfolk Island Country Music Festival 2017


Top Australian and New Zealand artists will once again be drawn together for the annual Norfolk Island Country Music Festival which is happening from 15 – 19 May.

The Festival this year celebrates 25 years of honouring new and established talent from both sides of the Tasman during the week-long line-up of activities at this popular short-haul holiday destination.

Headlining the Festival from Australia will be Shane Nicholson, who first made waves with rock band, Pretty Violet Stain, before releasing his debut solo album, It's a Movie in 2002. Shane has gone on to explore everything from folk to country music, picking up eight Golden Guitars, two APRA awards and two ARIA awards along the way.

Jody Direen will be the headline act from New Zealand showcasing her amazing vocal talent, gifted song writing skills and powerful stage presence. Jody's popularity has crossed international borders leading her on an epic journey to Nashville, Tennessee – and now Norfolk Island.

Also appearing from Australia are songwriter and former McAlister Kemp mainstay, Drew McAlister and country music duo, Warren H Williams and Dani Young, whose album Desert Water debuted at #2 on the ARIA Country Albums Chart and lead single, Two Ships, spent six weeks at #1 on Tamworth Country Radio.

From New Zealand, Midnite Special featuring Michelle Lightband, Lex Greaves and Rob Katipa Jnr, will be on board, along with Kelvin Cummings, New Zealand Gold Guitar winner and Trans-Tasman Entertainer of the Year at last year's Festival.

The Norfolk Island Travel Centre has announced a special 7-night Norfolk Island Country Music Festival package which includes a bonus Norfolk Island discount shopping card with free gift (valued at $40) and the following:

· 7 nights' accommodation
· Return economy class 'seat plus bag' Air New Zealand airfare to Norfolk Island
· All pre-paid airline taxes
· Arrival meet and greet at island airport
· Return airport transfers on-island
· 7 days' car hire (petrol additional and payable direct)
· Half-day island tour
· Miniature golf
· 'A Walk in the Wild' rainforest walk

This package is priced from $1199 per person twin share ex-Sydney for travel 12 - 19 May 2017 and from $1169 per person twin share ex-Brisbane for travel 16 - 23 May 2017.

Platinum and gold passes to the Festival events are available at a cost of $545 and $380 respectively for travel 12-19 May 2017 or $410 and $325 respectively for travel 16-23 May 2017.

For bookings, contact Christan Davies at Norfolk Island Travel Centre on
Toll Free 1800 1400 66 or christan@travelcentre.nf or www.norfolkislandcentre.com and quote Booking Code CM17.

www.norfolkisland.com.au

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Raging Thunder launches Cairns Hot-Air Balloon Co


Raging Thunder Adventures has rebranded its ballooning experience as Cairns Hot-Air Balloon Co to tap into the growing number of international travellers booking directly online.

Skydive the Beach Director Anthony Boucat, whose Wollongong-based ASX company purchased Raging Thunder Adventures in October 2016, said Cairns Hot-Air Balloon Co would continue to deliver the incredible experience of floating over Mareeba and its farmlands at dawn.

"The number of independent travellers wanting to go ballooning is growing, and research shows our new brand will perform better in the digital market as well as aligning with the international destination marketing of Cairns & Great Barrier Reef," he said.

"Raging Thunder Adventures has a proud history in Mareeba having pioneered ballooning in the Mareeba Valley in 1993, taking around 16,000 people a year safely on the surreal experience of floating in a basket.

"We currently have 14 staff based in Mareeba, including our Chief Pilot Steve Hawke, who has been flying for Raging Thunder for 24 years."

Mr Hawke said Mareeba was highly regarded as one of the best places in the world for reliable ballooning weather.

"Mareeba locals claim they enjoy more than 300 sunny days a year, and the Valley has calm early morning conditions so we can fly year-round," he said.

"Our guests watch the glow of the hot air balloons being inflated in the dark, and they slowly ascend as high as 4,500 feet above sea level as the sun rises and the twinkling lights of Mareeba go out.

"Every flight is different, whether it is the colour of the sunrise, the opportunity to float among clouds, or a bird's-eye view of wallabies grazing alongside neatly ploughed paddocks."

Mr Hawke and his family have a long history of employment with Raging Thunder, including his brother Dave, who has been a pilot with the company for 14 years.

"We train our pilots in-house, which gives our local employees a career path. Just last year, Leif Inglis, who has worked with Raging Thunder for more than 15 years, graduated as a commercial balloon pilot," he said.

"Raging Thunder has made a valuable contribution to the community over the past 24 years by providing employment, using local suppliers where possible, and supporting a range of local charities, schools and fundraisers."

For more information and to book, go to www.cairnshotairballoon.com.au 

Caption: Cairns Hot-Air Balloon Co Chief Pilot Steve Hawke has been flying visitors over the Mareeba Valley for 24 years. 


Queensland's Mary Valley historic ‘Rattler’ to get back on the rails


The lush farmlands of the Mary Valley will once again resound to the rhythmic chug of steam trains following the Queensland Government's announcement of a major grant to help get the historic Mary Valley 'Rattler' back on the rails.

The Rattler was thrown a lifeline when the Queensland Government announced the Mary Valley Rattler Project as a successful project for the Palaszczuk Government's Works for Queensland funding.

The $4 million grant is aimed at reviving the popular tourism attraction, which stopped services in 2012, due to the need for significant investment in upgrading the line. A further funding commitment of $600,000 was announced for the construction of a River to Rail recreation train on the Mary River including construction of pathways, viewing decks and signage.

The historic 40 km Mary Valley journey commences at Gympie, and after crossing the Mary River, negotiates an abundance of curves, gradients and bridges to pass through the small country villages of Dagun, Amamoor and Kandanga to Imbil. The railway line and Gympie station date back to pre-1880,

Gympie Regional Council Mayor Mick Curran said in response to the announcement: "In the immortal word of Johnny Cash 'I hear the train a coming'...and it's a sweet sound.

"We have been working closely with the Queensland Government and the Rattler Rail Company Board to get this project on track and we are delighted, as I know the community will be, with the announcement."

"Stage one of the project will include getting the Mary Valley Rattler up and running and commercially successful from Gympie to Amamoor and vice versa. We will then explore the feasibility of the train continuing to Imbil for stage two," said Mayor Curran.

Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Simon Latchford said that the funding commitment would help put the Sunshine Coast's Mary Valley back on the tourism map.

"This is one of the most beautiful parts of Queensland, with rich landscapes, outstanding food producers and historic towns, and having a tourist drawcard such as the 'Rattler' will provide major tourism impetus for the area," said Mr Latchford.

"The aim of the project is to give people easier and better access to the region, which offers so many ecologically rich experiences. It will help reconnect people to a hidden gem".

W visitsunshinecoast.com
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Find Sunshine Coast holidays at visitsunshinecoast.com
Business events: businesseventssunshinecoast.com.au
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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Japan attracting avid rail travellers


Rail Plus has reported that Japan is one of the hottest destinations for rail travellers from Australia and New Zealand.

Already recording a 10% YOY increase in sales this year, the rail provider claims the busiest period for Japan rail travel is between December and April during the winter months and Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season.

Commercial Director of Rail Plus, Ingrid Kocijan, says while Japan's rail network has a solid reputation of being one of the world's safest and most punctual, naturally becoming an essential experience to any visit to the country, increased accessibility to and around Japan also plays a large part in the steady growth in visitor numbers.

"Japan has always been a fascinating country for many Australian and New Zealand travellers thanks to the country's spectacular mix of culture, ancient traditions, cutting-edge technology, infrastructure, quirks and
cuisine among other interests," says Kocijan.

"With more affordable and frequent flight options made available complemented by lower rail travel costs, there is no doubt we'll continue to see the numbers grow in healthy double digits."

According to Kocijan, more and more travellers are also appreciating and enjoying the bonuses and savings afforded by Japan Rail Passes. They include free seat reservations, outstanding on-board services and facilities, the free use of certain bus lines, ferries and airport trains, as well as free entry to popular attractions such as Tokyo Tower, Mt Fuji and Himeji Castle among many others.

Rail Plus currently offers the lowest prices for Japan Rail Passes in Australia and New Zealand, with the 7-day consecutive pass starting at $178 for children under 11 and $355 for adults. Passes are valid for non-Japanese
residents and must be obtained before travelling to Japan.

Girl power: How to plan your ultimate girls' trip to Canada


From yoga groups to high octane adventure-seekers, like-minded women are increasingly choosing Canada for their ultimate girls' trip.

With Canada celebrating its 150th birthday throughout 2017, there's never been a better time for hard-working Aussie women to get away from it all and experience something completely different, from eclectic cities to bountiful wilderness.

"We know that group trips for women are on the rise, whether they're choosing to travel independently or as part of an organised tour," says Donna Campbell, Managing Director, Destination Canada GSA.

"Women who share a passion, such as hiking, biking, or even food, are keen to explore Canada's diverse landscapes and world-class cities – and leave the boys at home!"

Here are five unforgettable ways to spend quality time with your girlfriends:

Rejuvenate the body and soul at the newly opened Le Monastere des Augustines wellness sanctuary. Steeped in history, this boutique hotel in the heart of Quebec City preserves the spirit of the Augustine Sisters that resided there as far back as the 1600s. Taste your way through Old Quebec with a walking Quebec City Food Tour, where you'll sample both traditional and modern cuisine, and learn what it truly means to be Québécois.

Strike a pose in Ottawa! Bring a mat and your girlfriends for a vigorous outdoor yoga class on Parliament Hill in Canada's capital city. Classes run each Wednesday at noon from May to September on the grassy lawns, and best of all, they're free of charge. Ottawa is the nation's party central throughout 2017 as the country celebrates its 150th year since Confederation. Visit with your gal pals during July and participate in the first ever Interprovincial Picnic on the Alexandra Bridge. Relax on the lush grass and soak up the majestic views of the Ottawa River. 

Hike some of Canada's most incredible national parks, surrounded by a group of adventure-loving women with World Expeditions new Women's High Trails of the Canadian Rockies tour. Explore four national parks, stunning peaks, and glaciers in Alberta, including heli-hiking at Mt Assiniboine, discovering the red rock canyons at Waterton Lakes National Park. Click here to find out more about this 15-day adventure. Remember, Parks Canada is offering FREE entry into all National Parks and Historic Sites for the duration of 2017.

Take a road trip through eastern Canada's Maritime provinces, Thelma & Louise style! Start in Nova Scotia where quiet roads wind along a stunning rocky coastline, adorned with lonely lighthouses and artisan villages. Cross through the Annapolis Valley, with its abundant wineries and farms, and cross the provincial border to New Brunswick, where you'll experience the highest tides in the world, phenomenal whale watching and some of the best hiking in Canada, along the Fundy Trail. Finally, make your way to Prince Edward Island, an island playground of rolling hills, incredible seafood, a thriving arts scene, and, of course, Cavendish, where Lucy Montgomery famously created the stories of beloved 'Anne of Green Gables'.

Live it up in Toronto! Canada's largest city is a dynamic medley of cultures, guaranteeing a girls' trip full of cosmopolitan art, fascinating neighbourhoods, designer and vintage shopping, and a world-renowned food scene. Enjoy lunch at dining hot-spot FRANK, within the walls of the Art Gallery of Ontario, or spend the day shopping on Queen Street, Yorkville, and Kensington Markets. When night falls, hit the chic Cibo Wine Bar, an industrial uptown bar, serving vino from nearby Niagara wineries. 

GETTING THERE

Air Canada flies daily from Sydney and Brisbane direct to Vancouver. Qantas flies direct from Sydney to Vancouver during select times of the year. Services are also available through Virgin, Delta, United and Air New Zealand.

Visit www.keepexploring.com.au

Kangaroo Island with SeaLink


Only $41 return fare to Kangaroo Island with SeaLink

Spend the day on Kangaroo Island and see the amazing sight of a cruise ship anchored off Penneshaw, visit Penneshaw Markets and enjoy the festivity of the cruise ship being in port with SeaLink's special $41 Market Day return ferry fare now available on the day's cruise ships come into port.

"More and more cruise ships are stopping off at Kangaroo Island each cruise season and with the Penneshaw Farmer's and Community markets now being held on these days, in addition to the first Sunday of every month, we thought what a wonderful opportunity for the people of Adelaide to not only see a cruise ship anchored in Hog Bay but to join in and experience the fantastic atmosphere the ship and its passengers create in the township." Says Julie-Anne Briscoe, Marketing Manager, SeaLink South Australia.

"Extending our regular KI market day $41 return ferry fare to guests on the days the cruise ships visit was an easy decision to make and we hope it helps to bring more visitors to the island." Continues Ms Briscoe.

Kangaroo Island has an incredible buzz when there is a cruise ship visit, with many of the cruise ship passengers taking advantage of shore excursions and tours, with the majority of passengers having never visited the island before.

Visitors who take advantage of the $41 Market Day return fare will find many activities to do in Penneshaw. First grab some breakfast and check out the local produce at the markets, only a five-minute stroll from the ferry terminal and open from 9am to 1pm.

Then there's the thrill of a KI Ocean Safari ride around the bay spotting pods of dolphins, seals and sea eagles, or you can wander around town and enjoy lunch at a local café or the Penneshaw Hotel, follow a historical walking trail, do a spot of fishing or beachcombing or visit the Maritime & Folk Museum.

A must do is a stop at the Visitor Information Centre, to see the 'real' Frenchman's Rock, displayed in a glass case. This famous rock was inscribed by the members of Nicolas Baudin's crew on the ship Le Geographe in 1803 on their expedition to map the coast of New Holland (now Australia).

The MV Artania will visit Penneshaw on Friday 17 March, 2017 from 7.00am to 4.00pm, the Oceania Insignia will visit on Saturday 1 April from 8.00am to 4.00pm and P&O's Pacific Eden on will visit on Tuesday 4 April, 2017 from 7.00am to 6.00pm.

The special Market Day ferry fare is only $41 return per person and is available on the cruise ship days of 17 March and 1 and 4 April, 2017 on the 10.00am ferry from Cape Jervis and the return 5.30pm service from Penneshaw.

The $41 Market Day fare is also available on regular Penneshaw market days - the first Sunday of each month.

For those who wish to take their own car, travel is at the full car ferry rate of $196 return.

For bookings visit: www.sealink.com.au

Tulip Time: Southern Highland Festival's 150,000 tulip show


HIGHLANDS FESTIVAL'S 150,000 TULIPS

David Ellis

THEY'RE already gearing-up in the Southern Highlands of NSW for this year's annual September Tulip Time Festival – and with pretty good reason why.

Because between September the 12th and 24th, an estimated 65,000 garden-loving visitors will wend their way through the region's historic and spectacularly garden-carpeted towns of Bowral, Mittagong, Moss Vale and Bundanoon, and equally-so a near dozen also-historic, picturesque and garden-proud villages around them.

And they'll splash-out a whopping  $7m on food and drinks, accommodation, sightseeing and shopping while doing so, plus outnumber the 53,000 permanent population of the Southern Highlands by over twenty per cent during the Festival, which is actually  the biggest annual event in NSW south of Sydney.

First settled in the early 1800s by pioneering colonial farmers and graziers, the cool-climate Southern Highlands also became quickly popular as a weekend and holiday getaway from Sydney's summer-time heat for the new settlement's gentry. And to remind them of home they built grand English-style houses and mansions for their getaways, surrounding them with gardens massed with cool-climate roses, bulbs, shrubs and trees from "the old country."

Today many of the still-remaining of those original homes and gardens help make the Southern Highlands the spectacle they are, and this year's 57th Annual Tulip Time Festival will see lots of these gardens open to visitors.

Bowral's famed Corbett Gardens alone will feature an amazing 100,000 tulips and 15,000 annuals – which is certainly a lot more than the 500 bulbs that were the highlight of the first Tulip Time in 1960 – while other public parks and gardens will also blaze with 40,000 tulips and other annuals.

There'll also be a street parade through Bowral on Saturday September 16th with marching bands, floats, a procession of classic cars and vintage farm equipment, and street performers. And looking on will be visitors who'll come by car, motor-coach and rail from across Australia – including a special steam train from Sydney – and from as far off as New Zealand and even, as last year, from Asia too.

The Southern Highlands are just 110km by road south-west of Sydney and 180km north-east of Canberra. For more information including help with booking accommodation call 1300 657 559, or visit southern-highlands.com.au

                                                                 ……………….

PHOTO CAPTION:

[] TULIPS by the hundreds of thousands will flourish across the NSW Southern Highlands during this year's 57th Annual Tulip Time Festival from September 12th to 24th. (Wingecarribee Shire Council)


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Ten new Asian destinations on the rise



agoda, a world-leading accommodation site, today announced the results of its latest Travel Smart study, revealing the top 10 destinations in Asia gaining in popularity with travelers from around the world.

From the millions of bookings made on the site in 2016, travelers to Asia are showing a growing preference for lesser-known destinations that promise unique experiences.

Fastest riser is Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan's mythical powder paradise. Niseko features four interconnected resorts with more than 800 skiable hectares along the eastern side of the mountain. With an annual snowfall of over 15m, Niseko offers off-trail skiing, uncommon in Japanese resorts. But it's not just the snow that attracts visitors. Some go simply to savor the best of Hokkaido's local cuisine.

With seven of the ten destinations in South East Asia, tropical island life continues to attract nomads looking for holiday spots off the beaten track. This includes islands like Thailand's Koh Kood (3), Cambodia's Koh Rong (5) and the Philippines' Siquijor Island (9). To many Filipinos, Siquijor is an island known for its healers and witchcraft magic. For its visitors though, the Island's most spellbinding features are found underwater on this marine reserve, on its pristine white beaches, or at the peak of Mount Bandilaan, the highest point at the island's centre.

The Sarojin in Khao Lak


Andy Edwards, Global Director Brand and Communications adds, "It's clear that more travelers are adopting a more adventurous approach to travel, exploring new, undiscovered places rather than the traditional 'holiday' to a well-trodden destination. We're seeing an increase in bookings made in areas that bring travelers closer to local culture and nature, where life is experienced at a different pace, and against a different backdrop."

The rankings for Asia's 10 fastest growing destinations are as follows:

1. Niseko, Japan
2. Banaue, Philippines
3. Koh Kood, Thailand
4. Koh Lipe, Thailand
5. Koh Rong, Cambodia
6. Koh Lanta, Thailand
7. Harbin, China
8. Tangalle, Sri Lanka
9. Siquijor Island, Philippines
10. Khao Lak, Thailand

The study compared property bookings made by agoda travelers visiting Asian destinations from 2015 to 2016.

'MTA Moments Matter' national conference to reflect company ethos

With just over two weeks to go, the MTA – Mobile Travel Agents' 'MTA Moments Matter' National Conference taking place from 24-26 March 2017 is shaping up to be the company's best ever attended event.

Close on 380 MTA Members, support staff and suppliers are taking part in the conference  which in 2017 will once again be staged in MTA's 'spiritual home' on Queensland's Gold Coast,

As in previous years the company has engaged an impressive line-up of keynote speakers and presenters to participate in a busy conference program spread across three days.

These include MC and keynote speaker Mark Stephens, a TV and radio regular whose CV includes presenting training and motivational programs to a long list of companies including; Fairfax, Holden, Ford, McDonalds, Westpac and The Bank of Melbourne.

Business and culture expert Michael McQueen and motivational speaker Trish Murray will also present.

Business sessions also include "Meet The Experts", a new IT overview and a Head Office update presented by MTA CEO, Don Beattie while more than 70 suppliers will meet with MTA members as part of a 'Supplier EXPO' event, a standard fixture at all MTA national conferences in recent years.

On the lighter side of the agenda, optional Yoga, Running  and Tai Chi sessions, an Asian-inspired welcome dinner and a 'Swinging 60's & 70's' themed Celebrations Awards Dinner all add up to what is truly going to be a weekend moment that mattered.

Many of the attendees are taking advantage of their time on the Gold Coast with a visit to the MTA Head Office in Robina to attend ''sold out"pre and post personal development sessions organised as part of the conference.

Welcoming the delegates to the event, MTA co-managing directors, Roy and Karen Merricks have drawn reference to the reasoning behind the 2017 national conference theme, "Moments Matter".

"Time is such a precious commodity and making the most of our time is something that we all desire. So we must ensure that we make the best use of our time to create special moments for our customers and ourselves," the Merricks said.

"At MTA and in partnership with our wonderful suppliers, we create memories that last forever and can be instantly recalled, with a smile."

The venue for the 2017 'MTA Moments Matter' National Conference, as in 2016, is the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort.

 
W: www.mtatravel.com.au

F:   www.facebook.com/mobiletravelagents            

 

Hilton Sydney new Conference and Event Space

This week, Hilton Sydney unveiled its latest multimillion-dollar development, a new conference and event space spanning three levels. World-class entertainment by Opera Australia, a four-course banquet menu and Rob Mills as event MC marked the celebratory event.

State-of-the-art AV and technology, design carpets inspired by Sydney's city-scape, artwork from eleven renowned Australian artists such as Dion Horstmans, new soft furnishings including sofa lounges, panelling and registration areas as well as a first-class banquet menu helmed by Hilton's Executive Chef, Kruno Velican, are some of the new key features of one of the country's most versatile event spaces.

"Our launch event showcased the diverse options and premium offerings we are able to provide in our new conference and event space. We can cater for weddings, events and conferences from 10 to up to 3,000 guests offering world-class entertainment and creative catering options in a modern, warm and welcoming environment. We are very excited to offer our extended and updated services which will inspire and enhance our client's experience," says Ronald van Weezel, General Manager Hilton Sydney.

Over 350 guests enjoyed an immersive tour across the three levels designed by Joseph Pang, and were treated with culinary experiences from gourmet bite sized offerings to innovative cocktails and wowed by two of Opera Australia's top talent, Julia Lea Goodwin and Simon Kim.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

PTM to manage Solomons AU/NZ marketing activity

Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau chairman, Wilson Ne'e has announced the appointment of Precise Travel Marketing (PTM) as its industry marketing representative for Australia and New Zealand.

PTM will take immediate responsibility for all aspects of the national tourist office's travel industry marketing and related trade activity in both key markets.

Headed by Melbourne-based managing director, Richard Skewes, the company has vast experience in the South Pacific where it has been active since 1998.

This includes running a South Pacific specialist travel company and latterly, acting in an advisory role and involvement in marketing campaigns for several Pacific Islands' national tourist offices and resorts.

Welcoming Mr Skewes to the SIVB team, Mr Ne'e said PTM will be heavily involved as the SIVB sharpens its focus on the strategic direction it needs to take to achieve its goals with the travel industry in both countries.

Pictured (from left to right) – SIVB marketing representative AU/NZ, Richard Skewes; SIVB marketing officer, Stella Lucas and SIVB chairman, Wilson Ne'e.

W: www.visitsolomons.com.sb

FB: www.facebook.com/visitsolomonislands
 

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The Expeditionist

The Expeditionist
Venturing to the world's special places