The Kimberley, Melbourne, China, Dubai... even Elvis gets a look in as Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield surveys another week in travel
TEACHER NOT SERVANT
“I learned to travel. And what has been interesting travelling with my son is, he has taught me that you travel to learn. It’s very different when you flip the words around like that”, said Hari Nair during his Coffee Chat panel at WiT Singapore 2022 technology conference. Hari is senior vice-president of Lodging Partners, Expedia Group, an expert in applying innovation and has advised Fortune 500 companies. He added: “A destination is not a servant. A destination is a teacher, and the way to travel is to be an active participant.” Hari says he has been to 58 countries.
STAMP OF APPROVAL
As a boy, Viking Cruises founder and chairman Torstein Hagen was a stamp collector. In 1957, when he was 14, he sent a “first-day cover” as far as he could think from his home in Norway — addressing it to his sister, in Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina. It was returned to sender, receiver unknown, and Torstein had his nicely stamped first-day cover. His love of geography played out when he established Viking in 1997, with the purchase of four ships in Russia and the vision that travel could be culturally immersive. And his interest in Ushuaia has just played out, as Torstein, in his 80th year, has just been there to board Viking Polaris, an expedition ship heading to Antarctica.
DRINK TAX GONE
A 30 per cent alcohol tax has been scrapped in Dubai, apparently as part of its push to further increase tourism. Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, has been relaxing laws for some time, even allowing alcohol to be sold in daylight hours during Ramadan.
TFE Hotels in Melbourne has put together some attractive prices for summer, with savings of up to 35 per cent on usual prices.
- The Savoy Hotel On Little Collins was built in 1928 but is one of the city’s most sophisticated modern hotels. It is about a minute’s walk from Southern Cross Station. Rates are from $291 a night in a Savoy room queen — up to 35 per cent lower than usual.
- Rendezvous Hotel Melbourne has up to 35 per cent off, plus a buffet breakfast and late check-out. Nice. This fine, historic hotel in the heart of the city has recently been refurbished. Rooms mix contemporary style with old-world charm. Rates are from $244 a night.
- Quincy Hotel Melbourne is on Flinders Lane and handy for those who appreciate boutique baristas, local fashion and laneway graffiti art. It has rates from $200 a night — saving up to 30 per cent, and with a bottle of wine on arrival.
- Vibe Hotel Melbourne on Queen Street, with Yarra River and CBD views, has up to 20 per cent off, with rates from $231 a night.
Book at tfehotels.com
THINKING OF ELVIS
There’s been plenty to do in Perth over this sizzling holiday period — from our beautiful beaches to an evening sitting under a clear sky watching Elvis, the biographical movie written and directed by Baz Luhrmann, at Mosman Park’s Camelot outdoor cinema. How fortunate we are . . . (and how great is Elvis, driven by, and dying for love, as Baz’s script put it.)
When we think of travelling to Memphis, I think of Elvis and Graceland first. It’s on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Of course. Elvis loved this grand home, and died here in 1977. It was his private retreat, and where he spent time with his family. It is open to the public, as Graceland Mansion and the Elvis Presley’s Memphis — an amazing Elvis museum. Graceland has recently introduced 10 state-of-the-art, immersive experiences, using virtual and augmented reality. There’s a chance to “Elvis Yourself” with a virtual dress-up experience, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll will sing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to you in an augmented reality serenade. Visitors can also sit, front row, in an immersive Elvis concert experience. graceland.com
BACK TO CHINA
When it comes to Memphis, I then think of Memphis Zoo. Its two giant pandas, YaYa and LeLe, which have been on loan from China for 20 years, are leaving the Tennessee zoo and returning to their homeland. A zoo spokesperson says: “As a valuable part of our zoo family, our keepers have invested a lot of time to learn everything about these two unique bears, from their eating habits to their favourite toys. Memphis Zoo and the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens have been partners since before the pandas arrived in Memphis in 2003. Both organisations collaborated in the design and planning of Memphis Zoo’s China exhibit, including the giant panda habitat, and over the past 19 years have continued to work together to ensure the best care for the animals in many ways.” memphiszoo.org
OUT OF CHINA
Key destinations in Asia are busy preparing for the arrival of tourists from China, as COVID rules there have dissolved, allowing them to travel again. From January 8, Chinese tourists will no longer need to quarantine when they return home. There has been a huge surge in bookings in the country of 1.4 billion people. There were more worldwide travellers from China than another other country in 2019.
It’s wet, wet, wet across a lot of the Kimberley. Once-in-a-century flooding. In the seven days to January 2, Windjana Gorge received 467mm of rain, and there was 544mm at Napier Downs. Gibb River Station, about halfway along Gibb River Road, got 461mm, as did Mt Barnett. Closer to Derby, Kimberley Downs received 391mm. Great Northern Highway, near Fitzroy Crossing, was cut in both directions. The fast-flowing waters also washed away part of a major bridge as the region is swamped in record flooding of the Fitzroy River. The Fitzroy River level was predicted to have a possible peak of 15.7m, smashing previous records for Fitzroy Crossing. WA Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said on Tuesday: “We have not seen rain like this for at least a hundred years.”
I was in the Kimberley to write about the last “once-in-a-century flooding”, in 1993. (No, it wasn’t more than 100 years ago, but it was, at least, in a different century.) There is a timeless quality to the Kimberley. This is what I wrote back then, and it feels as if I could have written it today . . .
- “A dull thud draws your eye down to the cracked brown earth near your feet. There, among the triangles, the maps of countries you seem to recognise or not, is a darker, browner circle about the size of a golf ball. Another thud. Another. Soon circles measle the ground and your nostrils fill with that unmistakeable fresh, sharp smell of rainwater hitting stark, baking ground. And you stand, dirty, salted sweaty, fresh water running over your sticky body, arms wide, looking to the heavens, and feel the joy of The Wet.”
- “Fitzroy Crossing was declared a natural disaster area, but there was almost a party atmosphere. We have just left a hundred people bathing, laughing and playing in what was once the Great Northern Highway, connecting Broome and Derby, but which has now become a rather elaborate swimming pool. There, bikies with their Harleys parked by the water, and the obligatory can of beer in a tattooed hand, cool off in the tepid water next to a group of largely Aboriginal kids from Derby Youth Centre. They’d come down in the town bus for the day. Gone are the days when people used to water ski on car bonnets towed through the water behind four-wheel drives.”
- I remember wading through Camballin homestead’s kitchen, up to my waists in warm, brown water, silt between my toes, mysterious cords and tea towels wrapping themselves unnervingly round my ankles — aware that snakes love water.
(A big wet season means beautiful country and big waterfalls at the start of the dry season.)
ROAD TRIP DISCOUNT
Travelmarvel, which is part of the APT group, has announced a saving of $2000 per couple on its 18-day West Coast Adventure, from Perth to Darwin, which runs between July and August 2023. It is from $9695 per person, twin share, until February 28 (or until sold out). The trip visits Shark Bay, the Kimberley’s El Questro Wilderness Park and Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory. In a comfortable, air-conditioned coach, there’s a tour director and driver. 1300 300 036 and travelmarvel.com.au