The next time you’re planning a trip Down Under, don’t just opt for the obvious cities and itineraries. Do like the Her World team does and choose the road less travelled. Here, we share our favourite alternative hotspots.
Aretha Loh takes a walk on the wild side in northern territory, and gets up close and personal with nature – in style. She shares her top three experiences
Cruising with the crocs in Kakadu National Park
We’re far from the city here. And by far, I mean a two-hour, 150km drive from Darwin, the capital of Northern Territory. We’re travelling through Kakadu National Park – Australia’s largest national park and a Unesco site. Despite the glare of the midday sun, I cannot stop peering out of the Land Rover at the vast expanse of land and sky.
The brochure in my hands states that the almost 20,000 sq km park boasts more than 2,000 plant species, but all I see is desert-like ground. Clumps of fallen spear grass and giant anthills line the dirt road we’re travelling on, indicating that we’re in the middle of the dry season, which runs from May to October. My eco-guide Dean Hoath (www.indigofera.com.au) looks on in amusement as I take one time-lapse video after another. He tells me that during the wet season, monsoonal rains and storms flood the parched landscape, transforming it into a lush, green one. Some roads even become part of the floodplains. Nonetheless, I’m spellbound – how often do we get to be so far removed from the city grit?
Sunsets in Northern Territory are magical – just like this one. My adventurous dinner of buff alo sausages, kangaroo steak and barramundi fillet. Morning exercise – check! One of many panoramic views in Kakadu National Park, making every moment there a picture-worthy one.
The next morning, I’m up at 6am and making my way to the heart of Kakadu National Park for a sunrise view of its most famous wetland: the landlocked Yellow Water Billabong (a billabong is a pond left behind after a river changes course) located at the end of Jim Jim Creek, a tributary of the South Alligator River, which encompasses river channels, floodplains and backwater swamps. As I step gingerly onto the Yellow Water Cruises boat, I’m warned not to stick any part of my body out of the boat – something tourists tend to do for an Insta-worthy snap. “Crocs spot shadows on the surface of the water and can jump up to 5m high at lightning speed to grab their prey,” explains Porsha, my ecoguide on the cruise. I move one seat in. Over the next hour, Porsha doubles as the boat’s skipper as we embark on a wildlife-spotting expedition. She identifies crocs lazing on the muddy banks, and whistling ducks and birds perched on the vegetation lining the still waters. Her encyclopedic knowledge of the wildlife is beyond impressive – she is able to identify species by sight, and can rattle off their scientific and common names easily. The self-professed wildlife warrior shares near-death stories of catching crocs and working with the late famed croc hunter Steve Irwin – she even shows off battle scars on her limbs, recalling a time when a female croc nearly chomped off her hand.
Nevertheless, Porsha is insistent that “they need our protection”. It may be hard to believe, but the park’s current 10,000-strong croc population was at risk of extinction between the ’40s and ’60s, when they were extensively hunted for leather and sport. Thankfully, protection measures were implemented in 1971 and their numbers have since increased. This intimate connection to the land and its wildlife is what Yellow Water Cruises prides itself on. You’re not just taking another touristy ride through nature, you’re getting a biology-cum-history lesson – the most interesting one I’ve ever had, I must add!
Luxe camping in the Mary River Wetlands
My next destination: the Mary River Wetlands, which is 50km west of Kakadu National Park and a comfortable 90-minute drive through more desert-like landscape. Without warning, Dean veers off the main road into a small dusty one and we pull up to the Wildman Wilderness Lodge (www.wildmanwildernesslodge.com.au). “Lodge” is quite a humble term; it comprises a central lodge with a bar and restaurant, 10 air-conditioned Habitats (the lodge’s term for its cabins) and 15 snazzy Safari Tents. I excitedly pick the dusty-white Safari Tent – “tent” really is an understatement for the roughly 538 sq ft fan-cooled room with a kingsize bed and an en-suite bathroom – that blends in perfectly with the surroundings. Surprisingly, there’s room service here and even Wi-Fi! Honestly, why go camping when you can be glamping?
On the outdoor patio of my tent, I’m greeted by kangaroos and their smaller relatives, wallabies. Yes, these creatures roam free here and can hop right into your tent if you don’t keep the door shut – there are no fences, gates or hedges. The owner of the lodge remarks that they’ve even been known to share the outdoor pool with guests, and divulges that he once had to fish a wallaby and a snake out of it. Out here, humans are the visitors and the animals are the real residents. The last item on my itinerary for the day: the Leichhardt Point Sundowner tour (A$65, or roughly S$67, per adult; A$40 per child). Leichhardt Point is at the edge of Home Billabong, which lies adjacent to the lodge, and is supposedly the perfect spot to watch the sun set. After a turbulent 20-minute ride through forests and savannahs, we arrive. Here, where the land is flat and there are no trees or bushes, I have an unobstructed view of the horizon. And the sunset is spectacular – akin to watching a watercolour painting come to life, with hues of pink and orange layered over a blue backdrop. I whip out my iPhone for one time-lapse video after another. The mozzies are attacking furiously despite the copious amount of insect repellent I’ve sprayed on, but I stand undeterred. This is just about the most breathtaking view I’ve ever seen in my life, and there’s no way I’m going to let it go uncaptured.
The ultimate tour of Sweets Lagoon
I keep reminding myself to take deep breaths as the floatplane takes off from the Outback Floatplane Adventures hangar along Mitchell Street. Even though Darwin is the capital city of Northern Territory, it’s surrounded by lots of rivers, marshlands and vegetation, making it the ideal spot for holidaygoers who want to experience a bit of city life and a whole lot of the great outdoors. I’m on Outback Floatplane Adventures’ The Ultimate Tour (www.outbackfloatplanes.com.au), put together by Matt Wright, chopper pilot, animal expert and host of Nat Geo television show Outback Wrangler, in which he catches and relocates troublesome crocs, to give others a taste of his very exciting life of meeting wildlife face to face in their natural habitats, in half a day. “No biggie,” I tell myself, as we fly 70km to the west of Darwin and land in the middle of Sweets Lagoon – the lagoon where Sweetheart, a 5.1m-long saltwater crocodile, terrorised the area until her capture by Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission. (Her body is now on display at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.)
We land on water beside a pontoon in the lagoon, and I’m quickly
ushered onto a door-less chopper that takes off for an aerial tour of
Sweets Lagoon. From my vantage point, the landscape is relatively flat,
with floodplains and grassland interspersed with patches of rainforest. I
can see miles of rivers meandering through the forest canopy. In
comparison, the crocodiles and giant anthills I spot seem unimpressive.
About 20 minutes later, we are back on the pontoon. Next up: a ride in a
supercharged V8 airboat. This is an increasingly popular mode of
transportation in the ecotourism industry as it can navigate tricky
terrains such as shallow waters and narrow estuaries, allowing explorers
to travel deep into the jungle to observe wildlife up close. Its engine
and propeller are enclosed in a protective metal cage, so plants and
animals don’t get caught in them. In seconds, I’m zooming through the
lagoon Indiana Jones-style. The airboat drifts and spins, muddy water
flying everywhere. It is as though I’m in the airboat edition of Top
Gear. Our guide grins at the sight of his muddied passengers and only
slows down as we enter a tranquil rainforest.
An airboat used by the locals for fishing, bowfishing, hunting and ecotourism. A perfect landing executed by our female pilot. All smiles in the chopper’s cockpit.
Chilling out on the pontoon.
All aboard the floatplane heading for Sweets Lagoon.
I get a little lost in my own thoughts here as the pace slows, and I watch kingfishers and storks swoop into the water. I think I hear sea eagles overhead, but the dense canopy makes it hard to be sure. A couple of crocs swim beside the airboat as we coast slowly, unperturbed by our intrusion. Here, you aren’t allowed to feed the crocs or do anything that runs contrary to their natural way of life – which probably explains how unruffled they are by our presence.
As we motor along, we spot a group of baby crocodiles nesting by the riverbank. Despite the ferocious size of their mum (who is a safe distance away), each baby croc is no longer than a 15cm ruler. It’s hard to imagine that these tiny creatures will grow to an average of 5m. Everyone on board keeps still and silent as we watch the babies dive into the water and resurface, forming pools of little bubbles – this, incidentally, is a quick way to spot an emerging crocodile. I take in my last sunset in the floatplane on my way back to Darwin, chiding myself for neglecting Northern Territory the entire time I had lived in Brisbane (five years). “Pretty, isn’t it,” says the tourist beside me. Pretty? I have never been as mesmerised as I am now; the panoramic views are breathtaking – majestic rock formations, dense monsoon forests with rivers meandering through them and floodplains that extend as far as the eye can see. And to think that all this is just a four-hour flight away from sunny Singapore.
Glistening waters and skies dotted with fluffy clouds are Northern Territory’s free gifts to you.
Silkair flies to Darwin six days a week. For more information, visit www.silkair.com.
Evon Chng tells us what’s to love about the unassuming super-city that is fremantle.
The common refrain of many Singaporeans: There’s nothing to do in Western Australia! Well, as it turns out, that’s not quite true. I travelled to the beatnik town of Fremantle – or Freo, as it is affectionately referred to by locals – and fell in love with the quaint seaside town that’s brimming with eccentricity. Think of it as the freespirited, arty and bohemian younger sister of Perth – one with plenty of street festivals that allow performers and artists to showcase their talents. The backdrop? Numerous seafood shacks, craft beer breweries, and a buzzing retail scene with stores housed in grand Victorian and Edwardian buildings for an eclectic mix of old and new.
Scoot flies to Perth daily. For more information, visit www.flyscoot.com.
I couldn’t resist trying on a few things at the popular Billie+Rose (www.billieandrose. com.au) store – I ended up buying the pair of sunglasses – and picking up some of my favourite pieces (below) at Hunter Store (www.hunterstore. com.au). Both are housed in Many 6160 (www.many6160.com), a collaborative multi-level retail and offi ce space for emerging creative brands and business owners.
Husbandand- wife duo Kate Hulett and Matthew Bale at their store Kate and Abel (www. kateandabel.com), also housed in Many 6160. The lifestyle emporium stocks hats and trinkets from everywhere, but mainly Europe.
Fine arts-trained Andrew Christie, who works out of his studio A Good Looking Man, is the resident woodsmith at Many 6160 – he supplies the fixtures essential to some of the tenants on the retail floor.
A must-visit for culture vultures: Fremantle Prison, a Unesco World Heritage site. The former prison, one of the most notorious in the country during its 136 years of operation, was converted into a tourist attraction in 1991 and now hosts daily tours.
The murals displayed on the walls of the prison, painted by convicts who used art as a form of therapy, are museum-worthy.
A street painter’s artwork at last year’s festival – a mural so magnificent that my camera couldn’t quite capture it in all of its glory.
I managed to get a shot with mayor Brad Pettitt at one of the most photographed spots in the city along High Street during the 2015 Fremantle Street Arts Festival – lucky me!
Dining options are aplenty in Freo, and things get interesting during the festival. At last year’s fest, some boutique owners and restaurateurs took their set-ups to the streets. Fancy some cool alfresco dining… on a couch?
I got up close to the fabulous giant rats from The Rats – one of the highlights of the 2015 Fremantle Street Arts Festival. Hailing from Spain, the act by popular street theatre company Campi Qui Pugui Productions was a hit with everyone. For a full-on Freo experience, visit the town during this year’s Fremantle Street Arts Festival, from March 26 to 28 – expect buskers from across the globe to come together to entertain the crowd, with locals and tourists alike joining in the fun.
Tan Min Yan finds out just how much you can eat in Hunter Valley, the epicentre of amazing food and great wines. As it turns out, it’s a lot.
The picturesque Hunter Valley – just a two-hour drive from Sydney – is, no doubt, a stunning sight to behold. But it’s not the rolling green landscapes and sheer tranquillity that attract hordes of visitors – mostly city dwellers from nearby Sydney looking for a weekend break – every week; it’s the promise of utter decadence. If you plan your time right, a couple of days here could see you wining and dining like royalty on beautiful wines, craft beers, delicious cheeses and more. Resistance is futile, and pants with elastic waistbands are absolutely necessary. Get set to feast at these five establishments – all favourites of mine.
The iconic Tulloch winery is almost synonymous with the history of Hunter Valley (the Tulloch family was one of the earliest settlers in the area), and a tasting experience is the best way to get a glimpse into the winery’s rich history, not to mention try its famed Verdelho, a white wine made from Verdelho white grapes. The most fun part, of course, comes at the end of the session, when you get to buy what you’ve just tasted and enjoyed. The fortified Creme de Vin dessert wine is my favourite, and you can never go wrong with bottles of Verscato, a sparkling pink wine that’s all too easy to down, as souvenirs.
Big French windows give the countryside-rustic-meets-industrialchic space plenty of sunlight, and the farmhouse-style building they sit in overlooks the manicured lawns of the Keith Tulloch winery. Instagramworthy good looks aside, Muse Kitchen impresses most through its food. The modern European-style cuisine (such as salt-baked suckling pig and pork belly, and duck confit, both of which I wolf down) is fuss-free and delicious, ditching theatrics to let the fresh, locally sourced and produced ingredients take the spotlight.
Adina Vineyard & Olive Grove
It’s easy to overlook the humble olive oil when your senses are being besieged by food in all manner of decadence, but it’d be a pity to forgo a trip to Adina Vineyard & Olive Grove. Home to some award-winning estate wines, Adina is also well known for its range of olive products, in particular, its extra virgin olive oil, which has the unmistakable, pristine taste of freshness – not surprising, considering that the olives are grown on-site, inspected rigorously, then processed with no heat or chemicals. Save some space in your luggage for a few bottles.
Emerson’s Cafe & Restaurant
The restaurant sits on prime land, in the vicinity of the sprawling grape vines and olive grove of Adina, and is within short driving distances of all its suppliers, allowing chef-owner Emerson Rodriguez to realise his vision of minimising farm-to-table time. The modern Australian-style dishes (think: barbecued pork loin and crispy soft-shell crab) are delicious in a way that can only be achieved with really fresh ingredients, and are best savoured with a few bottles of Adina wines while sitting out on the beautiful veranda.
Main photo Corbis photos of Emerson’s Cafe & Restaurant emerson’s cafe & restaurant photo of exp. Restaurant exp. Restaurant
Chef-owner Frank Fawkner believes that dining in a restaurant is all about the experience – from the food and wine down to the service and music – and his ethos is reflected in this charming venture in the form of beautiful ceramics, art pieces and a garden that supplies the kitchen. The highlight of a dining experience here, of course, are the dishes. You could go for just the minimum two-course requirement, but I recommend going for broke and opting for the five- or eight-course tasting menu. Starting with the table bread – which is served with a side of butter and a fresh-herband- liquid-nitrogen mixture that you pound to make herb powder – all the dishes are meticulously executed. It’s really wow all the way here.
Stay at: Chateau Elan
This ultra-luxurious spa resort is the embodiment of relaxation. Much like the sprawling grounds, rooms are generous in size, and boast amenities designed for the sole purpose of helping you unwind – think an ergomotion bed with massage functions and a spa bath (only in its Spa Suites). Super fancy. Rates start from A$639 per night for a King Room.
The hyper-energetic arts scene in Sydney isn’t just about grand museums and posh galleries. Tan Min Yan discovers other elements that make a traipse around town essential.
The annual lights, music and ideas extravaganza that is Vivid Sydney is worth a visit, if only for the sheer variety of activities that’ll keep you entertained during the cold, wintry days of late May and early June. The Vivid Light segment of the festival transforms the city into a smorgasbord of light installations, sculptures and grand-scale projections, making it perfect for non-committal types who want to get a feel of the festival on little time. For those who want to be more engaged, Vivid Music brings in an impressive line-up of local and international artistes (the 2015 edition saw English singer Morrissey and legendary performer Grace Jones take to the stage), while Vivid Ideas’s talk series, exchange sessions and creative conferences will surely get some very interesting conversations started.
As beautiful as the Bondi Beach coastline is, it’s the iconic Bondi Sea Wall, a site for graffi ti since the ’60s and now a canvas for sanctioned art, that gives the promenade its youthful vitality and identity. A walk down the stretch is a fascinating visual fest of stunning colours, and the artists’ incredible talent deserves many Instagram updates. The murals are ever-evolving, save for two: the Chloe Memorial Mural, in remembrance of Bondi local Chloe Byron, who died in the 2002 Bali bombings, and a commemorative Anzac mural in tribute to the Australian and New Zealand servicemen who perished at Gallipoli during World War One.
May Lane in St Peters
Thanks to the efforts of local resident Tugi Balog, what was once a dingy back alley targeted by vandals is now one of the most renowned street art sites and outdoor exhibition spaces in the city. Every month, invited local and international artists alike keep the visual impact of the area ever so vibrant with a showcase of a diverse range of quality street art. If you’re lucky, you may even encounter artists hard at work on their murals – they’re usually happy to chat, but do ask before you barge in on them.
You’ll leave May Lane with a greater appreciation for street art after witnessing the incredible detail and colouring of all the works here.
Stay at: Intercontinental Sydney Double Bay
Double Bay, a shopping district known for its high-end boutiques, is significantly quieter than the more populous areas. Pick a bay-facing room, and you’ll wake up to a view of the sparkling sea. Room rates vary according to season.
Singapore Airlines flies four times daily from Monday to Saturday, and three times daily on Sunday, to Sydney. For more information, visit www.singaporeair.com.