Escape Hunt in Sydney – if you dare

We’re locked in. It’s pitch black. I have no idea how we’ll get out. And I’m scared.

Scared I won’t be able to find the clues or solve the riddles that will help us unlock the door, and along the way, solve the mystery of who committed the murder in this Asian home.

The friendly staff at Escape Hunt Bangkok

The friendly staff at Escape Hunt Bangkok

We’re at Escape Hunt Bangkok, currently ranked the number one attraction on TripAdvisor in Bangkok.

I’m locked in the darkened room with three colleagues and we are racing against time – and four colleagues locked in an identical room next door.

We are playing the role of detectives (Sherlock Holmes-style) to solve a murder set in a Bangkok home about 100 years ago. We need to work together if we are going to beat our mates next door. But we don’t know where to start.

Thankfully, things look a lot brighter, literally, when I solve our first problem, which also boosts my confidence – at least I won’t be a completely useless member of our team.

Escape Hunt is an indoor adventure based on popular ‘escape the room’ online games. (And in Bangkok it’s an opportunity to escape the heat for a while.) With enthusiastic multilingual staff the game is explained to us in English.

Basically, we have to work together to find clues and solve puzzles that will help us find keys and work out padlock combinations, which, of course, unlock more clues. It involves observation, critical thinking and problem solving skills. It’s a race against the clock if you are playing by yourselves, or a race to beat another team if you are playing with a second group.

As the website says, “It’s exciting, challenging, addictive, educational and above all, fun!”

And the good news is, Escape Hunt is opening in Sydney on 15th August 2014.

In Sydney the mysteries are based in the historic Rocks area, “where crime was rife and mysteries lurked around every corner.”

So take your family, friends or colleagues and be some of the first in Sydney to ‘escape’.

Our two teams playing dress-ups after our game.

Our two teams playing dress-ups after our game.

If you get really stuck, you can ask the staff for hints. But every clue they give will cost you one minute of time.

We burst out of our room in Bangkok just before the hour is up, only to find our gloating mates waiting for us outside. However, they were penalised two minutes for clues, so on adjusted time we won – without assistance. Look who’s grinning now.

Hint: beware of the odd red herring.

 

 

Anyone done the Escape Hunt Experience in any other city?

The Escape Hunt Experience Sydney.

Check out the Escape Hunt Facebook Page for opening specials.

Posted in Attractions, Australia, Sydney, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Trek with Camels for Drought Relief

Camels were used as transport to colonise outback Australia

Camels were used as transport to colonise outback Australia

How about this for getting away from it all – join a camel trek from Alice Springs to Port Augusta – and raise money for drought relief by tagging along.

I’ve recently come back from the Uluru Outback Fest, in Australia’s Northern Territory. It’s a fabulous weekend combining dining experiences in the desert, interpretive tours of Uluru, or Ayers Rock, and the main event, camel racing, which is where I heard about Camels for Drought Relief.

The Camel Cup is held at Uluru Camel Farm and on race day there are stalls set up around the racetrack. It was at one of these stalls I met the lovely Hannah Purss. Between racing camels she was taking donations for drought relief and selling jewellery she’d made to help fund the project Camels for Drought Relief.

Shocked at the plight of farmers suffering from the worst drought in Australian history, Hannah, together with her boyfriend Evan Casey, decided to do something about it.

Hannah and Evan at the Uluru Camel Cup

Hannah and Evan at the Uluru Camel Cup

Hannah, originally from Sydney, and Evan, from South Australia, have been working with camels in the Australian outback for a number of years, training, riding and racing them, so the idea to use camels to raise awareness of drought-plagued farmers seemed like a good idea (at the time).

Camels were introduced into Australia in the 1800s for transport during colonisation because of their ability to withstand the harsh outback conditions. With the advent of motorised transportation, camels were no longer needed and released into the wild. It’s estimated the feral population grew to one million before culling was introduced to prevent them from degrading the environment and threatening native species.

Most of Australia's camels are dromedaries (one-humped camels)

Most of Australia’s camels are dromedaries (one-humped camels)

As camels were used to help build the outback, Hannah and Evan decided to use them to help rebuild it, via funds raised from a camel trek.  On reflection, Hannah says they probably didn’t think it through too much, but they have persevered.

They caught three wild camels at Mulga Park Station in late 2013 and have been training them ever since. Hannah describes Timmy, Crixus and Hugo as “enormous hairy beasts with big hearts to match”.

Hannah and Evan are funding the trek themselves and in order to save money  have moved into a tent. They’ve been building the wagon they’ll use from recycled materials, mostly found at the Uluru dump. Evan is currently making some last-minute improvements before the trek commences on July 13 from the Lasseters Camel Cup in Alice Springs.

A camel in full flight at the Uluru camel Cup

A camel in full flight at the Uluru camel Cup

They’ll be on the road for more than three months, and you can join them for part of the trek between Alice Springs and Finke. (They are offering transport from Uluru or Alice Springs to their location.)

It’s an awesome way to see the outback – sleeping under the stars, eating around a campfire, travelling in an eco-friendly way and in great company. And you’ll be helping raise money for our farmers. You can even get your friends to sponsor you to help raise further funds.

If you can’t make the trek, you can still donate to Camels for Drought Relief through their link at Everyday Hero. If you’d like to help fund their trip (they still need to buy medical supplies, camp supplies etc) you can do so through Go Fund Me.

It’s a fantastic initiative by two young Australians to give back to the country and I applaud them for their effort and hard work. Well done Hannah and Evan and good luck!

For more details visit Camels for Drought Relief or follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

More: Voyages Ayers Rock Resort

You can read about my time at the Outback Fest in an up-coming article in Escape travel.

 

Posted in Animals, Australia, Northern Territory, Outback, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learn healthy cooking at Sprout

Welcome cheese platter

Welcome cheese platter at Sprout Cooking

It starts with a cheese so blooming beautiful it’s almost too good to eat. Encrusted in finely chopped herbs and adorned with delicate pastel petals it awaits on a platter at Sprout Cooking, Adelaide Central Market, in South Australia.

Sprout is the ‘baby’ of a partnership between two personable young lads; MasterChef’s Callum Hann and dietitian Themis Chryssidis.

The pair met three years ago when Callum was teaching university students how to cook. The business evolved out of their different, but similar passions.

“We came at the business from different angles,” explains Callum.

Themis Chryssidis and Callum Hann

Themis Chryssidis and Callum Hann

Themis, a practising dietitian and personal trainer, wished he could show clients how easy it can be to prepare the healthy meals he advocated. Callum loved to cook, and eat, simple-to-prepare dishes that just happened to be healthy.

So Sprout Cooking was born, with the aim of teaching people how easy it is to prepare delicious, healthy meals at home while motivating them to take control of their health. As well as the signature ‘quick, easy and healthy’ class, there are sessions on vegetarian cooking, cooking on a budget, gluten free and calorie-friendly classes.

I’m lucky enough to visit the school as part of an AAT Kings short break, called South Australian Harvest. (See more below.)

Sprout Cooking Kitchen

Sprout Cooking Kitchen

We meet the boys in their light and airy training kitchen above the market, where brightly coloured aprons and utensils beckon from benches along with tantalising fresh ingredients.

“Cheese is high on my priorities,” says Callum as we tuck into the pretty Woodside Monet goat’s cheese around the communal table before we head down to the market to meet some of the suppliers.

There’re more delicious cheeses to sample at the Smelly Cheese Shop, artisan breads at Wild Loaf, Kangaroo Island honey at the House of Health and aromatic cured meats at Lucia’s Charcuterie, not to mention chocolate from the fountain at Providore.

Callum offers cooking tips

Callum offers cooking tips

Back in the kitchen we watch as Themis and Callum show us how to prepare the first of three courses, before we divide into small groups to reproduce it ourselves. As we finely slice red chillies and grate carrot for a pork and green apple salad the boys wander around dispensing amiable advice on chopping techniques and cooking methods.

As we sit down to eat each course with matching O’Leary Walker wines, the boys rush around doing our dishes and preparing the next round of ingredients.

We conjure up Cajun salmon with dill yoghurt and a peach salad without any trouble, but crumble when it comes to plating up the deconstructed cheese cake, resulting in some unappealing artistic creations. But it’s hilarious fun and tastes good all the same.

The nutritional meals are easy to recreate at home, as Cullum suggests alternative ingredients if there’s something you don’t have in the pantry (eg lime juice instead of rice wine vinegar).

Pork and apple salad

Pork and apple salad

Enthused, I whipped up both mains at home with ease (well, after I buy myself a julienne grater) and introduced the family to fried shallots and smoked almonds, two ingredients I haven’t used before.

And that says a lot, as although I’ve been privileged to attend several cooking classes around the world, this is the first time I’ve reproduced the dishes so quickly and easily at home.

Well done lads!

More: Callum was runner up in the 2010 series of MasterChef and winner of the 2012 MasterChef All Stars, securing $20,000 for the Cancer Council. He has since published two cook books. Themis is an accredited dietitian and personal trainer working in private practice, corporate health and sports nutrition. www.sproutcooking.com.au

Adelaide Central Market www.adelaidecentralmarket.com.au

I travelled to South Australia as a guest of AAT Kings on their South Australian Harvest Short Break coach tour, which focuses on regional produce, interesting characters, and gorgeous landscapes. You can read more about the trip in this article in Escape.

 

Posted in Cooking School, Food & Wine, South Australia, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pelican capers on Kangaroo Island

John Ayliffe prepares to feed the pelicans.

John Ayliffe prepares to feed the pelicans.

“I feel like a first-rate idiot with a seagull on my head,” says John Ayliffe as he stands on the waterfront at Kingscote on Kangaroo Island surrounded by a shivering squadron of pelicans. Dressed in khaki waders, industrial rubber gloves, a well-worn hat, and yes, a live seagull atop his hat like a wind-vane ornament, he looks every bit the character he is. Every day at 5pm he feeds the Australian pelicans for the benefit of tourists who come to Kangaroo Island, off the South Australian coast. Some visitors have come to see fairy penguins, or little penguins to use their proper name. But despite the sign on a nearby building declaring it the Penguin Centre, there are no more penguins here, says John, “The fur seals have eaten them all.” But more on that later.

Despite the lack of penguins, most visitors stay to watch the pelican feeding, which turns out to be a show in its own right. John, who has been feeding the pelicans for 20 years, is a bit of a comedian, and his droll humour has us in stitches. He’d be right at home on the TV series Grumpy Old Men.

Feeding the gulls.

Feeding the gulls.

We learn that pelicans don’t mate for life, in fact, the females are “fairly sporting”, and the shivering wings are not because they are “pleased to see you”, but to keep themselves warm as they have very little oil on their feathers. John feeds the seagulls first, by throwing fish into the air so we can watch their precision flying – and so they don’t get swallowed by a pelican, which has been known to happen. While a pelican’s pouch is extremely sensitive, their beaks are very strong, hence the waders and gloves. “Only an idiot would wear a kilt,” quips John.

Impatient pelicans.

Impatient pelicans.

A pelican pouch can hold a considerable amount and other pelicans will rob their mates if they think they have more than their fair share. They can’t dive to catch food, so when John throws the last of his fish in the water there’s lots of frantic bum-in-the-air bobbing and scooping.

Apparently, feeding pelicans is illegal and John tells me after the show he has been arrested twice. But he’s determined to keep feeding them to keep the tourists coming to Kangaroo Island. As pelicans hang-glide on the thermals above us John explains he was a “peasant farmer” running 9500 head of sheep, until he had to shoot 2500 during the drought.

Sea lions on Kangaroo Island.

Sea lions on Kangaroo Island.

Now he is concerned about the fishing industry, as he claims the local population of New Zealand fur seals, which is growing about 10% a year, has not only decimated the island’s little penguin population, but is now depleting the squid and cuttlefish (and they’ve been known to eat the odd pelican). He also believes they are displacing the sea lions, which he thinks authorities should drench for rampant hook worms. (Yes, John has strong opinions on a number of issues, but is a passionate advocate of Kangaroo Island.)

John's dog Roy waits patiently for a pat.

John’s dog Roy enjoys a pat from visitors.

Details: Pelican feeding takes place every day at 5pm on the northern side of Kingscote wharf. A donation is requested to cover the cost of fish: $5 for adults and $3 for kids. John lets you know during the show if you don’t make a donation he thinks you are “mean, miserable and shabby” and you make him irritable. Now I wouldn’t like to see that! But seriously, $5 is a bargain for this hilariously entertaining show.

 

I travelled to Kangaroo Island thanks to AAT Kings, on their South Australian Harvest Short Break, which focuses on regional produce, local characters and stunning landscapes. You can read more about the trip in this article in Escape.

Posted in Animals, Australia, Kangaroo Island, South Australia, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Bangkok back in business

Patriotic T-shirts

Patriotic T-shirts

According to this report from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, as of the 3rd March the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has scaled back their protests in Bangkok, dismantling the temporary rally camps at major intersections in the city.

This is good news for Thai businesses and tourism in particular.

I passed through Bangkok in early February en route to Koh Yao Yai Village and Elephant Hills Truck Safari (you can ready my upcoming travel stories in Escape soon).

Protesters camping out in Pathuman

Protesters camping out in Pathumwan

At the time the PDRC, who are protesting about what they claim is a corrupt government led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, had set up protest camps at four major intersections in Bangkok – Ratchaprasong, Pathumwan, Silom and Asoke. While the protesters were peaceful and did not block access to the surrounding shops or hotels, traffic was adversely affected.

Hotels in particular were suffering from a lack of tourists. I stayed at the VIE Hotel in Ratchathewi and the Siam Kempinski Hotel in Pathumwan and both said occupancy rates were significantly lower than usual.

Patriotic merchandise for sale

Patriotic merchandise for sale

I visited (cautiously) the Pathumwan protest site, well known for the MBK shopping mall. While it was a bit awkward to get into the mall at street level, I certainly didn’t feel threatened by the protesters in any way. In fact, quite the opposite. As an obvious visitor, they ensured I had easy access through the area, which looked very much like a street market, except for the tents and media presence.

Thousands of protesters from outside the central city had set up small dome tents down the middle of the road and on the traffic islands. Ablutions trucks parked nearby provided toilets and showers and a first aid tent was stocked with wheelchairs and triage beds.

Protesters sweeping the street

Protesters sweeping the street

A large stage and video screen was set up under the Skytrain overpass and when they weren’t hosting rally speakers, they showcased rock bands, giving the place a party-like atmosphere.

In the early morning women crouched outside their tents applying their makeup. Everyone helped sweep the streets of rubbish from the night before. Stalls were laid out on the pavement selling food and protest merchandise.

Protesters make merchandise to sell

Protesters make merchandise to sell

I was amazed at how much merchandise was available, all sporting the colours of the Thai flag, red while and blue. There were whistles, headbands, phone covers and T-shirts.  Enterprising families sat on the street weaving bracelets and baskets.

The protests were predominantly confined to Bangkok and I certainly didn’t see any evidence of them on my travels elsewhere in Thailand.

However, things changed significantly in Bangkok after I left, with violence breaking out in some areas, inflicting a number of casualties. Fellow travel writer Christine Retschlag (aka The Global Goddess) was there at the time and you can read her blog here.

As she quotes from one ex-pat, the protests have had a significant effect on the livelihoods of locals, many of whom rely on the income from tourists, either directly or indirectly.

School girls in Koh Yao Yai

School girls in Koh Yao Yai

So it is great news for locals and tourists alike that the protests have been scaled back in Bangkok.

As Mr Thawatchai Arunyik, the governor of TAT said, “At last, the heart of Bangkok can get back to normal. This scaling down of the protests means that international visitors as well as local residents can quickly and conveniently get around the city’s key shopping, business and entertainment districts as usual.”

Thailand needs our support, so if you’re thinking of a holiday in the ‘land of smiles’, consider doing it sooner rather than later. I know the Thai people will be grateful. And there are bargains to be found, with many hotels and resorts currently offering specials to entice visitors back.

For more information please go to www.tourismthailand.org

I travelled to Thailand as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Posted in Thailand, Travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Cruise packing tips – five items that make life on-board more comfortable

Sea PrincessI recently travelled aboard Princess Cruises’ Sea Princess on a six-night round-trip from Sydney to Tasmania. (You can read my story on the cruise at Escape.) This was my first ‘big ship’ cruise, though at 2000 passengers, it’s smallish, as far as big ships go.

When it came to packing, I wondered if there were any special cruise-specific items I should take, apart from the usual travel clothes, accessories, toiletries and medications. Turns out there are a few things that make life on-board a little easier or more comfortable. I’ve combined these with some clothing items you might not think to pack, but are a godsend in certain conditions.

1. A slim-line card holder – if you don’t fancy wearing your cruise card on a lanyard around your neck (like you are part of a tour group or a conference attendee). A small card holder that slips into your pocket is an ideal way of securing your cruise card (used instead of cash to charge all expenses to your account) and the mini map you’ll need to find your way around for the first couple of days.

Credit card pouch

Alternatively, a small clutch or shoulder bag, if you want to carry your phone, lip gloss and glasses along with your cruise card. A tiny slimline shoulder bag with a strap long enough to be worn across the body leaves your hands free and a small clutch works well with evening attire.

2. A power board – as there are a limited number of power points per cabin it’s a good idea to take a power board, especially if you have multiple cameras, phones, tablets or laptops to charge. Check out my previous blog post for my favourite little travelling power board from Jackson, which includes two sockets and two USB outlets and comes in its own pouch. 

powerboard

3. A light-weight cardigan or pashmina – although the on-board temperature is regulated, it can get a little cool in the restaurants, especially if you are seated directly under an air conditioning vent.  So take a shawl, wrap or lightweight cardigan to go over your evening clothes, especially if you are bearing your shoulders. A wrap or pashmina can also double as a lightweight blanket on deck if necessary. (Thanks to my friend and cruising guru Louise Goldsbury for this tip. Check out her riveting ‘behind the scenes’ blog The Cruisey Life: Uncensored.)

I’m currently loving my Threadz Handbag Cardigan, which is feather-light and scrunches into a tiny ball. Twist it around itself and use it as a neck scarf or tie to your handbag. Currently available online from Australian retailer Sorbet. Available in black, white and a variety of citrus brights.

9092 Black_175x233

4. A warm jacket – regardless of the weather or time of year. Even in summer a warm jacket or windbreaker is essential for those times you want to be on deck in the early morning or late evening, such as arriving or departing from ports – or just sitting and watching the majesty of the sea in wild weather.

5. A lightweight raincoat – for those unexpected showers on shore excursions. Find one that fits easily into your handbag or day pack and always carry it with you.  You’ll be the envy of fellow travellers as they queue to buy neon plastic ponchos while you are enjoying the scenery. 

Do you have any favourite items you pack for a cruise?

Happy Sailing.

Posted in Australia, Cruising, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Gift an experience: 10 Sydney experiences to inspire, excite and thrill

Can’t think of a gift for that special someone? Then give them an experience they will remember long after the Christmas tree has dropped its needles.

Here are ten Sydney experiences for the grandkids to the grandparents, the adventure-lovers to the romantics.

Sydney Harbour is the sparkling heart of the city and there are many ways to explore it.

03 The writer and family at the summitSydney Harbour Bridge Climb

Nothing beats a view of the city from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, except the feeling of elation at having climbed to the top. Learn the history of the meccano-like maze that is the structure itself, as you climb. For ages 10 to 100. We loved our Bridge Climb a few years ago. Just wait until after the festive hangover, as climbers are breath-tested. www.bridgeclimb.com

Romantic sailing getaway

Sydney By Sail Romantic Bed & Breakfast 3Give the gift of romance – or at least a night without the kids – with this luxe overnight sailing experience. Enjoy a two hour sail before the skipper anchors the yacht in a secluded bay, leaving guests to enjoy a delicious gourmet meal as the sun sets. Go to sleep (or perhaps not) to the sound of water lapping against the hull. Just make sure you are up and dressed before the skipper arrives next morning. My tip – upgrade so you get a longer sleep-in. www.sydneybysail.com.au

DSC03845Sail into history  

Know a nautical nut or history enthusiast? Give them a day aboard one of the ships in the Sydney Heritage Fleet, like the historic 19th-century barque James Craig, rescued from rusting ruin with a loving 30-year restoration. Hoist the sails with the volunteer crew or just sit back and relax, like I did.  www.shf.org.au

Alternatively, the Southern Swan, a barquentine built in 1922, and Sydney’s only authentic timber tall ship, offers the chance to climb the ratlines to the futtock on the mizzen – how’s that for nautical terminology? Read my post Buttocks on the futtocks to learn more. www.sydneytallships.com.au

Oz Jet Sydney Harbour BridgeJet-boating jaunt

Here’s one for adrenalin lovers – or payback for boisterous teenagers. A jet boat ride on the harbour. Bounce over wakes, flick fishtails, spin wildly and screech to a halt, all while getting drenched. What’s not to love? And there is some sightseeing thrown in too. www.ozjetboating.com,  www.harbourjet.com,  www.sydneyjet.com.

Spice up the life of weary commuters with these fun rides.

Segway sashay

04 Segways are a thrilling way to get around. Photo Briar Jensen.It’s not quite the Jetson’s jet pack I’d dreamed of as a kid, but a Segway feels a bit other-worldly to ride. It only takes minutes to learn, and is thrilling and addictive. We did our first family ride years ago and eagerly returned for the cross-country adventure around Newington  Armory at Sydney Olympic Park. www.segwaytours.com.au.

Ballooning in the mist

DSC_0054-w300-h300Gift this to sleepyheads and watch them crawl out of bed before dawn. Rise up through the mist as the sun peeks over the horizon, while below the Hawkesbury River carves a snaking path through patchworked farmland. Post flight champagne and breakfast at Sebel Resort and Spa tops off a great morning. Check out the post on my flight. www.cloud9balloons.com.au.

architectureArchitectural amble

Lovers of architecture will enjoy an amble with Sydney Architectural Walks. Engaging commentary form the savvy guides, architects themselves, reveals a rarely-heard urban narrative about Sydney’s development. Choose from two-hour walks to a five-hour cycle. www.sydneyarchitecture.org

Here are three more ideas that suit the whole family.

Wet n WildWet n Wild

Douse loved ones with copious amounts of water on a stifling Sydney summer’s day. Throw in some hair-raising, scream-inducing slides and a water wonderland for toddlers and you’ve got hours of fun for the whole family. Opening December 12. Better throw in a bottle of sunscreen too.  www.wetnwildsydney.com.au

Talk to the animals

Noumea 1175Animals are a perennial favourite and Sydney is blessed with a variety of parks, from the Koala Park in West Pennant Hills to the award-winning Featherdale Wildlife Park at Doonside. And at Taronga Zoo you can even sleepover with the animals on their Roar & Snore adventure . www.featherdale.com.au, www.taronga.org.au, www.koalapark.com.au,

Cultural enlightenment

Give the gift of culture with theatre tickets. There are so many shows in Sydney it’s hard to choose, but Disney’s musical The Lion King will suit the whole family. We saw when the kids were little, but my now teenage son has asked to go again. So guess what’s going in his stocking – but please don’t tell him. At the Capitol Theatre. www.disney.com.au

Happy gift-giving!

Posted in Adventure, Animals, Australia, Hawkesbury, New South Wales, Segway, Sydney, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment