Free accommodation on Sydney’s Pittwater

Fancy a weekend getaway in the bush free of charge, staying at a historic property overlooking Pittwater’s Morning Bay? Spend your free time watching the local wildlife, hiking through Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, kayaking the bays or just  relaxing in the bushland setting.

Pittwater YHA

Pittwater YHA

Pittwater YHA is offering two night’s free accommodation in return for a bit of ‘envirofun’, aka two mornings of bush regeneration. But the rest of the weekend is yours to explore or relax and there are plenty of options, like paddling around Morning and Lovett Bays; hiking to lookouts, Aboriginal engraving sites and waterfalls; or just relaxing on the deck taking in the stunning views.

For a minimal $20 contribution they’ll provide two morning teas, two BBQ lunches, two dinners and free use of kayaks. Now that’s a generous offer!

Perched among the trees on a cliff overlooking Morning Bay, formerly known as Towlers Bay, the property can only be accessed by ferry from Church Point or by hiking or mountain biking in from West Head Road (on Towlers Bay track) in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

Bush regeneration group

A previous bush regeneration group

The hostel was originally built as a family home by dentist Charles Hall in the 1920s and was later purchased by Ebena  Isles around 1959 and named Bensuta after an Indonesian friend told her it meant ‘full of good things’. As an early YHA member Ebena had visited the original Pittwater hostel, on the opposite side of the bay, several times. When the National Parks and Wildlife Service acquired and then demolished that building, Ebena donated her home to the YHA and it has been a hostel since 1967.

The bush regeneration weekend offers a fantastic opportunity to stay in a unique Sydney location while giving back to the environment. I hope to attend one of the weekends if I can.

Dates: 15-17 May and 28-30 August. If you can’t come for the whole weekend, you can come for Saturday or Sunday morning bush regen and enjoy morning tea, BBQ lunch and a kayak. More details are available here.

Bookings essential. Phone 02 9999 5748 or email A $50 non-refundable booking fee applies, with a $30 refund on arrival.

Details on how to get to Pittwater YHA can be found here.

YHA Australia is part of the world’s largest backpacker accommodation network, Hostelling International (HI), providing more than 4,000 YHA hostels in 90 countries around the world.

Posted in Accommodation, Australia, Sydney, Travel, Volunteering | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Postcard of the week – National Thai Elephant Day

Two baby elephants at play at the Elephant Nature Park

Two baby elephants at play at the Elephant Nature Park

I’m a little late, but March 13 is National Thai Elephant Day, so I thought I’d post this picture I took several years ago at Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation centre in Chang Mai, Thailand. The centre provides a sanctuary for elephants rescued from distressing situations and relies on volunteers to assist with the care of the animals. I only spent a few hours there, but it was heartening to see how passionate the staff were about the welfare of the elephants, some of whom had been badly mistreated.

You can learn more about Asian elephants here.

And here is another photo, just because I love it.

Happy Thai Elephant Day!

Even elephant behinds are beautiful

Even elephant behinds are beautiful

Posted in Postcards, Thailand, Travel | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Big Lap – Pictorial guide to driving around Australia

Planning on driving around Australia? Want to hit the open road or the road less travelled? Or perhaps you just enjoy looking at stunning images of Australia’s diverse landscape, from the burnt orange outback to the pounding aquamarine surf?


Then you will love the idea of this new book, The Big Lap, by Australian travel journalist Lee Atkinson, who with her partner, Bill, recently completed a 10-month, 40,000km lap around Australia towing a camper trailer.

“We took the road less travelled whenever we could, camping in national parks and other wild places where few other travellers go,” says Lee.

During their trip Lee, an accomplished photographer, shared her inspirational images via social media (some of which are featured here) and I waited eagerly for each new photo. Many included their vehicle picturesquely captured trailing dust on a curvy stretch of road and I wondered just how many times they had to drive that section to get the perfect shot!


Now Lee is using those images to create a pictorial diary of their journey. The Big Lap is a softcover 17 cm x 20cm book with 144 full-colour pages with detailed captions telling the stories behind the images. But it’s more than just a gorgeous coffee table book.

“What makes this different from all the other photo books out there is this one also tells you how you can get to these out of the way places that you won’t find in the tourist brochures,” Lee says. “Many people are nervous about getting off the tourist trail and into remote places, but with a little planning – and the right gear – anyone can do it.”


Lee has already had 12 travel books published, but says this one is special. “It’s as much about sharing all the wonder and adventure of a trip of a lifetime as it is a guide book,” she says. “It’s much more personal than my other books.”  Consequently, she has chosen to self-publish it, so she can produce the book she wants, rather than what publishers think will sell the most copies.

pozible cover

But self-publishing has its financial risks, so Lee has chosen to crowd-fund the book through Pozible, “So no trees die in vain,” she says. When published, the book will sell for around $35, but if you pledge to buy via Pozible you can get a signed copy for just $25. If you are planning your own big lap, then you can invest in the Roadtrippers Special, which includes a personalised itinerary planning consultation with Lee.

So how hard was it for Lee to sort through all her photos? “I took thousands of images on the trip,” she says, “And sorting through them all to decide which ones to feature in the book has been a fabulous trip down memory lane.”


Like many Aussies, my husband and I plan to do our own big lap one day, also getting off the tourist trails, so I’m eager to learn from Lee’s experience and have already ordered my copy. So head over to Pozible to order yours now, as the deadline for pledges is 9th April.

For more about Lee Atkinson and her work see

For more Great Australian Road Trips see 

Disclaimer: Lee Atkinson is a friend, colleague and fellow member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers, but I am paying for my own signed copy of The Big Lap.

Posted in Adventure, Australia, Road Trips, Travel, Travel News | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cruise Critic launches Australian site

Whether a cruise virgin or a seasoned cruiser, when it comes to planning a cruise you want specific, accurate, relevant information and advice. Which is why it’s great news that US giant Cruise Critic has launched an Australian site.

Arcadia berthed at Circular quay in Sydney

Arcadia berthed at Circular Quay in Sydney

Cruise Critic was the first consumer cruise site to launch on the web in 1995 and currently helps more than 4 million people a month plan their cruises. With more than 100,000 cruise reviews on the site, it’s a wealth of information for those planning their next aquatic adventure, and with more than a million people on their community forum there are always plenty of people willing to share their experiences and opinions, whatever the question.

Diamond Princess at anchor off the Busselton Jetty in Western Australia

Diamond Princess at anchor in the distance off the Busselton Jetty in Western Australia

The Australian Cruise Critic site is edited by Sydney-based friend and colleague Louise Goldsbury, an award-winning travel writer who specialises in cruising and solo travel. Louise was editor of Cruise Weekly for five years and also writes the Going Solo section in News Ltd’s national newspaper travel liftout Escape. You can read a selection of her travel stories on her blog Cruisey Life. (And some hilarious behind-the scenes cruising stories and confessions on her Cruisey Life Uncensored  site too.)

Sea Princess anchored off Port Arthur in Tasmania

Sea Princess anchored off Port Arthur in Tasmania

With the enormous growth of cruising among Australians and with more ships travelling in Australian waters, Louise says, “It’s an ideal time for the creation of a Cruise Critic specifically for Australians, to highlight the details and topics that matter most to us.” Louise will be writing a daily blog for the site under headings such as Deals and Steals, Talking Ship, World Watch and Happy Hour. You can sign up to receive daily emails here.

So take a look around the site before you start planning your next cruise.

Cruise Critic Australia

Disclaimer: I am an occasional contributor to Cruise Critic.

Posted in Australia, Travel, Travel News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Postcard of the week – Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Overlooking Refuge Bay in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Overlooking Refuge Bay in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

With Parks Week starting on Monday 9th March this week’s photo is from Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, just 25km from the centre of Sydney. Covering 15,000 hectares the park offers both bush and water-based activities as it surrounds Cowan Water (a tributary of the Hawkesbury River) and edges Pittwater. This image is taken above the waterfall in Refuge Bay. You can walk in from West Head Road or come by boat and climb up from the small beach below. The beach is tidal and completely disappears at high tide, so if you come by kayak or small runabout, make sure you secure your craft before climbing the hill. You can hire kayaks and tinnies for exploring or fishing from Cottage Point Kiosk, where you can also get a coffee and delicious light meal. Children will love the displays of stuffed animals at Kalkari discovery Centre near Bobbin Head, where there is a stroller-friendly walk through the bush. Bobbin Head has a mangrove boardwalk, large picnic areas and a huge playground along with a couple of cafes. Hope you can explore a national park near you soon.

Cottage Point Kiosk

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Kalkari discovery Centre

Posted in Australia, National Parks, Postcards, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Connect with nature during Parks Week 9-15 March

The piercing call of whip birds penetrating the bush, the scuttle of an echidna fossicking in the undergrowth, the damp smell of leaf litter and the subtle fragrance of wildflowers. Fossils exposed in the desert, Aboriginal rock art by the sea, crabs scampering among the mangroves and glowworms glistening in the darkness.

Our national parks offer myriad ways to connect with nature, and that’s what they hope you’ll do during Parks Week 2015.  A celebration of national parks in New South Wales, Australia, it is being held from the 9th to 15th March.

Eastern water dragon in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Eastern water dragon in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

The  ‘connect with nature’ theme is the focus behind the more than 30 events organised for the week. There are ranger talks, wilderness walks, Aboriginal tours, bush-care camps and 4WD adventures.  You can try your hand at sandboarding, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and caving. There’s a drama workshop, a concert, bug tasting and frog watching (the endangered corroboree frog), plus lots of activities especially for the kids.

Sunset on the Walls of China in Mungo National Park

Sunset on the Walls of China in Mungo National Park

New South Wales has a wide variety of national parks, from the desert landscape of Mungo NP to the caves of Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserve; from the hinterland of Nightcap NP to the rivers of Murray Valley NP; from the alpine Kosciuszko NP to the coast-hugging Royal NP.

Thredbo River in Kosciuszko National Park

Thredbo River in Kosciuszko National Park

Sydney is blessed with numerous parks and reserves close to the city. My favourite is Ku-ring-gai Chase NP, just 25km from the CDB. The second oldest national park in NSW it covers a staggering 15,000 hectares, encompassing picturesque Cowan Water and bordering Broken Bay and Pittwater. There is a wealth of Aboriginal sites within the park and Guringai Aboriginal Tours takes guided walks throughout the year or you can pick up a brochure from the information centre and take a self-guided tour.

Aboriginal charcoal etchings visible from the water in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Aboriginal charcoal etchings of fish visible from the water in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

A newly-formed company, Sydney Out Back, showcases both Aboriginal and colonial history on a tour that includes a boat trip on the tranquil waterways to see Aboriginal rock art only visible from the river.

Most parks have a range of organised activities throughout the year, but with lots of free events and discounted tours and activities during Parks Week, it’s a great incentive to get out and connect with nature in a national park near you.

Parks Week 9-15 March 2015.

Posted in Australia, National Parks, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Airpocket for plane seat pocket

Ever left something behind in an airline seat pocket? Thankfully, I’ve only ever forgotten a newly-purchased magazine and a packet of tissues (except when I was travelling as an unaccompanied 8 year-old and left my new long-legged rag doll behind, never to be seen again – cue very sad face). But I’ve often temporarily lost items like mints and reading glasses when they’ve fallen to the bottom of the seat pocket, and believe me, its not very pleasant fossicking around down there.

Leave something like your passport behind and it could potentially ruin your travel plans.

So I love the idea of the Airpocket, a new carryon which stores all the things you need to keep close at hand on a long flight – the things you usually jam into the seat pocket individually.

The Airpocket

The Airpocket has been designed by first-time entrepreneur Trish Smith, from Canberra, Australia. An avid traveller, Trish came up with the idea after watching a woman block the plane aisle while she transferred all the items she needed for the flight from her bag to the seat pocket, before stowing her bag in the overhead locker.

Trish decided to design a compact pouch to store everything needed for a flight, so all you have to do is transfer the pouch from your luggage to the seat pocket. And on disembarking, you can quickly grab it, knowing you haven’t left anything behind. Brilliant.

The Airpocket internals

I’ve been using various ‘pouches’ for a while to hold all my flight essentials for quick transfer from bag to seat pocket. I started with a soft cloth bag, which while easy to move, didn’t have any compartments, so I still had to fossick around inside it to find things. Now I have a four zip-pocket pouch, which I love, but it’s not quite big enough – it doesn’t fit my contoured eye mask, which I don’t want to fold.

So I’m looking forward to purchasing and test driving the neoprene Airpocket, which has flexible internal pockets big enough to take e-readers, tablets, phone, glasses, an amenity kit and more. I’m not sure of the actual dimensions yet, but it is designed to fit inside a handbag or satchel, or alternatively, you can slip it over the extended handle of your carry on case. Looks like you’d need a pretty large handbag to accommodate it, but hopefully it will slip into my backpack.

The Airpocket on wheeled bag back

It will certainly be of benefit on those planes that don’t have a proper seat pocket any more, just a hard-shell magazine slot at the top of the seat. You’ll be able to keep the Airpocket beside you on your seat or slip it under the seat in front of you where it is within easy reach.

Trish is using the global crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to get her design into production, and her campaign starts on 3 March 2015. You can check it out here. You can also follow Trish’s progress on the Airpocket Facebook page or Airpocket Twitter feed.

Having taken timeout from her career in recruitment to get this product off the ground I certainly hope Trish raises the necessary funds to see her design come to fruition.

Well done Trish and good luck!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I will be supporting the Airpocket by pledging to buy one through Kickstarter.


Posted in Travel, Travel Accessories & Gadgets | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments