Postcard of the week – Glorious gum trees

Nature's canvas

Bark beauty

Sometimes nature blows me away with its beauty. Like this magnificent gum tree, whose subtle colours were given a vibrant makeover by summer rain (actually a summer downpour that turned our walking track in a mini riverbed). Rain gives the bush a welcome spring clean, sluicing away the dust and highlighting things you might otherwise miss, like delicate cobwebs strung between branches and abstract patterns on tree trunks. I came across this tree in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, on the Cowan to Brooklyn track, part of Sydney’s Great North Walk, which I did last year (read about how you can do it here). I love the gutsy way Australian gum trees tenaciously grip the rocky ground, draping their trunks over sandstone boulders or, like this one, stretching out across rock platforms in search of soil. Parks Week from 5-13 March is an ideal time to get out and admire nature’s beauty in  park near you. See

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10 World Map themed travel accessories

Earth Stressball

Globe squashing

Getting stressed at work? Rather be travelling the globe than stuck in the office? Then you could do with an Earth Stressball. Simply squeeze and relax says the tagline, but you could also just fondle it and dream of where you’d rather be (or perhaps where you’d rather send your boss – like Siberia)  About $5 from selected outlets, including ABC online

Glasses Case

Where in the world

Put your sunglasses in this world map case and you’ll be reminded about your travels or prompted to book your next holiday whenever you put your glasses on. It comes with world map cleaning cloth too so you can polish your rose-tinted lenses. $24.95 from Australian online retailer Annabel Trends.

Travel attire for iPad

Travelling iPad

Protect your iPad while projecting your globetrotting credentials with this iPad cover from deva Australia. Cushioning protects it from damage on your travels and it opens up to form a stand so you can watch your favourite shows while on the go. $19.95 from Australian online retailer Ciao Bella Travel.


Walk around the world

The world is at your feet, or rather on your feet, with these cool, quirky shoes from Pimpos. Part of the Chocolaticas range, they are made in Venezuela, are ethically produced and vegan friendly. Take on the world one step at a time. $89 from Pimpos Australia.

Vintage globetrotter

Vintage globe trotter

You can never have too many luggage tags. This all leather one has a gorgeous old-world look with it’s vintage world map print.  $12.95 from Australian online retailer Ciao Bella Travel. 

World Map zippered pouch is great for the plane

Zip it

Pack you travel accessories in this little three-zip pouch and you won’t lose them in your bag. Great in your carry-on luggage for items you need inflight, like a pen, tissues, lip balm, mints etc. Just whip it out and hang it from the seat in front or pop it in the seat pocket. $19.95 from Australian online retailer Ciao Bella Travel.

Secret your laundry

Hide your laundry

Where in the world do you put your dirty laundry when travelling? Hide it in this pretty Kikkerland laundry bag and you’ll never expose you dirty underwear at customs again. From Australian online retailer Jetsettr. (Temporarily out of stock, but enter your email address and they’ll let you know when it comes in.)

Sweet dreams

The world at your neck

Put your world-weary head to rest on this DQ&Co map print neck pillow as you nod off to sleep on your next train, plane or automobile. Bead-filled for squishy comfort its monochrome colour won’t show the dirt too much. $24.95 from Australian online retailer Jetsetter.

Sweet dreams

Sweet dreams

Like to take your comfortable full-size pillow from home when travelling? Then give it travel panache with a dedicated world map pillowcase. Choose from brightly coloured maps or more subdued tones.  $44.50 from online retailer Cafe Press

Take the world with you

Take the world with you

Where in the world is your suitcase? Hopefully in the same place as you. At least this ‘worldly’ suitcase by Heys America will standout at the baggage carousel for easy identification and quick getaway. Currently on sale at US$139 at US online retailer Wayfair. They only ship to America, but set up an Australia Post ShopMate account and have it delivered to Australia.

Special thanks to my travel buddies at Bike Walk Eat and Marian McGuinness for their globe-printed gifts which inspired this post.


Posted in Travel, Travel Accessories & Gadgets, Travel Gifts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Five things you probably don’t know about Canada

1. Victoria, British Columbia is experiencing a baby boom ­­– of orca whales.


There have been nine calves born to the Southern Resident Orcas in the last 12 months, the largest number of births since the 1970s. The Southern Resident Orcas are actually made up of three pods, with family sub-pods centred around older females, usually grandmothers or great grandmothers.  Granny, the matriarch of ‘J’ pod, is the world’s oldest known orca, estimated to be over 100 years old.

2. Land-locked Calgary is a burgeoning surfing destination.

Most famous for the Calgary Stampede, the annual rodeo festival held every July, Calgary now boasts river surfing too. Following floods, which changed the contour of the Bow River bed, a permanent wave suitable for riding can be found under the 10th Street Bridge. For more river surfing action, head about an hour west of Calgary to Kananaskis where the group Surf Anywhere has built a permanent wave by placing boulders in the Kananaskis River to form a channel.

3. Edmonton has the largest Fringe Festival outside Edinburgh.


As well as world-renowned artists, 30 percent of performers are non-professional, so you could witness the start of someone’s stellar career (or not).  The best thing is tickets are all $20 or under. Edmonton has a wealth of other festivals too, from craft beer to dragon boats.

4. Toronto has one of the largest shoe museums in the world.

03 CCOP Heights Bata Musuem

A whopping 13,500 shoes and footwear-related exhibits are housed in the purpose-built Bata Shoe Museum. Items span the centuries, from 4,500 year-old Egyptian wooden sandals to contemporary celebrity footwear. There’s an extensive collection of Native American and circumpolar footwear too.

5. Vancouver International Airport is an art gallery in itself.

Reg Davidson Art Celebration 1 (1)

It has the largest collection of Northwest Coast art on public display, with a focus on First Nations art. The thematically linked art, architecture and interior design are integrated to reflect a theme of land, sea and sky. Artworks include sculptures, paintings, weaving, ceramics and glassware.  So take some time at the airport to appreciate this vast collection.



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Do Sydney’s Great North Walk one leg at a time

Fancy tackling the Great North Walk from Sydney to Newcastle, but don’t have the time to do the full 260km in one thru-hike and/or a bit nervous of getting lost along the way?

Guided walks

The Great North Walk can seem daunting by yourself

That’s exactly how I felt. Billed as Australia’s most accessible trail, it’s possible to do it in stages, using public transport to get to and from each section. But I was still nervous about taking a wrong track or running late for the last bus at the end of the day. Basically, I lacked the motivation to do it by myself.

So I was thrilled to find you could walk the first 150km, one leg at a time, in the company of a national park guide over ten months, which is what I did last year. Abdicating responsibility for navigating and time keeping, I was free to absorb my surroundings; historic harbour slipways, hidden parks beneath busy freeways, peaceful riverside woodlands, ferny fairylands and vast sandstone escarpments.

Meet like-minded people

Enjoy the company of fellow walkers

Within Sydney’s heart were fragile fungi and feathery ferns, tiny wildflowers and towering trees, gurgling streams and gushing waterfalls, cloistered vistas and vast views. Initially the dreary drone of traffic competed with the sounds of nature, but as we walked further from the city the urban cacophony gave way to a bush symphony of rustling foliage, croaking frogs, trilling insects and piercing bird calls.

Take time to admire where you've been

Yes, we climbed that peak – Mount Wondabyne

Guide Warren Irish, a NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service volunteer, has been leading monthly hikes of the Great North Walk from Sydney Cove to Somersby (about halfway to Newcastle) for the past eight years, and is doing so again in 2016.

Vlunteer guide Warren Irish

NPWS Volunteer guide Warren Irish teaches as he walks

Accompanied by fellow volunteer, Wendy Hurdwell, Warren  enriched our knowledge with historical anecdotes, astonishing statistics and a passion for botany that was infectious – I can now tell a mountain devil from a grevillea and know a waratah belongs to the genus telopea, which means ‘seen from afar’ (something which scored me a recent trivia point!).

Swamp honey myrtle

Learn about the wildflowers, like this swamp honey myrtle

There’s no doubting Warren’s love of the bush – he pats majestic trees as he passes and when asked about his favourite section of the Great North Walk, like a faithful father not wanting to choose a preferred child, he said he loves it all. I can understand his viewpoint, as each walk has its own charms, which change with the weather and the season. By walking each month I experienced the full floral calendar and witnessed the power of a summer storm on the landscape.

sandstone country

There’s lots to photograph in sandstone country

The walks run on both a Wednesday and a Sunday (starting 21st Feb). Group sizes vary from week to week, with some people doing all the walks, others just those that take their fancy or that they missed the previous year. The Sunday walks attract full-time workers and families, while the Wednesday walks are a mix of part-time or self employed workers and active retirees. You get to meet fellow hikers, and while the odd one might talk too much, you’re likely to strike up friendships with like-minded people. I walked mid-week and was thrilled, given how much I travel, to make nine of the ten walks, and was able to undertake the one I missed with a fellow hiker I’d met during the year.

The terrain varies on each walk

The terrain varies on each walk

Initially a was little worried about handling the sometimes multiple ascents and descents of some walks, but Warren stops regularly for people who need to catch their breath and Wendy brings up the rear with slower-paced walkers. I’d recommend exercising your thighs before tackling the 280-odd sandstone Depression Steps on section three though, if you’d like to walk pain-free the next day.

The views are worth the climbs

The views are worth the climbs, like this one of Berowra

Walks need to be booked by the day before by phoning Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park’s Kalkari Discovery Centre, when meeting place details will be confirmed. Phone 02 9472 9300. Cost is $15 per walk.

Walks commence Sunday 21 February and Wednesday 24 February 2016.

Follow this link for details of the first walk and how to book. Great North Walk Stage 1  (Update:  Unfortunately, the National Park website only seems to upload the upcoming walk, not the year’s schedule, and they do not alwyas come up when searching, so phone Kalkari and they should be able to give you the full schedule. )

Happy hiking!

Postscript May 31 2016: It is with great sadness that I learned Warren Irish passed away this week. For those that would like to attend his service, it will be held in Sydney at the Magnolia Chapel, Macquarie Park Crematorium, 2pm Friday 3rd June. Condolences to family and friends.

Posted in Australia, Events, Great North Walk, Hawkesbury, National Parks, New South Wales, Travel, Walking | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

New Zealand promotes Cycling Trails with Megan Gale

Two of my most memorable trips to New Zealand included cycling; one on the relaxing Otago Central Rail Trail outside Dunedin, the other on a hair-raising mountain bike trail through the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest, Rotorua.

Otago Rail Trail

Otago Central Rail Trail

The Otago Central Rail Trail, which connects Clyde to Middlemarch following a 150km section of the former Otago Central Branch Railway, is regarded as easy and can be done in one to five days with multiple places to stop along the way to eat or stay.

Together with my New Zealand girlfriend Karen, I did a one day sampler from Daisybank to the Hyde Memorial, accompanied by Neville Grubb of Trail Journeys, before he delivered us to Pukerangi to catch the stunningly scenic Taieri Gorge Railway back to Dunedin. Karen hadn’t cycled since childhood, and was understandably a little apprehensive, but the easy gradient track soon built her confidence. Our section of trail followed the willow-lined Taieri River, between rolling paddocks, across towering viaducts and through cool, dark tunnels. I was hooked and during lunch at the Hyde Hotel discussed coming back one day to do the whole trail.

Price's Creek Tunnel on Otago Rail Trail

Price’s Creek Tunnel on Otago Central Rail Trail

It was a more strenuous affair in Whakarewarewa Forest outside Rotorua, where I went for a three-hour mountain bike ride with Multi-day Adventures. The 120km of trails wind through towering forests and ferny glens, across gurgling streams and up tracks with ominous names like ‘Mad if U Don’t’ and ‘Frontal Lobotomy’. Guides Tak and Jordie had their hands full with our group of novice females (one girl put her helmet on backwards), but Tak encouraged us to, “Fang it downhill if you want!”

Whakarewarewa Forest

Whakarewarewa Forest

Feet parallel, bum up and leaning back I braved a muddy downhill jump (albeit only about half a metre) much to my own astonishment and the accolades  of my buddies. The fact I didn’t do a ‘superwoman over the handlebars’ as Tak put it, was testament to his tutelage.

So I was thrilled to learn more about The New Zealand Cycle Trail from newly-appointed Australian ambassador Megan Gale at a Tourism New Zealand media function recently. International model, businesswoman, TV personality and actress (her latest role is in Mad Max: Fury Road) Megan is a great fit for the ambassador’s role. Her mother is part Maori, so she has strong ties to New Zealand, she’s an avid cyclist and she loves active travel experiences. Not to mention she looks great on a bike.

Megan Gale on the Timber Trail

Megan Gale on the Timber Trail

Megan sampled both the Otago Central Rail Trail and Rotorua’s Timber Trail for a series of promotional videos. Check out the stunning scenery in this video taken on The timber Trail near Rotorua.

New Zealand is promoting its 2700km of cycle trails, hoping they will attract as many tourists as hiking and skiing does. The 23 off-road tracks that make up The New Zealand Cycle Trail are dotted throughout the country, from the Bay of Islands in the north to Queenstown in the south. Graded from ‘Easiest’ to ‘Advanced’ it’s simple to choose a ride that meets your capabilities. But as I learnt in Rotorua, it can be exhilarating to push your limits too.

Rides vary from one to six-days, and can be guided or done independently, and many operators offer snippets of trails, dropping you off and picking you up at designated points, so you can pedal as much or a little as you want, leaving plenty of time to sample the delicious food and wine and take in the history and culture along the routes.

I can’t wait to get back to New Zealand and cycle some more trails. I’ll take Megan’s advice and pack some (padded) cycling pants.

Happy cycling everyone.



Posted in adventure travel, New Zealand, Travel, Travel News & Events | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Event: Sydney Tomato Festival Royal Botanic Garden

Love tomatoes? Then mark the Sydney Tomato Festival in your diary for this weekend 20-21st February 2016 – to be held at The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.


I didn’t realise Sydney had a Tomato Festival, so I’m disappointed to know I’ve been missing out on the produce stalls, plant sales and cultivation classes. My husband and I could really do with the latter this year as our tomato plants have succumbed to Sydney’s volatile weather – think days of torrential rain followed by sauna-like temperatures – it’s no wonder our plants look like droopy, saggy, shriveled versions of their former selves (a bit like me in this weather too).


The festival includes tomato masterclasses, competitions, taste testing, children’s pizza making and Aztec trail (including tomato throwing). There are bush tucker talks by Indigenous guides and a ‘garden to table’ guided walk through the Botanic Garden, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.

Competitions include best tomato relish/chutney, best passata sauce, best chilli sauce and best homegrown tomato. Unfortunately, I won’t be entering, as there is no category for the ‘best’ weather-ravaged, fungus-felled, bug-infested tomato, though I’d be sure to win if there was.


The centerpiece of this year’s festival is the new D’VineRipe Longest Tomato Lunch on Sunday – a 72-metre table set on the Flower Bed Lawn at Farm Cove. Seating 250 guests, the table will overlook the Opera House and Sydney Harbour. What a glorious place to dine while celebrating all things tomato! At $84 for two people, it’s great value too. Check out the menu here. Bookings close Wednesday 17 Feb unless sold out beforehand.

More: Saturday & Sunday 20-21 February 10am – 4pm; Entry free. See

Posted in Australia, Events, festivals, Food & Wine, New South Wales, Sydney, Travel News & Events | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Product Review: hipS-sister waistband for travel

Sometimes it is the simplest designs that are the most versatile and stylish, like the hipS-sister waistband. Awkward name, awesome product.

hipS-sister leisure band

hipS-sister leisure waistband

Looking for somewhere to put your hotel room key when you go out for a morning jog? Want to take your phone too? Perhaps stash some cash in case you get lost and need a taxi back to the hotel? Or just want to go for a walk hands-free and not have to worry about a bag? Then check out the hipS-sister.

The lightweight, stretch waistband has three pockets; a hidden top-loading front slip-pocket, which fits a smartphone or iPod, a front zip pocket, perfect for a room key or cash, and a lager zip pocket in the back, which is big enough to fit a small point-and-shoot camera. Everything is held close to the body, so there is no banging or flapping (like a bum bag) and items are held comfortably without digging in or pinching.

When out jogging I wear mine over the top of my singlet, but because of its slim design it could just as easily be worn under your clothes as a secret money belt when travelling. In fact there is a wider version specifically for travel, which will fit a passport comfortably. It’s certainly more fashionable than other money belts on the market.

hipS-sister travel waistband

hipS-sister travel waistband

hipS-sister was designed by American Sonia Kanner, who says, “While on a hike with my friends, frustrated because we were all holding our precious iPhones and car keys, I said,  ‘There has to be something out there to hold all this stuff, that is cute and flattering'”. There wasn’t, so she set about designing a simple piece of fabric with pockets. Now there are several designs based on the original product.

I have versatile black, but hipS-sister comes in a range of gorgeous colours and prints including black snakeskin, camouflage and reversible polka dots. There’s a unisex sports version too.

hipS-sister fashion waistband

hipS-sister fashion waistband

Verdict: I love the hipS-sister for it’s simple, smart design, which has been well thought out. It is practical, very well made and above all, looks stylish. It has actual pockets inside the band, unlike similar designs where the band is hollow and items can slip all the way around inside. The only minor issue I’ve had is when I wear it over a Lycra top it tends to ride up slightly, but this doesn’t happen when I wear it over other fabrics (and may have something to do with the ratio of my hips to waist!). A great product for travel, fitness, leisure and fashion that takes up no room in your luggage.

See: for free shipping within Australia.

Disclosure: I paid for this product and my opinions are honest and unbiased.

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