Review of Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel

View from room at Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel - photo by Rob McFarland

View from room at Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – June 2, 2013

Finalist, 2013 ASTW Best Australian Story under 1000 words

Travel descriptions can evoke a wide range of emotions. At one end of the spectrum sit terms such as “overwater bungalow”, “champagne breakfast” and “free upgrade”. At the other end lurk “overnight bus journey”, “flight delay” and “cavity search”. Coming somewhere in the middle is “airport hotel”.

It conjures up an image of somewhere you stay out of necessity, not by choice; a place to endure an inconvenient flight connection rather than frolic for a week drinking mojitos.

So it is with subdued expectations that I head out to the airport on a Sunday afternoon to check out the new Rydges Sydney Airport hotel.

Read the rest of this story here.

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A night on the Great Barrier Reef

Aerial view of Great Barrier Reef - photo by Rob McFarland

Aerial view of Great Barrier Reef – photo by Rob McFarland

The Star newspaper, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – May 19, 2012

Finalist, 2012 ASTW Best Australian Story under 1000 words

There’s a feeling you get when you say goodbye to family or friends after a long night of entertaining: a mixture of sadness because they’re going and relief because you can finally relax and put your feet up. That’s exactly how I feel now as I watch Fantasea Wonder retreat towards the horizon.

Six hours ago I was one of 120 passengers who boarded the high-speed catamaran at Hamilton Island and made the two-hour cruise to Reefworld – a floating pontoon permanently moored over the Great Barrier Reef. All day we’ve enjoyed snorkeling and diving, made use of the pontoon’s underwater viewing chamber and taken trips on its semi-submersible to gaze at the amazing variety of coral and fish.

There’s been the option to take a helicopter joy-flight over the reef and we’ve feasted on a barbecue lunch under the warm Queensland winter sun.

But while 120 people made the trip out, only 119 are going back. Sadly, someone’s been eaten. I’m kidding. I’ll be staying here overnight.

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Rafting the Futaleufu River, Patagonia

Rafting the Futaleufu River in Patagonia - photo by Rob McFarland

Rafting the Futaleufu River in Patagonia – photo by Rob McFarland

Escape travel section, Australia – Nov 13, 2011

Finalist, 2012 National Travel Industry Awards Best Travel Writer

“Pay attention,” shouts Pedro from the back of the raft. Six panting heads snap around in unison. We’ve failed to make it to the exit on the left side of the rapid so after some furious back-paddling we’re now in an eddy on the more dangerous right side.

It’s time for Plan B. In front of us the river roars between two hulking granite boulders and there’s just enough space for our raft.

“Ready?” asks Pedro. We nod. Forward paddle. We launch back into the main flow and are catapulted towards the right boulder. Commands come in quick succession: Left back … right back … all forward and we dig our paddles into the bracing, teal-coloured water. The boulders whiz by in a blur of grey and we’re spat out into the calmer waters below.

Exhausted, I turn around to see Pedro grinning. “Good job,” he says, his deep, infectious laugh echoing off the sheer rock walls.

Today is Big Friday. In rafting terms, it’s the biggest day of whitewater in the world. Fifteen Class 4 and 5 rapids spread over 15km of the Futaleufu River in the depths of Chile’s Patagonia.

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Mexican standoff at Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds - photo by Rob McFarland

Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds – photo by Rob McFarland

Winner, 2010 ASTW Best International Story (under 1000 words)

It is the driving equivalent of a Mexican standoff. Two of us are travelling in opposite directions on a narrow, single track road. One of us will have to back up. It’s a battle of wills. I’ve already lost two of these this morning. I need a win.

With narrowed eyes I attempt to stare down my adversary. He seems unfazed. Five seconds pass. It feels like a lifetime.

Finally, my female passenger says to me: “Aren’t you going to back up?”

“No,” I reply. “Why can’t he?”

She sighs. “Because he’s on a horse.”

Read the rest of this story here: Cotswolds (PDF)

White Water Rafting in the Grand Canyon

Rafting the Grand Canyon - photo by Rob McFarland

Rafting the Grand Canyon - photo by Rob McFarland

Winner, 2009 US Travel Association Best US Destination Story

Scotty’s words are still echoing in my head: “Whatever happens, don’t go in the hole.”

It is too late. We are in the hole. A towering wall of water engulfs the kayak and flips it around. Suddenly, we are pointing upstream and being sucked backwards. I glance around to discover my brother is no longer behind me. He has been washed out but has managed to grab the rope at the back. Somehow he hauls himself back in and we paddle like madmen, crashing through a series of huge waves to make it to calmer water.

Scotty is waiting there, smiling and shaking his head. “I told you not to go in the hole.”

Read the rest of this story here.

Climb to the top of Wayna Picchu, Peru

Climbing to the top of Wayna Picchu - photo by Rob McFarland

Climbing to the top of Wayna Picchu - photo by Rob McFarland

Winner, 2007 ASTW Travel Writer of the Year
Winner, 2007 ASTW Best International Story (over 1000 words)

I’m having second thoughts. The steep stone path we’ve been slowly climbing up for the last half an hour has disappeared and we’re standing on a small section of terracing with terrifying thousand-metre drops on three sides. Maybe this really wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe we should have heeded the advice of the security guard who told us not to carry on.

Suddenly, Rob (the only other person on the tour foolish enough to attempt this with me) spots a small sign pointing into what appears to be a sheer rock face. Further investigation reveals a hole and, after using our camera flashes to illuminate the entrance, we discover a tunnel. We exchange a “what the hell, we’ve come this far” look and I follow him in. On the other side is another flight of breath-sapping steps but the end is finally in sight. We edge around a large boulder, climb a small wooden ladder and join a handful of other elated climbers on what feels like the top of the world.

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