Review of The Murray hotel, Hong Kong

Bathroom at The Murray hotel, Hong Kong - photo by Rob McFarland

Bathroom at The Murray hotel, Hong Kong – photo by Rob McFarland

Traveller, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – June 30, 2018

THE PLACE
The Murray, Hong Kong

THE LOCATION
A prime spot opposite Hong Kong Park in the heart of Hong Kong Island’s busy Central district.

THE SPACE
A modernist masterpiece, The Murray building housed government offices for more than 40 years before being transformed by award-winning architects Foster + Partners into the city’s newest five-star hotel (it opened in January). They’ve kept the building’s grand arches and distinctive recessed windows, cleverly angling each room to make the most of the views over Hong Kong Park and Victoria Harbour. The design of the public spaces is minimalist with extensive use of black and white marble, but colourful artworks and elaborate flower arrangements help soften the mood. A striking rooftop glass pavilion houses the hotel’s signature restaurant, Popinjays, and there’s a spacious wraparound verandah with mesmerising views over Central and the harbour. Throw in a state-of-the-art gym, a soon-to-be opened indoor lap pool and a lavish spa with a steam room and sauna and you might never want to venture outside.

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Six of the best Hong Kong speakeasies

Making a cocktail in The Old Man speakeasy - photo by Rob McFarland

Making a cocktail in The Old Man speakeasy – photo by Rob McFarland

Traveller, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – June 23, 2018

THE OLD MAN
In less experienced hands, The Old Man would be just another yawn-inducing addition to the long list of bars dedicated to writer Ernest Hemingway. However, the man behind this upscale establishment is Agung Prabowo, who previously managed the highly-regarded bar at the Mandarin Oriental. The menu features seven cocktails named after Hemingway books (Death in the Afternoon anyone?) plus a selection of the writer’s personal favourites, which includes the surprisingly feminine White Lady (a mixture of gin, Cointreau and lemon juice). Look for the unmarked flight of stairs leading down from Aberdeen Street in Central.

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Contoy Island Tour, Mexico

Contoy Island in Mexico - photo by Rob McFarland

Contoy Island in Mexico – photo by Rob McFarland

Traveller, Sun-Herald, Australia – May 13, 2018

“Make some noise for the crew,” bellows an excitable guide. “No noise, no lunch!”

I’m in Cancun, Mexico’s Vegas by the sea, and have signed up for this “Paradise Island” boat tour for what I’d hoped would be a respite from the town’s all-you-can-drink happy hours and pole-dancing waitresses.

But this doesn’t bode well. An armada of minivans has delivered us to a dock north of Cancun where we’ve been divided into groups and allocated boats. I’m in the English/French group and our guide is an enthusiastic Mexican called David.

“Is anyone celebrating anything?” he cries, once we’re all aboard. “No? OK, let’s celebrate being alive!”

I let my head slump onto my life jacket. It’s going to be a long day.

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Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Aerial view of Semuc Champey, Guatemala - photo by Rob McFarland

Aerial view of Semuc Champey, Guatemala – photo by Rob McFarland

Traveller, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – May 12, 2018

My guide Sam has just earned himself some serious brownie points. The climb to the El Mirador lookout is a one-kilometre-long thigh-punisher – a relentless series of uneven rocky steps and steep wooden ladders that would be taxing enough on a cool day, let alone in this 33-degree heat and 90 per cent humidity. If I was him, I’d have wished me good luck at the bottom and said, ‘see you when you get down’. But he insists on accompanying me, despite having done it dozens of times before.

By the time we get to the top, I look like I’ve just been spat out of a car wash. Sam, who’s Guatemalan and used to this humidity, has a slight sheen on his forehead.

Why subject yourself to such a torturous trek? For an aerial perspective of what many claim is Guatemala’s most beautiful natural site – a 300-metre-long limestone bridge over the Cahabon River that harbours six cascading turquoise pools.

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New Zealand’s best wine regions

Craggy Range vineyard in Hawkes Bay - photo by Rob McFarland

Craggy Range vineyard in Hawkes Bay – photo by Rob McFarland

Traveller, Sun-Herald, Australia – Apr 15, 2018

It’s hard to believe New Zealand produces less than one per cent of the world’s wine. So ubiquitous is its presence on international wine lists, you’d be forgiven for assuming it was a bigger player. However, in 2014 it ranked a surprising 14th in global wine production, one behind that well-known wine powerhouse, Romania.

Of course, much of NZ’s fame comes courtesy of one region and one varietal – Marlborough sauvignon blanc – and as such it’s tempting to think of it as a one-trick vine. But the country has more than 2000 vineyards, stretching 1600 kilometres from sub-tropical Northland to frosty Central Otago, which between them produce an intriguingly diverse range of wines.

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Chasing giants in California

Paddling Big River Estuary in a redwood outrigger canoe - photo by Rob McFarland

Paddling Big River Estuary in a redwood outrigger canoe – photo by Rob McFarland

Sun-Herald, Australia – March 25, 2018

Standing at the foot of a coastal redwood is one of life’s great humbling experiences. It’s not just that it’s the planet’s tallest living thing (the highest known specimen is seven storeys taller than the Statue of Liberty). Or that it can live for 2000 years. It’s the awe-inspiring realisation that the rust-red giant towering above you came from a seed slightly bigger than a pinhead.

Millions of years ago there were redwoods all through North America, Europe and Asia. Now, you can only find them in a narrow 720-kilometre coastal strip from central California to southern Oregon.

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In Situ restaurant, San Francisco

 

The Forest dish at In Situ, SF Moma - photo by Rob McFarland

The Forest dish at In Situ, SF Moma – photo by Rob McFarland

Traveller, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – Feb 24, 2018

Like most great ideas, the concept behind In Situ is so devilishly simple you wonder why someone hasn’t done it before. Invite a selection of the world’s top chefs to contribute a dish then create a restaurant to showcase them.

Headed up by three Michelin-starred chef Corey Lee, In Situ features recipes by more than 80 gastronomic greats – including Rene Redzepi, from Noma, David Chang, from Momofuku, and Peter Gilmore, from Quay.

The inspiration for the restaurant came from its setting inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The museum presents a curated selection of the world’s finest art; In Situ does the same for food.

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Embera village visit, Panama

Boat trip to Embera Quera village in Panama - photo by Rob McFarland

Boat trip to Embera Quera village in Panama – photo by Rob McFarland

Traveller, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – Feb 3, 2018

After turning off the main road, we park in a small clearing and follow a dirt track down to the river. Waiting for us in a wooden dugout canoe are two men wearing small black and white beaded skirts and bright yellow loin cloths. The younger one steps out of the boat, smiles and hands me a lifejacket.

We motor up the mud-coloured Gatun River, its banks thick with fig trees, palms and rushes. Along the way we pass a three-toed sloth hanging languidly from a branch and an inquisitive capuchin monkey who climbs down from the treetops as we approach. “We’ll keep our distance,” says Luis, my guide from Chimu Adventures. “Last year one jumped into the boat and stole a lady’s $300 Prada sunglasses.”

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Renaissance of the New York Hotel restaurant

Papads at Indian Accent restaurant in New York - photo by Rob McFarland

Papads at Indian Accent restaurant in New York – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – November 19, 2016

The hotel restaurant used to be something of a last resort. Often housed in a bland, unflatteringly lit space, it was a convenient option when you were too tired to go anywhere else. The menu was normally unadventurous (club sandwich anyone?), the service lacklustre and the experience functional rather than fabulous.

How times have changed. Nowadays, celebrity chefs are falling over themselves to collaborate with high-end hotels. Particularly in cities such as London and New York where real estate is at a premium and competition is cut-throat. The benefits for both parties are obvious – a well-known chef lures guests to the hotel and the restaurant gets a steady supply of customers. In short, everybody wins.

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London’s best single-product restaurants

Turkey salad starter at Strut & Cluck in London - photo by Rob McFarland

Turkey salad starter at Strut & Cluck in London – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – November 12, 2016

Ever woken up with a craving for turkey? Me neither. But should that occur, and you happen to be in the London suburb of Shoreditch, you’re in luck. In June husband-and-wife team Amir and Limor Chen opened Strut & Cluck, a restaurant specialising in turkey. They claim it’s leaner and healthier than chicken and is packed with proteins, amino acids, zinc and magnesium. They use free-range birds sourced from farms in East Anglia and marinate the meat for 24 hours before slow cooking it in a secret family blend of herbs and spices

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Local produce in Vail, Colorado

10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company tasting room - photo by Rob McFarland

10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company tasting room – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – October 22, 2016

Where do you go to learn how to make moonshine? Moonshine University, of course. Christian Avignon and Ryan Thompson had no experience distilling spirits, so they figured they’d better learn from the best before starting a distillery in the ski resort of Vail, Colorado. Clearly they were given good advice at Kentucky’s Moonshine University, because since launching in 2014, the 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company has already moved to bigger premises and is now sold in more than 700 outlets around the state.

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Review of British Airways i360, Brighton

British Airways i360 - photo by Rob McFarland

British Airways i360 – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – September 10, 2016

When the architects behind the London Eye, arguably Britain’s most successful tourist development this century, unveil a new £46 million attraction, it’s kind of a big deal. Not only is the 162-metre-tall British Airways i360 the world’s tallest moving observation tower but it’s also the world’s most slender tower (a fact you may not want to be reminded of just before you go up it on a windy day).

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Riverhead ferry cruise in Auckland, NZ

Riverhead Ferry at Auckland Downtown Ferry Terminal - photo by Rob McFarland

Riverhead Ferry at Auckland Downtown Ferry Terminal – photo by Rob McFarland

Sun-Herald, Australia – January 10, 2016

The MV Kawau Isle looks conspicuous as she pootles into Auckland’s busy Downtown Ferry Terminal. All the other boats buzzing in and out are high-speed catamarans and ferries. We file onboard the elegant green and white wooden cruiser and she putters slowly away from the wharf into Auckland Harbour. The sleek catamarans all turn right, roaring off in a cloud of diesel fumes towards the islands of Waiheke and Rangitoto. We, on the other hand, turn left and take the river less travelled.

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An albatross named Grandma

Inside Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, NZ - photo by Rob McFarland

Inside Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, NZ – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – January 9, 2016

If Hollywood ever makes a biopic about an albatross (don’t rule it out), Grandma would be the obvious choice. Most albatrosses have one mate and live for around 40 years. Grandma, however, had five husbands (three of whom she outlived and one she married twice) and gave birth to her last chick aged 62.

Grandma is something of a legend at the Royal Albatross Centre, a complex at the end of New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula that protects the world’s only mainland breeding colony of these magnificent seabirds. Royal albatrosses usually only breed on islands but for some reason a group has chosen the tip of this 20-kilometre-long finger of land near Dunedin in the South Island to return to year after year.

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England – Europe’s unlikely wine capital

Lunch at Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex - photo by Rob McFarland

Lunch at Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – May 30, 2015

“English wine”, much like “English summer”, is an expression normally followed by a punchline. I spent my formative years in England and can’t ever recall seeing English wine on a restaurant menu.

So it was with genuine astonishment that I discovered during a recent visit that England and Wales are home to 470 wineries. Even more surprising is that a lot of the wine is bloody good. So good it’s winning awards and being exported all over the world.

The majority of vineyards are clustered within the southern counties of Kent and Sussex, creating the intriguing possibility of an English wine tour. Here are six to wet your whistle.

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See the Taj Mahal without the crowds

View of Taj Mahal from the north bank of the Yamuna River - photo by Rob McFarland

View of Taj Mahal from the north bank of the Yamuna River – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – May 16, 2015

“What’s that?” I ask, pointing at the smoke curling up from the opposite riverbank. “Burning bodies,” replies my guide nonchalantly. “They’ll gather the ashes and scatter them in the Ganges.”

Through the smoky haze I can see the world’s most famous monument, a building Bengali poet Rabindranath​ Tagore​ described as “a teardrop on the cheek of eternity”.

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Sunset kayak to Rangitoto Island, Auckland

Kayaking to Auckland's Rangitoto Island - photo by Rob McFarland

Kayaking to Auckland’s Rangitoto Island – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – May 9, 2015

“Do you like wearing a skirt?” asks Sarah. “Only at weekends,” I reply, nervously. I pull on the waterproof spray skirt while apprehensively eyeing up the not inconsiderable distance between us and our destination. As the crow flies it’s five kilometres from St Heliers Beach in Auckland to Rangitoto Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Easy peasy for a crow; less straightforward in a kayak.

There are eight of us on this Auckland Sea Kayaks sunset tour in four double kayaks. I’m sharing with my sister, which should be interesting given the secret to kayaking is teamwork. She’s already commandeered the front seat so I’m relegated to the back and have been instructed to steer.

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Guide to New York sporting events

Watching the New York Mets play in Citi Field Stadium - photo by Rob McFarland

Watching the New York Mets play in Citi Field Stadium – photo by Rob McFarland

Escape travel section, Australia – May 3, 2015

New Yorkers love to compete. And they love to watch sports. So it’s not surprising New York is the only American city with more than one team in all five of the country’s most prestigious sports leagues.

Whether you’re into American football, baseball, basketball, hockey or soccer, you’ll find something being played somewhere almost every day of the year.

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Learn to dance the Bollywood way

Bollywood dance class in Jaipur - photo by Rob McFarland

Bollywood dance class in Jaipur – photo by Rob McFarland

Sun-Herald, Australia – March 22, 2015

Hip sway…pelvic thrust…shoulder dip…finger wag. No, that’s not right. I’m thrusting the wrong way. Vibhor smiles patiently and we try again.

I’m attempting to learn the steps to Dhinka Chika, a song from the 2011 Bollywood hit Ready, in which leading man Salman Khan (me) tries to woo leading lady Asin Thottumkal (my girlfriend) by describing how their love will blossom over the next 12 months: “In January, when there shall be winter, we will turn on the heater of love. The blanket shall be as small as February in which we shall play hide and seek. March shall be a romantic month. We shall do what we haven’t done before”. Who could resist?

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Air NZ 75th anniversary exhibition at Te Papa museum, Wellington

A selection of old Air NZ crew uniforms - photo by Rob McFarland

A selection of old Air NZ crew uniforms – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – March 14, 2015

It’s easy to get all misty-eyed about the early days of commercial aviation. Passengers flying from Auckland to Sydney in the 1950s sat in spacious lounge-style seats, enjoyed a seven-course meal and had the option of playing deck quoits. It all sounds terribly glamorous until you discover that the flight was often uncomfortably turbulent because the plane was unpressurised so it had to fly at low altitude. It was also so cold that passengers were given hot water bottles and feet warmers. Oh, and it took eight hours. Give me an airconditioned Airbus A320 with a seatback TV any day.

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