Indoor skydiving at iFLY Downunder in Penrith – photo by Rob McFarland
Sun-Herald, Australia – March 8, 2015
“Keep your arms folded and your legs crossed,” says the attendant. “Just imagine you need to go to the loo.” This last piece of advice is unnecessary because I need to go to the loo with impending urgency. My heart is also thumping like a base drum and my stomach is doing cartwheels. As the capsule door closes I glance in wide-eyed terror at the chute next to me to see a small child grinning with unbridled glee. The countdown begins – “3 … 2 … 1″… and then the bottom literally falls out of my world. The trapdoor opens and I plunge down a 12-metre near-vertical drop before being catapulted around a 360-degree loop at almost 60 km/h. When I finally come to rest in the exit lane, my diminutive racing partner is already sprinting back up the stairs to do it again. I stagger off in search of counselling.
Has there ever been a better time to visit LA? Cheap flights and a strong dollar lured nearly 400,000 Australians to the City of Angels in 2013. If you’re a repeat offender, you’ve probably already ticked off the big-ticket attractions and are ready to try something new. Here are some ideas.
Segment of radio and television antenna from top of North Tower in 9-11 Museum – photo by Rob McFarland
The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – June 7, 2014
Of the thousands of artefacts in the new 9/11 Museum, it is the small, everyday items that are the most potent: the charred contents of a visiting English businessman’s wallet, a pair of ballet slippers belonging to Boston Investor Services employee Maile Hale. They personalise the tragedy, make it relatable and distil it from something overwhelming and incomprehensible to something that could have happened to someone you knew.
This is not how I’d normally spend a Wednesday morning. I’m perched on another man’s lap in a miniscule plane with no seats. Behind me my instructor is tightening a series of straps while whistling with the nonchalance of a man who does this for a living. We hit 14,000 feet, the door opens and we’re out.
The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – March 8, 2014
There are two ways to approach Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s immersive interpretation of Macbeth in New York. You can do what I did and read a dozen reviews, search online for tips and even download a Macbeth study guide to revise on the way there, or you can accept it is going to be one of the most interactive, experiential and downright unsettling theatrical events you have experienced, and the less you know beforehand, the better.
Top of a chairlift in Niseko Village – photo by Rob McFarland
GQ Australia – Dec 2013
“Perisher with chopsticks” is how a colleague described Hirafu, one of four ski resorts that comprise Niseko on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido.
It’s a region famed for its annual deluge of snow – a dumping equalled by the number of goggle-wearing Aussies who now land there each season in search of superior white stuff.
Yet here, at the Hilton’s delightful Sisam Japanese restaurant, feasting on grilled scallops with truffle sauce, bogans and their collective predilection for garish ski kit have been welcomingly replaced by the stylish local set.
As a guitar-mad teenager, there was only one thing I wanted for my 18th birthday: a Gibson Les Paul. Immortalised by the likes of Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Slash, it was the wannabe rock guitarist’s dream instrument.
There was only one problem: a new Les Paul cost the same as a small car. Unperturbed, I waged a six-week campaign of teenage tantrum-throwing until my parents finally buckled and agreed to go halves on a Les Paul Studio. This considerably cheaper model has the same legendary sound quality but less of the fancy ornamentation.
Given that I’m writing this story and not rehearsing for a concert at Wembley Stadium, it’s fair to say my talent plateaued somewhere around Stairway to Heaven. But the guitar remains a treasured possession and on a good day it takes me only four attempts to play the intro to Sweet Child O’ Mine.
So you can imagine my delight some 30 years later when I visit Memphis and discover it’s possible to take a tour of Gibson’s factory, one block from Beale Street.
From a walk along the historic Freedom Trail to a day at the baseball at Fenway Park, there is always a lot to do in Boston.
1. FREEDOM TRAIL
Boston played a pivotal role in the American Revolution, in which 13 North American colonies broke free from the British Empire. You can learn more about the city’s involvement by walking the Freedom Trail, a four-kilometre route that winds past 16 of the city’s most historically significant sites. Although you can tackle the trail on your own, I’d recommend joining one of the free 60-minute tours led by a national parks ranger. They start at the Faneuil Hall Visitor Centre.
Life as the wife of a US coal baron in the early 1900s was a gruelling affair. Every year, Sarah Berwind would leave her New York home to spend the “season” (July and August) at their summer cottage in Newport, Rhode Island. She would partake in a punishing social schedule of tennis, golf and polo, not to mention host innumerable parties, concerts and dinners.
Of course, she had help. From 43 staff, to be precise. And the “summer cottage” was actually a 50-room mansion that took three years to build. Known as The Elms, it was modelled on an 18th-century French chateau.
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.
Judy has the willowy grace of a catwalk model, with high cheekbones, unblemished skin and a practised insouciance. When I ask her why she ran away from home, she slowly folds her slender brown arms and answers through half-closed eyes, “Because my father tried to make me marry a man 10 years older than me.” And what about the father of her nine-month-old daughter? “He says she isn’t his.”
Unsurprisingly, the first thing that hits me when I enter Floris is the smell. It’s as if ribbons of fragrance are being twirled around my head – a delicate aromatic dance of floral and citrus tones, offset by sharper notes of spices and wood. For a few seconds I pause, sniffing the air like a basset hound.
It’s a fitting introduction to the second-oldest perfumer in the world.
I feel like I’m watching the opening scene from a movie. Projected across one of the world’s longest video screens – a 108-metre monster that looms over the track at Meydan Racecourse – is the image of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. He’s strolling nonchalantly towards the winners’ enclosure, surrounded by friends and family, all immaculately dressed in traditional Arabian kanduras.
This is no public relations stunt. The sheikh is a horse-racing fanatic who regularly makes an appearance at Meydan to watch one of his vast stable of thoroughbreds.
It was with some trepidation that I signed up for a cooking class at Freestyle Escape. The last time I ventured into a professional kitchen I rendered a salad inedible by liberally garnishing it with peppercorns (I thought they were lentils).
But the minute I arrive at Martin Duncan’s outdoor kitchen perched high in the lush Sunshine Coast hinterland, my fears are allayed. It would be hard to imagine a more idyllic spot for a class. In fact, the sweeping views prove to be so distracting that twice during the course of the day I almost lop off the end of one of my fingers.
I used to dread US domestic flights. I would board in a fog of despair knowing that for the next four hours I would be squeezed between two bathroom-tile salesmen from Idaho. The only entertainment would be a Miley Cyrus movie played on a screen 100 metres away and the packaging of the inflight meal would be tastier than its contents.
But now I positively skip down the aerobridge, high-fiving other passengers along the way while whistling Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. Why? Because I’ve discovered SkyMall, the bizarre but endlessly entertaining inflight shopping magazine behind the seats of many US domestic carriers (and online at skymall.com).
To call SkyMall merely a shopping magazine is to do it a grave disservice; it is actually a window into a parallel universe. Through SkyMall you will get a glimpse of a better you, a happier you, a you surrounded by products you never realised you needed but now can’t imagine life without.
So sit back, relax and let me offer a tantalising taste of just how perfect your life could be.
Ask a New Yorker about their plans for the weekend and you’re almost guaranteed to hear the word brunch. It’s a New York institution. A chance to catch up with friends and indulge in a Mimosa-fuelled afternoon of good food and gossip.
The tricky bit is choosing where. Almost every restaurant in the city has a brunch menu and the scene can range from family friendly to Vegas-style debauchery; from $US12.95 all-inclusive to a $US200 splurge to remember.
Here are five popular brunch spots to get you started.
For the past few days I’ve been haunted by two things: fleeting glimpses of Mt Kinabalu’s ominous-looking granite peak and the dawning realisation that I’m the least prepared of anyone in the group.
At 4095m, Mt Kinabalu is South-East Asia’s highest mountain, but it’s also one of the most accessible; there’s no technical climbing involved, just a steady, relentless uphill slog.
As our group of eight has come to know each other better, it has emerged that everyone else has done some serious training. One couple recently hiked 29km; two guys have been tackling 1000-plus steps; another couple have climbed Mt Kilimanjaro.
The furthest I’ve ever hiked is 15km. And that was when I was 17.