Adventures in Sydney’s Wild, Wild West

Indoor skydiving at iFLY Downunder in Penrith - photo by Rob McFarland

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

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New adventures in LA

Sunset Ranch Ride over Hollywood hills - photo by Rob McFarland

Sunset Ranch Ride over Hollywood hills – photo by Rob McFarland

TravelThereNext

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

9/11 Museum, New York

Segment of radio and television antenna from top of North Tower in 9-11 Museum - photo by Rob McFarland

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

Boy’s own adventure

Skydiving over Wollongong - photo by Rob McFarland

Skydiving over Wollongong – photo by Rob McFarland

TravelThereNext

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.

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Flight test: New York to Sydney – Qantas business class

Qantas business class - Boeing 747

Qantas business class – Boeing 747

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – April 26, 2014

THE ROUTE

New York (JFK) to Sydney (via Los Angeles).

THE PLANE

Boeing 747-400.

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END

Business, seat 1J.

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Sleep No More, New York

Actors in Sleep No More, New York

Actors in Sleep No More, New York

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.

Still here? OK, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Read the rest of this story here.

Rockin’ Running Tour, Memphis

Rockin Running tour in Memphis - photo by Rob McFarland

Rockin Running tour in Memphis – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – February 2, 2014

It’s a common holiday conundrum: how do you find time to exercise while you’re away? No one wants to spend hours cooped up in a gym when you could be sightseeing.

It’s particularly challenging in a city such as Memphis, with its tempting trifecta of blues, booze and barbecue food.

Rockin’ Running Tours reckons it has the answer: guided running tours. Who says you can’t sightsee and stay fit at the same time?

Read the rest of this story here.

Powder skiing in Niseko, Japan

Top of a chairlift in Niseko Village - photo by Rob McFarland

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.

Read the rest of this story here: GQ Niseko (PDF)

Gibson Guitar Factory tour, Memphis, Tennessee

 

New guitars at the Gibson Guitar Factory, Memphis, TN - photo by Rob McFarland

New guitars at the Gibson Guitar Factory, Memphis, TN – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – October 27, 2013

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.

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Twenty reasons to visit Boston

 

Boston by night - photo by Rob McFarland

Boston by night – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – August 4, 2013

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.

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Servant Life Tour at The Elms, Newport

 

The Elms mansion, Newport - photo by Rob McFarland

The Elms mansion, Newport – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – July 28, 2013

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.

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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.

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Umoja Uaso women’s village, Kenya

 

Women making crafts in Umoja Uaso women's village, Kenya - photo by Rob McFarland

Women making crafts in Umoja Uaso women’s village, Kenya – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – May 25, 2013

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.”

Read the rest of this story here.

Floris Perfumer, London

 

Floris perfumer in London - photo by Rob McFarland

Floris perfumer in London – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – May 18, 2013

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

A night at Meydan Races, Dubai

 

Racehorse at Meydan Park, Dubai - photo by Rob McFarland

Racehorse at Meydan Park, Dubai – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – May 12, 2013

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

Freestyle Escape cooking school, Sunshine Coast, QLD

 

Preparing toppings in Freestyle Escape's outdoor kitchen - photo by Rob McFarland

Preparing toppings in Freestyle Escape’s outdoor kitchen – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – May 4, 2013

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.

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Welcome to SkyMall World

Welcome to SkyMall World

Welcome to SkyMall World

The Sun-Herald, Australia – Mar 3, 2013

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

Five classic NYC bunches

Brunch at Bagatelle - photo by Rob McFarland

Brunch at Bagatelle – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – Jan 13, 2013

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

Adventures in Borneo

View from summit of Mt Kinabalu - photo by Rob McFarland

View from summit of Mt Kinabalu – photo by Rob McFarland

Escape travel section, Australia – December 16, 2012

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

GQ does Stockholm

Stockholm waterfront - photo by Rob McFarland

Stockholm waterfront – photo by Rob McFarland

 

GQ Australia – Dec 2012

First, let’s tackle the stereotypes. Yes, Stockholm can be eye-wateringly expensive and yes, its inhabitants are possibly the planet’s most attractive race.

Which at least means when you’re being relieved of $10 for a beer, it will be by a long-legged, flaxen-haired beauty with piercing blue eyes and a poetry-inspiring smile.

Read the rest of this story here: GQ does Stockholm (PDF)