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.

Read the rest of this story here.

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”.

Read the rest of this story here.

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

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.

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

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.

Read the rest of this story here.

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.

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.

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