Huge revamp of transport in Sydney

Trains have started testing on Australia’s biggest public transport project – a massive modernisation and improvement of Sydney’s metro system.

New-generation trains – based on the international metropolis system used in 25 cities, including  Barcelona, Amsterdam and Singapore – are set to revolutionise Sydney travel from 2019.

They are being tested on the new SydneyMetro North-west rail system, which includes eight  new railway stations and 4,000 commuter car parking spaces in the city’s growing north-western area.

The new rail link, includes elevated  stations;  Australia’s biggest railway tunnels and the ‘Skytrain’ (pictured) between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill.

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Skytrain takes Sydney Metro Northwest above ground for four kilometres

The skytrain is at a height of between 10 metres and 13 metres above ground level and is supported with 130 concrete piers, spaced approximately 39 metres apart.

The two new railway stations on the skytrain, Kellyville and Rouse Hill, are elevated and the platforms are above ground.

A landmark 270-metre long cable-stayed railway bridge over Windsor Road at Rouse Hill also forms part of the skytrain. This is similar in design to Sydney’s Anzac Bridge.

Timetable-free

When it opens, the new system promises a train every four minutes in peak hours and will be ‘timetable-free’: users will just turn up and catch a train.

A second stage of the project will include a revamped rail system through Central Sydney and on to the city’s south-west.

Accessibility

Sydney’s new-generation metro trains will make customer journeys easy – with an emphasis on accessibility for people of all ages.

Features include level access with platforms to multi-purpose areas for prams, luggage and bicycles and real time travel information.

Drivers not forgotten

Sydney’s transport facelift is not restricted to the new rail systems.

At the same time, a new tunnel system known as NorthConnex is changing the face of road travel  by sweeping traffic through a nine-kilometre tunnel in Sydney’s north – linking the existing M1 and M2 motorways.

Central Sydney is also getting a 12-kilometre light rail system, with 19 new Stops through the city.

This system, for which testing is also underway will complement the current Inner-West Light  Rail, which already carries 9.7 million people a year.

 

Featured attractions Sydney travel

Western Australian Vines Resort spa is acclaimed

A leading resort in Western Australia has won international acclaim for the quality of its spa treatment.

Novotel Vines Resort, in the Swan Valley, was among the winners at the 2018 World Luxury Spa and Restaurant Awards, held in Northern Ireland.

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Keishi Spa at the Vines Resort was named the global winner in the prestigious categories of best luxury boutique spa and the best luxury golf resort spa.

It was also recognised as the Best Luxury Beauty Spa in Australia and Oceania.

The awards celebrate exceptional service  in the luxury wellness and fine dining industries.

World Luxury Spa and Restaurant Awards are considered the pinnacle of accomplishment and are a benchmark for luxury hotels and spas across the globe.

This year, more than 140 countries competed in 100 categories, with entrants ranging from safari lodges to health retreats.

At Keishi Spa, guests are treated with luxury Babor Skin Care and Aromatherapy Associates in a secluded sanctuary at the Vines Resort, which is about 35 minutes from the Western Australian capital of Perth

The spa, which is popular with resort guests, features a couple massage room, dual Vichy showers and a hairdresser.

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The spa is situated in a secluded sanctuary under towering trees, between the resort’s golf grfeens and swimming pool.

Spa owner and manager, Everlyn Zaccagnini, said it was particularly pleasing to take out the global awards in sections where Keishi Spa had won its continental honours last year.

This, she said, was “a huge elevation in status and reason for us to be immensely proud.

“It is testament to the hard work of all our staff and we are honoured to win such accolades.”

travel Western Australia

Feature: The Hilltops Region

The Hilltops Region of Australia’s south-east has a look all its own.

As the visitor drives north from the tablelands and Canberra area, the countryside changes subtly. A tapestry of sweeping land opens before you, criss-crossed by obviously fertile river plains and occasional rocky outcrops – all relics of an ancient volcano, Mount Canemumbola.

It is these fertile soils that have long stamped the region as a primary industry force; delivering up grains, fine wool, beef cattle and a range of stone fruit.

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As we near our first objective, the town of Boorowa, livestock is wandering through paddocks turned white by early morning frost.

We’re mesmerised by the sunlight bouncing off the icy ground and spotlighting the red and yellows of leaves still freshly fallen from Autumn.

Stopping by the roadside, we attempt to film the beauty, knowing only too well that cameras can rarely do justice to nature’s lightshows.

The Hilltops Region features the historic towns of Boorowa, Young and Harden-Murrumburrah, along with numerous smaller villages. 

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Each has its pioneering stories and storytellers – and each town regularly celebrates its particular culture and history with a series of popular community events.

Together, the towns of the Hilltops are embracing the future; celebrating a diverse past; and carefully promoting a fast-growing tourism economy.

According to its own literature, the Hilltops Region attracted 414,000 visitors in 2016 alone, injecting AUD$79million into the local economy.

This regional development was the main reason for our visit.  We were keen to sample just why Hilltops was creating such interest among travellers – and how the region had played to its strengths to become a tourism buzzword.

And, at the same time, we wanted to see how the population centres themselves  – and the people there – had changed during the development of the Hilltops identity.

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We’d lived at Young more than 30 years ago, so that centre had particular sentimentality to us.

But, we’d been away a long time – and what we found on our ramble through the Hilltops both surprised and delighted.

Join us over the next week as we explore this journey and outline aspects of the Hilltops Region through our eyes.

As well as following this feature here on Memorable Destination, you can also join us on the ‘Memorable’ stable of Instagram accounts @memorable_destination @memorable_travels and @memorable_hotels.

The feature will also be highlighted on both our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Hilltops Region Regional New South Wales travel

Aussie outback cafe sells world’s most costly coffee

Would you believe a certain coffee at this Australian outback cafe can set you back about $50 a cup?

 It’s the Hervey Range Heritage Tea Room, high in the mountains north of Townsville in the so-called ‘dry tropics’ of Far-North Queensland.

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As well as the peaceful bushland location at Thornton’s Gap on the top of Harvey’s Range, the tea rooms actually have two big claims to fame. 

Firstly, they are known as the only place in Queensland to sell Kopi Luwak coffee – hailed as the world’s most expensive coffee. 

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Apparently, the coffee beans are collected from Indonesian jungles after being eaten and defecated by Asian palm civets, a small mammal that looks rather like a cat.

At the Heritage tea rooms, the coffee can be sampled for about 50 Australian dollars a cup.

Secondly, the tea rooms are also said to be in North Queensland’s oldest building – constructed of split logs in about 1865 and formerly known as the Eureka Hotel.

Construction of the hotel atop the ranges occurred just one year after Townsville was established as a seaside township

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The site is located on the old Georgetown Road, which was formerly the main route from the port of Townsville to the goldfields and pastoral areas to the west and north.

Nearby is the old Hervey Range Road, now known as Page Road and one of the few surviving examples of a roadway dating from early European settlement in the region

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On a recent review tour of Far-North Queensland, we relaxed in the peaceful gardens surrounding the heritage-isted building; played giant chess and card games; ate scones and cream; and downed an everyday garden variety latte.

Far-North Queensland travel

Aussie autumn

Australian summers are famous, conjuring up well known images of lifesavers on Sydney’s Bondi Beach and an outdoors and water wonderland.

But the land ‘down under’ also boasts plenty of magic as it moves toward the cooler months in the middle of the year.

There is a stunning quality to autumn in Australia, when the leaves change colour from green to yellow, orange and varying shades of red.

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Autumn there lasts from March to June and is a beautiful time to experience the diversity for which Australia is famous

We haven’t done a pictorial for a while, so here is a brief look at some of the autumn colours in our backyard at Newcastle, on the country’s east coast:

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Photo posts

A forgotten train

Australia Day is held each January: a time for Aussies to, once again, reflect on the country’s achievements.

However, at about the same time, an important milestone in the field of Aussie transportation usually slips by unnoticed in our home city of Newcastle, New South Wales.

It’s headed for 190 years since the railway came to Australia – not far from where we’re now standing.

On December 10, 1831, the Australian Agricultural Company officially opened the continent’s first rail line on high ground overlooking the fledgling British settlement that is now the bustling eastern sea port of Newcastle.

A gravitational railway

Australia’s first railway was established specifically to carry coal Newcastle’s A Pit to ships awaiting loading in the Hunter River. Cast iron rails carried wagons on what is technically known as an ‘inclined plane gravitational railway’.

Today, this would probably be called a ‘cable railway’, where a trip downhill is powered by a wagon coming back uphill on an adjoining track.

On a gravitational railway, the weight of the loaded descending cars is used to lift the ascending empties. A well known Australian example is the scenic railway – shown in the main photo on this page – at Katoomba, west of Sydney. This railway was also initially used to haul coal.

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Another example is the Monongahela Incline, at Mount Washington, Pennsylvania, in the US (shown above)

After the railway arrived in Australia at what is now Brown and Church Streets, Newcastle, it was another 23 years before the first steam-driven railway appeared between Melbourne and Port Melbourne.

From then, the railway systems of the various colonies developed rapidly.

Meanwhile, the humble beginnings of rail at Newcastle also played a key role in the development of the nation’s coal industry and Newcastle as Australia’s biggest coal port.

A load sent from Newcastle to India was Australia’s first export shipment – and in December 2016, for example, coal shipments from the port of Newcastle hit a record 15.9 million tonnes.

Credits: Main photo courtesy Flickr, Wikimedia and Charlie Brewer; Mt Washington photo courtesy Wikimedia and pennsyloco

Aussie stories

Review: Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

“Just pretend we’re in Africa during the wet season”.

Sue’s words brought a chuckle as we peered through steady rain and jumped ever-widening puddles at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, near the Australian regional city of Dubbo.

Covering three square kilometres of the central-west of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous State, the zoo is undoubtedly seen at its best in mild and dry weather.

It was anything but dry for us.

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We were there with two of our grandchildren – and were also anonymously seeing how well the zoo catered for older visitors.

In both cases, the attraction scored top marks.

Our grandchildren loved the open plains style of the zoo, where they were able to see the mainly grazing animals roaming, feeding and playing free from walls and fences.

Concealed moats divide the exhibits from visitors, creating the impression of actually being with the animals in the wild.

This feeling is strengthened by well-placed viewing platforms sitting even higher above the open ranges.

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Undeterred by the weather, the grandchildren donned rain ponchos and were pleased to find that, in most cases, the cooler, damp conditions encouraged the animals out in the open.

The zoo has an emphasis on animal conservation and we listened to a couple of talks about endangered animals and threats such as palm oil production to native habitat.

We drove our car around the zoo’s six-kilometre circuit road, stopping regularly to wander among exhibition areas containing lions, tigers, elephant, zebra, giraffe, rhinos, hippos, antelope, monkeys and otters.

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Despite the rain, we managed to see most of the park, which is said to contain almost 100 species from Africa, Asia, North America, Australia and South America.

Ideal for senior visitors

The second reason for our visit – to examine the attraction’s particular suitability for senior visitors – proved an easy task.

To its credit, Taronga Western Plains Zoo offers reduced prices for many seniors. Concessions apply for holders of Australian Pension Cards, certain Australian Health Cards and Seniors Cards.

See details.

There are a number of disabled car parking spaces located at the front entrance, as well as around the Zoo circuit.

If necessary, it is possible to see most exhibits from the circuit, but a few require a short walk on mainly flat ground.

The zoo hires both pushbikes and electric carts

Direction and assistance signage throughout the zoo is large, clear and easy to follow.

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Most of the Zoo is accessible by wheelchair and all-terrain manual wheelchairs are available at no cost through an advance booking service (02 6881 1400)

Identification is required, a disclaimer form must be completed, seat belts worn and the wheelchairs must be pushed by a carer/companion.

The African Savannah Tower is the only raised platform that is not accessible by wheelchair, however, that can be viewed from ground level.

Wheelchair accessible toilets are located around the Zoo circuit and in the entrance plaza.

The zoo has dedicated caravan and trailer parking inside the entry gates, along with a free mobile home service point.

There’s also no need to rush a visit to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, because the entry fee provides admission on two consecutive day

Getting there

Taronga Western plains Zoo is on the outskirts of Dubbo, New South Wales.

Dubbo is a five-to-six hour drive from Sydney via either the Castlereagh, Mitchell or Golden highways.

The Zoo is a five minute drive south of Dubbo on the Newell Highway. A public bus service operates Monday – Saturday.

See timetables 

Dubbo also has a taxi service,

By air

Alternatively, Dubbo is a one hour flight from Sydney, with a number of air services to and from Dubbo City Airport by Qantas and Regional Express

By train

The area can also be reached from Sydney by rail – a top about seven hours. Train services operate daily from Sydney. See how to book.

Regional New South Wales