Accor’s five-star announcement for Sydney airport

Travellers are to be given an additional accommodation choice when using Sydney airport.Pullman-Sydney-Airport-render-Copy-233x300

Accor recently signed an agreement to manage the planned five-star Pullman Sydney Airport hotel, part of an AUD$100 million mixed-use development in the city suburb of Mascot.

When finished in May 2016, the new hotel will offer 229 rooms and suites, a restaurant and bar, gym, conference facilities and an executive lounge.

Announcing the agreement signing, Accor Pacific’s Simon McGrath, said the project would be a key development for Sydney.

“Airports are no longer considered transport hubs.

“They are transforming into complete entities where hotels, conference centres, retail and office spaces co-exist.

“Accor continues to lead as an airport hotel specialist and we are thrilled to partner with Goodman on this project, which is a win for the economic growth of Sydney and our fourth airport announcement this year.”

Once operational, Pullman Sydney Airport will join the biggest network of upscale hotels in Asia Pacific with more than 45 hotels across the region.

For information, visit



Australian road trip

I read once that everyone has travelled some part of America’s iconic Route 66 – “if only in their dreams”.

It’s certainly a similar story in Australia, the acknowledged “home of the road trip”.

Right across the continent, roads carry travellers through diverse geographical and environmental regions; linking coastal, hinterland, inland and even Outback areas.


Journeys like the Great Ocean Road; Highway One; the Nullarbor Plain: Tasmania; and Darwin-to-Uluru roll off the tongue readily.

However, Australia also has a superb network of lesser-known highways and useful ‘tourist drives’ that quickly take visitors from attraction to attraction within regions.

These drives are suitable for motorists of all ages, with towns, villages and rest areas aplenty.

In the most populous State of New South Wales, for example, well used drives  include the Greater Blue Mountains Drive; the Legendary Pacific Coast; the Grand Pacific Drive from Sydney to Wollongong; and the spectacular Kosciuszko Alpine Way in the Snowy Mountains.


Other scenic drives are along the Waterfall Way on the northern tablelands of NSW; the Poacher’s Way food and wine trail; and the historic Long Paddock drive that follows the old stock routes of Country NSW. The Darling River Run takes you on a great journey into Outback NSW, travelling from Walgett in north-western NSW to Wentworth on the Victorian border.

Review of the Golden Highway

Another of our favourites is the Golden Highway, which runs east-west in New South Wales, linking the mining and winegrowing areas of the Hunter Valley with the wide open spaces of the state’s Central West.


A good example of a ‘tourist drive’ that links attractions within an Australian region is Hinterland Tourist Drive 28 that runs between the quaint Australian riverside town of Wardell – with its prominent opening bridge – and the picturesque Alstonville Plateau on the New South Wales north coast.

Wardell Bridge, Australia

As it leaves the village atmosphere of Wardell, the route passes through lush rolling hill country peppered with the homes of fortunate locals.

Looking out the car windows, our envy was obvious.

In many places, the drive resembled roads in Southern England, with dense trees and vegetation from either side almost meeting overhead in a green tunnel.

Ballina Coast and Hinterland was once part of a massive rainforest known as The Big Scrub and one of the last remaining remnants can be found along the drive – at the Victoria Park Nature Reserve.


Nature’s wonderland

The reserve has a boardwalk – easily accessible to travellers of just about all ages – that takes you deep into impossibly tall and thick vegetation, including snaking Figs, palms and ferns.

We made use of the reserve’s picnic facilities, enjoying the cool rainforest atmosphere, the unending chorus of birds and the antics of small marsupials known as Red Necked Pademelons.


Then we rejoined Hinterland Tourist Drive 28, bound for the Summerland House Farm, at Alstonville.

This working farm – it’s produce includes macadamia nuts, avocados and hydroponically grown vegetables – is a ‘House With No Steps’ business enterprise, dedicated to providing employment opportunities for people with a disability.

Tourist Drive 39: coastal majesty

Later, we set out to follow Tourist Drive 30 from Ballina Headland and Lighthouse north to Lennox Head – and marvelled at the breath-taking coastal scenery linked by this route.

Tourist Drive 30 takes the traveller to gems such as Pat Morton Lookout, where we soaked up the view of sweeping beaches and watched para gliders soaring above the cliff tops.

These tourist drives are wonderful for visitors because they bring together a range of attractions in a relatively short and well signposted run.

Like America’s Route 66, each of these drives certainly still kick.

Road trips

These Aussies love their lot

Witnessing community spirit is good for the soul.image

A road trip to Australia’s Ballina  Coast and Hinterland allowed us to listen to the locals talk with pride about their remarkable part of the world.

And it left an indelible mark.

To say we’re impressed is an understatement.

For us, it’s a bit like: “We’ll have whatever they’re all having”.

Entrepreneurship and community pride

Such ‘can do’ attitude, self belief, determination to find new ways of doing things and commitment to quality service is always uplifting even in small measures. But the Ballina Coast and Hinterland is fortunate to boast these attributes in bucket loads.

We found entrepreneurship and community pride enough to convince us that the Ballina Coast and Hinterland is indeed a special place – not only as a desirable tourist destination, but also to settle, start a business, raise a family and turn dreams into reality.

imageThe second annual Ballina Prawn Festival was a perfect example. Ballina is well known for the ‘Big Prawn’ that stands on the outskirts of the town, so this festival was a logical extension of that fame and a celebration of the importance of the local seafood industry.

Big Prawn Festival

Enthusiasm for this festival met us at every corner. Everyone was going; wanted to know if we’d be there; and felt it was important to showcase what the area could do.

It was an impressive show of support for the Ballina Prawn Festival – and it wasn’t an exaggeration.

The big crowds who braved hot weather to attend the 2nd annual festival, centred on Ballina’s Missingham Park, were certainly enthuastic.

imageCrowds clapped acts on the main stage; took part in the various events in big numbers; stood in often trying queues for the Ferris Wheel; delighted in the prawn shelling; urged on craft in the DIY Raft Race; and lined the riverbank for the Spectacular fireworks that ended the festival.

Prawn champ wins again

Festival-goers loudly cheered Torben Mikkelsen, of Yamba, when he shelled and ate half-a-kilogram of prawns in 1 minute and 43 seconds to retain the title he won in 2013.

And, at every chance, people eagerly praised the festival concept and the importance of such promotions to the continued prosperity of Ballina Coast and Hinterland.

The enthusiasm was infectious and certainly uplifting.

To us, it seems that a visit to Australia’s Ballina Coast and Hinterland is good for just about whatever ails you.

Where is Ballina?

Ballina and surrounds are about 745 kilometres north of Sydney in sub-tropical northern New South Wales.

Alternatively, the area is just over two hours by car South of Brisbane.

For our visit, our hosts were the Best Western Ballina Island Motor Inn, the Central Ballina Holiday Park and the Alstonville Country Cottages.

Road trips

Ballina, Australia

We thoroughly recommend a road trip to the Ballina coast and hinterland of eastern Australia.

This part of sub-tropical northern Australia is close to the heart of generations of Aussies, for whom the annual summer beach holiday was something of a rite of passage.

These memories, in many ways, are part of the Australian makeup: reassuring recollections of time spent in tried and tested holiday areas.

Diversifying to remain relevant

And, despite the challenges of modern motorways and cheap overseas flights, the Ballina coast and hinterland has maintained its attraction to visitors by diversifying into an eclectic blend of old and new.

imageBallina’s lure for holidaymakers remains as strong as ever.

The remarkable sunsets go on forever and the area remains blessed with long stretches of pristine beach and charming riverland, ideal for boating, fishing, surfing and other outdoor activities.

But Ballina also recognises that natural beauty and superb climate needs to be accompanied by a vibrant community, diverse economy, high quality facilities – and even a taste for the exotic.

There’s a theory that a key to economic growth lies in attracting creativity. If that’s so, then Ballina coast and hinterland – and in fact, much of the Australia’s legendary Pacific Coast – is way ahead of the game and is showing the rest of the country a thing or two about creativity and cultural diversity.image

A food paradise

For example, Ballina coast and hinterland has gained an enviable reputation as a foodies paradise, with some of the finest local produce imaginable, including plenty of fresh seafood, macadamia nuts, avocados, honey, hydroponically-grown tomatoes, fresh vegetables and even coffee.

Local restaurants and cafes, where possible source their products locally, with an emphasis on freshness and quality.

For example, the cafe at The Macadamia Castle – a popular local tourist attraction – uses colour coding on its menu to show which products are grown in the Ballina area.

Ballina’s seafood is known for its high quality and the town’s Fish Co-op plays an important role in the local economy.image

Arts, crafts, healthcare and leisure

And then there’s the area’s thriving arts and music scenes. From world-class pottery to performing arts and theatre, Ballina Coast and Hinterland oozes cutting edge creativity.

Surrounded by such natural beauty and peacefulness, it’s probably only logical that the area would also become a magnet for those seeking health and wellbeing. The hinterland and surroundings have become well known for retreats and spas, including the famed Gaia facility at Brooklet, part-owned by entertainer, Olivia Newton-John.

This complements the Ballina coast and hinterland’s healthcare industry and strong outdoor flavour, where visitors and residents can get up close and personal with nature on a kayak tour, cycling on a modern network of paths, or trying their hand at Stand Up Paddleboarding on Lake Ainsworth.

Strong community support

All this needs excellent community facilities and assistance, which is where Ballina Shire Council comes in, helping to generate the final ingredients – thriving commerce, social services and a fierce community pride.

And to top it off, today’s sweeping highways can get you to the Ballina Coast and Hinterland in greater safety and with far less stress than ever – well within a day’s travel north from Sydney and just over two hours south of Brisbane.

Thoughts of a retro holiday at Ballina Coast and Hinterland may well tug at the heartstrings, but this fascinating area also offers visitors so much more than just the beach scenes from those faded black and white snapshots.

legendary pacific coast

Review: Hunter Wetlands Centre, Australia

A wetlands centre at Newcastle, Australia, continues to play an important role in bird conservation.

The Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia has helped reverse a decline in Magpie Geese across the north-eastern areas of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state.

Although black-and-white Magpie Geese are abundant in Australia’s northern regions, they became less common in the south, where habitat reduced. P1010403Keen to tackle the decline, Hunter Wetlands Centre obtained 41 Magpie Geese in 1987 – and increased the flock steadily over the next five years.

The geese at the centre bred for the first time in 1992 and new juveniles can now be seen almost every year as a clear indication of the success of the re-introduction program.

Helping threatened ducks too

The centre also works to conserve threatened Freckled Ducks.P1010411Helping save these vulnerable bird species is just one of  many achievements at Hunter Wetlands Centre, which is set to celebrate three decades of operation in 2015.

Set to celebrate 30 years

In those 30 years, the centre, which is located in the Newcastle suburb of Shortland, has come from a former landfill rubbish site to an internationally recognised wetland education facility.P1010402At one stage, more than 2,200 trees were planted as the site was rehabilitated and landscaped.

Hundreds of bird species

A total of 217 bird species have been recorded at the centre.

This includes 72 typical wetland species, including 67 waterbirds and nine migratory waders.

Honking geese a hit

When we visited the centre, the colonies of Magpie Geese – with their distinctive honking call – were just one of the many fascinating attractions.

P1010409With grandchildren in tow, we headed firstly for the visitor centre, which contains in interpretative display area and a popular cafe.

Live reptile display

The live reptile displays and interactive reptile talks went over a treat – even if we were a little tentative handling the snakes.

Next, it was time to watch the bird feeding and explore the adventure playground before we held our own picnic close to the wetland area and the ever-popular geese.P1010415Plenty to see and do

Hunter Wetlands Centre boasts plenty of activities, including walking trails and guided walking tours; canoe hire and guided tours; Segway tours; a bush tucker garden; bike hire; and special activities in school holidays.

It also stages a popular ‘Breakfast with the Birds’ program each Sunday, as well as night visits to the wetlands area and canoeing with experienced guides.P1010404Love to return

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the centre and hope to return at some stage to review one or more of these innovative activities.

The wetlands centre is also rapidly gaining a reputation for its nursery, which boasts the capacity to produce over 100,000 plants a year.

How to get there

Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia is located at Newcastle, New South Wales. The centre is about 10 minutes from the heart of the city and is about two hours north of Sydney. You can get there by car train and bus.

Check these directions.

Aussie stories legendary pacific coast

Australasia’s biggest Ibis

image002Brisbane has been confirmed as the site of the biggest Ibis economy hotel in Australasia.

Hotel operator, Accor, has announced that construction of the 368-room Ibis Elizabeth Street is expected to start later this year in central Brisbane.

Accor, which is Australia’s biggest hotel operator, says it has signed a management agreement with Middle East developer, Action Hotels.

The two companies have been working together in economy hotels in Australia and the Middle East since 2006 and, currently, have five Ibis hotels operating, with an additional three set to open by the end of 2016.

In Brisbane’s CBD

The Elizabeth Street development – said to cost $A90million and create more than 400 construction jobs – will adjoin the Myer Centre and Queen Street Mall in Brisbane’s heart.

image004It will also be within close walking distance of government departments and Brisbane’s casino.

When it opens in early 2016, the hotel will complement at least three existing Ibis facilities across the city, which is the capital of the Australian State of Queensland.

New Adelaide hotel

The Brisbane announcement is hot on the heels of last month’s  launch of the new $A70million ibis Adelaide hotel, with 311 rooms and facilities.

Accor Pacific’s Simon McGrath, says the company remains the leader in the economy hotel segment with 60 hotels in the Australian ibis ‘megabrand’ brand portfolio.

“Once operational, Ibis Brisbane Elizabeth Street will add another dimension to the brand growth as the largest ibis hotel in Australasia.

* Artist’s impressions provided by Accor


Review: Australia’s National Arboretum

P1010607The National Arboretum Canberra, is a relatively new Australians attraction.

Stretching across 250 hectares at Weston Creek on the outskirts of Canberra, the National Arboretum is home to 94 forests and more than 48,000 trees, from 100 or more countries.

What’s to see?

An initiative of the Australian Capital Territory Government, the arboretum spans out around an attractive ‘Village Centre’.

The centre features huge skylights and panoramic views over Australia’s bushland national capital.

Visitors enter through an attractive tunnel-like entrance to find a restaurant, shop and viewing decks on most sides.P1010580

There is also a nearby pavilion for staging private functions.

Eye-catching sculptures

Set high on Dairy Farmers Hill is a striking sculpture of an eagle on its nest. ‘Nest 111’ is proving a hit with arboretum visitors.

On another hillside, in large letters, stand the words ‘Wide Brown Land’, taken from the famous Australian poem, ‘My Country’, by Dorothea Mackellar.

Forests writ small

P1010600Don’t miss the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection, which includes some of the world’s finest miniature trees and forests.

This collection is located adjacent to the ‘Village Centre’.

The hills are alive

Another popular attraction is a large U-shaped amphitheatre, which increasingly is being used for concerts and performances.

The amphitheatre is fully grassed.

Himalayan Cedars

These trees are among the oldest at the arboretum. Visitors can sit beneath the majestic limbs and enjoy a typical Aussie picnic.

Pod Playground

P1010599In keeping with its natural surroundings, the children’s playground at the National Arboretum features giant acorn-shaped climbing structures; ‘nest’ swings and other fun experiences.


Self-guided walks of the arboretum’s highlights take about one hour.

Alternatively,  free-of-charge guided tours are held throughout the day, leaving the ‘Village Centre’ about every half-an-hour.

Opening hours

P1010604Located on Forest Drive, off the Tuggeranong Parkway, Weston Creek, the arboretum grounds are open from 6am – 8.30pm each day in summertime (Australia’s daylight saving period) and from 7am – 5.30pm in winter.

The ‘Village Centre’ and the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection are open daily from 9 am until 4 pm Monday to Sunday, except on Christmas Day.

The National Arboretum Canberra is free to visit, but there is a charge for using the main car park alongside the ‘Village Centre’.

Getting to Canberra

Australia’s national capital is located 285 kilometres or 177 miles from Sydney via the Hume Highway and Federal Highway. The journey takes about three hours. See Google Maps.

Our friends at VisitCanberra say the city is serviced by major domestic airlines, as well as international carriers, Qantas and Virgin Australia.

A flight from Sydney usually takes about 48 minutes and there is an express bus service to and from Canberra Airport.