Since March of this year, the list of things we miss not being able to do because of Covid-19 is very often led by overseas travel.
For me it started out with thoughts about the destinations I wouldn’t be seeing in 2020. It was also about the missed adventures, the exploration and discovery of new things I wouldn’t be able to do and maybe a bit of the pampering, food and luxury as well.
I guess they’re the big things about overseas travel that we miss the most.
What I’ve been thinking about more recently are those little things I miss about travelling abroad.
This all came about recently as I watched my son drive off with a friend’s family for a birthday party. As he waved out of the window of a luxurious people mover, I was reminded of those vehicles you use for transferring from the airport to your hotel, particularly in Bali, Phuket and other holiday resort style destinations.
So here are my top ten little things I miss about travelling overseas:
Packing bathers: I love packing things for the weather you’re going to. In the depths of winter it’s so good to pull out the bathers, hats and thongs for the sunshine at the other end of your flight.
Working out what you’re going to watch on inflight entertainment: Do you like a movie marathon or a tv series? I like to start with a tv series because there’s always a lot of flight announcement interruptions. Then as the meal arrives settle into a movie. For the full inflight entertainment viewing pleasure, make sure your kids know how to use it before you plug in to your own.
Seeing your name on a sign: You’ve cleared customs, collected your bags and there in Arrivals is a sign with your name on it being held up by your driver. I love that. I wish I got that wherever I went. When I go to my favourite café each morning for coffee, they should hold up a sign that says, ‘Mr Parry’.
Vehicle transfer: As the inspiration for this list, the vehicle transfer is close to my heart. I love those luxurious people movers with seats that the manufacturers describe as ‘captains chairs’. The really swish vehicle transfers will provide a drink and a cool towel. It’s the first time you really get to relax. The flight and airport queues are over. Recline the seat, sip a cool glass of Jamu and rest that towel over your face.
Getting your pool towels: The pool towel hut is sometimes staffed, sometimes not. There’s normally a little sheet to fill out to list how many towels you have taken and each towel is neatly folded, stacked and warm. I miss signing for towels.
Speaking another language: I may not be a local but I am a yokel. I love the little giggles from locals when I drawl out what I think is perfectly pronounced ‘hello’ and ‘thankyou’.
Fruit from other parts of the world: I grew up in a small country town where you’d walk down laneways infested with the horrible prickly pear. Walking through the village streets in Puglia, Italy, I learnt that the fruit of the prickly pear is delicious.
Supermarkets in other countries: I think I get more joy exploring the aisles of an overseas supermarket than exploring the galleries of the L’ouvre. I miss not seeing the variations in confectionary and the different descriptions and colours on the cereal packets. It’s not art but it is culture.
Foreign Currency: If I’m ever burgled, I feel sorry for the burglars who think they’ve hit the jackpot with the jar at the front of my house. All those little coins from far flung corners of the world are worth the world to me but probably don’t amount to much more than a couple of Australian dollars.
The inflight magazine: In fact even better than the inflight magazine, with its route maps and advertisements encouraging me to buy Breitling watches and Maserati’s, is the inflight shopping magazine. I always start out thinking I’ll buy a g-shock watch for myself and end up buying the cola flavoured lip balm set. For the kids, obviously.
Wonderful discussion on the ABC Breakfast Show with some very funny talkback callers confessing to all sorts of things that have just ended up in their bags.
Do we leave our values and compliance with rules at home when we check in to a hotel? As the hotel card is pushed down to activate the lights do you scan for what you can put in your bags? Pens? Notepads? Body Lotion? Do Not Disturb Sign? Lamps? Batteries from the tv remote?
I’m a pen guy. Love them.
Above: My favourite hotel pen from The Palace of the Lost City in Sun City, South Africa. If you’re reading this Sun City it was my daughter Matilda who put the pen in my bag.
My son Tom is still worried the Narrogin Police are chasing after him for taking the complimentary biscuits in the room at the Narrogin Albert Facey Motel.
The Top 10 items taken from hotel rooms:
Pens and notepads
Do Not Disturb signs
Shower Gel, body lotion, shampoo
Box of tissues
Things you will likely be charged for include:
Robes and linen
Wheels on the bottom of the bed
Pocket a pen, squirrel away the toiletries and maybe take a few tissues if you need them but try and leave everything else for the next guest.
You’ve paid for the room, you haven’t paid for its contents.
What a great chat on Saturday morning ABC Breakfast with Christine Layton, discussing the Australia Day events from Broome to Albany to keep you entertained and then a few suggestions for daytrips and overnighters throughout Western Australia. Get out there and find new adventures even on the most well trodden path.
Below are some pics to help you pick your next regional day trip or overnighter. Have you been to Bridgetown or Rockingham recently?
Above: Go down The Rabbit Hole on the main street of Bridgetown for an amazing range of local artist workshops and galleries.
Above: There’s no way you will leave the lolly shop in Bridgetown without a smile on a face and a bag full of sweet treats.
Above: Get to Rockingham which has the best range of aquatic activities in Western Australia. Kite surf in Safety Bay, visit the penguins and dolphins on Penguin Island and in Shoalwater Bay, swim with dolphins off Palm Beach, hire jet skis, jet packs, stand up paddle boards, kayaks or cast a line on the beach and flick in some whiting and flathead.
They make movies here. It’s a land that gave birth to one of the worlds greatest crooners and one of the worlds greatest songs. Below are some links to my story, published in The Starfish and also by Have A Go Newspaper. This is a love story. This is a story about Puglia, a land with towns that one junior reviewer of my work described as, ‘being full of towns with funny names’. He’s right. Puglia does have lots of towns with names you just want to keep on saying, not just for the memories but for the mood it puts you in, just like humming a few bars of ‘Volare’.
On 22 Setember, I was invited to speak with Jules Schiller on ABC Adelaide’s Drive Program to discuss the issue of travel agents in light of the ABC story about Flight Centre, which described the issue of ‘marking up’ fees and a culture of underpaying staff.
My contribution to the discussion was focused on why people still use travel agents and why people choose not to use travel agents.
Nothing broadens the mind like travel and the number one thing we all learn is that there are all sorts of people out there and however you choose to plan your travel is fine by me.
Don’t be afraid to plan your own travel but if you want assistance go for it. Your travel experience either way is more likely to be like Eat, Pray, Love than Taken.
Image above from ABC Story: Current and former Flight Centre staff have been speaking out against the travel giant
On Saturday evening, 18 September, I spoke on 95.3fm about my regular Malaysian travels, Malaysian food and Malaysian tourism strategies.
We also spoke about Rajah Brooke butterflies, the JDT Tigers, the benefits and consequences of spicy food and how much I enjoy using the rail network (particularly the monorail) in Kuala Lumpur to travel the city.
“I found out long ago, it’s a long way down the holiday road”
That line, from Lindsay Buckingham’s, ‘Holiday Road’, theme tune for the movie, ‘Vacation’, is so evocative of those road trips from the past and the present.
Peeling mandarins, playing travel games based on the colour of oncoming vehicles, the stench of spilled milkshakes and the music that never suited every passenger in the car so it all got turned off.
My discussion on the ABC Saturday Breakfast Show about roadtrips turned into more of a nostalgic romp through time for Charlotte, Jamie and I and we almost forgot to mention some of the good road trips from Perth that can take you to so many wonderful places.
The Avon Valley, the Ferguson Valley and Dryandra Forest are all ideal day trips from Perth that make even better overnight mini vacations.
A good road trip is all about the journey as much as the destination so make sure you pull off the road and discover a new roadhouse sausage roll or a granite outcrop full of lizards basking in the sun.
Enjoy listening to our roadtrip discussion in the link at the top of this page. Hopefully it brings back fond memories and is just a little bit inspiring for when that next long weekend comes around.
As a guest of Quest Apartments and Rockingham tourism operators, my family enjoyed a very busy weekender out of Perth.
Great weekenders, and the much savoured long weekend, often mean we try to travel as far as we can to somehow ensure the best time possible because we’re as far as we can be from home.
For so much of the Australian population, the state capital cities are our homes and these cities all have fond traditional weekend destinations. In Melbourne, the locals love Daylesford while in Sydney it might be the Blue Mountains. In Brisbane there’s the Gold Coast while Adelaide has the Barossa Valley and Hobart has just about the whole island of Tasmania to choose from to get away for the weekend.
In Perth, Margaret River is the big one to head for. Close to four hours from Perth it is renowned for its opportunities to indulge and excite.
What about if I told you that south of Perth, just 45 minutes away, or north of Bunbury, just 90 minutes away, is a seaside community that offers high quality accommodation less than five minutes’ walk from the most remarkable beach and boardwalk in Western Australia and has a well-coordinated suite of tourist activities to interest anyone with a heartbeat?
For a breakaway with the family, and to shake off the beguiling summer laziness of the weeks immediately following Christmas, we headed to Rockingham to have an adventure and try out the Christmas presents, including the snorkel sets, boogie boards and beach towels.
For two days my family of four experienced the brilliant freshness and vibrancy of the Quest Apartments, a Rockingham Wildlife Encounters tour of Shoalwater Bay with dolphins, seals, ospreys and pelicans surrounding us for over two hours, a stand-up paddle board lesson tailored for all ages and dining experiences along the Palm Beach foreshore to rival and largely outdo the most popular Perth beachside eateries.
On top of this, I took the opportunity to experience the Jetpack experience available on Rockingham Beach and my son Tom enjoyed a ride on one of the jet skis available for tour group hire.
On a recent trip to Rockingham by a very different route I had arrived on Rockingham Beach after jumping out of a perfectly operating aircraft at 14000 feet.
As I had swung in my harness, linked in an embrace of clips and straps to my tandem skydiving instructor, I had looked around. We were high enough that there was curvature to the horizon and I could see Penguin Island and the smaller islands of Shoalwater Bay and the broad, thin white stretch of Palm Beach that marks the Rockingham foreshore.
It was at the Penguin Island jetty, where Shoalwater Bay meets Safety Bay that our weekend began. By mid-morning we were on the waters of Shoalwater Bay, within the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. Just past Seal Island we encountered a pod of ten dolphins. Watching them graze on the sea grass below and lazily rise to breathe was remarkable but then the pod must have realised a few of us had cameras. Sliding behind the wake of the boat they suddenly leapt from the water, spinning and splashing with what I am absolutely sure were smiles on their faces.
We make our way around the bay and find some seals basking in the sunshine on Seal Island. All males, these seals get down to Rockingham from the islands around Lancelin to the north of Perth to escape the females and enjoy a bit of fishing and lazing about doing nothing on the beach. Oh for the life.
It’s a tour with so much to see and while I probably am not usually too keen on commentaries, there is a lot worth listening to as well. After a quick stop on Penguin Island to successfully locate some little Fairy Penguins it’s back to the mainland, about a kilometre away, to complete this first adventure that has surprised and thrilled us all.
We make our way to the Quest Apartments and the kids are immediately impressed by the spaciousness of two adjoining rooms but before they can grab the remote control for the television it’s time to hit the beach and try out the snorkelling gear and boogie boards. Palm Beach has to be the best beach in Western Australia for a child to learn how to snorkel and Waikiki Beach, with the sea breeze in your back, has to be one of the best boogie boarding beaches.
That evening, we are sun blasted and salt encrusted and even though the kids are fading they don’t want to miss an opportunity to walk along Palm Beach once the sun has set and with torches and nets in hand they catch some prawns as they flick along the surface the water. It’s strictly catch and release as we’ve booked into Rustico’s, a popular tapas bar on the foreshore and with a big day deserving a big meal we suitably indulge and then walk back to our rooms for the evening where salty heads sleep soundly.
The following morning after a great foreshore brekky we meet up with Bill at Surf Mania who is keen for us to have a go on a stand-up paddle board. I wish I had a few photos of us falling in after overbalancing but we are all surprised with how stable the boards are, particularly on the still waters of Palm Beach. Just watch out for local resident, Bluey, when you’re walking through the water (see pic below).
We all take our turn and while I was obviously the best at standing up and paddling I don’t say anything to the family, choosing to wait until I can write and brag about the experience.
Having completed the slow, calm and relaxing activity of stand-up paddle boarding we make our way a few hundred metres down the beach, about halfway between the café strip and where the skydivers are starting to land on the beach. We’re at one of Rockingham’s newest adventures, the jetpack experience. The device works through a water jet propulsion system with arm levers that determine the direction you travel. The controls are surprisingly sensitive and as Jetpack and Flyboarding Adventures operator Edward explains, you need to learn quickly how to vary your direction and altitude to avoid being dunked in the water. It’s tough to get the hang of and you swallow a bit of water but it is something completely different and completely enjoyable. With a bit of practise I’m sure I could be put to use doing stunts for the next James Bond movie.
Checking out of Quest Apartments later that afternoon I notice my daughter Matilda on the balcony taking a last look at the sea view. She turns and tells me that she is thinking about what I always tell her; if you’re sorry to leave it means you’ve had a great time. She says she is very sorry to leave.
As we drive back to Perth I think about a family weekender we recently made to Broome, near the top of Western Australia. Broome is often described as being on ‘Broome Time’. I guess it’s meant to convey a slowing down, a lack of rushing about and taking it easy.
Is it possible we can enter a new description in the lexicon of Western Australian travel?
Let Rockingham Time be a very Western Australian description for making the most of every minute. Let Rockingham Time be more than the traditional view of Rockingham being a pleasant day trip from Perth. Let Rockingham Time be a weekend, or even better a long weekend to explore and indulge yourself, your friends and your family at full speed.
Whatever your age, whether it is a taste for dining or a thirst for adventure let Rockingham Time guide you through at least two days of exquisite time well spent.
Get to Rockingham. Get stuck in to what it has to offer. Be exhausted and be alive.
Rockingham is 40km south of Perth and is home to the Royal Australian Navy’s biggest fleet base at Garden Island.
Quest Apartments Rockingham features 96 fully self-contained studio and one and two bedroom apartments with rates starting from $199 per night. Call 08 9591 0600 to enquire about their summer packages.
For information on tours, adventures and equipment hire in Rockingham call the Rockingham Visitor Centre on 9592 2778 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
I featured Labuan Island in a recent interview on 6PR radio. This article was written for Grand Dorsett Labuan.
I’m standing in the lobby of the Grand Dorsett Labuan amidst a crew of Dorsett Grand Labuan staff. They are about to perform their welcome song for my crew, an assortment of trekkers from various parts of Australia who have recently completed the Sandakan Ranau Death March Trek, retracing the footsteps of Prisoners of War in 1945.
I’ve been pulled into the group and handed the song sheet which is in English and Bahasa Malay. I keep up reasonably well even though I don’t know the tune and speak very limited Bahasa Malay.
The one image I have of this experience is looking up from my song sheet across at the singers alongside me as they belt out the line, “We welcome you to Dorsett Labuan!” and they’re singing with smiles on their faces. They’re not embarrassed and there’s no reluctance to show their pride and enthusiasm for their hotel.
My group of trekkers are spellbound. Many have travelled throughout the world and it’s the most heartfelt greeting any of them have received in a hotel. I used to think being gonged on arrival and handed a peach iced tea was pretty special but these guys are the best I’ve seen at welcoming guests.
The Dorsett Grand Labuan is the only five star hotel on the island and just minutes from the airport, waterfront and the busy town centre. The hotel receives regular awards for its customer service and with their singing staff I think they also have a good chance of winning Malaysia’s Got Talent.
Labuan Island is a territory of Malaysia off the western coast of Borneo and to the south of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. It can accessed easily by plane or ferry or if you’re slightly more adventurous, by speed boat. Electing the speed boat route takes 20 minutes from the mainland and you motor past islands, shipwrecks and red hulled offshore drilling ships waiting for their next job.
The island has a wonderful pace about it and even the traffic is slower than you’ll find in other parts of South East Asia and distinctly more courteous.
While most tourists come for the great duty free shopping, particularly the textiles and technology, there is also a very good museum with free entry located five minutes’ walk from the Dorsett Grand Labuan. The colourful history and cultural themes of Labuan is well documented with many interesting and interpretive displays.
The first Governor of Labuan, James Brooke, was better suited to his original inspiration for coming to Borneo in the 1800’s. After some strategic discussion at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, Brooke set off across the South China Sea to rid Borneo of its Pirates. He was better at being swashbuckling than sitting behind a desk but those who took his place have done a magnificent job of creating an island where the shopping is brilliant, the history is rich, the hawker markets are cheap and delicious and the diving and fishing is just about unbeatable anywhere in the world. For those with a love of reality tv, Survivor Island, where the first ever Survivor series was set, is located nearby to the north and tours allow you to wallow in the same mud pools as the contestants, including a nude Richard Hatch.
My trekking group have come to Labuan to bind together the Sandakan Death March Trek that began with many days of trekking through mountainous Borneo jungle and then riding a stock carriage train to the coast, then a fast boat to the island. Every step we’ve taken and the stories we have talked about have led us to Labuan War Cemetery, the final resting place for the few whose remains are known and the many who are only ‘Known Unto God’.
As we walk the lines of memorial graves we think about the Australian and British Prisoners of War who perished at Sandakan and Ranau and on the three death marches in 1945. We think about how the final 15 prisoners were shot and killed 12 days after the war had finished. From 2434 Australian and British Prisoners of War, only 6 survived.
We stand in front of Richard Murray’s grave. He stepped forward from a line of men and said that he alone stole rice, knowing he would be killed. Stealing rice was a capital offence and he sacrificed his life so that others may live.
We stand in front of Captain John Oakeshott’s grave, a doctor who had the opportunity to escape but decided to stay with the sick. He was one those killed 12 days after the war had ended.
As a fighter jet from the Royal Malaysian Air Force flies over the Cross of Sacrifice at the cemetery we also remember the sacrifice of so many local people from Sabah and Sarawak who were killed during World War II and the bravery of those who provided assistance to the prisoners.
It is a beautiful war cemetery, well maintained by Labuan authorities and staff are on site Monday to Friday from 7am to 4:30pm.
While the trek has been physically exhausting the walk through Labuan War Cemetery has been emotionally exhausting. Returning to the Dorsett Grand Labuan, our group is quiet and some choose to just sit in the lobby while others go off to breakfast, for a swim or a play with the resident sun loving cat.
For each us, in our own way, we find the space to reflect on our journey. I’ve cried during this trek but for now I am smiling. As I remember the staff at the hotel who sang to us I know I have to come back and share this experience with others, for the history of the past and for the friendships of the future.