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Sep 03

An Update from the Road – and Sky and Sea

Orion Cruises Secrets of Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia.

We thought we owed you an update from the road, an explanation as to why we’ve been slow blogging on Grantourismo lately, before we get back into the swing of things and get up to speed with our posting.

Travel writers and bloggers continually complain that one of the biggest challenges is finding balance between work, travel and life. We’re no exception. We’ve been travelling even more intensively than usual lately, which has left little time to breathe, let alone post. Our travels have taken us to remote places, from Milford Sound to Malaysian Borneo, including ten days at sea where we had little or no Internet.

What’s been terrific about a lot of our travel is that it has been solely for Grantourismo. People are increasingly inviting us on trips to blog about their destinations. Inevitably we’ll turn those experiences into stories for print publishers, because that’s still our main source of income, but what this means is that you’re more likely to read about our travels here first, and if you follow us on Twitter at @gran_tourismo you’ll hear about our adventures even sooner.

Not all trips we get invited on are a good fit, mind you, and we decline a lot because they don’t align with our travel values or match our interests – slow and sustainable travel, local travel, experiential travel (just in case you forgot). But these are the ones that have worked for us. In other words, this is what we’ve been up to lately and we’re looking forward to sharing these journeys with you very soon here on Grantourismo.

AUSTRALIA
We’ve spent a lot of time in Australia over the last year, somewhat unexpectedly, for a combination of family reasons and work. From our base at my uncle’s Bendigo home, we bounced around the country, to Melbourne, where we spent much of our time, mainly for magazine stories; to Brisbane, to take the six-day Southern Spirit train journey as guests of Great Southern Rail; to Adelaide, where the train deposited us so we could revisit our favourite Australian foodie city, wine region (Barossa Valley) and island (Kangaroo Island), courtesy of South Australian Tourism; to the Pacific paradise of Lord Howe Island, thanks to Lord Howe Island Tourism, who helped make it another of our favourite islands; to Hamilton Island for Great Barrier Feast* with Chef Dan Hunter, where we were guests of qualia and Hamilton Island; and to Perth (twice) for magazine stories (as well as to visit my Mum), and we have Tourism Western Australia and Tiger Airways to thank for assistance with those trips.

Sydney – the hometown we hadn’t spent much time in for many years – lured us back for some magazine stories late last year, and again a few months ago for a Destination NSW social media project. We have more Sydney stories to come from both trips. After that project, we stayed on for five weeks to pet-sit for our dear friends and stayed on a bit longer after they returned to spend time with them, and, well, okay, we admit it, their cats, who we couldn’t face leaving. We spent a tasty weekend in Orange, New South Wales, now another favourite food and wine destination, to visit my uncle and scout out potential stories, and we have Taste Orange to thank for delicious experiences there. We’ll continue posting on Sydney and the rest of Australia from tomorrow onwards.

MALAYSIA
We left Australia for Malaysia, primarily to do a 10-day Orion Expedition around the northern tip of Borneo, as guests of Orion, while Air Asia provided our flights. It was our first proper cruise and you can read our pre-trip reflections here and here. Aside from our luxurious stateroom – and the thrill of finding an invitation card on our door that said “The Captain requests the pleasure of your company for dinner at his table tonight…” (!) – we enjoyed the abundant wildlife, cruising tranquil rivers, visiting traditional villages, and making new friends, and we were continually touched by the tragic stories of lives lost during World War II that we learned about at Sabah’s many war memorials.

Pre- and post-cruise, Sabah Tourism gave us guides and drivers and hosted our stays in Tawau and Kota Kinabalu, where we seemed to spend most of our time hiking through forests, marvelling at colossal trees and teensy orchids, and eating our way through markets. We spent four days in Kuala Lumpur, doing even more eating while gathering stories for a Tourism Malaysia project, before Selangor Tourism whisked us away to discover Kuala Lumpur’s closest region yet the one most neglected by overseas visitors. Highlights included a farm stay, exploring Malaysia’s largest Little India in Klang, and visiting a mosque during Ramadan prayers.

NEW ZEALAND
An offer too good to refuse drew us temporarily away from Asia: an 8-day trip to New Zealand as guests of Air New Zealand and Relais and Chateaux, who invited us to experience their New Zealand Route du Bonheur (Road of Happiness) and created a journey for us travelling with Air New Zealand between four of their luxury lodges: Huka Lodge near Lake Taupo, Matakauri Lodge just out of Queenstown, Wharakea Lodge on Lake Wanaka, and Otahuna Lodge, near Christchurch. We joked that we must have been the last two Australians to visit New Zealand and after each day’s adventure we were wondering why we’d left it so long.

It was an extraordinary trip that saw us learning about modern Maori culture and trout fishing on misty Lake Taupo, tasting our way through all the gorgeous grape varietals of the Central Otago wine region, flying to Milford Sound on a light plane to cruise through the dramatic fjords, hiking up an island on Lake Wanaka to see another lake with an island, being collected by helicopter from a beach on that lake for a spectacular flight up to a chalet overlooking Mount Aspiring and Mt Cook for lunch, exploring the beautiful lush green Canterbury region, and visiting Christchurch, to discover the resilient city is reassuringly very much back in business.

We tweeted on Twitter about our New Zealand adventures during the trip but if you missed out on those, we’ve got a series of stories coming soon on Grantourismo. We’ve also popped up a post on Kiwi Sceptics campaign here and would love to know what you think about that. Have you been to New Zealand? If not, why not? Are you a New Zealand sceptic?

BANGKOK
And now we’re back in Bangkok, one of our favourite cities in the world, and the city where we’ve probably spent the most time after Dubai. We’re not here to finish our Hedonist’s Guide, which will be released with the re-launch of Hg2 apps late in the year. So, yes, we’ll return again to update the unpublished manuscript before then.

We’re actually here for 10 days to have that $10,000 holiday you helped me win – the first thing I’ve ever one in my life, and the first “holiday” we’ve had in a long time – when I participated in the Sony Australia ‘No More Bad Photos’ contest. (Read about that here and here.) But of course you already noted my use of punctuation there, because this isn’t entirely a holiday. I have to re-take my photo of Buddhist monks using the brilliant Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V camera which Sony gave me, and the equally clever advice of our readers.

Between now and then I’m planning to do some things in Bangkok that will give me a chance to play with the camera’s functions and have a go at some of those things you suggested I try. You can follow us on Twitter @gran_tourismo where I’ll use #NoMoreBadPhotos for my Sony holiday tweets and if you’re not on Twitter, then you’ll be able to read our series of posts on our Sony trip in a few weeks. But for now, well, we’re in Bangkok, so that means it’s time to go out and eat…

Pictured above: our Orion Expedition vessel, taken by Terence from the beach on the island, Pulau Mantanani, Sabah, Malaysia.

* The next Great Barrier Feast with Chef Martin Boetz takes place from 14-16 September 2012. Details here.

2 comments

  1. Keith Kellett

    ‘Captain requests the pleasure of your company …?’ … you mean you had to eat with the crew? :D

    Joking apart, sounds like a great few months, & looking forward to reading all about it.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Ha! Ha! Well we did eat with the “crew” (i.e. Captain) that night, and again later in the trip when he asked *me* to organize a table for his last night on board (they were swapping Captains), so that was quite a privilege. I felt like I was on the Love Boat.

      It was good fun! I now get a lot of things about cruising that I didn’t understand before. Thanks for dropping by, Keith! Need to get over and catch up on your posts now :)

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