Tag Archives: Derryn Heilbuth

By Derryn Heilbuth

We’re heading up the driveway of the 187-year-old Quamby Estate in the lush Tamar Valley. Built by convict Richard Dry who was transported to Tasmania as a political prisoner for his part in the 1804 Irish rebellion, it’s now owned by the Tasmanian Walking Company’s Brett Godfrey and Rob Sherrard (who conceptualised Virgin Australia on the back of a dozen beer coasters in a London pub) and is the starting point for the Bay of Fires walk. It is, as I’ve experienced once before, one of the most rewarding incentive experiences in the Apple Isle.

At the stables of the beautifully manicured estate we meet our two young guides, Louis Balcombe and Harley Tuleja (pictured making tea below). Over the next four days they’ll carry our food, tend to blisters, boil the billy, prepare our meals and share their passion for the coastal heathlands, marsupial lawns and sclerophyll forests of their island home. And all with such larrikin charm that it must surely be one of the requirements of the job.

2“Keep it under eight kilos,” they say as they hand out packs, water bottles and raincoats. As a traveller who likes to pack for every eventuality, it’s a challenge. Having done this walk before, I know I’ll regret that extra jumper thrown in at the last minute. Still, you never know . . .

Back on the minibus, our six-strong group are introduced to two other couples (the groups are never larger than 10) and we settle down for the two-and-a-half hour journey to Stumpy’s Bay in the Mount William National Park.

Tasmanian tales

The route takes us across rolling green paddocks and through the old tin towns of Derby and Branxholm, where on the roadside above a few neglected looking weatherboard cottages, we notice a bright red sign.

It marks The Trail of the Tin Dragon, a recently introduced tourist route that’s hoping to reinvigorate this economically depressed and remote northeastern corner of Tasmania by retelling the stories of the 1,500 Chinese miners who battled floods, drought and racial hatred here in the 1870s.

We descend through rainforests of blackwood, sassafras and myrtle until we reach the entrance of the national park. Driving along the sandy track, Louis spots a group of forester kangaroos, the only large ‘roo found in Tasmania. “The first we’ve seen all season”, he says.

At Stumpy’s Bay we disembark, grab our packs, gather for a group picture and then set out on the nine-kilometre hike to the tented cabins where we’ll spend our first night.

3Quixotic weather

In an essay that I will read two days later lying on a sofa in the sun at the Bay of Fires Lodge, academic and author Natasha Cica writes: “As quixotic as its weather, Tasmania is both a place of deliciously warm embrace and cold hard slaps to the face, often in the same day or hour.”

The last time I did this walk we meandered along white sands, swam in turquoise waters, waded chest-high across a creek and sunned ourselves dry on orange lichen-covered rocks. A warm embrace indeed.

Today Tasmania has opted for the cold hard slap. Sand whips our legs as we trudge heads-down into a southerly gale that hurls an angry sea against the granite boulders. It’s tough walking. But raw and elemental too. And since the wind makes it difficult to hear, a perfect time for the meditative state that comes from concentrating on putting one step in front of another.

Refuge for the night

In the late afternoon we reach our refuge for the night: six tented cabins (see top of main picture!) set unobtrusively behind the dunes, a central dining tent and two composting toilets. Water is carried in and waste carried out, so our footprint is light. A big tick for some. A challenge for others more comfortable with five stars. We arrange the blessedly warm sleeping bags and blankets we find neatly folded on the sleeping platforms in the wooden-floored tent, then make our way to the dining tent.

4While Louis and Harley busy themselves preparing the camp’s signature dish of Atlantic salmon on a bed of soba noodle salad and Vietnamese nuoc cham sauce, we sit around the table, tired but contentedly sipping Tasmanian wines and sharing stories with old and new friends.

Nature lessons

The second day’s walk is a solid 14 kilometres. The wind is still our constant companion, but like yesterday, it’s not enough to dampen the enthusiasm of our walking party or take away from our guides’ imaginatively delivered nature lessons.

Alongside an Aboriginal midden they draw time lines in the sand to place the ancient culture in the context of the relatively young Pyramids.

On the coastal heathland they strip a banksia cone to expose the velvety core that served as firelighters for the island’s first people as they moved around this coastline, and crush melaleuca leaves under our noses so we can smell the ti-tree oil they used as an antiseptic.

Back on the beach they pass around a shark egg casing they’ve spotted, lug a massive piece of string kelp across the sand (“they can grow to 30 metres”) and point out the shore birds: gulls, terns and migratory species like the bar-tailed godwits that fly 11,000 kilometres non-stop from the Arctic to their wintering grounds in Australia.

My favourites are the red-beaked hooded plovers that dart in Chaplinesque fashion around the sand foraging for food before returning to their nests on the soft sands above the tideline.

Around lunchtime we reach Tasmania’s most easterly point, Eddystone Point, or Larapuna in the local Aboriginal language. It’s home to a 1889 lighthouse and a collection of keeper’s cottages that are being restored now that the land has been returned to its traditional owners.

From there it’s on to the Bay of Fires proper, stretches of magnificent beaches, so named by Captain Tobias Furneaux, commander of HMS Adventure, the second of Captain Cook’s vessels, after he sighted Aboriginal fires burning on the shore.


Last year Lonely Planet named Tasmania one of the top ten regions in the world to visit in 2015. Arriving at the Bay of Fires lodge it’s not hard to see why. A timber and glass eyrie sitting 40 metres above the sea, this is ecotourism at its finest. The multi-award-winning lodge has solar power, rainwater tanks (and timed showers), composting toilets, louvered windows to capture the sea breezes in the simple but comfortable bedrooms, and home-cooked meals designed to show off Tasmanian produce.

As we sit soaking our tired feet in hot foot spas, a glass of wine in hand and the sun setting on a woodland setting of black peppermint and casuarina, all seems well with the world.

The sense of wellbeing stays with us over the next two days. We lounge by the fire and on deckchairs overlooking pristine Abbotsbury beach. We fall asleep in the library; and under the magical hands of Cook Islands born therapist Cecelia Ngavavia at the spa.

On the third day some of our party are too comfortably ensconced to join the kayak adventure. But for those of us who do, the rewards are great. We float serenely down the Anson River. The sunlight plays on the water, a sea eagle flies overhead and my kayaking partner throws a line into the water. On the two-hour walk back to the lodge along the beach the sun comes out and we explore the dunes of the Abbotsbury Peninsula before returning to another evening of good food and wine.

Sparkling finale

The walk ends on the fourth day with a 4.5-kilometre walk through eucalyptus forests, where again Louis and Harley stop to point out the bright green native cherries above us and the delicate coral lichen underfoot. They urge us to spread out so we can experience our surroundings alone and in silence. We eat our picnic lunch and board the bus for the two-hour drive to Andrew Pirie’s Apogee vineyard, 30 kilometres north of Launceston, where we hand in our packs and are treated to a glass of sparkling wine, delicious canapés and a demonstration of how the wine is bottled.

6.5The first Australian to be awarded a PhD in viticulture, Pirie is a towering figure in the Tasmanian wine industry. Having successfully built the Point Piper and Ninth Island vineyards, he’s now concentrating on producing what he hopes will be the finest sparkling in Australia.

All strength to him. It is people like him, the Museum of Old and New Art’s (MONA’s) David Walsh and Tasmanian Walking Company’s Brett Godfrey and Rob Sherrard who are providing the boost the island’s tourist industry needs. It’s an industry worth $2.4 billion a year to the local economy and directly and indirectly employs 28,000 Tasmanians. That’s an important statistic for a state that has a joblessness rate that’s a third greater than the national average and where over a third of its people derive their sole or primary income from a Commonwealth payment.

And if Lonely Planet’s endorsement, or the pristine beaches, or the hospitality of the young lodge hosts and guides, or the exhilarating walk, or the chance to experience one of the most remote and unspoilt places in Tasmania are not enough to persuade, it’s a very good reason to add Tasmania’s Bay of Fires walk to a list of must-do incentive experiences.

From $2,250

The Bay of Fires four-day walk runs from 1 October to 1 May. Prices are quoted on a seasonal basis:

1 October – 24 December $2,250

25 December – 31 March $2,400

1 April – 1 May $2,250

Pricing includes pick up and return from the designated collection and return point, transport to the start of the walk, twin-share accommodation, food and wine, national park passes, use of back pack and Gore-Tex jacket and two qualified guides.

The Siteseer was a paying guest of the Bay of Fires Walk.

Email: bookings@taswalkingco.com.au

Web: http://www.bayoffires.com.au


In Istanbul recently, my wife and daughter-in-law had an experience that shook them up before leaving them feeling invigorated. They each paid around AUD70 for a scrub and massage at Cemberlitas Hamami, a Turkish baths complex built in 1584 by Nur Banu, the wife of a sultan.

In a steam-filled room, lit by windows in a domed ceiling, they were soaped, pummelled and pounded by robust Turkish female masseuses, after which they each had a massage. “I feel defoliated, clean, scrubbed, relaxed . . . wonderful,” my wife said afterwards.

Later that day, in a guide book, she found a reproduction of an ancient picture of the hamam – and recognised it. The interior of the baths had changed little in four-and-a-half centuries.

Much of Istanbul’s old city, the Sultanahmet, is like that, a dreamscape washed by the froth of history yet, to visitors at least, seemingly impervious to the pressures of ballooning population or changes ushered in by the digital age.

IMG_6749For incentive travellers, especially history buffs, Istanbul can be a thrilling destination. Originally known as Byzantium, it was already a thousand years old when the emperor Constantine the Great made it the capital of the Roman empire in AD 330, when it became known as Constantinople. In 1453 it was captured by the Turks, becoming the capital of the since-dissolved Ottoman empire.

It pays to plan

While even locals will tell you the secular, bustling city of 14 million is no longer the bargain destination it once was, with the Turkish lira relatively stable, Istanbul offers value if you plan ahead and take time to seek good deals. A decent hotel room can cost as little as $85 in Sultanahmet and a typically fabulous meal of antep ezmesi – a spicy tomato, chilli, cucumber and herb dip served with flat bread – börek (savoury meat-and-cheese-filled pastry), köfte (meat balls), salad and pickles will cost $15-20 in a myriad enticing restaurants. Getting around on trams, ferries and the new underground rail line is cheap – about a dollar a ride – and entry to historical sites is free or inexpensive.

Most know that Istanbul’s uniqueness can be attributed in part to the fact that it straddles Europe and Asia, the continents separated by the Bosphorus, the narrow, incomparably beautiful strait that links the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and Aegean.

As one scribe has observed, visitors should ideally approach Istanbul from the ocean, as most travellers did for the first twenty-six centuries of its existence. For me, today, it’s thrilling to catch a ferry (around $1.20 per ride) across the Bosphorus, with the sun sparkling on the water and the forest of spires, turrets and minarets of the city etched against the sky.

Mehmet IIIIstanbul’s benevolent face belies a brutal but compelling past. More blood has been spilled on the ground on which camera-carrying tourists stroll than few other places on the planet. In AD 193, for instance, when refugees from Byzantium tried to escape besieging Romans by ship, they met an awful fate. In his book, Istanbul, the Imperial City, veteran American author John Freely quotes a Roman consul Dio Cassius: “The next day the horror was increased still more for the townspeople, for when the water had subsided, the whole sea in the vicinity of Byzantium was covered with corpses and wrecks and blood.” The survivors had to surrender to the Romans, who promptly murdered all surviving soldiers and magistrates of the city.

Murder most foul

Murder was especially commonplace among the city’s rulers, many of whom drank themselves to death or were murdered in turn. One sultan amused himself by killing innocent passers-by with a bow and arrow. In January 1595, when Sultan Murat III died, his eldest son and successor Mehmet (pictured above) had all nineteen of his younger brothers strangled to ensure none would challenge him. Like many of their kin, they were buried in the garden of Haghia Sophia, the great church erected by Justinian (now a museum), which is adjacent to Topkapi Sarayi, the imperial residence and harem of the Ottoman sultans for four centuries, and the huge Blue Mosque, built in the early seventeenth century.

All of these attractions are open to the public and located in the old city on the European side of the Bosphorus. Like Paris’s Left Bank, this area is a maze of winding streets, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and cosy hostelries.

IMG_6770One of the most enchanting is the Kybele Hotel (pictured), where we spent a night. Its interior is a melange of maroons, mirrors, marble, bric-a-brac and objets d’art, its public spaces linked by mysterious staircases and filled with nooks of the kind that might, in true Byzantine tradition, lend themselves to intrigue and Machiavellian plotting. The lounges, restaurants, bars and bedrooms are illuminated by over 4,000 lamps.

The hotel is within easy walking distance of attractions like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the spice and grand bazaars and the extraordinary Basilica Cistern (below), said to be one of several hundred ancient reservoirs beneath the city and home to huge, slow-moving fish.

Willing to deal

Rates at Kybele Hotel start at around AUD190 per night, which includes an excellent buffet breakfast, and for groups the owners will negotiate a better rate, according to manager Vefa Yuksukcuoglu, who’s been working at the family-run property for 19 years. “When the booking’s solid we’re happy to be flexible,” he says. “On our ratings feedback, we always score ten for location and cleanliness and nine or ten for value – I think that says something about this hotel.”

301A ferry ride across the Bosphorus is a terrific way to gain perspective of the city. And a short trip in the Tünel, an underground funicular connecting the quarters of Karaköy and Beyoğlu, is worth, say, a half-day outing. Beyoğlu is the most active shopping, art, entertainment and nightlife centre of Istanbul. Its main thoroughfare, İstiklâl Caddesi, is a pedestrianised 1.6 kilometres street of shops, hip boutiques, cafés, patisseries, restaurants, pubs, wine houses and clubs, as well as bookshops, theatres, cinemas and art galleries.

All providing a rich experience for incentive visitors to the city about which Napoleon Bonaparte once said: “If the earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.”

From AUD190 per night

Voted by The Guardian travel people as one of the ten best boutique hotels in Istanbul, the Kybele is a riot of colour, from its sky-blue exterior to its chintzy, lamplit interiors. The best time to negotiate room deals is November to February. “[It’s] one of the most unique, friendly, magical places I’ve ever stayed in,” says one reviewer.

Email: kybelehotel@superonline.com

See video here:


The Siteseer was a paying guest at the Kybele Hotel, below.



By Derryn Heilbuth

Some years ago I was asked to write a piece for the Australian Financial Review’s “AFR Traveller”. For those who don’t know the format, it’s a brief Q&A where business travellers are asked to name their favourite hotel, restaurant and travel experience and provide travel tips.

For someone who travels a lot, on business in my own right, as an occasional travel writer and the spouse of The Siteseer, naming the hotel was the most difficult part of the assignment.

What hotel did I choose? Well, two actually, equally memorable but completely different. The first was The Mayflower Renaissance in Washington DC, a perfect setting for the global speechwriters’ conference I was attending. It was here that Franklin D Roosevelt worked on his “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” inaugural address.

The hotel, which will be 90 years old next year, was said to have had more gold leaf when it opened than any other US building except the Library of Congress. It was also a favourite of President Truman’s, who proclaimed it to be Washington DC’s second best address after the White House. Not surprisingly it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Historic Hotels of America.

He mobilised the language and sent it into battle

After the conference I stayed on for a couple of days to visit the city’s museums and the Library of Congress. It was hosting an exhibition of the manuscripts of Winston Churchill’s speeches, the workings of which were real evidence of how, as JFK put it when granting Churchill honorary American citizenship, he “mobilised the English language and sent it into battle”. Returning each night to the Mayflower, exhausted but happy, I was reminded why I love old style American hotels. No one does that understated lamplit elegance quite like the US of A.

My other favourite, the Peninsula Hotel in Bangkok, which I visited 14 years ago as a conference spouse, is a world away from the Mayflower. In those days, The Siteseer was Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest. The Peninsula had recently opened and the Digest had managed to get a special deal for a meeting of its Australasian editors. It was my first visit to Southeast Asia and the hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya River introduced me to everything I’ve come to appreciate about this part of the world: the delicate beauty of the orchids, the rich colours of the silks and textiles, the complex flavours of the food, the faultless taste you find in places like the Jim Thompson house or the hotel’s restored rice barges that ferried us across the river into central Bangkok and, most of all, the warmth of the Thais.

A useful reminder

My father-in-law was a newspaperman with printers’ ink in his veins and an almost childlike curiosity he never lost. A favourite saying of his was Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true”. Authentic people, leadership, experiences are what we – increasingly – crave. In a world dominated by global brands and chains it’s a useful reminder that what travellers look for is difference not ubiquity. It’s certainly what the management of these two hotels remembered. Despite the fact that they are part of large groups, it’s why they stand out above the rest.