Ski Victoria, prison sleeps and luxe trains in Ireland: Takeoff travel news

SNOW: Winter is coming
Victoria’s ski season opened on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend (June 6), with more bang for its buck. The state’s most popular resort, Mount Buller, begins with fireworks and new snowmakers pumping out up to 30 per cent more snow (mtbuller.com.au) while nearby Mount Stirling’s renovated Nordic Centre ramps up its cross-country gear offerings (mtstirling.com.au). Mount Hotham has new two-hour ski and snowboard masterclasses and is now linked with nearby Dinner Plain by the 12-kilometre Brabralung Indigenous Interpretation Trail, a crosscountry ski trail that follows an ancient route of the ‘‘first peoples’’ of the Alps (mthotham.com.au). Dinner Plain also has a new tubing Snow Park with night tubing, while family-friendly Lake Mountain has expanded its Snowman’s Village, with a fourth toboggan slope and new snowshoeing trails. Finally, Victoria’s largest ski resort, Falls Creek, hosts the 25th year of the annual Kangaroo Hoppet cross-country event on August 22 (fallscreek.com.au).  

HOSTEL: Sleep tight in Freo’s lock-up
Spend the night behind bars and pay for the privilege. However, you won’t have to rob a bank to sleep at the new Fremantle Prison YHA, which costs from just $28 a night in a 10-bed dorm (and half-price throughout May – that’s $14).  The 19th-century jail first opened in 1855 and is World Heritage-listed, with the last prisoners checking out in 1991.  You can sleep in a cell, still with locks, spyholes, original walls and floors, in an eight-bed guard’s cottage or in the (more spacious) new extension. Rooms range from private twin and family rooms with en suites to dorms, with a selfcatering kitchen, Wi-Fi, laundry and games rooms for all. There are also plans afoot for outdoor movie nights, a volleyball court and giant chess. Twin-bed cells cost from $68, $120 for a double with en suite, or $140 for family rooms. Phone (08) 9433 4305, see yha.com.au.  

TRAIN: The green miles
Are trains the new cruise ships? Glide through the greenery of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on the Belmond Grand Hibernian, the country’s first luxury train, which is now taking bookings for its inaugural season, in 2016. Aboard, there are just 40 guests in 20 en suite cabins, with restaurant and observation bar cars, kitted up for two-, four- or six-night itineraries.    The train visits the island’s beautiful cities, pausing for such quintessential experiences as kissing the Blarney Stone, catching traditional Irish music and visiting renowned castle gardens. Like a cruise itinerary, you can also add extensions to the journey, such as a day on the green for a round of golf or a tour of cultural Dublin. The two-night Realm of Giants tour, from Dublin to Belfast and Portrush, costs from $4470 a person, including all meals, drinks and excursions including the Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Experience. Phone 1800 000 395, see belmond.com/grandhibernian.  

GEAR: Keep cool with military precision
You don’t muck around getting food from the supermarket, do you? You’re more a hunt-and-gather type, snagging barra, snaring crabs or chasing calamari. This new bin from the hard guys of gear, Pelican Products, is a prince among wheeled portable coolers. The new elite cooler can roll over the toughest terrain with its two large wheels and sturdy pull-along handle. It has a 75.7-litre capacity with a built-in bottle opener and a fish measure that is moulded into the lid, so you can ensure your catch is legal. Want more tough talk?  Its military-grade insulation is guaranteed to keep drinks at polar temps, it’s also certified grizzly bear resistant (though we don’t know how it would stack up against our koalas) and comes with a lifetime guarantee. Ideal for the boat, the beach or heading into the outback. The Pelican ProGear™ Elite 80QT Cooler costs $649.95. See PelicanProGear.com.au.  

TECH: Fickle pick-and-mix travellers can triple dip
Brand loyalty is so last century: today’s travellers shop for the best prices and experiences across brands and across the world. However, the pick-and-mix approach makes it tough to rack up points on loyalty cards. Travel company Expedia has launched its own loyalty program, Expedia+, which lets you collect points on bookings made through its website. It also means you can still claim points with your frequent flyer programs and also your credit cards – effectively a points triple dip. Expedia+ members can get benefits such as bar or spa discounts at hotels, and it promises to price match lower quotes on flights, car hire, hotels, cruises and packages. Book through its mobile app and snap up the launch promotion of triple points. See expedia.com.au.

KIDS: Littlest lifesavers
Teach your kids essential skills with a First Aid for Kids class that could save your life. The one-hour classes are hands-on to hold short attention spans, and are tailored for kids as young as kinder age up to 13 years. Run by First Aid instructors (many of whom are also parents), kids learn about dialing 000, managing asthma, what to do for bites or stings, CPR and blood loss. Trainers are based in all capital cities and come to your location to teach groups (minimum 10 children). There’s also a superhero certificate and stickers at the end of the course. “Our age-specific kids’ courses give them self-confidence and teach important development skills,” says director Mary Dawes. Ideal preparation for the big round-Australia trip or backyard escapades. Costs $12 a child. Phone 1300 853 050, see firstaidforyou.com.au

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