Myanmar, floating whiskey bars and Australia's cutest animal, officially: Takeoff travel news

TRENDS: Discover secrets of Myanmar
Myanmar has set our travel radars afire since Lonely Planet named it in its top 10 must-visit destinations back in 2012, when Australia lifted its sanctions against the country. Now, Trafalgar becomes the first of the larger group tour companies offering coach tours to enter the market in 2016. Its new 11-day Secrets of Myanmar tour traverses the well regarded sights of Yangon, Inle Lake and Bagan and goes off track to include a cooking class and local markets, visiting some of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, the Pa-O, Danu and Intha people. Before Trafalgar’s entry, the tourism market had been dominated by smaller group operators including Peregrine, which has been running tours since 2002, World Expeditions and budget-minded Intrepid Travel. Travel pundits say Myanmar’s infrastructure is still weak, with poor roads, a lack of ATMs and poor communications (ie shaky Wi-Fi), though the big hotel groups are moving in.  Accor plans to open four new hotels in a country regarded as one of south-east Asia’s most mysterious and most beautiful. Trafalgar’s 11-day Secrets of Myanmar guided holiday costs from $4875, excluding airfares, with departures between January 27 and December 7, 2016. Phone 1300 797 010, see  
EXPLORE: Go with the flow
Fossick for gold, unearth a thunder egg from an ancient lava flow or spot the rare Gouldian finch on a new self-drive route in Far North Queensland. The new Lava Tubes, Gems and Gorges Trail is an offshoot of the Savannah Way, which links Cairns and Broome in an epic 3700-kilometre drive across three states and five World Heritage sites. The new trail is a 300-kilometre circuit from Minnamoolka to Conjuboy, inland from Queensland’s Mission Beach. En route, take a river cruise down Cobbold Gorge, hunt for topaz at O’Briens Creek and walk down the world’s longest lava tubes – caves created by lava flows – at Undara Volcanic National Park. Thirsty work? Pull in to Australia’s smallest bar at Lynd Junction to recoup. Also check out the nearby Kirrama Range Road, which was mapped late last year. Find the trails at visitor information centres or see  

DRINKS: Dram roll
 If you thought whisky and cruising were uneasy bedfellows, think again as you order up at Magnums, the first whisky bar on the Princess Cruises line. Staff at the new bar, on board the locally based Dawn Princess, will lead you through 63 fine whiskies, from Tasmania to Japan to the US and Scotland. You’ll find single malts from New Zealand, American bourbons and even a Melbourne offering. Try a nip or order the flight of the day, featuring three different whiskies. The cruise line says the spirit is hot, and recommends a dram after dinner or on a laidback sea day. Cruises on the Dawn Princess include the 13-night round trip from Sydney to New Caledonia and Vanuatu from $1399 a person, twin share, departing January 16, 2015. Phone 132 488, see

Silver fox Roy Billing.
TOUR: NZ fox trot for boomers
On your marks boomers. Your adventure trip to New Zealand awaits. The new Silver Foxes and Foxettes tour is aimed at baby boomers who want to live for the moment and #saysorrylater. Check out the social media campaign, which encourages you to SKI (Spend the Kids’ Inheritance). The ringleader of the new AAT Kings tour is actor Roy Billing (pictured), a proud Kiwi, Underbelly and Jack Irish star and 2015 recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia. Billing helps mix New Zealand’s heady beauty and fine tables with a dash of jet boating or heli-wine tasting. The 10-day tours start in Billing’s hometown, Auckland, then on to Rotorua for a hangi feast before heading to the South Island’s Christchurch, Franz Josef Glacier and Queenstown. Tours depart from September 13, 2015 to May 22, 2016 and cost from $3795 a person, twin share. Phone 131 415, see  

GEAR: Stop the noise
So your carry-on bag already bulges with laptop, camera, work gear or perhaps the accoutrements required by a junior traveller by your side. Who has room for big headphones? Fortunately, sound masters Bose have the answer, with their QC20 in-ear headphones. Fully charged, these little babies offer 16 hours of noise cancellation, and act as regular earphones even when uncharged. The incredibly effective "noise cancelling" mode will block out even your neighbour’s droning, while "aware" lets you pick up traffic noise (handy when you’re on the move) without having to corkscrew them tightly into your ears. They also feature an inline mike and volume control. First released in 2013, the new models come in black or white, tailored for iPhones/iPads/iPods, Samsung Galaxy or Android devices. Includes a tidy zipup bag and earbuds in three sizes. Quiet Comfort 20 acoustic noise-cancelling headphones cost $399. See  
KIDS: Wild life
Australia's cutest animal, Archer the koala.
July birthday kids will gain free entry to Featherdale Wildlife Park, in western Sydney, which also celebrates its birthday this month. The park is home to Archer the Koala, officially the cutest animal in Australia, thanks to a recent poll. Archer, who was hand-raised by Featherdale staff, beat competition from around Australia including gang-gang cockatoos and quokkas, and details his life on his Facebook page @ArcherTheKoala. Featherdale includes a petting zoo with baby lambs, goats and pigs, as well as Australia’s own baby bilbies, wallabies, dingoes and wombats, while the fearless can sidle up to snakes or tangle with a Tassie devil.    Open 9am to 5pm daily, 217 Kildare Road, Doonside. Adults $29.50, children (3-15 years) $16, families from $56 (1 adult, 2 kids). Phone (02) 9622 1644, see

 The Takeoff travel news column by Belinda Jackson is published every Sunday in Sydney's Sun-Herald newspaper's Traveller section.   

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