Wildlife in the Top End, new hotels for Adelaide, chop-chop, shop-shop: Takeoff travel news

NEWS: Spike in tours to Top End
Go deep into the tropical Top End to explore the wildlife of Kakadu and the Mary River on safari with Australia’s most decorated ecotour operator, Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours. ‘‘This is where nature is still in charge,’’ says director and guide Janine Duffy, who lists bustards, wallaroos and short-haired wallabies as her favourite finds, as well as crocs, wild pigs and rare birdlife. ‘‘It’s slow travel; you need to spend the time to discover the Top End,’’ she says. Echidna Walkabout Tours won gold in London last year at the World Responsible Travel Awards, named Best for Wildlife Conservation, and recently became just one of three responsible tourism operators in the world to be awarded the highest rating in the Ethical Travel Guide by Tourism Concern, a charity that campaigns for ethical and fair-trade tourism (tourismconcern.org.uk). The Wild Top End tour runs from August 3 to August 9, 2015, and again in August 2016. The maximum group size for the six day tour is 16 people. Costs $3300 a person. Phone (03) 9646 8249, see echidnawalkabout.com.au.  

FOOD: The world at your table
It’s a dreary night, so why not walk the streets of the world with this new cookbook exploring the world’s great street foods. Spend the night dining on Santorini’s tomato fritters, barbecue pulled pork sandwiches from South Carolina, Iran’s moreish jujeh kebab (saffron chicken) or kara’age chicken from the izakayas of Tokyo. More than 150 easy recipes are drawn from the four corners of the globe, most for four to six people, because it’s all about sharing. Don’t miss the handy little Tricks of the Trade section, which gives simple, straightforward advice about not overfilling woks, roasting stock bones before you boil them and how refrigerating dough makes your pizza crusts bubbly and chewy. This is author Jennifer Joyce’s 10th book and she is also a food stylist for London mags, so expect beauty on every page. My Street Food Kitchen is out on July 1 and costs $39.99. See murdochbooks.com.  

KIDS: Rock on, baby
For the tiniest babes on the go, the new Sleeper portable bassinet from Dutch-born Puckababy is a snug, secure portable bassinet suitable for newborns and babies up to four months, or 6.5kg and 64cm long. The soft bassinet is lightweight and swaddles the baby with a neat crossover fold that is also a handle for easy carrying and gentle rocking. Made from 100 per cent cotton, the fabric is fully washable and carries a 1.0 tog rating. Ideal for planes, trains and keeping baby safe and sound at home. Costs $179.95. See puckababy.com.au.

GEAR: Chop, chop! Shop, shop!
Navigate China without currency woes with a new prepaid travel card from Australia Post and Chinese firm UnionPay, which is underwritten by the Bank of China. Charge the Load&Go China card up with Australian dollars and lock in a fixed exchange rate into Chinese yuan, then it’s time to go shopping. You can use the card at ATMs and point-of-sale terminals, paying in the local currency. The reloadable card goes where foreign credit cards aren’t accepted and as it’s prepaid, your bank accounts are safe and unlinked. The card can be registered and locked with a PIN, and any unused yuan can be converted back to Australian dollars when you come home, without commission fees. Purchase in Australia Post offices or see auspost.com.au/loadandgochina
HOTELS: Sage advice for stayers
Adelaide is the site of a new hotel brand, with the old Grand Chifley Hotel recently rebranded as Australia’s first Sage Hotel. The four-star hotel targets business travellers with an eye on the balance sheet: rates include free Wi-Fi, and laundry and minibar prices it says are comparable to convenience stores. The property is in the prime location of South Terrace, overlooking the city parklands, and is close to Adelaide’s free tram. The Chifley Wollongong will rebrand to Sage in August and a new build in Perth opens in March 2016. Sage’s parent group, the Singapore-based SilverNeedle Hospitality, has 55 properties in the Asia-Pacific region including the Country Comfort brand and Next Hotels, which debuted recently in Brisbane. The Sage Hotel Adelaide has an opening special of $99 a night, deluxe queen room only, until July 31. See silverneedlehotels.com

TECH: Van of your dreams
So you’re listening to the call of the open road, but don’t have the vintage Airstream caravan to tow along for the ride?  Log on to the new website for MyCaravan.com, which hooks up would-be caravanners with the wheeled home of their dreams, including motorhomes and camper trailers. Owners can rent out their vans when they’re not in use, and renters can save themselves the headache of van storage, maintenance and registration, while paying up to half the price quoted by commercial rental companies. The new website rates and reviews vans as well as owners and renters, and also has a no-tow, no-woe section for on-site vans, saving tow-bar-less renters any hauling hassles. Some owners will also relocate their vans for you, for a fuss-free, affordable holiday. See mycaravan.com.au

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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