Thursday, 26 February 2015

Unique Journeys: Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort

Being in the travel industry and talking travel all day gives me some unique insights. I am constantly surrounded by the latest travel trends, get first hand feedback from hundreds of travellers every year and am bombarded with industry reps touting their travel products and don’t forget the familiarisation and personal travel I undertake every year. 

All too often I see people fall into the trap of taking uninspired holidays. In this Series “Unique Journeys” I am focusing on bringing you unique experiences worldwide. One of a kind getaways and fascinating experiences to get you seeing travel from a new perspective. 

The experiences and properties you will see recommended here are not sponsored they are brought to you from my many years experience as a travel consultant. 

I am going to tell you the truth here. Today's Unique Journey is so self indulgent, so utterly self centered that you should question my ethics. In the hopes of immersing myself in this amazing destination I am writing this post totally for me and not for you. Sorry but you are welcome to read on and share in my dream. A dream of vast expanses of rugged wilderness. Soaring mountains, ancient glaciers, gurgling rivers and rushing waterfalls. For a girl from rural Australia the mere thought of the pine tree surrounded isolation is exciting.

Realistically I am not being entirely self centered here. My initial thought in bringing you this blog post was that I am tired of sending clients on the same old holiday. Many destinations have such a well worn trail I am surprised there isn't a deep culvert on the topographical map caused by the hoards of tourists blindly following each other around on their uninspired holidays.

The word uninspired and Canada really shouldn't be used in the same sentence but I do feel that a lack of research and prior planning will have you trudging around on a coach tour to the same well worn places. I will admit my trip to Canada was just that but as it was sponsored by a coach touring company and was offered as an agent famil trip so I am not complaining. It was actually the first big trip I was offered as a part of my work as a travel agent and I can tell you Canada has a place in my heart forever. It's natural beauty really has not been rivalled by any other destination I have been to before or since. Those glacial blue lakes, snow capped peaks and ever present wildlife is enough to bring a tear to your eye...and so will the cold if you head over in winter from a sun-burnt country like mine.

Once you have had your fill of the tourist trail and explored the wonders of the Rockies you must consider really getting lost in the wilderness, not Chris McCandless style but in real style at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. I have never been there and this is not a sponsored post. I just stumbled across this destination my usual way, in a tourist brochure I was reading as a part of my job and it blew me away enough to think...I need to know more.

So basically what you need to know is that you cannot reach this resort by road...there are no roads. You need to get a helicopter or float plane. If that isn't thrilling enough once you have arrived there is only enough accommodation for 18 people. That is 18 people in the 50 000 square miles of untouched wilderness the resort has access to. Now I am going to really blow your mind, There is a waterfall running through the centre of the resort (do I hear a collective gasp).

The accommodation is in private cabins either situated on stilts over the bay or on land by the stream. Rooms are well appointed with all the amenities you could need during your stay plus a few extras. Complimentary mini-bar, wine, home-made cookies and truffles, speciality teas, cotton robes, bath and beauty products, crocs footwear, bose ipod dock. No stone is left unturned in ensuring your comfort.

Within the resort you also have features like the master masseurs, a waterfall plunge pool, games rooms, stream side hot tubs, satellite TV and the totally idyllic floating dock decked out with Adirondack chairs just waiting for you to snuggle up for some pre dinner cocktails.

You can rest easy in knowing all these facilities don't come at a cost to the environment. Based on their sustainability practices Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort has been selected by the National Geographic Society as one of their Unique Lodges of the World in 2015. Being family owned and operated there is clearly a care for the environment that the Murray Family live and work in that surpasses the standard practices of the larger chain resorts around the world.

The focus here is on wilderness activities either by land or by air depending on your budget. Whether you have a penchant for fishing, hiking, wildlife watching and photography, whale watching adventures or gourmet food it is all on offer here and all included in your room rate. "And what is the room rate?" I hear you ask with bated breath. I will admit I opened their rates page with trepidation not wanting my dreams of visiting this unique destination dashed against the rocks of my minuscule travel agent salary. I was actually pleasantly surprised.  I won't be heading there tomorrow but at $1535 per person per night including float plane transfers to get there, all meals, all guided activities, gourmet picnics, mini bar, private cabin accommodation and wi-fi with a little forethought and a savings plan it is absolutely affordable. This cost is based on having ground based tours only. You can upgrade to include the helicopter trips but that is a little out of my budget.

I think these images speak for themselves so I will stop babbling now and just let you dream of escaping it all and heading Into the Wild.

Photos courtesy of Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. Photos not be be reproduced with their permission

Originally posted on Thursday, 26 February 2015 by

Monday, 23 February 2015

To Sous Vide or Not to Sous Vide...

Expensive kitchen gadgets are infiltrating my life and available cupboard space is becoming sparse. Mind you this is not by choice. My husband Martin has recently been "inspired" to empty his pockets at the bequest of shows like Masterchef and books like Heston at Home. If Heston declares Sous Vide will revolutionise our cooking then like lemmings we must follow. Though I am glad that the Sous Vide will be our next foray into the gadget world as I can tell you a Thermomix, the most misused or possibly well marketed kitchen gadget in the world will never make it past my doorstep.

I will admit Martin's last purchase of a pressure cooker has been life changing. Once relegated to weekend cooking where 5 hours was a viable cooking time frame, Melt in your mouth stews and curries are now only an hour away.

In an attempt to test the veracity of Heston's bold statement of the revolutionary effects this will have on our lives we have started cooking. Our first experiment was with some chicken breast. We paired it with an Indian curry sauce I had made the previous night. Sealed together in a FoodSaver vacuum bag we immersed it in the warm water and with a little apprehension that the warm water could actually cook this meat we waited.

 The machine being new and by no means the most expensive on the market we were a little concerned it was not holding it's temperature so we hedged our bets and extended the cooking time from the recommended 1 hour to an hour and a half. We had read the additional half hour would not overcook the meat.

With fingers crossed we cut into chicken and it was cooked to perfection. To tell you the truth I have never had chicken so tender and juicy, I didn't really know it could be like that. That said the sauce had not infused into the meat at all and despite the chicken being smothered in quite a strong mixture of spices and sauce there was no flavour of this within the meat at all. This surprised me. The pressure cooker really forces those flavours into the meat and even boiling away in a crock pot would have done a better job of this. So I was in two minds about the success of this, amazing meat but lacking in flavour, but you cannot make a judgement based on one experiment.

Next experiment was with a Heston recipe from "Heston at Home". Scrambled eggs. Sound easy? Well after nearly an hour of trying to cook this I was not so sure about that. The issue we had is that as we suspected our $199 Sunbeam Sous Vide was struggling to hold it's set temperature. Set to 75 degrees it was only maintaining 71 degrees. The mistake we made was that we did not think 3 degrees would make much of a difference. Well it does, trust me. After the required 15 minute cooking time the eggs were still a watery blob. After 20 minutes same thing. 25 minutes same thing. We decided to increase the set temperature to 78 to try and get it to settle itself at 75. So what does it do, it goes to 78...useful. But we were getting somewhere. After some more fiddling with the temperature and close to an hour of cooking we finally had some Sous Vide scrambled eggs, yay! With the recipe containing cream, milk and butter and topped with browned butter (what a revelation browned butter is!) these eggs were rich. But their creamy, glossy texture was unlike any eggs I have eaten and quite frankly felt divine and decadent. Whilst I enjoyed the eggs immensely albeit slowly due to their richness I ask Martin what he thought. So after an hours cooking and Martin himself choosing the recipe he says "I just don't think scrambled eggs are my thing". Are you kidding me!

Tonight we will attempt the Sous Vide steak. Once out of the water bath it will also require some frying in a pan to get the caramelised crust that is a must have on a steak but I am really hoping to nail a super tender and medium rare steak.

If you want your own Sous Vide machine the Sunbeam is an affordable option. As mentioned it will take a little more patience in temperature control but I just cannot imagine too many home cooks spending upwards of $800 for the better models. You will also need a vacuum system and the Sunbeam Food Saver VS7800 seems to be very good. We have had no issues so far.

Fingers crossed for a divine steak tonight and I must say I am very excited to try it out with my favourite fish, Salmon. Apparently it will give it a voluptuous texture, sounds sexy doesn't it. It will be one sexy my mouth.

Originally posted on Monday, 23 February 2015 by

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The WOW List Takes Travel Experts to a Whole New Level

This week the newest podcast I have been indulging in on my daily commute to work "This Week In Travel" had on a guest Wendy Perrin. For two decades Wendy worked for Conde Nast Traveller, a leading magazine covering luxury travel. She explained on the podcast as Conde Nast headed in a different direction she left the company to work on her own website

Although I certainly sell luxury travel in my job as a travel agent, in general it is not my personal field of interest much preferring to find good value and get the biggest bang for my buck. So as I was listening to Wendy I was under the assumption that it was only of vague interest. That is until she mentioned her WOW list.

After having a read through her WOW list on the website I was WOW'd. So this is a large list of travel industry experts (travel agents, essentially) that have built up a speciality in a particular destination. Their contacts and knowledge offer consumers access to unprecedented knowledge and resources.

Being a travel agent this fascinated me. Ever since the advent of internet booking engines, travel agents seem to have been holding their collective breaths waiting for the traditional bricks and mortar travel agencies to crumble. I will admit it was shaky for period for a few years there when the rates released for travel products online were unbeatable and we were falling behind. But out of no-where there was a huge turnaround. Wholesalers knew they had to re-invigorate their rates and contracts to survive and a wealth of new suppliers came into the market who discarded the format of brochures to cut costs and offer an entirely online database for agents to use with the specific intention to compete with the big guys online yet still maintaining the protections offered by booking with an travel agent.

All of a sudden we were offering rates that were as good if not better than the internet and coupled with expert knowledge we were back in the game BAM! I am still not entirely convinced that the future won't take us the way of CD stores. The appeal of doing it yourself is attractive to the consumer but it only takes one burn to push them back into the arms of their ever knowledgeable travel agent. I can't tell you how many stories I have heard of people booking with bogus online suppliers, clients turning up to the airport without the minimum six months validity on their passports to depart the country, heading into the unknown without the correct visas or paperwork. The list goes on and on and I can't help but be a little smug that this all could be avoided by dealing with an expert.

Wendy Perrin's WOW list excites my as it is not only a return to valuing what a travel industry expert can offer but it is going that one step further and taking "expert" to the next level. She calls these specialists "trip choreographers" and I love it! That is what we do. It is a detailed dance with suppliers and destinations that brings it altogether into a wonderful performance for you to enjoy...your holiday.

The truth is, when it won't cost you much more or in many cases absolutely no more why would you not engage someone who has been where you want to go. They know the in's and out's of what to see and what to avoid. They know the legal requirements and they have contacts that are invaluable when the occasion arises of an emergency (and you may not think a volcano will cause all your flights to be cancelled or a major political incident to cut your trip short and leave you stranded) but you know what, it happens and it happens a lot.

The WOW list does seem to be skewed towards the top end of the market, with Wendy's background in luxury travel that shouldn't be a surprise but stop by and check it out and consider what expertise you would value in booking your next adventure.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 by

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Simple Chinese Cooking Class with Kylie Kwong

Don't be deceived. Kylie's innocent smile, academic glasses and silken black hair will draw you in, make you feel at ease and pow she will kick your arse with chinese cooking that will make you question why there needs to be any other cuisine on earth.

Growing up in rural Australia where every street is adorned with ubiquitous Chinese restaurants it was not till a trip to China in my early 20's that I fell head over heels for this cuisine. It's diversity, technique and ever present melding of flavours that will make you want to cry with joy won me over and as I have discussed many times on this blog became my life's mission to re-create here in Australia.

Despite the fact that Kylie Kwong has been producing books for more than a decade I only recently laid my hands on one of her cookbooks with a recent purchase of "Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking". Whilst the book presents a style of Chinese cooking that differs from the cuisine of the Sichuan province I fell in love with in China it is a stunning presentation none the less. The moody photography of ingredients and dishes will have your mouth-watering and the step by step technique guides will have every home cook cheering.

My first foray into the world of Kwong was with her Crispy Orange Peel Beef. Always in search of new and interesting flavours I was intrigued by the heavy handed use of orange peel in many of Kylie's recipes. Myself always being a child who shunned anything with peel in it I now find myself as an adult chasing after what I use to shun and this recipe was a total banger (yes I know that is a music term but you know what, recipes can be bangerz too!). Beef brisket slow cooked in master stock, pulled into tender chunks, battered in egg white, deep fried and tossed in a dressing of blackened chilli's, chilli flakes, ginger, garlic and orange peel. Wow what a combination and the seasoning of Sichuan pepper adds that mouth watering tingle that you long after time spent in China.

For my second journey into Kwong's world I could not go past the stunning seafood recipes this book presents and "Fish Fillets with Chinese Mushrooms and Lup Cheong Sausage" seemed to fit nicely with Martin's deep love of Lup Cheong and my need for mushrooms. This recipe was also one of the shortest in the book and what could be more perfect for a Sunday night. To be honest the simplicity of the recipe was almost disturbing. You basically take Chinese mushrooms, fish, lup cheong, ginger, shao hsing wine, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Put it all in a bowl in a steamer and steam. Dear god is cooking really this easy? You know what, when you have your flavours right and with quality ingredients it really can be that easy.

I was a little worried at first that this dish was too subtle and Martin would be wondering where that punch of flavour was hiding. But surprisingly it did not need a punch. The blending of flavours was subtle but intriguingly moreish and the better quality of fish you invest in the better this dish would get as the fish really is the stand out here.

This book is as close as you will get to having Kylie come to your kitchen to give you a masterclass in Chinese Cooking. The flavours are as far from small town Chinese cooking regularly found across Australia as you can get. No disrespect to those establishments as they are my go to eat out food on the cheap but if authentic Chinese flavours backed by amazing Australian produce is what you want you must get your hands on a Kylie Kwong cookbook.
Originally posted on Saturday, 7 February 2015 by