The Melbourne Arts Centre – climbing the spire

The Melbourne Arts Centre is just across the Yarra River from the centre of the city of Melbourne. It features a number of theatre and concert spaces, most of it subterranean. It’s a popular joke that Australia has the world’s best opera house – the outside in Sydney, the inside in Melbourne. The Sydney Opera House looks wonderful, from the outside, inside it doesn’t work so well. Unkind opera house critics will add ‘and the car park is in Adelaide.’ It is easy to park at the Adelaide Festival Centre.

I’m a regular at Arts Centre events, in this past week I was there on Tuesday to see (and hear) ‘powerful soul singer’ Vika Bull bring At Last – the Etta James Story to life in the Arts Centre Playhouse. She’s originally from Tonga.

The very next night I was back for Prince and his ‘Piano & a Microphone’ tour, performing in the Arts Centre State Theatre. He’s from Minneapolis.

IMG_5425 - Artws Centre spire climb - 270◄ Yesterday, Friday, I was back for another Arts Centre performance, but this one totally unplanned, unticketed, illegal even. Around 330 am Hannah Patchett and Katherine Woskett, two young women in their 20s, sneaked in to the Arts Centre, evaded security staff and started to climb the Arts Centre Spire. When they got close to the top of the tower they unfurled a sign saying ‘Let Them Stay,’ referring to refugees in Australia whom the government wants to send back to the Nauru detention centre.

Nauru is Australia’s Guantánamo Bay, well away from public scrutiny and very difficult for journalists or media to determine what is going on.

Nauru is a near bankrupt failed state heavily dependent on Australia’s detention centre largesse. Operating a detention centre close to the equator and several hours flight from Northern Australia does not come cheap. I visited Nauru during my circuit of some of the world’s assorted dark countries for my book Dark Lands.

IMG_5427 - Arts Centre police cars - 540▲ Of course the police turned up in force, the Arts Centre was taped off like a crime scene and talk went on through the day about sending people up to bring them down. Eventually, after extended negotiations, they came down on their own and, nice surprise, no charges are being laid. Well it’s probably generated more column inches than most Arts Centre events and to my mind it was not only worth watching it was also a show with a serious message.

IMG_1703 - Tower Zero height, Exmouth, WA - 540▲ The spire reaches 162 metres which makes it a bit more than half the height of the Eiffel Tower. This ‘tower height comparison’ sign is for visitors to Exmouth on the North-West Cape of Western Australia. Tower Zero is the communications tower built by the US Navy at the cape to keep in touch with their nuclear submarines. Maureen and I arrived in Australia at Exmouth, on a yacht out of Bali, back in 1972. We were back there last year when I took the tower sign photo. It was my second ‘swim with the whale sharks ‘visit to Exmouth.

Just back from… Marrakesh


AnneMarie soaking up some sun with a view over Marrakesh © AnneMarie McCarthy

AnneMarie McCarthy, social news coordinator at Lonely Planet, is just back from an action-packed excursion to Marrakesh.

Tell us more… I went with 9 other people to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. A three-day trip to a hot climate to look forward to in January? Yes please! As there was so many of us, we booked an entire riad so not only did we have lots of space and a rooftop terrace to relax in, we got a peek at the beautiful houses that lie behind the plain, heavy doors of the medina.

Defining moment? Sitting on top of the roof of a jeep while driving through the windy roads of the Atlas Mountains comes to mind! Health and safety? Not such a big deal in Morocco. It was definitely the best seat in the house and my most memorable moment of the trip.


You’ll be spoilt for choice in Marrakesh’s souks © AnneMarie McCarthy

Fridge magnet or better? After half an hour bargaining, I got a gorgeous, blue leather jacket from one of the leather souks in the medina. I probably paid far more than I should, but it was still a bargain for me. You won’t run out of beautiful things to bring home with you, but you will need lots of patience; haggling is a serious business in Morocco. If you don’t invest the time to gradually increase your price – and allow the seller to decrease theirs – one of you will end up losing patience and walking away. Best to pick a couple of things you really want and get them first – it’s easy to give up after a few hours!

Good grub? By the time I got home I think my body composition was about 30% tagine. In Morocco, there’s a lot of emphasis on slow cooking lamb and beef with lots of warm spices and fresh vegetables. Every meal comes with bread to dip into the delicious sauce and oil left at the end of your tagine pot. Vegetarians might find it a little difficult to get variety, but can definitely be accommodated with vegetable cous cous and amazing olives. Finish every meal with some wild mint tea and watch your servers to see who pours it from highest up! (Pouring from a height helps to swirl up loose tea leaves and adds a nice frothy head to your beverage.)


Nothing says adventure quite like a sunset quad bike through the desert © AnneMarie McCarthy

If you do one thing do… Get out to the Atlas Mountains, even if it’s just for a day trip. We booked a 12 hour tour with lots of activities: not only did we see snow-capped mountains and scenic lakes, we travelled up a mountain on some very sure-footed donkeys, had a three-course lunch in a Berber household and went quad-biking through the desert at sunset. When I came home, I felt like I’d been away for a week instead of three days because I had packed so much in.

Bizarre encounter? I’d heard a lot about women getting harassed on the street before I went. While none of us walked around alone, I was pleasantly surprised about how little attention we got and how funny some of the comments were. Throughout my three days there I was variously called Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and just ‘Spice Girls’. Apparently most of the cultural references are still stuck in the 00’s!


A Tiger Moth over Byron Bay

I did a flight over Byron Bay a couple of weeks ago in a 1940s de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane, my daughter Tashi bought me the flight as a Christmas present (thank you Tashi!).

IMG_5283 - Byron Bay from Tiger Moth - 540.JPG▲ You can see the Byron Bay lighthouse, marking the most easterly point in Australia, as we flew along the beach past Byron Bay and turned out around the promontory.

The Tiger Moth was first flown in the 1930s and thousands of them were produced right through until the end of WW II. They were the standard training aircraft for pilots in the RAF, RAAF and assorted other air forces. They’re still immensely popular and a great number of them are still regularly flown, even though even a ‘young’ Tiger Moth is now over 70 years old. It’s a classic ‘string and wire’ aircraft and they often appear in movies as a WW I fighter plane.

IMG_5310 - Tiger Moth instruments - 540.JPG▲ The instrument display in front of me (I was in the front cockpit). You’re totally out in the open in a Tiger Moth. Which was no trouble on a warm Byron Bay day.

IMG_5307 - Tyagarah final approach - 540.JPG▲ Coming in to land at the grass Tyagarah Airfield, just north of Byron Bay. This wasn’t my first Tiger Moth flight, I’ve also been up over Rotorua in New Zealand and over Torquay near Melbourne, a Tiger Moth flight is always a delight.

I J Wheeler log - March 1946 - 540▲ And I’ve got a very good reason to be interested in Tiger Moths. My father – who had a long airline career after WW II – was an RAF pilot instructor during and after the war. He learnt to fly in Canada – on Tiger Moths of course – and progressed to flying Harvards and various other aircraft. I’ve still got his logbooks, this is from the first weeks in March 1946, 23 Tiger Moth flights. His last months in the RAF were spent flying Tiger Moths to scrapyards, he’d fly one to its final resting place in the morning, take a train back to base in the afternoon and repeat the operation the next day. What a pity!

For an even older (and rather larger) biplane check the Vickers Vimy in the Science Museum in London in this video I made with KLM airlines.

Pathfinder Pics: Havana, Cuba


Yasmine Awwad, Lonely Planet Pathfinder and the face behind Peeking Duckrecently took a trip to Cuba to experience the sights and sounds of Havana. Here are some of her favourite sights she snapped during her trip.

‘Life in Havana is lived on the street. Habana Vieja is the historic centre and the city’s most vibrant and colourful neighbourhood with a mixture of pristine colonial buildings and crumbling facades. Children play baseball on the street, men smoke cigars on their front steps and chat to their neighbours, and locals spill out of the small open-fronted shops with their ration books in hand. Walking around this area gives you a glimpse of Cuban life that’s endlessly fascinating.’

Where old meets new

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‘After a huge renovation project in the 1990s, Plaza Vieja, in the heart of Old Havana, has now been perfectly restored. As well as being architecturally interesting, it’s also a good place for people watching. For a birds-eye view, visit the Camera Obscura on the northeastern corner of the square.’

The simple things


A photo posted by Yasmine Awwad (@peekingduckco) on

‘We started each morning in Havana with a strong cup of Cuban coffee at one of Plaza Vieja’s outdoor cafés (Café El Escoril was our favourite) and did some route planning with our guidebook – all while watching the comings and goings of the square.’

A window into Cuban life

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‘People leave their windows and doors open in Havana, offering a glimpse into the lives of the city’s residents. My favourite spot was this classroom on Obispo, one of the busiest streets in Habana Vieja, filled with children quietly studying.’

It all happens in the street


A photo posted by Yasmine Awwad (@peekingduckco) on

‘Auto shops are essential to keep the city moving, and as with many things in Havana, they’re right on the street. The majority of Havana’s cars are vintage models from the 1950s – Chevrolets, Buicks, Plymouths – which add to the city’s charm.’

shopping with the locals

A photo posted by Yasmine Awwad (@peekingduckco) on

‘Although the situation has improved in recent years, it’s not always easy to buy things in Cuba. While supermarkets often have long queues spilling out their doors, food stalls can be found around the city with piles of fresh fruit and vegetables for sale.’ 

Around town


A photo posted by Yasmine Awwad (@peekingduckco) on

‘With relatively little traffic, aside from the odd rickshaw and roaming avocado seller, Habana Vieja’s quiet backstreets are a great place for children to play and practice Cuba’s hugely popular national sport – baseball.’

Do you love to write about your travels? Or perhaps Instagram is your thing? Find out more about our Pathfinders programme and how you can contribute to Lonely Planet here.