Smart Traveller: Ski lifts open early with rollicking parties

Early snowfalls mean some ski lifts have opened ahead of schedule, however the season officially starts today, with food and wine events, music, fireworks and rollicking parties. Falls Creek Ski Lifts general manager Michael Callahan says Australia's $1.6 billion snow industry has faced increasing challenges from overseas destinations, but the early falls have buoyed local resorts.

Roy Morgan Research shows that 49 per cent of Australians who went skiing or snowboarding on their last holiday chose an international destination, up from 34 per cent in 2010.

But it's not only Aspen, Whistler and St Anton threatening: it's low-cost, warm overseas destinations such as Vietnam, Bali and Thailand, Callahan says. "These places have been putting out some very low-cost packages and combined with the exchange rate they have been an attractive proposition," he says.

Perisher's Village Eight and Carpet 3 are open, Thredbo has snow across the resort and Falls Creek booking services are fielding more-than-anticipated interest. The resorts supplement snowfalls with snowmaking, which has the capacity to cover 271 hectares across all Australian fields. Opening weekend festivities include the Dinner Plain Food & Wine Festival, music festival at Perisher, street parties, Winter Ball and performances at Thredbo, and fireworks at most of the big resorts. For latest snow conditions in Australia and New Zealand, see

Familiar Territory

The season to visit the Northern Territory is also under way, with most roads and sites open after the annual wet. The chief executive officer of Tourism NT, John Fitzgerald, says drive visitors are arriving in significant numbers.

"Many start their journey down south and come up through Uluru and Alice Springs and then gravitate towards the warmer temperatures around Darwin," he says. "We have had some late rains, but almost all the major sites and attractions are open, including Litchfield National Park and Kakadu."

However, Kakadu's Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls remain closed, as access roads are still too wet and waterholes have not yet been checked for crocodiles. Jim Jim is likely to open mid-to-late this month, Twin Falls next month.

Meanwhile, work is under way on the five-star Cicada Lodge at Katherine Gorge. The 18-room property is due to open next year and is part of the NT's drive to develop signature lodges.

"We believe that people want high-quality venues in natural settings," Fitzgerald says. "People are increasingly looking for those real comfort destinations." See

Costly cab journey

Three friends are back in London after a round-the-world trip and the last thing they'll be doing is hailing a taxi. Paul Archer, Johno Ellison and Leigh Purnell recently finished a 70,000-kilometre journey in a black cab that took 15 months and clocked up £80,000 ($127,000) on the meter. The journey across 50 countries, including Australia, earned them a Guinness World Records title for longest journey by taxi.

"We drove from Darwin to Cairns to Sydney, spent six days driving through the outback with a gradually breaking car, dived on the Great Barrier Reef and were welcomed with great hospitality," Archer told Smart Traveller. "We had quite a few people who had been following us all the way from Europe who had promised us that if we made it to Oz, we were invited for a barbecue and loads of beer. We held as many as possible to that."

Where is Avalon?

Avalon Airport has made it on to a list of the most misleading airport names in the world. Compiled by online flight comparison site Skyscanner, Avalon has been criticised for using "Melbourne" in its booking name when it is 55 kilometres from the central business district. "Unfamiliar travellers might expect the airport to be located in the vicinity of the city," Skyscanner says.

Setting a record in misleading airport nomenclatures is Paris-Vatry Disney Airport. Skyscanner says it is the latest "ambiguous" airport to be added to Ryanair's list of destinations. The airport is 150 kilometres from central Paris and 112 kilometres from Disneyland Paris. Others named include Munich's Memmingen Airport (112 kilometres from Munich, see page 16), Oslo Torp (110 kilometres from Oslo), and London's Oxford Airport (97 kilometres from London).

Fly patrol

Beijing's municipal authorities have introduced a rule that public toilets in places such as tourist precincts and shopping centres have a limit of two flies. The new rules also set standards on odour, according to a BBC report.

The last time Beijing's loos came under scrutiny was in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics.

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