Virgin quietly begins serving passengers for free

Drinks on Virgin

For anyone who's ever wanted a sip of water on a domestic Virgin Australia flight but been forced to buy a bottle, relief is at hand.

With little fanfare, the airline has started serving coffee, tea and water at no charge on its flights. And in a move clearly aimed at matching arch-rival Qantas, complimentary wine and beer is now served to economy passengers on capital-city routes between 4pm and 7pm Monday to Friday. Served in individual bottles, there's red and white wine, Pure Blonde and Cascade Premium beers.

As the drinks policy broadens, the menu choices in economy have diminished. About a year ago, new menus by airline consultant chef Luke Mangan were launched. They included pumpkin soup, frittata and a noodle salad.

There's little sign of dishes like this today. The current menu includes a New Yorker sandwich, vegetarian wrap, gourmet beef and vegetarian pies (all $10 each).

Banana bread with butter was also introduced a year ago and was an instant hit, especially on early-morning flights. It's lost none of its appeal and costs $5.

From last May, passengers paying full economy, known as a flexi fare, have meals on board included in the price.

- Sue Bennett

Princess of Calgary


Canadian Danielle Gariepy is a cowgirl and now a princess. As one of four women chosen to be Calgary Stampede Royalty for the 10-day event in July, the 23-year-old will perform more than 500 duties during the event's centenary year.

In July, Stampede Park becomes the third largest city in Alberta, with restaurants, medical services, police and nightclubs to cater for 120,000 visitors a day. Aside from the daily rodeos, the stampede, run by volunteers, will feature the grandstand musical Century with songs from the past 100 years, and a 259-metre zipline at a height of 24 metres will extend across the park.

Gariepy, who grew up on a ranch that breeds Appaloosa horses and cattle, has been in the saddle for stampede ceremonies since she was 11.

Her riding experience, including nine months on a station in Queensland, was part of the criteria for the royalty tradition, which started in 1946.

"I've been riding all my life doing cattle penning and extreme cowboy racing [a timed, obstacle event], training colts and teaching children how to ride," she tells Traveller.

Gariepy's engagements will include a public address at her home town of Rockyford, population 300. "It means the world to me to be asked to speak to the community that raised me and I want to teach other kids what I've learnt [in 2012]. It's an honour to support the western culture and the western way of life."

Adventure World has packages to Calgary Stampede from $449 a person that include two nights' accommodation, admission to an afternoon rodeo, evening chuckwagon races and stage show and stampede grounds. See

The stampede is on July 6-15. See

Gold rush

Tasmania's turning of the fagus, in which its deciduous beech, Nothofagus gunnii, changes colour from rust red to brilliant gold, is a unique event in the truest sense, occurring nowhere else in the world.

Late April to mid-May is the best time to view Australia's only winter-deciduous tree, according to Steve Johnson, of the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service.

With less than 10,000 hectares of fagus growing in the state - most of it in highland areas above 800 metres - Johnson says the most accessible stands can be seen at Mount Field National Park, 70 kilometres west-north-west of Hobart.

"As you drive up the mountain, the first trees appear just near the scree slopes below Lake Fenton," he says. "The best stands at Mount Field, however, require a walk to Tarn Shelf [two to three hours], where the colourful stands are set among spectacular tarns." At Cradle Mountain in the north, fagus can be seen in small patches along the Dove Lake track.

But Johnson says the most spectacular display is at Crater Lake, where fagus blankets the steep sides of the glacial lake.


Gulf stream warms up

Australians and New Zealanders are being drawn to Dubai in increasing numbers. Total visitors from the region staying in the city on the Persian Gulf increased 16 per cent from 190,811 in 2010 to 221,228 last year. During July, 24,657 guests checked into Dubai's hotels, an increase of more than 27 per cent on the previous year.


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