Qantas’ first flight to New Zealand


I’ve never been to prison, but I suspect arriving at Sydney International Airport on April 19, 2021 – the first day Australians can fly out of the country in over 13 months – feels a lot like picking up your baggy full of belongings before they open the gates.

Walking through the doors, there’s a heightened sense of excitement in the air as travellers – some Australians keen to ‘holiday the sh*t out of New Zealand’ (as overheard at the check-in counter), but predominantly Kiwis returning home to reunite with their families after a lengthy time apart – make their way to the check-in counters, which already have a steady stream of passengers enthusiastically getting their passports out.

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By the Qantas entrance on Monday morning, the launch day of the tran-Tasman travel bubble, a gentleman on guitar plays a selection of classics guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings.

There is a steady stream of Crowded House and an emotional rendition of Hoke Maira that gets tears flowing within the first few chords.

“I’m going home to Christchurch to see my 88-year-old mum who’s not been well,” says fellow passenger Maggie (surname withheld) as she fights back tears beside me. “I haven’t seen her in 18 months so this is an incredibly emotional day for me.”

April 19 marks a historic day for Australians. After more than a year of international border closures, Qantas and Jetstar today resume regular flights between Australia and New Zealand with the opening of the two-way trans-Tasman bubble.

A total of 630 Qantas and Jetstar employees are back at work, more aircraft are in the air (flights are resuming to all pre-COVID destinations in New Zealand across 15 routes and Qantas today begins a new route between the Gold Coast and Auckland. My flight, the Q143 Airbus A330, I’m told, is close to full capacity.

A garland of balloons, both green and gold, and white and black, adds to the festive feeling, as does the airport crew walking along with bottles of bubbles. What really makes the difference, however, is walking up to the check-in counter and seeing a sea of happy, smiling (well, “smizing” behind their mandatory masks anyway) staff happy to be back at work and welcoming international passengers.

No one is stressed about the large family with a removal truck full of baby accoutrement repacking in front of them, no one cares about others pushing in for photos.

We’ve all reverted to island time, island vibe. “It’s just so wonderful to see everyone again,” Antoinette, the lovely lady behind the counter says to me as she checks I’ve completed my health screen online and stamps the passport I’ve finally been able to dust off.

“You should have seen it here yesterday – absolutely lifeless.” I get so teary that I completely forget to give her my frequent flyer details and choose to lean against the counter and cry like a mafia widow at a televised court trial instead.

Check-in complete, I find myself face-to-face with two of my current favourite things, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce (as a travel writer, I appreciate his optimism), and a large pavlova he is holding. “Quarantine-free travel has been almost 400 days in the making,” Mr Joyce says.

“The reopening of the two-way bubble is fantastic for family and friends who are reuniting after so long apart, and for the many jobs which are so heavily dependant on tourism.

“It means we’ll be able to get more planes back in the sky and more of our people back to work.”

It would be remiss to add that as Joyce addresses the media, news crews hover around every corner, the odd passenger cries happy tears and laughter echoes through departures like some sort of overwritten Disney movie in the ‘before the parents die’ flashback scenes.

It’s a funny thing when you haven’t travelled internationally in over 13 months; you forget how to pack. Attempting to go through security, I not only realise just how exciting it is to do things like place a passport in the slot and gaze sullenly at a camera, but how foreign it seems to have to remove boots, jackets and oh yes, those bottles of water.

I’m obviously not the only one feeling relaxed; staff casually tell us to line up where we want, and for the first time of ‘Dilvin Yasa’ and ‘flying internationally’, I don’t get the extra special security screening as I go through (I suspect I’ve got the kind of face that looks as though it enjoys taking down commercial aircraft as a hobby).

“Let’s hope the pilot remembers what he or she is supposed to be doing at least, huh,” my friend utters as we pass through.

It’s worth noting you have to accept a box which reads, ‘You may have to stay in New Zealand at considerable expense if borders close.’ Frankly, after a two-week family “holiday”, I almost relish the thought.

Past security, it’s straight up to Qantas’ reopened First Class Lounge. First Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne as well as its International Lounge in Brisbane are currently welcoming Platinum One, Platinum and Gold frequent flyers along with Business customers and Qantas Club members.

The lounge is pumping and once again, there is a ‘vacation vibe’ among both staff and travellers relieved to feel a sense of normality after a difficult year for everyone.

Tomas Llones, a self-confessed ‘pioneer’ of Qantas hospitality is back in helping for the day and says the relief is palpable.

“It’s an absolute joy to see the smiles on everyone’s faces, and of course, seeing everyone going back to work,” he says before insisting I order every dish I have my eye on Neil Perry’s delectable menu.

Unusually, travellers are engaged in conversation everywhere you look; there is no hiding behind screens today. “What takes you to New Zealand?” you hear, over and again.

“You returning home or enjoying a holiday?” After a year of social isolation, it’s clear people want to connect and are using this shared experience as a starting point.

“I’m going home to see my dad who was in a crash,” one lovely lady says, eyes welling as she stands beside me. “I’ve been wanting to go home for so long so today is a very big deal.” Things get so emotional that I don’t catch her name.

Queuing up at Gate 33, staff move up and down serving muffins and bubbles as a guitarist serenades us with, you guessed it, more Crowded House.

On-board, masks are mandatory with the exception of mealtimes, but staff are as friendly as ever, asking us what our plans are when we get to Auckland and touching on how hard this past year has been for everyone.

Settling in, I fill in my New Zealand Passenger Card (Question 17: If required to do so, will you enter and remain in managed isolation or quarantine?) and note the carnival of plane spotters huddled in groups overlooking the runway and the helicopters hovering to catch the money shot of the first overseas-bound Qantas flight to depart Sydney.

By the time the Qantas video starts playing with the oh-so-family, ‘I still call Australia home’ and we take off, rivers of tears along my row are being quickly wiped away.

The 2.5-hour flight is as wonderful as it is quick. A meal service with a choice of braised beef and mash or a chicken and chickpea salad is served, and before we can really get comfortable and enjoy being in international airspace again, we’re touching down in New Zealand where families and loved ones embrace in tears.

It’s emotional for everyone and by the time I leave the airport, I’m exhausted.

Look, I love our sunburnt country as much as the next person, but geez it feels good to be able to leave it occasionally. What a privilege.

This article originally appeared on Escape and was reproduced with permission



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Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake encourage big city escapes in Tourism Australia campaign


From beach-hopping to bush-bashing, Australians have been enjoying our new-found travel freedom since border restrictions relaxed, but there’s one area we’re criminally overlooking – our big cities.

So travel-loving couple Hamish Blake and Zoe Foster Blake have teamed up again with Tourism Australia for a new campaign that urges Aussies to plan a city escape to bring some love back to the big smoke.

In their new ad campaign, which is part of Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign, the popular couple showcases what our cities have to offer for your next domestic getaway.

Speaking to news.com.au about the City Escapes campaign and their upcoming travel plans, the pair explained how Australia’s excellent cities leave us spoiled for choice.

“No offence to other countries, but let’s say if you go to America, you’ve got some good capital cities in America but you’ve got some duds. In Australia, we’ve got no duds. If it was up to me, the campaign would be called Australia: No Dud Cities,” Blake said.

“Every capital city is awesome in its own unique way. I do love that so much about Australia. Cities that are smaller, population-wise, are kind of even cooler because they’ve got their own art, culture, food, geography, cool hotels. The cities have boomed.”

“And also whether you’re going with children, or just your partner, or you’re going for nature, or you’re going for shopping – you’ve got all of it,” Foster Blake added. “Art galleries, museums – they’re smashing it.”

The couple said they already had a hit list of cities they planned to go to next with kids Sonny, 6, and Rudy, 3.

“We were just saying we feel embarrassed we haven’t been to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart,” Foster Blake said.

“Our kids like to be a bit free-range and barefooted and feral, so we’ll definitely head to somewhere that affords that sort of environment as well. That might be Perth, or Brissie.”

Blake agreed he was “dying to get back to Perth”.

“I haven’t been for a couple of years and again, I think one of my favourite things about Perth is that it’s that perfect mix between big and small,” he said.

“It’s obviously a big city but it’s spacious, there’s lots of little great pockets and there are amazing beaches.”

Tourism Australia has found domestic travellers have been shunning cities in favour of regional areas due to health and safety concerns.

Spending on overnight trips across Australia fell by $27.1 billion, or 34 per cent, in the year ending September 2020, compared to the previous year.

It has especially been felt in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth.

Hotel occupancy has also taken a dive, with Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart the hardest hit – their occupancy rates have plunged to 33 per cent, 40 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said tourism operators in Australia’s cities were still struggling almost a year after the country’s international borders snapped shut and lockdown restrictions inhibited domestic travel.

“Our cities are the key international gateways to Australia and transit hubs for travellers, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been hit the hardest in terms of tourism spend, hotel occupancy and aviation capacity over the past year,” Ms Harrison said.

“While our international borders remain closed and travel restrictions continue to fluctuate around the country, our cities run the risk of continuing to bear the brunt of this pandemic despite offering so many incredible, safe experiences and being more affordable than ever.

“As part of this campaign we are calling on Australians to help support their fellow Australians by booking a city escape, which in turn will help to support the thousands of city-based hotels, restaurants, bars, cultural attractions and experiences that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.”

As Hamish and Zoe look forward to their next city escape, they admitted there was one thing they’d have to contend with – their very opposing approaches to packing.

“He doesn’t pack until the night before, which gives me hives the morning of,” Foster Blake told news.com.au.

“I pack a week out, constantly curating, editing … and I do the kids’ suitcases as well. That will be our point of tension the night before.”

Blake admitted his packing habits were somewhat chaotic.

“For some reason, even though I know where we’re going and I know the temperature, as soon as I open my wardrobe my brain is filled with wild, 1 per cent contingencies,” he said.

“I’m packing wet weather gear on a whim, maybe three woolly jumpers for a beach holiday.

“Then when I get to the destination … it’s like a theatre sports game where I open up a bag and have no idea what’s in there.”

“But he’ll live in the same pair of shorts for seven days,” Foster Blake laughed.



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Girl sells lemonade to fund her own brain surgery


An American girl suffering from three life-threatening cerebral malformations has set up a lemonade stand to help raise money to pay for surgery.

Seven-year-old Liza Scott’s life was “turned upside down” in January when she suffered a seizure that left her temporarily unconscious.
Liza was later diagnosed with not one but three brain irregularities: Schizencephaly, Parietal Arteriovenous Malformation and Dural Arteriovenous Fistula.

Liza’s mum Elizabeth Scott wrote on fundraising page Mighty Cause that the brain irregularities mean her daughter requires “immediate attention to prevent further seizures, possible bleeding or haemorrhage, or stroke”.

RELATED: Survivor’s second face transplant a ‘gift’

To raise money to pay for medical treatment Liza has set up a lemonade stand outside her family’s bakery in Alabama because it is “one of her favourite things to do”.

“From the start Liza has taken the lemons thrown her way and shown us all that adding a little zest to life is what making lemonade is all about,” Ms Scott wrote.

The “spunky, loving, fearless, bright, happy” girl will undergo her first brain surgery on March 8 and admits she is fearful about what is ahead for her.

“I can’t handle it. So, I hope I make it,” the schoolgirl told local station WIAT. “My mum keeps saying I’m going to, but I feel like I’m not.”

Ms Scott said she has been “on my hands and knees, literally, praying” that her little girl survives.

RELATED: Alarming results spark health fears

“You know, in the moments that I feel like I can’t breathe, or I’m awake in the night and I can’t sleep, I pray,” she said.

The single mum set up the fundraising page to help pay for Liza’s ”unimaginable” medical expenses.

“As with any medical journey, the overwhelming additional expenses, time away from work, and additional resources needed to keep up with things at home is already piling up,” Ms Scott wrote on Mighty Cause.

RELATED: ‘Tired’ mum loses seven fingers and both legs

“The next year will require a tremendous commitment of our family, our business, and anyone who is willing to join in this journey with us.”

So far the page has raised more than $US228,000 ($A295,000), with one person remarking that it was “f***ed up that a child has to sell lemonade or anything for that matter for surgery in this country”.

“I will never be convinced that a five-figure medical bill is acceptable to make anyone pay,” another commented.

“Humanity, think twice of what we have done to let children suffer this fate. This fundraising sites shouldn’t be necessary. We have to get our act together,” one person wrote.



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Camping, cruising, things you can do naked in NSW, Queensland, Victoria


Rock climbing, harbour cruises, yoga and hot air ballooning … The founder of Get Naked Australia shares his favourite things you can do nude around the country.

SAILING ON THE HARBOUR

Brendan Jones started up the Get Naked Australia Instagram account as a bit of a joke initially. The 30-year-old Sydneysider explains, “Myself and some friends started hiking and exploring local secluded swimming spots a while back.

“As you do when there’s no one around, you strip off and jump in! I got 12 photos of myself naked with a backdrop of something usually quite scenic and put them in a calendar for my wife for Christmas.

“It got a lot of laughs so I thought about starting an Instagram page for the bum shots and calling it Get Naked Australia. It just snowballed in popularity after that.”

The account now has 226K followers, with people from around the country submitting photos of themselves getting naked out in the wild.

“Within the first year of being online the pages following grew to over 100,000 followers,” explains Brendan. “There were numerous news articles, radio interviews and even a live TV segment during a prime time news program. It literally went viral!

“We had dozens of people every day sending in their own photos from great places all over the country and stories about how the naked in nature experience made them feel. I received emails from people who were with groups of mates camping and all decided to skinny dip.

“I also received emails from people with mental health disorders and victims of domestic violence telling me how this concept of getting naked in nature has helped them reclaim their body which was very powerful stuff!”

ROCK CLIMBING

“The concept put out there was to nude up in nature either on your own or with friends,” explains Brendan. “The purpose was to have fun, help improve the way you see your own body and to help remove the stigma associated with nudity.

“That is, that nudity is immediately linked with something sexual. We want people to treat naked bodies as simply that, just a naked body. I don’t want a world where we never wear clothes. But I don’t want a world where people never get to experience the joy of swimming in the ocean naked because of body inhibitions.

“Or feel too scared to get changed in front of your best friends because of fear of judgment. Or never get a nasty medical condition checked out because of fear of someone looking at your private parts.

“I want people to feel comfortable with their bodies and I think Get Naked Australia offers a fun way to take the plunge and experience naturism for the first time.”

HOT AIR BALLOONING

“What was a very interesting observation as the page grew was that of the thousands of people who have contributed to the page’s feed, only a handful of these people would consider themselves naturists,” he said.

“The people contributing weren’t naturists, nudists, models or sexual deviants. They were every day people who were getting naked outside of the comfort of their homes for the first time. And that right there has shaped the future of what myself and my team are hoping to do with Get Naked Australia.”

YOGA RETREATS

Despite running the account, Brendan says he doesn’t consider himself a naturist or a nudist.

“I prefer to say that I’m someone who practices naturism,” he explains. “Which means I enjoy the odd skinny dip or clothing optional activities like nude beaches. This was about the time I started the page.

“I think ‘lifestyle’ is an old term which is very black or white,” Brendan continues. “It indicates to me that you’re either a nudist who is naked all the time, or you’re not.

“I think referring to being naked in nature as a “practice” is far more appealing and will reach a much wider audience as no one likes labels. Basically, when I’m with the right people and it’s in the outdoors, I love stripping off, as I think most people would.”

WEEKEND RETREATS

The Get Naked Australia events are predominantly in Sydney at the moment but they have now expanded into Queensland and Victoria.

“In Sydney we run a few harbour cruises each year and we’re now running weekend retreats,” says Brendan. “This is in addition to regular hikes, skinny dips and beach days that we run.

“This photo was taken at our first ever Get Naked Australia retreat last weekend, at Yanada Retreat in St Albans. GNA Naked Retreats will be trending one day.”

Brendan says a number of private venues and Airbnbs were on board for retreats.

“We believe that any venue can be a naturist venue as long as it’s private and the owners are open minded,” he says.

“There’s a huge market of people wanting to experience naturism in great venues but currently there aren’t many places to go. The places that we have promoted have all had continual interest since their features in our magazine and online.”

CAMPING

In Far North Queensland they now have cruises running, and they are aiming to kick off Great Barrier Reef snorkelling safaris and remote island camping.

“Lastly we’ve aligned with a tour company out of Darwin and we’re going to be working with them to provide road trips where skinny dipping in as many great outback swimming holes as possible is the goal,” says Brendan.

What advice do you have for people who want to get out and get naked?

“Find somewhere secluded and swim naked. It’s the best feeling and you’ll want to do more of it! If you want to experience the social side of naturism then reach out, we’re looking to run more events in the future.”

What has been your favourite nude experience out in the wild in Australia?

“I’ve been skinny dipping with large groups of people before and it’s awesome! But my favourite experience to date was the most recent Sydney Harbour Cruise that we threw. Three yachts, a DJ, plenty of inflatables and about 100 naked staff and guests just having a great time in Sydney Harbour … all clothes free.”

You also have a magazine?

“In our magazine GNA we interview people about their experiences with naturism. We review the good existing naturist events in Australia and we aim to provide good modern venues for people to relax clothes free and present plenty of great places all over the country for a naked in nature experience.

“These include mountain lookouts, beaches, rivers and waterfalls. We believe if we can empower the individual to experience getting naked in nature, it will help build a big community of people who practice naturism regularly.”

What’s next on the cards for Get Naked Australia?

“Our big goal is to open up our own naturist resort near the coast somewhere north of Sydney … we just need a few investors.”



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Aldi launches $20 hot cross bun gin for Easter sale


We love hot cross buns, so much so we’ve infused the famous spiced flavour into some of our favourite things.

From ice cream to chocolate, there’s no end to the sticky bun creations.

Australians taste for the traditional Easter treat has even prompted supermarkets to sell the popular item all year round.

But now we can get our hot cross bun fix in a whole new way – drinking it.

Aldi Australia has just announced stores will be selling Hot Cross Bun Gin Liqueur as part of 2021’s festivities.

RELATED: Ultimate guide to store-bought hot cross buns

The boozy product costs $19.99 and can be served with a mixer or on the rocks for those who want to experience the full flavour.

“We are proud of the quality and affordable products we bring customers, but also the innovative and unique range we can offer Australians – and the Hot Cross Bun Gin Liqueur is no exception,” Nicole Higgins, Aldi Australia’s shopping expert said.

“Crafted with the traditional spices found in your favourite Easter treat, simply mix with soda, sparkling wine or serve on the rocks.”

Nicole added that you could serve the festive tipple with a warm hot cross bun or even a brioche variety for “an extra Easter indulgence”.

The Manchester Drinks Co Hot Cross Bun Gin Liqueur hits stores on February 24 and judging from reaction to Aldi’s previous limited edition alcohol items, we suspect it will sell out fast.

It is produced in the UK and was released for the first time this year, with a spokesperson for the brand stating the gin was “lovingly crafted” until it had the right balance of flavours to “capture the much-loved flavours of a hot cross bun”.



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Couple shed 90kg together with one simple step


Stephanie and Brandon Engblom shed nearly 91kg together.

The routine began with a simple change to Stephanie’s coffee order and turned into a huge weight-loss success for the couple.

The couple live in Duluth, Minnesota and Stephanie says that she and her husband of two years simply woke up one morning in January 2020 deciding that they needed to make a change.

“We looked in the mirror, looked at each other and said, ‘You know what, this is one of our lowest lows,’” Stephanie told TODAY.

“We were both over 300 pounds (136kg), Brandon had just gotten diagnosed with sleep apnea and I was just feeling awful. My whole body ached every day.”

“We needed to make a change if we wanted to live a long, happy, healthy life together and maybe someday start a family,” said the 25-year-old.

RELATED: Woman’s incredibly 138kg transformation

Less than a year later and Stephanie has lost 53kg. Brandon shed more than 80kg himself.

The couple went on to explain that they didn’t follow a strict diet or any extreme exercise plans. Instead, they focused on changing up their lifestyle by turning it into something that they can keep up with forever.

“I’ve been overweight my entire life,” said Stephanie.

“I have early memories of trying fad diets like Weight Watchers or low-carb and I would initially lose a little bit of weight, but I would never be able to keep it off long-term. I’d always gain it back plus five pounds.”

They say that it was sustainability that was they key to becoming healthier.

“We wanted this to be something where we could not only see results immediately,” Stephanie, who works as a photographer, continued, “but something we could stick to for ideally the rest of our lives so we wouldn’t have to keep playing this game.”

In fact, the couple shared exactly what they did to achieve their goals.

RELATED: How to lose 5 kilos by Christmas

Stephanie explained how it was cutting out little things that added up to an unhealthy lifestyle.

“For me, that was cutting out my sugary coffee and replacing it with lower-calorie options,” she said. “I’m still drinking coffee — I still have my lattes — but instead of whole milk and chocolate and syrup, I’m drinking almond milk and just espresso.”

Amazingly, they still enjoy their favourite things like pizza and tacos, but they’ve made it a little healthier.

“For tacos, instead of cooking with ground beef we use ground turkey or chicken, and we use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream and a little bit less cheese with more veggies,” she explained. “For pizza, we make it at home and use turkey pepperoni.”

“You can eat everything you want still, just in moderation,” she continued. “It’s more about portion size and being mindful of how much you’re eating rather than completely restricting yourself of certain foods.”

RELATED: Mum ditches $300 a week bad habit

For Brandon, a 29-year-old attorney, he put all his focus into protein.

“It was a big shift away from really carb-heavy pastas and things like that, and shifting into a much more protein-based diet because protein keeps you fuller for longer,” he told TODAY. “You can have really good meals that are based heavily in different types of protein and not feel like you’re missing out or depriving yourself of a meal you really want to have.

“We use things like chickpea noodles for example rather than traditional pasta — the difference in calorie load and protein you get out of that is just astronomical.”

Stephanie explained how it even brought them closer together.

“It’s strengthened our relationship,” she said. “I feel like we’ve only gotten stronger together and doing this with him has made it more possible than doing it alone.”



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