If traveling in the winter months of Australia, the Blue Mountains are well worth a day trip, at an easy two-hour drive out of the Sydney city. Instead of hibernating like the rest Australia, the arty Blue Mountain folk liven up their lives with a fantastic Winter Solstice Festival on the shortest day of the year. Held annually, stalls line along the main street of Katoomba, selling an assortment of treats. You’ll find homemade warming foods, arts, crafty wares, hand-made soaps and candles, and aromatic coffee stalls aka hot chocolate stalls.. mmmm. This festival is a good opportunity to stroll through the town and local gift shops, while talented locals serenade Katoomba with violins or (as spotted) a guitar made out of a wooden box. At midday, the parade with possibly the best dazzling costumes you’re likely to see in Australia, will descend along the main street. People from near and far gather to watch (perhaps with a spicy chai tea or warm mulled wine in hand, plus scarves and beanie’s) as the parades pass by. The annual Winter Solstice Festival in the Blue Mountains is a daytrip your itinerary will thank you for. If it could speak.
The small Aussie vintage town of Milton put their name on the map with a festival dedicated to the farmers scarecrow. On any other day you'd likely drive through the main street of the country coastal town of Milton without batting an eyelid, but on the weekend of Scarecrow festival it's another story. Held anually in the first weekend of June, neighbours and shopkeepers display scarecrow magnificence! Mostly stuffed with straw, and sometimes appearing as tiny dolls, or even real people, you'd believe the locals had been thinking about their creations for the entire year, for scarecrow costumes are extravagant!
Waving at you from frontyards and window displays are pirate scarecrows, mermaids, footballers, celebrity scarecrows - the attention to details is uncanny. Perfect and hilarious photo point and Instagram opportunities await!
A fabulous marketing ploy from the local council, the idea attracts people looking for a great weekend day out, such a Sydneysiders. Take a coastal drive past beautiful beaches and country side to view the town of scarecrows, and also visit the market, listen to outdoor live music, see local dance routines, and wonder through wonderful gift stores. An aussie day trip not to be missed.
Australia's annual Taste of Manly - food, wine and sustainability festival in Winter is well worth a visit if you're hungry, thirsty and like the beach. At this outdoor gathering of local restaurateurs, you can sample various food and wine from stalls set up along Manly's famous main beach, and then ponder over to the adjacent beachside craft markets. Visit local farmers showing healthy produce, hold chicks or see the bright pink silky bantams, talk to local chefs, and taste wines from nearby regions like the Hunter Valley. Three stages set up at each end of the festival have live music with hay bales or outdoor table seating, and cooking shows are scheduled throughout the day. The festival is free, annual, goes over a two day weekend, and usually held in the first week of Winter.
Check the manly council website to find out when the next festival is scheduled:
It was with some trepidation that I agreed to go on a Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival camping trip.
While it is universally regarded as one of the hippest music festivals in the northern hemisphere - style muses Alexa Chung and Chloe Sevigny are regulars - as a Gen X indie-rock survivor, I thought my days of drinking cans of warm VB while standing in portable toilet queues had gone the way of my faded Nirvana T-shirt. However, the pull of seeing live music outdoors again - Nick Cave, Tame Impala, Yeah Yeah Yeahs - was too great, even if I was going to have to bring ear muffs.
Heading into its 15th year, Coachella has become one of the most successful art and music festivals in the world.
What began as a one-day gathering on an Indio Polo Club field back in 1999 has become so popular it stretches over two weekends, with bands playing the same set twice to cater for the demand.
Part of its appeal is that Coachella attracts the biggest names in the business - The Stone Roses, The Cure and even Madonna have performed.
It also taps into the upcoming music scene, scouring the world and inviting the best still largely unearthed talent to play alongside the megastars.
In preparation for the weekend, my travelling crew check into the Andaz Hotel on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip in West Hollywood to overcome jet lag. The hotel is famous for having hosted parties by rock'n'roll royalty such as The Rolling Stones and The Who back in the day.
While still "cool", the hotel is more of a relaxed oasis for weary travellers.
The two-hour road trip from LA to Coachella is broken up with a quick stopover at the Desert Hills Premium Outlet to collect some cut-price jeans, sunnies and yet another pair of Converse shoes.
Upon arriving in Indio Valley, where the festival is setting up, we climb into golf buggies and are driven to a field of white-marquee style tents - the luxury safari tents camping ground. Across the field, there is a pool with deck, massage tents and showering trailers with mirrors and power.
Inside my tent, a wrought-iron bed covered with '70s print cushions takes the place of a sleeping bag. There's power. A fridge. Even aircon.
The "mess hall'' is yet another luxuriously furnished tent that serves hot breakfasts and late- night snacks.
With a three-day festival ahead, we plan our days.
The advantage of staying next to the festival grounds means we are a short golf buggy trip to the stages.
Despite its popularity - the festival attracts about 85,000 over the two weekends - there is never the feeling of being in a crowd, except, of course, near the moshpit.
It is a relaxed atmosphere with the fashion - think Woodstock, Ali McGraw, Michelle Phillips - and the celebrity-spotting is just as entertaining as the onstage acts.
The stark but stunning desert landscape is best appreciated from atop the now iconic Coachella ferris wheel.
Both toilet and drinks queues are surprisingly short, while the fast food is so good that even singer Katy Perry queues.
The VIP area - tickets can be bought at extra cost - is teeming with celebrities who appear to enjoy mingling with the masses instead of taking advantage of their backstage trailers. We spy Twilight stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart huddled in a corner (they broke up a few weeks later), Paris Hilton with her chain-smoking sister Nicky and actor Lindsay Lohan.
True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard outed himself as a fan of The Stone Roses, as did Katy Perry and UK Vogue cover girl Lily Donaldson.
Even back at the campground, we have a celebrity encounter when Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, famous for partnering with Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, walks past on his way to have a shower.
Being a desert, the days are hot, think mid-30C and the nights cool. To avoid the midday heat, there is the option of joining the pool party scene in downtown Palm Springs. The hotels open their doors to the public - except for those hosting the real VIPs like Bono - to lounge by the pool with a cocktail under one of the district's ubiquitous date palms until it cools down.
Others wile away the hours with a yoga or Pilates session, or take photographs of the 9m tall statue of Marilyn Monroe who lived in the neighbourhood.
It is hard not to fall in love with Coachella. Not just for the music but also for the afternoon desert sunsets - arguably the best act each day - and the chilled-out nature of the crowd.
Not even an eye-stinging violent desert dust storm could dampen my enthusiasm for the festival, nor the headline act - the Red Hot Chili Peppers - who gritted their teeth and crunched their way through the final hour.
After four days and more than 40 bands, it is time to go into recovery mode - and a long, luxurious shower.
We check in at the Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, opposite the famous pier, before heading further south to stay at Belamar Hotel in the artist and surfing hub of Manhattan Beach.