PARKES: THE PER­FECT 1 0

Chris Pritchard

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - CHRIS PRITCHARD

1 AL­MOST GRACELAND: Elvis is block­ing my way, bear­ing only a faint re­sem­blance to the famed rock ’n’ roller. For one thing, he boasts a mous­tache. Like about 300 other Elvis im­per­son­ators, he has been drawn to the NSW re­gional coun­try town for its an­nual Elvis Fes­ti­val (the 25th was held in Jan­uary), which at­tracts about 25,000 vis­i­tors and is Parkes’s top touris­mori­ented event. He asks me to buy him a beer and he’ll sing an Elvis tune. I re­mind him the fes­ti­val ended the pre­vi­ous day. The five-day fes­ti­val helped put Parkes on the tourist trail. Its aim, ini­tially, was to liven the town dur­ing som­no­lent sum­mers. It was dreamt up by Anne and Bob Steel, own­ers of the Ho­tel Grace­lands, who re­main fes­ti­val vol­un­teers and also help pro­mote a smaller coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val held each Oc­to­ber. Parkes Shire Coun­cil runs a year-round Elvis mu­seum at the lo­cal vis­i­tor cen­tre in part­ner­ship with ex-Wig­gle Greg Page, who’s ranked fourth world­wide as an Elvis mem­o­ra­bilia col­lec­tor. A sec­ond, pri­vate mu­seum (also open year-round) is op­er­ated by Parkes res­i­dent Elvis Len­nox. For­merly Steve, he changed his name by deed poll. More: vis­it­parkes.com.au; parke­selv­is­fes­ti­val.com.au.

2 A LIT­TLE STARGAZ­ING: CSIRO Parkes Ob­ser­va­tory is af­fec­tion­ately known as “the dish”. Built 55 years ago, it’s been reg­u­larly up­graded and is 10,000 times more sen­si­tive than when it opened. Ob­ser­va­tory sci­en­tist John Sarkissian says the fa­cil­ity “re­mains at the fore­front of global re­search”. Lo­cated 25km north of Parkes, it’s a ma­jor at­trac­tion and an­chored the 2000 movie The Dish, star­ring Sam Neill, which chron­i­cled the true tale of the ob­ser­va­tory’s piv­otal role in re­lay­ing pictures and sound after Apollo 11 crew­men stepped on to the moon in 1969. A vis­i­tors’ cen­tre, along­side the 64m “dish”, in­cludes a cin­ema show­ing films about as­tron­omy, a mu­seum, a gallery, restau­rant and shop with branded mer­chan­dise. More: parkes.atnf.csiro.au.

3 TRUNDLET OUT OF TOWN: Trun­dle (pop­u­la­tion: 666) is a 55km drive from Parkes, where lo­cals de­scribed it as a sub­urb. It’s famed for Forbes Street, an ul­tra-wide (60m) main thor­ough­fare, one of Aus­tralia’s broad­est, with res­i­dents re­ly­ing on the far­from-unique ex­pla­na­tion that this was so bul­lock carts could U-turn along it. Sim­i­larly fa­mous is the 86m-long bal­cony of the lone pub, the 128-year-old Trun­dle Ho­tel. Op­po­site the pub is a repli­cated streetscape hous­ing many lo­cal busi­nesses and high­light­ing Trun­dle’s time­warp am­bi­ence. “Trun­dle Talkies”, trum­pets a sign on a for­mer cin­ema trans­formed into a store­room. Down the street, for­mer Syd­neysider John Lager­low bought a for­mer post of­fice and con­verted it into a 25-seater cin­ema. “I’m think­ing about start­ing a film so­ci­ety,” he re­veals. Trun­dle’s big draw­card is an an­nual ABBA Fes­ti­val, held each May (this year’s was the sixth; in 2018 it will take place on May 5). ABBA trib­ute band Bjorn Again is a reg­u­lar and fes­ti­val founders Gary and Ruth Crow­ley ac­knowl­edge they were prompted by the suc­cess of Parkes’s an­nual Elvis event. More: trundle­ho­tel.com.au; trundleab­bafes­ti­val.com.

4 OURS IS BIG­GER: NSW’s largest in­land lake, Lake Cowal, 102km (a short dis­tance in out­back terms) from Parkes, cur­rently mea­sures about 21km long and up to 9.5km wide. It dries com­pletely dur­ing pro­longed dry spells, last dis­ap­pear­ing three years ago. How­ever, Lake Cowal Foun­da­tion projects man­ager Mal Carnegie es­ti­mates that even with­out rain it would now take an­other three years to dry up. The lake at­tracts var­ied birdlife, in­clud­ing en­dan­gered species. The shal­low lake (typ­i­cally 2.5m) also tempts con­sid­er­able land­based wildlife to its edges where vis­i­tors hike trails on short walks and longer hikes. The foun­da­tion is bankrolled by Evo­lu­tion Min­ing which op­er­ates an open-pit gold mine at one point along the lake’s perime­ter. No cruises ex­ist but Carnegie, for­merly a farmer, has three kayaks that vis­i­tors can use for free. He says, “If I feel like go­ing out on the wa­ter, I’ll guide them to in­ter­est­ing spots and point out wildlife, mostly birds.” Carnegie, with en­cy­clopaedic lake knowl­edge, also lec­tures school groups. More: lake­cow­al­foun­da­tion.org.au.

5 TOP TRIO: Parkes (pop­u­la­tion: 15,330) has sev­eral cof­fee shops along Clarinda Street and near­byb plus Chi­nese, In­dian, Thai and Viet­namese restau­rants as well. Four pizza out­lets thrive. But the three lead­ing places to dine are stylish Bent Food and Wine op­po­site the law courts and fre­quented by lawyers; Ital­ian-flavoured Bel­las; and Hart Bar, up­stairs in Parkes’ liveli­est and re­cently re­vamped pub, the Rail­way Ho­tel. More: bent­foodand­wine.com.au; bel­las­cafe.com.au; therail­way­hotel­parkes.com.au.

6 UTE BEAUT: Eas­ily twinned with a half-day trip to Trun­dle is a quirky dis­play called Utes in the Pad­dock on farm­land near the tiny vil­lage of Ootha. Now in Parkes Shire, it will be re­lo­cated late this year to nearby Con­dobolin. Es­sen­tially, it’s a line of Holden utes, no longer road­wor­thy and some up-ended, which artists, mostly from Parkes, have trans­formed with the likes of a Godzilla-like mon­ster, a Bundy bot­tle and Dame Edna sit­ting on an out­door dunny. More: utesinthep­ad­dock.com.au. 7 GOOD AS GOLD: A for­mer gold­min­ing town, 49km north of Parkes, Peak Hill rein­vented it­self as a tourist des­ti­na­tion after the clo­sure of the mine. At the small town’s edge is an open-pit mine with sev­eral look­out points. En­try is free, with two short walks: a 1.3km dis­cov­ery trail along the pit’s edge with look­outs of­fer­ing ex­ten­sive views and, al­most as easy, a 1.8km peak hill bush walk trail travers­ing na­tive bush­land with mine vis­tas. Per­haps in­evitably, signs re­fer to Peak Hill as the “town with a heart of gold”. More: peakhill.nsw.au.

8 CEN­TRE OF AT­TEN­TION: A five-minute drive from cen­tral Parkes is the modern Henry Parkes Cen­tre, hous­ing the Parkes Vis­i­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre, King’s Cas­tle Elvis Presley Mu­seum (in­clud­ing Greg Page’s col­lec­tion) and the Parkes Mo­tor Mu­seum, a dis­play of highly-pol­ished old ve­hi­cles in­clud­ing de­liv­ery trucks and a 1917 Buick. More: vis­it­parkes.com.au.

9 LEST WE FOR­GET: The best spot for 360-de­gree v views over Parkes and the sur­round­ing out­back i is Me­mo­rial Hill, five min­utes’ drive from the town cen­tre. The hill­top is dom­i­nated by a 33m obelisk­like Shrine of Re­mem­brance hon­our­ing the fallen in past con­flicts and vis­i­ble from sev­eral spots in town. More: vis­itnsw.com.

BEST BEDS

10 MO­TOR INNS RULE: Three lodg­ings stand out among many mo­tels. With five-star ac­com­mo­da­tion and a handy stroll from Clarinda Street, Astrodish Mo­tor Inn ac­cu­rately de­scribes it­self as the “most modern and new­est”. Parkes In­ter­na­tional, a mem­ber of the Qual­ity Inn chain, is sim­i­larly up­scale. An Elvis-themed op­tion at the top of the mar­ket is four-star Ho­tel Grace­lands, pic­tured. Parkes is served by air, rail and coach (car rentals avail­able) though most vis­i­tors ar­rive on self-drive hol­i­days. More: astrodish.com.au; parkesin­ter­na­tional.com.au; grace­landsparkes.com.au.

Chris Pritchard was a guest of Des­ti­na­tion NSW and Parkes Shire Coun­cil.

CHECK IT OUT PALA­CIO TAN­GARA, SAO PAULO

In the late 1940s dash­ing Brazil­ian play­boy Fran­cisco “Baby” Pig­natari com­mis­sioned ar­chi­tect Os­car Niemeyer and mod­ernist land­scape ar­chi­tect Roberto Burle Marx to cre­ate a lav­ish re­treat in the heart of Sao Paulo for his glam­orous wife Nelita Alves de Lima.

The mar­riage failed, Baby’s avant-garde res­i­dence was de­mol­ished, and work on a sub­se­quent ho­tel aban­doned in 2001. As luck would have it Burle Marx com­pleted the gar­dens and stun­ning park­lands, now serv­ing as a lush green back­drop to a new palace ho­tel from the Oetker Col­lec­tion.

Op­er­a­tors of a small group of land­mark ho­tels in­clud­ing Lon­don’s Lanes­bor­ough and Le Bris­tol in Paris, Oetker stepped in to res­cue the orig­i­nal ho­tel project and opens the doors this month to the lux­u­ri­ous Pala­cio Tan­gara, fea­tur­ing 141 large gue­strooms, al­most half of which are suites.

Named for a bril­liantly coloured song­bird, the ho­tel em­braces its ver­dant lo­cale, a fine ex­am­ple of Burle Marx’s groundbreaking work, in­flu­enced by Cu­bism and Ab­strac­tion­ism and fea­tur­ing a wealth of ex­otic plants. The set­ting pro­vides a re­lax­ing respite from the sprawl­ing, fre­netic Sao Paulo, or Sampa as lo­cals like to re­gard their me­trop­o­lis.

All gue­strooms claim lovely park views and most open on to a fur­nished ter­race or bal­cony; at 47sq m the lead-in room cat­e­gory is the most gen­er­ous in the city. In­te­ri­ors by Brazil­ian de­sign firms Bick Si­monato and Anas­tas­siadis favour French doors and sub­tle hues, de­liv­er­ing a con­tem­po­rary coun­try-house chic and re­strained sense of lux­ury.

Ex­ten­sive ho­tel fa­cil­i­ties num­ber an el­e­gant Sis­ley day spa with its own gar­den, in­door and out­door swim­ming pools, fit­ness cen­tre and chil­dren’s club.

DON’T MISS: A 25 per cent dis­count on all spa treat­ments when you book a Time­less Spa pack­age, avail­able un­til the end of the year. DIN­ING IN: Chef Jean-Ge­orges Von­gerichten, who owns and op­er­ates more than 30 restau­rants world­wide, de­signed the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at Tan­gara with a sig­na­ture restau­rant, chef’s ta­ble, wine cel­lar and lobby lounge. Try the sea bass crusted with nuts and seeds with a sweet and sour jus, or the tuna tar­tar with av­o­cado and a radish and gin­ger dress­ing.

DIN­ING OUT: Plan lunch in Bix­iga, the lively Ital­ian quar­ter (check out Sper­anza, serv­ing piz­zas since 1958). Se­ri­ous food­ies should make a book­ing at Mani helmed by He­lena Rizzo or at celeb chef Alex Atala’s D.O.M. for cut­ting-edge Brazil­ian food.

ASK THE CONCIERGE: Not to be missed mu­se­ums in­clude Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, Latin Amer­ica’s best col­lec­tion of Euro­pean art housed in a Bru­tal­ist land­mark and Pi­na­coteca do Es­tado. Pop across to Sampa’s Soho, Vila Madalena, where there’s a great week­end hand­i­crafts and antiques mar­ket. Check out the fan­tas­tic view of Old Down­town from the rooftop of the Italia Build­ing.

CHECK­ING IN: Rooms from $US450 ($605). More: pala­ciotan­gara.com/eng/home/.

ALSO TRY: Bren­ners Park-Ho­tel & Spa, BadenBaden, Ger­many; Il Salvi­atino, Florence.

CHRIS­TINE McCABE

AC­COM­MO­DA­TION BUZZ

Shangri-La Ho­tel, Sin­ga­pore has un­veiled its new look Tower Wing fol­low­ing an ex­ten­sive re­fur­bish­ment of all 503 gue­strooms and suites; the makeover en­com­passes three new restau­rants, in­clud­ing the swish Ja­panese Nami on level 24, and a re­vi­talised lobby and club lounge • Ho­tel Bocage has opened in Hua Hin with just six con­tem­po­rary gue­strooms kit­ted out with Ital­ian de­sign es­sen­tials and pri­vate bal­conies over­look­ing the Gulf of Thai­land; the ho­tel sits atop Seenspace, a new open-air en­ter­tain­ment and restau­rant com­plex • Lit­tle Tai Hang is a newly opened, de­sign-savvy ho­tel tucked away on a street cor­ner next to Hong Kong’s Vic­to­ria Park in one of the city’s most en­chant­ing neigh­bour­hoods; there are 91 su­per smart gue­strooms and ser­viced apart­ments, per­fect for the in­de­pen­dent trav­eller • Fair­field by Mar­riott Ph­nom Penh will open in Cam­bo­dia in 2021; part of a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment on Rus­sian Boule­vard within the ad­min­is­tra­tive heart of the city, the ho­tel will of­fer 300 busi­ness-friendly gue­strooms, a restau­rant and fit­ness cen­tre • Or­pheus Is­land Lodge has ap­pointed a new ex­ec­u­tive chef; fol­low­ing stints at Lon­gi­tude 131 and Chalet du Ras­sel in France, Daniel Main joins the team at this five-star Great Bar­rier Reef is­land re­sort where he’ll over­see de­gus­ta­tion menus built around is­land-grown or­ganic pro­duce and lo­cal seafood.

CSIRO Parkes Ob­ser­va­tory, top; Utes in the Pad­dock, cen­tre right; mag­pie geese on Lake Cowal, cen­tre left; Elvis im­per­son­ators at fes­ti­val time, above; Trun­dle Ho­tel, be­low

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