SAKURA LOVE BLOSSOMS
Forget the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat, there’s a new bucket-list sight that Aussies can’t get enough of. Japan’s annual cherry blossom blooms have become a huge drawcard for Australian travellers, with tour operators reporting a huge spike in bookings to coincide with the season.
Bookings for Wendy Wu Tours’ Japan cherry blossom itineraries are up by 62 per cent year on year.
“While cherry blossom season has long been a must-see for locals, the secret is out, and Australian travellers are placing the experience firmly near the top of their bucket list,” says Wendy Wu’s head of product Bernadette Holmes. “Up there with Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal, Japan’s cherry blossoms have become a pilgrimage for those who want to experience the region’s treasures – with one difference; the fleeting, and at times unpredictable, season, with its signature romantic sweet scent and pale pink colour, includes an element of luck for those who make the trip.”
Travel search site KAYAK also reports a 26 per cent increase in travel searches for Japan in this period. “We’re definitely seeing a growing trend,” says Australian KAYAK spokesman Robin Chiang. He says the cherry blossom effect has spread beyond Japan, too, with a 30 per cent increase in year-on-year searches for Taiwan also recorded during Taipei’s cherry blossom season (late January to late February).
Hotels and cruise lines are joining the trend, spruiking cherry blossomthemed packages. Cruise ship Norwegian Jewel is jumping on the bandwagon to head to Japan for the season. “We’re excited to be offering guests an opportunity to experience this for the first time,” says Steve Odell, Norwegian Cruise Line senior vice president and managing director for the Asia Pacific.
Meanwhile, Tokyo’s Peninsula Hotel is celebrating the season with cherry blossom experiences including a special Sakura-themed afternoon tea, takeaway cherry blossom picnics and a “cherry blossom ceremony” spa treatment.
MORE CAPITAL KIWI ART
Kiwi capital Wellington is known as a city that embraces the arts. Now it has a new $8.4 million gallery space to show off more of the 40,000 artworks in its national collection.
The new gallery, Toi Art, opened to the public yesterday and occupies two levels of Te Papa, the national museum on the Wellington waterfront. It is the first part of a major renewal of all Te Papa’s exhibition spaces as the museum celebrates its 20th anniversary year. Te Papa’s annual visitors already number about 1.5 million. Most recently they have been coming to see the Weta Workshop-generated exhibition, Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, which features eight giant, lifelike sculptures of Kiwis involved in the infamous WWI campaign. It’s open until April next year.
if I was planning a short trip to Wellington in the near future, I’d time it to see The Jim Henson Retrospectacle (April 27 and 28), a fab celebration of the Muppets with the NZ Symphony Orchestra and Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie (the one without glasses). TEPAPA.GOVT.NZ
FREE NIGHT IN DUBAI
As Emirates prepares to introduce a fourth daily A380 service to Sydney and increase seats by upgrading its third daily Melbourne service to an A380 aircraft on March 25, Australians flying through Dubai can get a free night’s stopover.
Economy travellers who book before March 27 get a night at Rove Downtown, Rove City Centre or Rove Healthcare City, Dubai, including bed and breakfast. First and business-class passengers can stay at the 5-star JW Marriott Marquis. Fares start from $1269 to London, $1319 to Barcelona or $1329 to Paris. EMIRATES.COM/AU
NY’S LEADING LIGHT
The arrival of daylight saving is being marked in New York City in a way only the Big Apple can. LED lights at the top of the Empire State Building now twinkle nightly for five minutes every hour between sunset and 2am. The landmark building can customise its lights from a palette of over 16 million colours and has used these special effects to celebrate key events since 1932, when a floodlight marked the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president.
NGUYEN SPREADS WINGS
He’s already an ambassador for APT river cruising, but celebrity chef Luke Nguyen is extending his influence to the air.
Vietnam Airlines has announced that Sydney chef and TV presenter Nguyen will be creating meals for business-class passengers travelling from Australia to Vietnam.