Australia

AustraliaDestinationsDown under

Pans and injuries

IMG_1236

In the time that I’ve been away, I’ve managed to: scrap the knees and shin on the same leg twice, cracked half a toenail, somehow contract an infection of a nail cuticle (probably caused by hang nail) that made the finger swell, got a gash across my hand from the toilet door (!), grew numerous blisters and ankle bruises from walking too much, suffered a mild heatstroke and a sunburn on the face in the Australian sun. Also got my hiking shoes ripped good, tore some other parts of my clothes. The maladies of travel, as small as they are, remind me that I’m still partly enjoying myself and still away from where I usually live.

I leave Sydney today, wryly looking at the scars gained during these 17 days and think, inadvertently, about all the people that I’ve met over differing circumstances, the most unusual meeting was over a non-stick teflon pan while frying breakfast one morning. An elderly lady – formerly from Australia now living in Kiwiland – was frying pancakes (albeit rather badly), I tried to cook them too. It worked out somehow as we formed a mutual understanding of sharing leftover bacon fat.

I moaned over the loss of the red rental car and the freedom to visit everything at a whim. Forced to rely on only the feet and my oft-complained-about walking speed, I covered the city centre over and over again, trying to convince myself that Aussie fashion wasn’t as bad as it seemed, ending up buying chocolates and household cleaning products instead to bring back.

IMG_1331

IMG_1327

And I went whale-watching again, seeing in less spectacular fashion, humpback whales’ blowholes and not much more from a distance of 100m. Squashed together with a strange (and sometimes stupid) group of people, the boat’s left propeller got caught in a fishing trap, rendering it nearly useless; we limped along the coast drearily and essentially stopped whale-watching at that point, saved from boredom by jumping dolphins who saved the day once more. Although I say goodbye today, the lack of regret and longing that accompany the end of every trip is unusually absent; my only gripe being the long flight back. Sydney, like London, felt intimidating the more I read about it in the travel guides, until you actually step foot and realise that – with some help from the very genial people in the visitor information booths – it’s sort of manageable.

Suddenly, there was too much to see: a potential day trip to the Blue mountains, a day down Bondi among (fake?) tanners, or to go to the Manly shore to do ‘manly’ things like swim with sharks in Ocean world, go for a performance at the Opera house instead of just walking around it.

Cheerios Oceania, I’ll definitely miss you.

read more
AustraliaDestinationsDown under

Sydney the great

IMG_1196

Ah, Sydney, the consummate city, to which I was introduced not via its famed beaches and tacky surfing stereotypes but via the bad traffic and even bad-der drivers.

“I don’t have to give you any way, you’re in my lane,” the old lady driving the van vented defiantly at another van as she wove her steady way through Sydney’s frustrating crawl. The ready expression of frustration was a welcome reprieve after screaming children monsters (indicative of stupid parenting as well) on the way-too-long 3 hr flight into Sydney from Christchurch.

IMG_1131

IMG_1108

I laughed and thereafter, she launched into a rapidfire list of sights to cover, ending with a certain place that she thought had great pizzas, which to my surprise, was just next to Sydney YHA The Rocks hostel.

YHA @ The Rocks is an amazing place, built on the site of Australia’s oldest European settlement in 1788, itself creatively constructed as a series of interconnected buildings raised on pillars above the archaeological ruins with the Big Dig Archaeology centre just in front of my room. It is at the same time,  built for sustainable development, with a spacious rooftop that overlooks the harbour.

IMG_1219

IMG_1132

A short walk downhill is Circular Quay which yields the most urban-picturesque scenes imaginable.  and where most tourists with large cameras set up camp.

IMG_1104

IMG_1145

Bereft of the car, my feet were my salvation, taking me through to Sydney Central, past Hyde Park, backtracking into the Art Gallery of NSW and into their Biennale exhibition. A jaunt into the shopping district, a walk across Harbour Bridge (the least I could do after realising that the coveted Harbour Bridge climb costs a whopping $218+) and I was quite done with the day.

read more
AustraliaDestinationsDown underItineraryNew ZealandPlanning

Down Under in Winter

walk

A 6-month layover and I’m ready to roll again – to a destination that I visited nearly a decade ago.

For one moment, it appeared that there were no air tickets available under $1900 – whether to Europe or Canada, or anywhere down Down Under. A listless search on the internet one Saturday morning last week had me quivering in excitement when Scandinavian Airlines offered a ridiculous price for a 2-week sojourn in the far north, while Qantas offered – only with a 3-week advance booking – something similar price-wise for a traipse through New Zealand with a stopover in Sydney.

It was surprisingly, a very difficult decision to make: the chance for another driving trip with boxes of chocolate biscuits stashed in the back or the joy of riding in the Scandinavian trains? The cool temperate forests of Sweden and the chic of Copenhagen, or the winter temperatures and the lack of crowds in New Zealand? Long flight vs not so long flight?

nzroute

The latter won out and since I’m leaving in three bloody weeks – such is the nature of somewhat-impulsive decision-making -, the first few days in between have been filled with an intensity in researching and reservations – rivalled only by the same emotive outpouring associated with the  consumption of chocolate – and will go on for a few more days yet.

On the list of things-to-do in NZ – a list which I’m sure will grow and get less childish as the days go by :

1. Spot a kiwi (the bird, not the resident of NZ)
2. Whale-Watch at Kaikoura; other sea mammals can join the ride
3. White-water Rafting (again)
4. Look at geothermal mud spots (again)
5. Observe a Haka
6. Look at snow-capped mountains (not too difficult)
7. Visit some art galleries

I can’t wait.

Itinerary: Auckland – Rotorua (Taupo) – East Cape from Opotiki to Gisborne – Napier, Wellington – Blenheim – Kaikoura – Christchurch – is the itinerary for New Zealand. An additional 3 days in Sydney (How cool is this? My hostel’s YHA Sydney Harbour at The Rocks, facing the Opera House) as a stopover is the crowning glory. 

read more
AustraliaDestinationsDown under

Ode to the pink jacket

IMG_0829

I was determined to keep the last 2 days in Perth a relaxing one after the collective and prolonged excitement of Margaret River.

Things as usual, do not always go according to plan. Returning the car on a Sunday morning meant waking up as early as possible, before rushing (as always) last minute shopping and gifts in the city centre which was fairly unpleasant after the quiet stay in the countryside down south.

Our hosts throughout the trip however, have been excellent company and wonderful people, and are probably one of the highlights of the trip. The weather was mostly excellent, us having dodged several serious winter storms. In some parts of the state, it was practically spring-like with lingering autumn colours.

Divine providence once more prevailed.

IMG_0841

Sandra Durack in Mt Lawley was no different as we were on the last leg of the trip and her feline companion Tilly was probably the best non-human company I’ve had in ages. Hyperactive, uber-friendly, extremely sociable and way too curious for her good, Tilly’s bulky winter coat hid a thin body that was acquired from all the climbing and whatever cats do in the day. I met her one morning as she rushed by the breakfast room. Thereafter, she was a constant presence around the house.

IMG_0819

She helped me to pack rather cheerfully, her tail and nose leading the way before she settled on my sheets to watch how tedious the task really is.

But the highlight of my day was probably seeing the TC’s maturing fashion sense when he finally decided to give the pink jacket to the homeless – via our host.

read more
AustraliaDestinationsDown underFood

The gourmet trail

IMG_0727

“Is my face getting rounder? Do I look heavier?”

TC won the crown of longsuffering as he constantly endured my increasingly psychotic questions that popped up involuntarily a few times a day and particularly after each meal. Such questions weren’t totally unfounded actually; I think it’s fair to say that I ate myself out of my pants and thereafter thought guiltily and quite a lot of amping up my exercise routine when I got back.

This is an example, and it’s only breakfast. Eggs from the Dirk’s farm, herbs from their garden and goodness knows what else is organic.

Visiting Margaret River is akin to going on a trail to satiate the senses – it is gastronomic tourism concentrated in a small area, and a fine one at that. It is also bloody ridiculous that so much good food and drink is just up the road from one another. It was like living a life from a few pages of Nigella’s Christmas Feasts where calorie counting is merely fiction.

Our map was getting increasingly bent and worn with the number of circles I drew on it, marking out the sights and food factories that we just had to visit. After all, having a rental car meant that we were invincible – to travelling distances at least. Among the pristine white beaches and coastal walk trails, there were gastronomical delights to be found in the nooks and crannies that veered sneakily off Bussel Hwy and Caves road.

It was not as though our wallets allowed us to visit all of them but I was quite hell-bent on seeing something at least. Most wineries had their own fine dining menus that were set-up to be paired with their wine. I shuddered at the prices but marvelled at the high priority that food was given here and how such the tender loving care was given to the palate.

IMG_0798

We were equally seduced by the local produce and paid tribute to them by simply buying some things at every stop we made, with only a vague concern for our luggage weight. Like giggling, eager children who knew that surprises awaited them at every corner, we played the game of hide-and-seek around the country roads. Each stop was a triumphant find.

IMG_0700

1. Moonhaven’s soaps and creams in Cowamarup was our first stop. TC, who normally turns his nose up at holistic and natural healing methods, was actually inclined to buy some salve and soap.

2. And having visited the Swan valley’s chocolate factory, we still went back to the Margaret River one.

IMG_0709

3. Nuts and Cereals was next. Putting out all the samples for trying was a guaranteed way of making me melt.

IMG_0723

4. The Natural Olive Oil Soap Factory which we mistakenly thought of as a small stall that could potentially disappointed. I stand humbly corrected and remain a newly minted fan of all that they have. Half of the store is dedicated to skin care, and the other half appeals to the stomach.

I remember sitting in the car at the end of the day, feeling rather dazed, and looked at the packages that were steadily piling up at the back of the car. It would have been perfect, TC mused, if there were a tea plantation and factory to cap it all off. It was however, quite enough for me.

read more
AustraliaDestinationsDown under

Sea-longing, Sea change

IMG_0767

We could not get enough of the sea.

After a long day going up and down the stretch, I was ready to crash and spend some quality time with the laptop and Dirk’s internet connection.

But my disobedient, traitorous mind and mouth asked aloud, “What about spending sunset at Prevelly park before going straight to dinner?”

TC thought it was a good idea, despite his own traitorous mind telling him otherwise.

IMG_0661

We went back to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. Pockets of rain coated the Indian ocean in the distance like the sleek veils of dancing odalisques while dark clouds moved and intermingled with the fading daylight. That was over all too soon.

Canal Rocks was the last place we decided to try on an unsettled day. Grey clouds loomed thick over this part of the Cape track and we weren’t sure if it was even worth exploring on a day that seemed so dreary. Granite outcrops and protrusions created a canal through which the sea flows into. It would have been prettier on a sunny day, but its melancholy light lent the deserted place some poetic sense of peace amidst the tumult of the waves, wind and rain.

IMG_0743

We walked, barely hearing anything else above the crash of the waves. A lone sea gull stood bravely in the wind and the horizontal rain. We, on the other hand, weren’t that brave, hightailing it back to the car in search of food.

read more
AustraliaDestinationsDown underFood

W(h)inery and sour grapes

IMG_0641

Does this make any sense, anyone?

Colour: Deep red with garnet hues

Full-bodied yet refined, the plush palate offers ripe, jubey fruits such as blackcurrants, plums and mulberries framed by subtle cedar/spicy oak characters. Smooth and silky, firm and fine-grained; a structured wine whose slightly closed and brooding core of blackberries, cassis and plums is tightly interwoven with tannin.

Best paired with wood fired Margarita pizza.

It reads like a confused version of literary analysis and art critique put together by a desperate academic who uses a thesaurus religiously for posturing. A tad bit unfair perhaps?

That is a partial description of some wine I took from a catalogue. There is more, mind you. But I’ll leave out those details about the grape type, harvest conditions and all.

Wine means only 2 things to me – either sweet or bitter. In the complex, hoity-toity and somewhat pretentious world of wineries, where fine food made solely to be paired with the wines produced, I felt like a fish gaping out of water, and was rather enjoying myself feeling like a complete idiot at well. What TC’s nose sniffs and recognises as floral, I can only get a breeze of wet socks in them. When he marvels at the subtle differences between the Chardonnay and some other dry white, I can only wrinkle my nose and snigger in a corner. Each time I ask him if he is buying anything after a tasting, it is accompanied by a snort of laughter and an amused grin.

Let’s look at the description again.

What the hell is “oakish”?  My mind associates it with “boorish” because it rhymes.

Blackberries, cassis and plums? Fruits? It smells sour and just…sour. In my simple mind, when fruits smell sour to me, it’s simply a sure sign that they have gone bad.

Structured wine? As opposed to…disorganised? Can wine even be disorganised?

Must we learn French properly to even pronounce their names?

Whinery in full swing with a sour grapes attitude.

Give me something that is sweet (and not just only in the imagination of winemakers and connoisseurs) but not something that is just grape juice. I tell the wine servers somewhat apologetically that I only like sweet stuff and they are quick to defend my taste, claiming “to each his/her own”. Yet I have also been lied to by those who believe some wines are rather sweet. To my chagrin, TC sometimes agrees with them.

TC’s understanding of the complexity of wine flavours remains beyond me. He is in his element there, particularly after our visits to several massive estates. They were of no use to me of course, but I insisted that one could not visit Margaret River and not look at the estates.

IMG_0622

Voyager Estate’s driveway made me hope that there wasn’t some butler awaiting us among the carefully manicured gardens, or a housemaid waiting to frump up my clothes and chuck me into a bath. As I found out later, its owner Michael Wright set it up as a hobby after striking it rich in the mining movement in Western Australia, hiring 6 gardeners to tend to its lawns.

Even TC was quite taken aback by the lavishness of the place. We hurriedly made our way to the nearby Xanadu, taken a wrong turn in the process and nearly knocking over a cyclist in our haste to get out of a world in which we didn’t belong. We parked ourselves in the cool and Zen-like environment and in its high timbered ceiling and stone walls, I felt a bit calmer.

IMG_0647

IMG_0644

Xanadu has yet another award-winning restaurant, along with its other decorated competitors around the region. Their dessert plate was impressive. I obviously couldn’t pronounce half the words of what we ordered (we managed to pull that off by pointing and nodding sagely as the waitress read the menu for us) but TC and I remembered eating and marvelling at the bay leaf ice-cream that sat at a corner of the plate.

Our last stop in Cape Mentelle was probably the cosiest one with a nice lady pouring their only sweet bottle of Botrytis Viognier 2008 for me. But it was probably because we were the first customers to arrive at exactly 10 in the morning before we took the long drive back to Perth. In fact, I liked the dessert wine so much I even bought a bottle of it, packing and overloaded luggage be damned. TC found Cape Mentelle’s different wines superlative and full of character. I already can’t remember the words he used to describe them.

read more
AustraliaDestinationsDown underFood

Tree Hugger

IMG_0572

We certainly didn’t think that we would be spending any time in trees. Yet we found ourselves heading to Pemberton bright and early for a 2-hr drive after a few people preached the notion of an exhilarating treetop climb there, stopping to change over quite hilariously in a disease risk area.

Picturesque Pemberton is yet another small town that depends on timber and lumbering and calls itself Karri country for good reason. Surrounded by Karri forest, its attractions include the Bicentennial tree and the Gloucester tree that could be climbed for spectacular views of the forest.

IMG_0599

In other words, we drove all that distance for a tree that is 61m up into the forest, and pegged with reinforcing bars in the 1940s as a fire lookout. But to steel our nerves, a visit to the Lavender and Berry Farm was first in order.

Then came the test.

The Gloucester tree, to my dismay, looked fairly intimidating up close and unlike the image of the tree and happy climbers that I saw on the Internet the night before. No wonder there were many who just stood and pointed at those who climbed.

But as TC reasoned, it was stupid and pointless to drive all the way there and not do it.

And so we did, without any further thinking, which would have probably made cowards of us all. We were next up after a family and a pair of Dutch girls. A foot up and then the other, with hands always firmly curled around the pegs. Do not look down. Focus. Try to stay on one side and cling on for dear life as people climbed down, placing their additional weight momentarily on the rebar that trembled in protest.

Halfway up, my hands were red and numb from a mixture of the cold wind and adrenaline and my legs were not listening to my commands to stop trembling. Weather conditions however, were excellent and not against us – just wind, and cloudy skies with some sunshine. No rain to make the pegs slippery, no gusty winds to throw you off the pegs.

IMG_0598

IMG_0574

I think there is some sort of shared exhilaration at the top. Those who climbed as opposed to those who did not climb, could share a sort of camaraderie having survived what was perceived as a potentially life-changing moment.

The views were spectacular. “Oh my god…!” yelled a kid who reached the top as we were going down. We laughed shakily.

TC felt pretty much the same. He however, chose to tell a few terrified children who were on their way up or down a detailed version of his fright. “Halfway up, I was asking myself, why the hell I decided to do this,”  he said.

I was panting too hard to laugh. In hindsight, it was quite the uproarious moment. In hindsight, the ascent and descent had indeed, taken a lot shorter than I had anticipated and much less effort than I thought. And I’d do it again for the kick of it.

How else to celebrate? Visit yet another alcoholic shop called the Blackwood Meadery on the way back in Karridale.

read more
AustraliaDestinationsDown under

Beachy day

IMG_0449

Being near the sea and surf is like being constantly intoxicated.

Drunk on and mesmerised by the wonderful scenery from the previous day, the next day began with a customary visit to Prevelly Beach despite our mental fatigue and sluggishness from all that driving the day before. Dirk had warned us that there was lots to see and do, leaving us fairly dazed and confused after breakfast by the number of circles he made on our map. The route was easy; on the map, it looked like we would be shuttling down Bussel Hwy and Caves road from South to North and everything in between. But these wonderful stores, wineries, factories and such could not be covered in a week, let alone a day.

But Prevelly park was just “across the road” – a 5-10 minute drive, at 90km/hr. So we began with that. Extremely popular with surfers, Prevelly also sits at where the Margaret River flows into the sea, not like there was anyone surfing in the crushing rain. It soon gave way to sunshine – and we were wet once again.

Such blue skies in winter, such incredible colours! Many times, it was difficult to put down the camera and just enjoy the moment for the fear I could never capture it again.

IMG_0483

IMG_0532

We made our way down through the tiny town of Augusta and all the way to Cape Leeuwin after deliberating a long time at Prevelly park. Tiredness be damned (what irresponsibility!), as there was no other way to cover this stretch otherwise. The road passed Karri forests along the way – trees which are among the tallest in the world and probably quite ancient, and with an even more irresponsible act on an empty road, I stopped the car just there and clicked happily away.

We made Augusta at nearly 2pm and carried on resolutely onto the lighthouse just to see the imaginary divide between the Southern and Indian Ocean. Somehow, even that excited me.

IMG_0527

IMG_0531

We turned slightly inland to the Rosa Glen Valley after Augusta to the Berry Farm to fill poor TC’s stomach with some scones and tea. It was there I got my first experience of the local produce – jams, mustard and all things to do with berries and fruits and it was irresistible. Little did I know this was just like our Swan valley experience writ large – more world-renowned, more snooty, more glamorous and more mind-boggling.

read more
AustraliaDestinationsDown under

Cape to Cape

IMG_0275

A Joey cantering in the backyard of the place we stayed in was a bizarre start to the day, but not an unwelcome one. In contrast to my excitement, Dirk and Pam, our hosts for the 4 days we were there, were nonchalant about their bush surroundings and immediately began a treatise of the wildlife that one could get. Staying at the edge of the forest meant that they had to be confidently self-sufficient. Our breakfast was already made from their own farm produce and as the days passed, TC and I were increasingly convinced that they had their own waste disposal and water storage/filtration systems after going through an immense amount of difficulty trying to throw a small bag of garbage.

IMG_0430

IMG_0428

Dirk’s property in Loaring Place off Caves Road is impressive and incredibly expensive; we speculated every single day during breakfast on the extent of renovations he had to do, and whether he did so himself.

Such was the contrast between all the sights that I was used to, and the sheer amount of effort needed to live in the “wild”. It was however, also these contrasts that took me me a while to gather my thoughts to put everything down in writing because, in the dizzying array of things we did, there never seemed to be any appropriate sort of thematic anchor for the next few blog posts. Writing bite-sized pieces about scenery, food, cheese and wine just did not seem to do the entire, overwhelming experience any justice. Writing chronologically might just add to the confusion; a rambling, highly idiotic and unfocused post would have probably been the best my overloaded senses could manage. Writing in retrospect thus, seemed ironically like the best way forward, now that the entire holiday is over.

Armed thus with a bagful of Redrock chips and biscuits and dragging our increasingly heavy bags to the car, I remember that it did distinctly started out as an unremarkable 1-2 hr drive from Fremantle down the freeway.

IMG_0403

IMG_0314

Distances are unfathomable in the largest Australian state, and we were merely having a small taste of it. To the Perth-ites, Margaret River is just a short drive away.

“Just don’t fall asleep on the wheel,” warned David Cooke of Fothergills had warned rather gaily after all.

The Kwinana Fwy – Perth-Bunbury Hwy route was tried, tested and spoken for by those going down south, but we still quite stupidly took an old coast road (with no scenery) that took us probably twice as long. The fun bits comprised overtaking slow cars, snorting at TC’s erratic driving, looking at the strange road signs exclusive to Australia and speeding down the small country roads (legally) at 120 km/hr – a novelty for me at least.

Lunch at Busselton and its famous pier (the longest in the southern hemisphere at least) and we were off once more, the drive becoming infinitely more interesting as the car approached the South-western stretch of coast line, also known as the Leeuwin-Naturaliste’s 135 km track of cliffs, beaches and roaring surf, flanked on both sides by the Naturaliste Lighthouse and the Leeuwin Lighthouse.

It is quite astonishing how uplifting spectacular coastlines can be, especially after Cape Naturaliste and Yallingup. There were no migrating whales to ogle at, but I was contented with the sea and its hypnotic hum.

read more
1 2
Page 1 of 2

Pin It on Pinterest