Out of New York City

Manhattan is an endlessly fascinating city, with so much to see and do, but it is sometimes nice to escape the hustle and bustle, and you are somewhat spoiled for choice as to where to visit away from the city. On this trip I am lucky enough to visit three different spots.

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My first outing is due north for about 130 miles, to a country house sitting on the New York Massachusetts border, surrounded by State Parks.  Getting out of the city on a Saturday morning takes time, and patience, but finally we escape the urban sprawl and are in the countryside. We pass by quaint weatherboard houses surrounded by blossom trees, and often flying the American flag.  It is green everywhere I look, a somewhat unusual sight for an Aussie; the forests are wearing their spring coat, and the grass is verdant. And, everything is so very neat and tidy.

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Our first stop is the charming hamlet of Millerton where we make a beeline for the Irving Farm Coffee Roasters cafe, as we are in desperate need of a coffee (me) and a snack (them).  Choosing the right cake takes time, and we each select a different one, so the potential for cake envy is high. Luckily, we are all satisfied with our choice – the coffee is so so but hey, they are a local roaster done good, with several outlets in Manhattan, so it must be to someone’s taste. But, it is the wonderful Oakhurst Diner in Millerton that really takes my fancy – don’t you just love these wonderful diner buildings?  Never mind the food, just admire the look.

 

The house is all you could wish for in a country home – spacious (i.e room for me), light filled, surrounded by garden and forest, and cosy couches facing a big fireplace.  The fire must however wait as we have to explore.  There are many opportunities for walks but we content ourselves with the short hike to Sunset Rock, in the Taconic State Park. From here the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains are spread before us, just beautiful. I try to ignore the mention of ticks and Lyme disease, but find later that night I am inspecting my clothes and skin more closely than I would like. Not to mention the snake we spy lying sluggishly beside the path – waking up from his winter sleep perhaps. They talk about Australia and all its dangerous animals! I’m just grateful it wasn’t a rattle snake.

 

A visit into nearby Great Barrington allows us to catch the Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary, excellent, followed by dinner at the now famous (thanks to a glowing New York Times review) Prairie Whale restaurant.  The restaurant name comes from a 19th century term for pigs, after it was discovered lard could be used as a substitute for whale oil to light lamps. The owner is an escapee from Brooklyn, so we feel right at home in this cosy tavern. The food is described as New American, and the serves are generous. We leave full of food and warm hospitality.

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Now it is time for the couch, the roaring fire and introducing my ignorant American ‘family’ to the joy of Eurovision. The next evening when they burst into a version of Rise Like a Phoenix, complete with hand gestures, I know my work here is done and I have made my mark.

I am disappointed not to see a beaver in one of the many lakes and streams, but do see a mighty eagle perched in a tree. I love the names, like Bash Bish Falls, but Bear Mountain sends a slight shudder down my spine.  Of course, all of this area looks completely different in Winter as it is covered in snow – hard to imagine now.  All in all, a lovely neck of the woods as they say.

Mystic, Connecticut

My next foray is to Mystic, Connecticut. You are probably all familiar with the name, thanks to Julia Roberts’ much loved debut film Mystic Pizza.  I do in fact eat at Mystic Pizza but Julia, or anyone resembling her, is no where to be seen.

 

In fact, I do quite a bit of excellent eating during my stay in Mystic, starting with the S&P Oyster Company, where we are lucky to get a table overlooking the Mystic River. The view as the sun sets is lovely, and the food excellent.

 

Oysters are obviously very popular in this part of the country as the other very good restaurant we visit is The Oyster Club. At neither establishment do I actually eat oysters, as I have been promised the cream of oysters during my Newport, RI visit, so I am delaying that pleasure. But, I do enjoy the yummy local fish – can’t get much fresher than this. We begin our night at The Oyster Club by battling the bright young things in the adjoining, and obviously very trendy, Treehouse Bar – thereby raising the average age significantly. Obviously everyone wants to be standing, or sitting, in a treehouse on a warm Memorial Day weekend night, drinking cocktails. We fit right in, except for the age gap!

Next up on the eat your way round the area tour (my kinda tour I have to tell you) is lunch at the quaintly called Dogwatch Cafe in Stonington.  Here my table with a view karma holds good and we are seated beside the dock, where we can admire the $$$ tied up at the moorings. We are comforted, not, by the table of burly coastguard officers sitting at the adjoining table, complete with bullet proof vests and guns on their hips.

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This is followed another day by the famous Lobster Roll at Abbott’s at Noank. I’m sure this was part of the inspiration for our own Andrew McConnell’s now legendary lobster roll at his various establishments in Melbourne. For $18US you get a 1/4 pound of lobster, including  juicy claw flesh, in a brioche bun with a minuscule cup of coleslaw, dill pickle and a bag of crisps. What’s not to like about that? And again, look at the view it comes with.

 

Sticking with the roll theme, I also enjoy a delicious soft shell crab roll at the Old Lyme Country Club.  As you can tell, seafood is both popular and excellent along this coastline, and I’m in heaven.

Now, it wasn’t all about eating. I did get to see some sights too, starting with a leisurely walk around the charming village of Stonington. The town is famous for withstanding a 3 day British bombardment in 1775.  Now it is famous for being very pretty, surrounded as it is by water, with lovingly restored homes lining its quiet, treelined streets.

 

Another outing was to yet another charming village, this time Old Lyme. After admiring the real estate (and the before mentioned soft shell crab roll), we visited the wonderful Florence Griswold museum. I can’t stop thinking of another Griswold family, that of National Lampoon Vacation fame – but this is a very different kettle of fish. The museum consists of the restored Florence Griswold House, and a modern gallery space, housing an impressive collection of American Impressionist paintings, that sits behind the original house on the banks of the Lieutenant River.

Whilst it is interesting to see the paintings, it is the house that particularly takes my fancy. Florence was the youngest daughter of a ship captain. For a time, Florence, her mother and sisters ran a School for Girls but after the death of her father, mother and sister times became difficult so from the late 1800s to make ends meet Florence took in boarders. One of her boarders was the artist Henry Ward Ranger. He loved his time in Lyme and in the boarding house so much that he promised to bring other painters to stay.  Thus, the house became the epicentre of the American Impressionist movement, with a number of artists staying over the years.  As a thank you to Florence and her generosity to this motley crew, who often paid her in paintings, a variety of artists decorated the interior of several of the rooms. The result being some 41 beautiful painted panels in the downstairs rooms. The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1993, and an extension restoration project was undertaken in 2006/7.

We finish off a perfect the day with a ferry ride across the Connecticut river, and a drive through the lovely forests of beech, birch, maple and oak trees.

 

Newport, Rhode Island

The visit to Newport is distinguished mainly by the women I meet there – all well into their 70s and early 80s, and all funny, intelligent and interesting. I have been lucky enough to have visited Newport previously; this visit is driven largely by practicalities. But, we still find time to see some of the sights, starting with a wander around the old part of town, where history sits on every corner. As well as admiring the architecture, we stop in at the Redwood Library & Athenaeum, which dates back to 1747, and boasts an amazing collection of books and artworks.

The sun beckons, as does lunch, so we treat ourselves to lunch on the terrace at the beautiful Castle Hill hotel, admiring the way the other 10% live.

Continuing with imagining how the minority live, we tackle the famous Cliff Walk, skirting behind the mansions of the rich and famous and looking out to the North Atlantic Ocean. Apart from the America’s Cup, Newport is famous for being the town where New York’s wealthiest built their summer cottages.  The opulence of these so called cottages – mansions to anyone else – is quite staggering. Thanks to the efforts of such organisations as the Preservation Society of Newport County these buildings have been protected and preserved, and many are open to the public during the summer months. Oh, the stories that are told.

I have barely scratched the surface on what Newport has to offer but time has run out and we must leave. But, on the plus side, I am finally rewarded for my oyster patience on our drive back to Mystic, when we stop at the Matunuck Oyster Bar – and rewarded I am indeed. The three different local oysters I try are sweet and succulent, well worth the wait.  The place is pumping, even late on a Thursday afternoon. Apparently, in summer there are queues out the door.

 

 

Revisiting Gippsland

We haven’t been back since we sold the beach house at Waratah Bay, and I have a hankering to see that beautiful stretch of beach once more.  It’s been over 4 years – I wonder what has changed in that time. The weekend of our wedding anniversary provides the perfect excuse for a trip down memory lane, so I scour the internet and find us a cosy “couples retreat” in Fish Creek (although according to Google maps, it is in Buffalo, not Fish Creek) and off we go.

First stop is lunch at Koonwarra Cafe, one of the pioneers of good food in the region. Nothing much has changed, and we enjoy our meals – excellent fish & chips for Himself, and a smoked trout open sandwich for me – before stocking up on their delicious chicken liver paté to have at our leisure.

The sky is grey and the rain has started as we continue on to Meeniyan and boy, is it a revelation.  Where once there was only Moo’s of Meeniyan (established 8 years ago by the convivial Marty) to brighten the gastronomical landscape, there is now almost too much choice – what is apparently an excellent bakery (Pandesal); a local Produce Store (The Meeniyan Store); and a truly mind blowing deli, where a glass of wine and platters on the deck can be had (Meeniyan Square); and the pizza shop has crossed the road and morphed into a fancy wood fired oven pizza place (Trulli).  And I gather the pub isn’t bad either. Plus, there is the local gallery; the jeweller – both of whom have been there for eons – and a new garden sculpture place. So, plenty to explore and marvel at.  If only I had room to eat more, but I had peaked at Koonwarra!

The (much needed) rain is settling in, so we head off to our Airbnb, The Loft. And, it is gorgeous – a studio beside the main house, with stunning views of the Fish Creek valley and simply but stylishly furnished. A wood heater is calling out to be lit, so we snuggle up on the couch, light the fire and open a bottle. Heaven.  In order to make the most of the place, and to avoid driving at night (every time I see a dead wombat by the road with its paws sticking up rigidly in the air I shed a tear; we don’t need to be adding to the carnage), we are self catering for dinner –  a wise, and comfortable,  decision.

We go to sleep with the rain pounding on the roof, and it is overcast and windy the next day, but that does not deter us. Into Fish Creek we go, and it’s buzzing – well, buzzing by Fish Creek standards that is. The local football team is playing a home game, and there are basketball matches in progress.  Again, there are new shops to explore – the Post Office has a little shop now (and a very funky Post Mistress, sporting a gorgeous Dinasour Design ring on her finger); the wonderful children’s author Alison Lester has opened a shop selling her books and illustrations. She has been joined by another children’s author and illustrator, Roland Harvey, and their two shops bookend the town. There are also food and coffee choices – Gecko Gallery has installed a cafe in its space, whilst 9Paddocks has become The Paddock (but still selling excellent coffee, albeit in biodegradable take away cups due to problems with the septic tank and water issues) and The Flying Cow is now Gibsons.  The Wild Goat sculptor is still in residence, with his works of wood and found objects. A large fish weathervane now dominates the streetscape, and joins the famous fish on top of the Fish Creek pub as symbols for the township.  It is a charming spot, full of friendly people.

We continue on our merry way to Foster, stopping to climb to the top of Mt Nicoll to admire the glorious views across to Corner Inlet – not as onerous as it sounds as the local Rotary Club has graded a road to almost the top! Thank you fellas.

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Foster has not enjoyed the same renaissance as Fish Creek and Meeniyan. We arrive at 1pm on Saturday, to find it closed, closed, closed. There is a new gallery on the corner, where once a real estate agent stood. It is open but although we wander in and around we don’t actually see anyone. And the two supermarkets are open – but that is it. Foster is shut up tight. Not that we were actually missing out on anything; the shops still looked like a typical country town’s offering. I would hazard a guess that the marvellous Ahern’s Fruit Emporium remains the highlight of Foster.

Now it is time to check out our beloved Waratah Bay. That beautiful beach is still the same. The vegetation has reclaimed The Gap camping ground, which was the intention of Parks Victoria. There are some new houses along the road leading up to the hill. And our old place has been transformed into a slick green house, with new fences, a landscaped back area and almost no trees out the front. Goodness. Almost unrecognisable, but hopefully still well loved. And thankfully, I am not filled with mourning pangs; the time was right to sell when we did (on that note, amazingly, there is not a single house for sale in the hamlet, which is a turn up for the books).

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A drive through Sandy Point – still the same – and time to head back to our ‘home’ – the fire, a glass of wine and footy on the telly are calling.  It’s been a lovely day down memory lane.

We venture a bit further afield on Sunday, beyond Foster to Toora – a sleepy hollow just waiting to be discovered and rejuvenated like Meeniyan and Fish Creek. The streetscape is virtually intact, with some terrific buildings. Oh, the potential.

Onwards to Port Welshpool, not a lot happening there either, and then Port Albert. The restaurant Wild Fish is still on the pier, hurrah. We join the one other table for lunch (although its fish & chip cafe is doing a roaring trade, much to the delight of the marauding seagulls). The sun comes out as we sit down so we enjoy watching the local sailors whip past in the stiff breeze, and graze on locally caught flathead fishcakes and spicy calamari salad. Washed down with a cheeky riesling from Wild Dog winery in Warragul.

Then, back ‘home’, but not before a detour to Waratah Hills Winery for a tasting and a long and gossipy chat to the owner. I catch up on the local news, whilst enjoying samples of their pinots. The vines were originally planted under the supervision of Phillip Jones, of Bass Phillip fame, so there is a good pedigree at work. The current owners are the third set, and are warm and welcoming hosts. Their winery is a lovely spot to enjoy a glass or two of their very pleasant pinot noir.

It has been a delightful couple of days, and it is hard to drag ourselves away from THAT view the next morning.

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To ease the pain we drop into Loch on the way home. This once thriving little village suffered a decline after the highway bypassed it, but is showing signs of a healthy recovery. The antique shop in the old bank is now a distillery & brewery (open Friday – Sunday). There was a notice about a pop up wine bar on weekends. A produce store and a natural fibre clothing store are currently being constructed. There is a large vintage clothes store next door. And, over the road is Olive at Loch cafe – which, thank the lord is open 7 days a week. Turns out that the proprietor of Olive’s used to own Cuppa Cottage in Sandringham, which was my Mum’s favourite cafe (Mum even donated her bone handled knives to Sandra). And, Sandra and her team are still baking the amazing scones and cakes they produced in Sandy. So, in Mum’s memory I had the magnificent raspberry scone, and thought of her with every bite. It is still just as good as it ever was Mum. Sandra’s other claim to fame is that she is the Mother of Maxy Gawn, the giant from Melbourne Football Club.

We won’t leave our next visit to this beautiful region so long next time; there is plenty to bring us back (including that scone!).

 

 

 

Marimekko and more

The Bendigo Art Gallery is definitely a jewel in Bendigo’s crown, and provides us with a perfect excuse for a mini break in Regional Victoria. We are the intrepid threesome of Hazel, Kitta and Deb; determined to make the most of our 48 hours out of Melbourne. The raison d’être for our trip is to visit the Marimekko exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery, but we of course have to add food, shopping and exploring as added extras.

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First stop in our tour is Moto Cafe in Malmsbury for some seriously good coffee. They roast their own beans; who would have thought that would be happening in this sleepy village bypassed by the highway, and have created a welcoming space in which to enjoy it on this somewhat chilly morning. Next time we will also try something from the menu as it sounded very tempting, but for now it is coffee only to get us up and on our way to the gallery.

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We probably should have eaten in Malmsbury, as by the time we reach the Gallery we are ravenous so stampede into the Gallery café without a glance either left or right. The café is full of like minded ladies, all chattering at full strength. The wait staff rush around the space, ferrying plates and glasses at an amazing speed.

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Hunger satiated we are then able to retrace our steps, purchase a ticket for the exhibition and enter the realm of bold colours and simple, striking designs. Even if you think you don’t know Marimekko I’m sure as soon as you see some of their designs you will recognise them. The company was founded in 1951 in Helsinki, Finland and earned international fame in the 60s, when even Jacqui Kennedy wore their designs. Despite its iconic status the brand fell on hard times in the 80s but was rescued in the early 90s by an ex advertising executive who knew a good thing when he saw it and revived and revitalised the famous brand, bringing back some of the old designs as well as nurturing new designers.

The exhibition showcases Marimekko’s designs and designers from the 1950s to the present day through clothing, homewares, and fabrics. You get to see some of the original  art work for the designs, plus the range of colour ways used.  It is fascinating to see a paper design transformed into a fabric swatch and a garment, but we felt the exhibition missed the opportunity to show this progression in more detail – it didn’t successfully bring to life how a design idea, drawn onto a piece of paper, then becomes a printed fabric, nor how the garment designers work with the designs and fabrics to create the clothing. We left lusting to be owners and wearers of Marimekko, but wanting more from the exhibition.

Before exiting the building we had a quick look at the New Histories exhibition, but were left rather scratching our heads with this one. Great idea though – 10 contemporary artists were asked to reimagine  “through the lens of contemporary culture” ten 19th and early 20th centuries works from the collection. Reimagine they certainly did.

Back into the car and a retracing of our steps down the freeway, as far as Kyneton where we had booked an Airbnb for the night. Cowen House proved to be a newly renovated, charming 3 bedroom cottage with comfortable beds, crisp linen and fortunately an efficient central heating system.

We toasted a successful day with rosé and Hazel’s homemade savoury mini scones, before venturing out into the chill night air for dinner at one hatted Source Dining.  As we tumbled through the door, eager to escape the cold, we were warmly greeted by the young man behind the bar – but his charm was the last we were to see. Whilst the room itself was warm and thawed us out, the staff waiting the table set the temperature plummeting. Nary a smile nor friendly word to be seen or heard. I felt I needed to sit up straight, and eat all my greens!  We started with a slice of house baked bread (from a 5 year old starter we are pompously informed), which was delicious – accompanied as it was by some whipped butter – and we would have enjoyed a second slice but that was never going to happen as once entree was finished the bread & butter plates were immediately whisked away.  The meal itself was very pleasant, and excellent value being Thursday Locals’ Night (main, dessert and a generous glass of wine for $49) but marred by the lack of engagement from the people serving it. We are unlikely to return.

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Next morning we browse the shops and enjoy a coffee at Little Swallow Café (again, the food looked excellent, but we had already eaten the continental breakfast supplied by Cowen House), before heading off to Ballan.

Our goal here is the Millrose Quilting Store, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of jewel like fabrics. I wander the shelves, desperately wishing I could sew. Kitta is our quilter, and we happily pour over fabrics helping her to choose just the right shade of background fabric.  It is amazing to find such a treasure trove in Ballan of all places, but word is obviously out amongst quilters as they come to the store from far and wide. Next door is the Millrose Café, and as it had been at least 4 hours since we last ate we felt obliged to step inside.

Fed, watered and stocked up with gorgeous fabrics it is time to hit the road for home. And, time to plan our next adventure.

 

 

Adelaide’s Mad March

For 11 months of the year Adelaide is a relatively quiet town, where nothing much happens, but come March the town explodes into a hyperactive teenager with ADHD. They cram everything into the month – Clipsal 500, which is apparently some Supercar motor racing; the Adelaide Festival; the Adelaide Fringe Festival; WOMAD, and Adelaide Writers Week. Throw in an Ed Sheehan concert, and you have all tastes covered! Mad indeed.

We are here for 4 days to enjoy 3 of those events – the Festival, the Fringe Festival and Writers Week. That is more than enough to keep us busy.

Wednesday

We are off the plane and straight to the hire car desk on Wednesday morning as we have a 1pm play to get to, and of course we must have lunch beforehand. Luckily for us, the play is at Her Majesty’s theatre, just over the road from the Adelaide Central Market. Park the car and high tail it into the Market, where we perch on a stool at the famous Lucia’s and partake of one of their very tasty made to order rolls; washed down with a piccolo of prosecco. An excellent start to our Mad March adventure.

Cross the road to join the crowds surging into Robert Lepage’s show The Far Side of the Moon. The program touts this as “the greatest and most acclaimed work by iconic Canadian auteur, Robert Lepage”. I beg to differ. Having seen The Blue Dragon and 887 at different Melbourne Festivals – and been entranced by both the creative use of multimedia and technology in telling the stories, and the stories themselves – I found The Far Side of the Moon to be, well, to be honest …. slightly boring. Whilst the cleverness of the staging was not in doubt, the story itself was boring, and I failed to grasp the parallels between the space exploration clips and references, and the story of the two brothers. It was also a little bit hard to hear from the back row.

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Down to the other side of town and a quick pop in to see what is happening at Writers’ Week. Nothing much engages us but we do spend a very happy half hour browsing the veritable treasure trove that is the Book Tent and fighting the impulse to load ourselves up with purchases.

Then across the road to the Space Theatre at the Adelaide Festival Centre to see Simon Stone’s Thyestes. What can I say but WOW, WOW, WOW. One hour and 30 minutes of in-your-face, thrilling, funny, horrifying, mesmerising theatre performed by 3 fearless young men. The audience was left gasping at the end. I really need to see it again, now that I understand the play’s structure, to make sense of what unfolded before my eyes. Apparently the play was originally commissioned and produced by the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne – please bring it back Malthouse.

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Breathless and exhilarated we made our way to Osteria Oggi to recover through great food and wine. The place is buzzing so we fit right in. We have grown to 5, so opt to get a variety of dishes and share them. Everything tastes terrific, and we leave for our beds exhausted but very happy with Day 1 of our cultural odyssey.

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Thursday

We have devoted today to the Writers’ Festival but start with a coffee at the charming Lounders Boatshed Cafe by the River Torrens.

Then it is on to the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, where two stages are set up for the week of the Writers’ Festival. Grab a chair and try and find a piece of shade that will remain in shade for the duration of each talk. This proves be a challenge beyond us. Firstly, we have no idea which is the East Stage and which is the West. A quick query at the very friendly information desk sorts that one out. But then we have the problem of working out where the sun will go and how that will impact on the shade we are clinging to. I can attest to the fact we got it wrong every single time, so ended up sweating in the glare of the very hot Adelaide sun by the end of each session.

We start with Sarah Krasnostein and her interesting discussion about writing the Trauma Cleaner, which we have both read. Next up is Kate Cole-Adams talking about her book Anaesthesia, a tome that Heather has bought to take home to her anaesthetist husband.

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Wilting in the heat we decide to repair to the rooftop restaurant 2KW for the panoramic views over the park, and a refreshing cocktail and nourishing bar snacks.  Aah, lovely.

Back then to listen to two articulate, funny and insightful authors discussing their life and work as contemporary Arab women: Manal al-Sharif and Amal Awad. Next up was two female poets, Sarah Holland-Batt and Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner. I’m not a great poetry fan, but both these talented women had me in the palm of their hand reading and discussing their work. We finished the day with the ever chortling and highly delicious Alexander McCall Smith – a prodigious writer of books, and marvellously and unselfconsciously entertaining. Phew, what a day.

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Time for (more) food. Tonight we dine at the wonderful Africola. If this is what African food is like then I’m going! Everything we tried was absolutely delicious. Please open an outpost in Melbourne.

Time to fall into bed once more.

Friday

A leisurely start to the day (at least for me – Heather runs 10km before I am even out of bed).  We have nothing planned for the day so decide to head out of town for lunch and end up at Summertown Aristologist, which had been written up in Epicure a few weeks earlier. It seems to be the epicentre of Summertown – locals, kids, dogs are all hanging out there. Have you got a booking we are asked? No we answer. No sweat – a young couple (who turn out to be local winemakers) shuffle up one of the outdoor tables and make room for us. The vibe is relaxed and easy going, but don’t be fooled. These guys are very serious about both their food – wonderful – and the wine they sell. We are soon joined by another couple, who question the waiter about the chardonnays on offer. Not content with describing them he brings out 3 bottles and gives them a taste of each before they settle on their choice. Now, that’s service. We of course join in, and decide on a glass each also (after our locally made, organic version of an Aperol Spritz to whet the whistle). The menu is described as a guide rather than a menu. Much is left to the imagination, and the tastebuds. I can tell you that the bread and butter alone is worth the drive out there. Plus we share the peppers saltfish, the calamari and the grains, herbs, labne. Yum, yum, yum.

We wend our way back via Stirling, where we ask the local hairdresser for advice on the best coffee in town. She steers us to an unprepossessing spot called The Essence Cafe, but turns out she is right. The coffee is great.

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We get back to the city just in time for our meeting with Heather’s sisters at the Garden of Unearthly Delights; an Adelaide Fringe Festival institution. Theatre tents jostle for space with food tents and trucks. There are rides and games for kids, and a bar for adults. Tables and chairs are dotted around under the trees, which come alive at night with fairy lights. A delight indeed. The heat of the day forces us towards the Pimms tent, and the purchase of a jug of said refreshment. The girls then go off to forage for (more) food and we graze on a weird Indian version of nachos, called Nanchos (!), and some tasty Caribbean chicken and green papaya salad.

Based on a 5 star rating in Thursday’s Advertiser we had procured tickets, somewhat against our better judgement, for a Fringe show called The Worst. Turns out we should have listened to our better judgement. The reviewer needs to be immediately sacked as she was obviously the sister of Clara Cupcakes, or, seriously under the influence of drugs. This show turned out to be very aptly named. It was indeed the worst thing I have ever seen. There were about 18 of us sitting on benches in a small circus tent being “entertained” by a woman with a shrill voice, dressed in a pink leotard as a blonde octopus. We sat through 20 excruciating minutes before she turned her back to the audience and we 4 took the opportunity to get down low, and go, go, go. We burst through the tent entrance like women demented, much to the surprise of the door bitch, who promptly tied up the doorway so no other poor lamb to the slaughter could escape.

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Laughing hysterically with relief at our escape we headed into the streets. A drink was much needed, so we returned to 2KW to admire the evening view and enjoy the now balmy night on the outdoor terrace. The place was rocking with a mainly young clientele, so we enjoyed our drink and returned to the streets in order to admire the Parade of Light – a light display on some of the buildings along North Terrace (a la White Night).

Saturday

We meet our mate Lizzie at Lounders Boatshed Cafe for brunch before returning to the Space theatre, but this time to see a Belgium play entitled Us/Them. Who would think 2 actors on a bare stage, telling a story about the terrorist siege of a school in Beslen, Russia where over 300 women and children died, would be riveting theatre. Both amusing and heartbreaking in equal measure.

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Time to read the papers and catch our breath in the afternoon before heading out for our last Adelaide evening. We start with an early meal at the Social, a quaint local eatery in the suburb of Croydon. Yet another Aperol Spritz to go with a terrific shared pizza and a roast pumpkin salad. Again enjoyed outside as the heat of the day lingers.

Our final theatre experience was at the Holden Street Theatre and recommended by my friend Annie, who had brought her drama students to Adelaide earlier in the week. Her best experience at the Festival she claimed. It was a play called Borders, performed on a completely bare stage by two actors (a bit of a theme of this festival). Thank you for the recommendation Annie – it was indeed an engrossing experience. I was also fascinated to read that the Syrian civil war grew out of graffiti art after Assad had a group of young graffiti artists arrested and tortured for their protest art.

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So, 4 plays – 3 of  which were exceptional, and one okay (and probably much better if you were new to his work). 1 Fringe experience that was truly dreadful. Some fascinating writers. And some wonderful food. I call that a very, very successful Adelaide Festival foray.

A Rutherglen Stopover

I can’t ever see myself being a Grey Nomad. I’m just not made for sitting in a car for long distances. I’m more the I wonder what’s in that town? I’m sure there is somewhere near here with a great restaurant. Are we there yet? type of traveller. The Grey Short Tripper doesn’t have quite the same ring to it though does it. Anyway, the thought of driving from Sydney to Melbourne in one go definitely does not appeal, and why should we – it’s not as though we have to get back for anything. So, where to stop? Ah, I know – Rutherglen, a town I haven’t been to for over 27 years. Time to drop in and reacquaint myself with a favourite stomping ground of my younger days.

But first, a coffee stop in Berrima, and a need to confess. I want to send a heartfelt apology to the café in the courtyard area off the main street. I really didn’t mean to walk off without paying for our coffees, I simply forgot that it had been table service on the verandah and that I hadn’t paid. I didn’t in fact register my omission until we were driving into Jugiong to have lunch at the Long Track Pantry . It wasn’t a very good coffee but that is no excuse. Next time I’m in Berrima I promise to drop by and make amends. Meanwhile, we enjoyed our lunch at Long Track Pantry.

Home for our night in Rutherglen is Carlyle House (www.carlylehouse.com.au) , built in 1896 and once the home of the local GP, but a charming B & B since 1996.  We are warmly greeted by Sharyn, our host, and shown to our room – the Muscat Room, where a complimentary glass of said muscat awaits (from the legendary Chambers Winery no less – and apparently old Bill Chambers is still alive and well). A treat we delay until bedtime.

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Carlyle House is just around the corner from the main street, so we take a stroll up and down to get our bearings. Not much appears different from my last visit, and it is a quiet little spot on this Saturday in mid February. The locals seem to be gathering for some event at the Star Hotel, but our destination is the Thousand Pound Wine Bar (https://www.thousandpound.com.au ), winner of the Best Small Bar in Victoria award in the recent Hotel & Restaurant Catering awards.  I can imagine it must get pretty noisy on a busy night (so what else is new) but it is only half full tonight, and we are in a side room (or old hallway probably more accurately). A small but enticing menu, and interesting wine list. We share the Scallops to start then venture into unknown steak territory.  Himself has the Petite Tender with a Blue Cheese Butter, and I have the Hanger Steak with red wine and shallot butter. Washed down with a Jones Winery Shiraz. Delicious.

Then it is home to the Muscat Room, and our evening night cap of said tipple, and a complimentary chocolate, or two.  Excellent night.

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Next morning we have breakfast on the verandah, and already the day is hotting up. It will reach the mid 30s by noon.

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Our aim is to visit a couple of wineries before heading off.  I promise that we won’t buy anything but a few bottles, as the cellar is full to bursting, but you know how it is – you taste a few and don’t want to offend by not buying.  Our first stop is All Saints as I want to buy a couple of bottles of the delicious (but expensive) rosé I had last night. The magnificent alley of ancient elm trees that leads the way into the winery is just as I remember it, and the castle itself is looking very spick and span, owned now as it is by a branch of the Brown family. I remember the days when George Sutherland Smith, a descendant of the original founder, used to lure young things down the back of the winery to taste directly from the wine barrels. My lovely blonde friend Lyn and I got to try some pretty special wines in those days!  Of course we end up buying just more than the rosé.

Back into town and a stop into Jones Winery, a charming little winery on the outskirts of the township. Mandy Jones is the winemaker, with grapes grown by her brother.  We purchase a few more bottles of the shiraz and promise ourselves to return one day to try out the french inspired restaurant.

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A quick look at the Big Bottle – a clever reimagining of the ubiquitous Australian small town water tower – before a stop at our last winery, Scion.

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Scion is one of the newer entrants into the crowded Rutherglen market, but comes with history as Rowly Milhinch, owner and winemaker, is a member of the Morris family, one of Rutherglen’s royalty.  We were interested to visit as Rowly makes the wines by hand, and has been strongly influenced by France, and his love of food. Sounds like out sort of guy, and my did we love his wines. So much so that we joined up on the spot to be Scion members. Highly recommend a visit to this low key little winery when next you are in Rutherglen – even if it is just to meet Sally, Rowly’s partner, who runs the tasting room with loads of charm.

Our whistle stop tour of Rutherglen certainly ended on a high note and reminded us that we shouldn’t leave a return visit for so long next time.

 

 

Culture in Canberra

Who would have thought that I would visit Canberra, the never missed home of my youth, not once but twice in 12 months (and, have plans to visit again later in the year). Wonders will never cease, but then Canberra today bears little resemblance to the place I grew up in. Nowadays there is a good café on almost every corner, terrific restaurants and fabulous exhibitions to explore. It is the latter that brings me to Canberra once more.

I had managed to spy, via my incessant social media trawling, an article about the Seven Sisters Songlines exhibition at the National Museum of Australia – and had noticed, to my horror, that it had been running since September but only had a few weeks remaining. This amazing exhibition did not get the publicity it deserved – certainly , the advertising for it came no where near the saturation heights of say the (over rated) Versailles exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia last year, or have I just been living under a rock for the past few months?

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Never mind. I had seen the article and quickly organised a short break to our nation’s capital. And am I glad I did. The exhibition was wonderful. I am constantly humbled at the richness of the Indigenous culture, and equally cross that their stories and art are not an integral part of our education system. Australia is definitely the poorer for not embracing and revelling in all that our Indigenous people can offer us.

I knew about the Songlines, thanks to the beautiful book (written in 1987) of the same name by the legendary Bruce Chatwin. A songline is a path across the land (or sky) taken by “creator beings”. The songlines are recorded in art, song, dance and stories. Armed with the songline, a person can navigate this land as the words of the song describe landmarks, waterholes, food sources. Australia has a network of songlines that traverse different mobs and hence different languages, but the rhythm of the song is the same. As the exhibition notes explain: “Like the epic poems of the great oral traditions, songlines are a way of holding and passing on knowledge.”  How lovely is that.

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This exhibition tells the songline of the Seven Sisters, a bawdy tale about seven sisters who are fleeing across the country, escaping the licentious interest of  Wati Nyiru and his special companion, a super sized penis. Some things never change, across cultures.

The Seven Sisters tale is told in the exhibition through paintings, weavings, pottery and very clever use of audio visual technology. For us, it was a 3 hour immersion in a major story about our land. Exhausting but exhilarating and I am so grateful to have experienced it. The exhibition finishes on February 25th – so get to Canberra quickly.

We had walked to the Museum from our hotel (The Burbury, in Barton) and there is no doubt that Canberra is a beautiful city – orderly, ringed by the Brindabellas, crammed with trees, anchored by Lake Burley Griffin.  The National Museum of Australia sits perched at the end of the Acton Peninsula, overlooking Commonwealth Bridge and the lake.  The day is hot, our feet are tired and our minds full of all that we have seen, so we quickly make our escape to the nearby Hotel Hotel and its dark but cool (in more ways than one) bar, where we collapse on a couch and order a cold drink and share a sandwich to restore ourselves.

Fortified we Uber it to the National Gallery of Australia, where we are able to squeeze in a quick hour before closing time seeing the HyperReality exhibition – beautiful in parts, weird in others, and occasionally poignant.

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As an old Canberra girl it continues to surprise me that our capital city is no longer the culinary wasteland it once was. In fact, quite the opposite as there is a plethora of good restaurants to choose from – just not on Sunday and Monday nights, which of course is when we are there. However, we had managed to find a couple of places open, and had enjoyed our meal at Agostinis (situated underneath the East hotel in Kingston) on our first night.

Tonight we were again in Kingston, this time at Otis Dining Hall, where my yellowfin tuna and compressed watermelon entree (whatever that is, tasted pretty much like normal watermelon) was both beautiful to look at and gorgeous to eat. And, the Braidwood lamb to follow was also darn good.  Good thing we were walking back to the hotel!

Next morning we returned to Maple + Clove for a scrumptious breakfast, followed by coffee at Hideout which touted itself as the best coffee in Canberra. I’m afraid we disagree – in fact, we both left our coffee sitting on the table unfinished. However, it is certainly a popular spot – with 5 barristers pumping it out, and what I’m sure was an out of work actor calling the names of the take away punters as he had the most fabulous voice, which he was putting to great use. Fascinating to watch.

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Not quite properly caffeinated we then set off to walk to the Australian War Memorial, admiring the various memorials adorning ANZAC Parade leading up to the Museum. Looking through the museum can be a daunting task as it is huge, so we decided to join a tour of the WW2 section, taken by one of the voluntary guides. Apart from the exhibits there is an amazing archive of information held at the War Memorial, which allows people to trace and track their serving family members. All in all it was a sobering experience.

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For a complete change of scene we then took ourselves to the National Portrait Gallery to see the excellent Starstruck exhibition – an exhibition of still photographs from the Australian movie industry. Not only were the photographs terrific, but it was grand reliving all the movies we have seen over the years.

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We then hightailed it back to the hotel for a much needed drink, before dining at Lilotang, one of two restaurants downstairs at The Burbury – delicious and different Japanese food.

Once again, a very successful sojourn in our nation’s capital, with body and soul well satisfied and replete. I shall return.

 

The Queen Charlotte Track

At last the reason we are in New Zealand finally arrives as 11 of Roslyn’s nearest and dearest come together from the “West Island” to celebrate her entry into her 7th decade of a fabulous life. In typical Roz fashion she has chosen an adventure to mark this significant birthday – the intrepid Group Doyle are to walk (or tramp as the Kiwis so quaintly call it) the Queen Charlotte Track, a 71km hike around the Marlborough Sounds (http://www.qctrack.co.nz/).

The advance party attends our walk briefing given by the walk organisers, Wilderness Guides. Marty speaks so quickly that we are all slightly bamboozled by the directions, but between us seem to have grasped the most pertinent points: where the loos are on the track; the ferry taxi departure times; where we can telephone from if travelling faster or slower than anticipated; beware of sandflies; carry water. Clutching the track map and an the instruction to be at the Wilderness Guides office at 8.30am, we return to the motel where the last members of the party have assembled.

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The motel is called the Harbour View for a reason, and we are entertained by watching the ferries from Wellington come and go on a regular basis. We are not so entertained by the drill that seems to work all day and night.

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We are a motley crew, and almost no one knows everyone, which gives us much to talk about over the next 4 days as we interrogate each other about our whys and wherefores. We have experienced walkers and novices amongst us. And, a variety of ailments, including cracked ribs, broken toes, buggered knees, hammer toe, damaged ankle. We are the walking wounded, but chin up and alcohol medicated we shall be fine. The one thing that draws us together – apart from the love of a good laugh, good food, and good wine – is our strong affection for the birthday girl.

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Our first evening together in Picton starts as we mean to go on, bonding over a couple of bottle of bubbles, before we cross over the road to dinner.

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Little did we know that the restaurant owner obviously has a deep love of Christmas and had gone all out decorating the space. So much so that we felt we were dining in Santa’s Cave. Nothing like setting the atmosphere.

 

 

But the night was not just about twinkling lights and Christmas trees. The NZ earth decided to give itself another shake, just to test our mettle. However, the noise around the table was so loud that only a handful of us felt the earth move. A 4.8 this time. The serving staff shrugged their shoulders and carried on; just another day for them.

Aware of the task in front of us the next morning the night was reasonably young when we staggered into bed. Not all were bright and bushy tailed next morning as Craig was felled by either a 24 hour virus or a dose of the dodgy prawn and had been up most of the night. But, trooper that he is, he fronted up to the ferry, slept during the ride then shouldered his day pack and trudged stoically through the 15km required that day.

Meanwhile, the rest of the merry band sat up top in the bright sunshine admiring the views of where we would be walking, whilst listening to the very entertaining patter of the boat’s driver, who, apart from a wide knowledge of the geography and history of the Sounds, had a deep interest in the real estate prices of the bachs dotted along the foreshore.

 

 

Apart from house prices, we heard stories about the salmon farm’s problem with marauding seals (and a seal bobbed up just to prove his point) and were blessed by a group of friendly dolphins riding shotgun for a while. We disembarked in high spirits (Craig aside) at Ship Cove, the start of the track. Ship Cove is famous for being the spot where Captain James Cook anchored over five visits to this area.

 

 

The track starts with a steep climb up from Ship Cove, through regenerating native forest. The Dept of Conservation is undertaking an aggressive policy of trying to eradicate the much hated Australian brush tailed possum, so as well as forest we see lots of wooden traps. There no sympathy for the possum to be found amongst our group.

Once we reach the summit we are rewarded with beautiful views, but of course, after an up comes a down, so it was a steepish descent to Resolution Bay followed by a steady climb back up again to Tawa Bay Saddle, and our picnic lunch stop.

 

 

From here it was a slow descent back to the water’s edge at Endeavour Inlet and our accommodation for the night, Furneaux Lodge. The main house, housing  the all important bar and restaurant, is the original home of one of the early key conservationists of the area. The grounds are lovely, as are the views from the bar, where the group gathers for some cleansing ales and wines before dinner.

 

 

The meal was a bit of a revelation – so much so that we demanded to meet the chef, who was reluctantly dragged forward by the waitress to receive our praise. Turns out she was a young lady who used to be the sous chef at tomorrow night’s lodging, Punga Cove. This is her first head chef gig, and she is definitely kicking goals. The food  was washed down by some lovely New Zealand Sav Blancs and Reds.

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Next morning dawns bright and sunny again and we are able to enjoy a reasonably leisurely start as we only have a relative amble of 12kms today, with no big ascents or descents. We are heading to Punga Cove, which we can see across Endeavour Inlet from Furneaux Lodge as our walk takes us around the coastline of the Inlet.

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The heat of the day makes the day’s tramp a bit harder than anticipated, and our arrival at Punga Cove is a welcome sight, even more so when we realise that the bar is located right on the jetty. The green jersey winners – Sue and me – decide that a jug of Pimms is required to accompany our packed lunch.

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Lunch done, a pat of the orphaned baby goat and into our rooms. The view from ours makes the most of Punga Cove’s location.

 

 

There had been hopes to do some kayaking, but the wind is up and the sea too choppy for any water activity. What a shame, I’ll just have to sit and enjoy the view instead, whilst trying not to worry about the Earthquake Instruction notice in the room.

 

 

There were high hopes again for dinner as we had encountered a fellow guest on the track who had raved about the venison. Most ordered it, but I chose the spaghetti vongole instead and was happy with the choice, getting my venison fix via the venison pâté. I was glad to see venison on the menu as we had seen so many deer farms on our travels but no venison on any menu – I had been wondering where the deer were ending up. And the wine list was terrific, a real added bonus.

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It was an early night for most, after a visit to the glow worm grotto and a failed attempt to see the phospherescence in the water, as we had a long day and an early start (8am) the next day.

Day 3 is our big day – 23km, and we have to be at Torea Bay no later than 4.45pm to catch the water taxi that will whisk us to Lochmara Lodge, our home for the night. No pressure.

Two of our party opt to travel with the water taxi that is transporting the luggage from Punga Cove to Lochmara Lodge, so they cheerily wave us off as we set off to rejoin the Track.

It’s a constant climb up to the ridgeline, which we then traverse – with several steep ups and downs – for most of the day. The day is overcast, and drizzle starts before long, turning into light rain as we slog our way upwards. However, the rain is never heavy, and the overcast skies mean the climbing isn’t as hot as it would have been on the previous days.

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We set a pretty cracking pace, no doubt urged on by the fear of missing the water taxi. We are ahead of schedule by lunchtime, which creates much discussion as to calling the water taxi to ask for an earlier pick up. Stop and smell the roses was the vote. Try a spot of meditation even.

On we go, and the sun decides to come out for the last part of the day. We see mussel farms in the distance, and start salivating at the thought of freshly harvested mussels for dinner. Several were moving slightly stiffly as we made the last descent to the Torea Bay pier and our transport. We were an hour ahead of schedule. Thank heavens the birthday girl had over ridden the vote and made a secret call to the ferry company – we breathed a sigh of relief to see the boat steam into view not long after we arrived at the jetty.

 

 

Lochmara Lodge is a Wildlife Recovery & Arts Centre as well as accommodation, but our focus is on the spa tub to ease aching muscles.

 

 

And then it is repeat the established behaviour – gather for pre-dinner drinks, followed by dinner. Tonight I do choose the venison, and it is beautifully tender (unlike the previous night apparently). The meals have certainly been one of the many pluses of this tramp.

 

 

Our last day starts with a 45 minute climb, past the llama and the weather forecast board,  back up to the ridgeline and the Track.

 

 

But after that the day is largely downhill. 18 km in all, through some lovely pockets of rainforest and native beech trees.

 

 

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Lunch is at Davies Bay, where the blue water beckons to a couple of our intrepid walkers, who take the opportunity to cool off as once more we are walking under a blazing sun. Here we meet a young Canadian woman from the Yukon who is hiking the length of the South Island, on her own. We are in awe of her adventurous spirit.

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We also meet a party of 3, who had also been staying at Lochmara Lodge. They are 85, 82 and 76 respectively. Seriously impressed – and cross our fingers that this will be us when we are their age.

Less than an hour after lunch we reach the end of the Track, where a little green caravan café is cleverly positioned. Very enterprising.

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Despite injuries, we are all in good spirits, proud as punch that we’ve done it. The views have been magnificent. The lodgings were lovely, and the food terrific. We’ve gotten to know each other, and many laughs were enjoyed along the way. What a wonderful way to celebrate turning 60. Thank you for the opportunity young Roz.

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Off to the East Coast

Christchurch is our next destination so it is across to the east coast we go, climbing into the mountains before descending to the Canterbury Plains. There are small patches of snow on the mountain summits, but I struggle to imagine how it would look covered in white.

The changes in the terrain as we head up, up, up, then slowly down, down, down is fascinating. Even the flowers have changed, with wild foxgloves giving way to beautiful wild lupins, and then patches of yellow gorse.

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The thought that men carved through these mountains by sheer physical labour boggles the mind; and vestiges of the old Cart track can be glimpsed.

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Lord of the Rings has been a bonanza for tourism operators throughout this land, with every opportunity to exploit the link grabbed with gusto, as we discover as we arrive at Otira.

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Descending from Arthur’s Pass the hills change character again, becoming an interesting montage of dirt, gravel and hardy grasses and the occasional rocky outcrop.

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As we approach Christchurch the land is completely flat, our hill climb but a memory. But not for long, as we are actually staying in Governors Bay, so must climb the rim of the crater that surrounds the bay. The whole area is in fact a series of (hopefully) extinct volcanoes, with the various craters merging together like honeycomb. It is a crazy cyclist’s dream as there are an endless number of steep hills to climb, with gradients that would break many a heart. The local car hoons and motorbike riders are also in their element as they attack the curves and steep ascents and descents with gusto, and noise.

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Before Governors Bay we stop off in Lyttelton, a township that suffered badly in the 2011 earthquake, which was centred just outside the township. The port seems to be back in full swing, as containers line the wharf and trucks beetle back and forth, and London Street is definitely open for business, with new funky cafes and shops, but it has been a hard struggle back, and many properties are still waiting to be repaired.

The road from Lyttleton snakes around the bayline to Governors Bay. Sitting pride of place is the Governors Bay Hotel (  http://www.governorsbayhotel.co.nz/)  owned by friends of ours from Elwood Primary days, Jeremy & Clare. They have turned what was once a down at heel hotel into a thriving gastro pub, catering to very happy locals and tourists alike. As we arrive on a hot Friday afternoon, the locals are gathering, eager to end their week on the lawns, enjoying the Bay breeze and the bay views. Clare and Jeremy dispense drinks and food with a welcoming smile for all; making all the hard work look effortless.

The hotel has 7 rooms upstairs, 4 of which open out, through French doors, onto the upstairs verandah and the views across the bay to Quail Island. The pub does a pretty good accommodation trade, and the verandah can often resemble the United Nations, with a variety of accents holding forth.

We join the crowd on the deck, and soak up the warmth, the views, the wine and the excellent food. Joined eventually by the exhausted mine hosts, ready to share a cleansing glass or two.

Next day is devoted to exploring Christchurch, which is still a building site. But slowly, a new city is emerging from the horror of the 2010/2011 earthquakes. And one day it will be lovely again as they seem to have planned in a lot of open space, and inner city living.

As always my eye is taken by the street art; many walls have been given over to large street murals.

We visit the temporary cathedral, and the White Chair memorial to those who lost their lives. And, the remains of the old Cathedral, where a lively Korean Festival is taking place.

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Lunch is at Madame Woo, providing some much needed Asian food for Himself.

Then a visit to The Tannery complex and a mooch around the shops before heading back to the Governor for drinks, and dinner, on the deck.

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Sunday we devote ourselves to exploring the Banks Peninsula, setting out to circumnavigate it in a clockwise direction. As you travel around the coastline you get wonderful views of the crater walls, and the various bays that cluster around the coast.

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Our first stop is Diamond Head, where we discover, to our joy not one but two coffee places to choose from. We choose the one on the left, that may or may not be called Preserved , a Café come home brewery come Cooking school. It has a deck and seats out the back that provide grand stand viewing over the sports oval behind it.  Clare tells us later that she used to watch her sons play sport from the comfort of the cafe. The coffee is made by a biker looking guy who tears himself away from his home brew making, and would you believe it turns out to be the best coffee I’ve had in NZ thus far. He is thrilled when I tell him so.

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We carry on, sticking to the coast road, which turns out to be a winding one lane dirt road until we get to Pigeon Bay. Luckily we only came across one other car, and it was in a spot that he was able to edge across, allowing us to squeeze past ( do hope the rental agreement didn’t mention staying on bitumen only – there’s been a lot of dirt roads on this trip!).

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Pigeon Bay is quite the hive of activity – turns out there is a bitumen road into it from the other side of the peninsula. There is a junior boat race in full swing, and we spy a sign advertising high teas outside the village hall. How can one pass that up? So, we slam on the brakes and hop out. Have we made a booking we are asked. Well, no – who would have thought that one needed to, but it turns out that Deb puts on a highly sought after high tea in the hall on the first Sunday of the month. But, our lack of booking doesn’t prove to be an obstacle as Deb rustles up a table for us, although apologises for the lack of flowers on it.

We get talking to some of the fellow guests. One couple are local farmers, bemoaning the lack of rain. He agrees to stop wishing for rain until the 13th December, which is the day we leave! The other pair work at the nearby luxury accommodation, and since Googling it, do I mean LUXURY (check out Annandale Luxury Villas), and one of them is from Melbourne and used to work at Zartowa, Elwood’s very first café. How’s that for coincidence!

The high tea is a delight, and Himself is in heaven with the clotted cream.

Happily full, and with just a little bit of a sugar rush, we head off for Akaroa, a small French settlement, and major tourist attraction, on the peninsula. The cruise ships that used to dock at Lyttleton pre earthquake have defected to Akaroa, so at times it can be absolutely heaving with tourists.

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We wander up the street as far as the lighthouse, before heading back to the car and the return journey.

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That evening we dine, with Jeremy & Clare, at their son’s bar, Civil & Naval, in Lyttelton. Louis has been one of the pioneers of the revitalised Lyttelton, and the bar is abuzz with customers. The staff are all young and groovy; the vibe is laid back. There are almost more dogs than people, as all the locals seem to bring their dog with them, and one of the staff also has a dog. Add into the mix a resident cat and things can get quite rowdy!

The menu is small and designed around sharing, and everything we try is delicious. An excellent way to end our Christchurch sojourn, even if it does make me feel ancient to think that I last saw Louis as a small boy and here he is running a very successful establishment.

 

Windy Wellington

Flying into Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, can be a pretty hair raising affair as the plane skims across the often white capped water, squeezing between the hills surrounding the airstrip suspended in the strait. The slight anxiety was not helped by Pete’s dentist telling him the day before our flight that Wellington is one of the more dangerous airfields for landings due to the vagaries of the crosswinds. But, all’s well. Our only issue now is to front up to Customs with our hiking boots and poles, as all hiking/camping equipment needs to be inspected. My shoes are whisked off to be washed, and we are then cleared to go.

I am always charmed by this city, with its eclectic mix of architecture, and the homes strung around the coastline, all jostling for a Bay view. The lovely gothic wooden homes remind me of San Francisco, but many of the modern buildings are not to my taste. Currently several of the newer CBD buildings are covered in scaffolding, or in some cases, abandoned, thanks to last year’s earthquake, which definitely rattled the rafters.

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We are staying with friends in the Aro Valley, an easy 20 minute walk to the quay area, and just around the corner from buzzing Cuba Street. We celebrate our arrival with a couple of glasses of local wines before heading up the street to Rita , a new eatery in Aro Street that is already packing in the punters.

  • This is the place for the decision challenged as there is almost no choice. You are told what you will be eating, but you can add an extra starter and/or a pasta between entree and main and/or extra vegetables. The basic 3 course meal is $65, then you add the rest. Tonight we have kahawai (which is a New Zealand fish) with the freshest peas I have ever tasted, followed by lamb (and we added in a cos lettuce side) and finished with rum baba for dessert.

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The food is simple, with super fresh produce and beautifully cooked. The only downside is the noise, which is close to deafening. A small space, wooden floors, packed with happy customers. Bursting out into the street brings blessed relief to the ears, but we were certainly well fed.

Fall into bed, it’s been a long day.

We ease into Saturday; venturing forth after a leisurely breakfast. Cuba Street is our first destination, with its vintage shops and cafes. Thought this suit at Hunters and Collectors would be perfect for Pete.

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Time for coffee, so we head into Memphis Belle, where the young man persuades me to try their soy milk with the promise that if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t pay. And he’s right – the first soy outside of Bonsoy that doesn’t overpower the coffee. But, it is all the way from Denmark, or was it Norway – hardly good food miles. We rock along to Bye Bye Miss American pie whilst we sip away.

Wandering the laneways, full of street art, is reminiscent of Melbourne. As are all the cafés- Wellingtonians like their food, and coffee, as much as we do.

We spy an artisan chocolate factory and detour for a quick taste, and of course some buying – purely for emergency hiking supplies of course.

Then its down to the quay for a wander before hopping into the car for an explore of some of the Wellington coastline.

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Shelly Bay, with its views back to the city, and its array of old warehouses, is currently in hot dispute as to its future. Needless to say the developers have their beady eyes on it, but currently artists are happy to call the old sheds home. There is also a bustling seafood cafe, Chocolate Fish, famous for its fish sandwiches. After a poke around a couple of galleries and a chat to one of the charming resident artists, we find a table out of the wind to sample the fare. And, the grilled fish sandwiched between fresh white bread is surprisingly good, but perhaps my hunger helped.

Back into the car for more sightseeing, ending up on top of Mt Victoria for a quick overview of the city. The brisk wind makes this a short visit, but it’s time now to buy dinner supplies. We head into Moore Wilson’s and my heart skips a beat – what a fabulous food store, bursting with an amazing array of goodies. I could stay in there forever. Instead, we load the basket with wines, cheese, salmon and asparagus and head home for a feast.

Sunday has been earmarked for a visit to Te Papa but first we stop for a coffee, this time at Midnight Expresso, and a mosey through the Cuba Street shops.

Te Papa has a very moving exhibition about Gallipoli; the highlight being giant sized but incredibly realistic models of various soldiers, and one nurse, together with their stories. The conditions these men fought in, and the human carnage, is difficult to comprehend, no matter how many times you hear the story. Such a terrible waste of, usually young, lives. How terrified they must have been. Heartbreaking.

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Time for lunch. On a recommendation we seek out Charley Noble, only to find it closed tight. Not open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Go figure. But, rescue is at hand with, also recommended (thank you Clare), Shed 5. We make ourselves comfortable and watch the constant parade of passing people, whilst we enjoy the wine and food.

A quick pop into the Wellington Museum to check out their artisan’s market – nothing here to make us linger – then on to see the remains of  Plimmer’s Ark, a 150 year old wooden sailing ship that was discovered during the renovations of the Old Bank Arcade.

Followed by a meander through a few more shops as we wend our way back to Aro Street, where we have a cleansing ale at the local brew house, Garage Project. Wellington is awash with coffee shops and craft breweries; both very popular pursuits with locals and tourists alike. The small Garage Project Bar is pumping. We squeeze in and make our choice from the array of beers on offer – White Mischief for him, Petit Mort for me.

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Refreshed, it is a short walk back to ‘home’, and we end our stay with yet another beautiful meal cooked by Rochelle and Dean, washed down with more lovely NZ wines.

The night ends with a very Wellington experience – a 4.5 earthquake rattle, which wakes us with a start in the small hours of the morning. It is the loud noise that startles us more than the movement. Luckily Rochelle had warned us, so we knew what it was. Didn’t last longer than a minute, with some small shudders to follow. Talk about finishing our visit with a bang, but no damage done.

Thankyou Wellington, it’s been grand.

 

 

The Last Hurrah of the Ski Season

You have been able to tell the skiers amongst us by the smiles on the faces and the funny face tans. This has been a bumper snow season, something that has made many hearts beat faster for several months now. Mine is not amongst them, and I was frankly shocked to hear myself suggest to Himself that we return to the mountains for a last hurrah of skiing. He needed no further persuading, always eager to get out there in the fields of white.

My motivation, apart from my love of all things surrounding and apart from the actual act of skiing – the drive up through the beautiful King Valley; the lovely AAC Dinner Plain Lodge; the food & wine consumed; the beauty of the snow covered landscape – was to see if I could conquer the act of stopping. A crucial skill, and one I had yet to master. My strategy of hurling myself backwards onto my arse is not sustainable, particularly at my age. So if I am to continue joining them on the cross country slopes it is a skill I need to acquire.

The drive up was its usual delight, starting with a coffee and wine purchasing at Fowles Winery.  The King Valley was looking more beautiful than usual thanks to the budding of the multitude of blossom trees, the magnificent magnolias and the camellias and rhododendrons. Don’t just think of Bright for the autumn colour – it also revels in Spring glory.

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Bright was our lunch destination this time around, to try out a relative newcomer to the eating scene – Tomahawks  a small shed of a place in Camp Street (just up from the Chinese restaurant on the corner). A funky spot with a small but delectable menu, and staffed with charming young things. We enjoyed our lunch, but should not have indulged in the donut ice cream sandwich with caramel sauce. My guilt stayed with me until the next day, even though I only ate half of this piece of decadence.

There was still snow as far as the eye could see, from Mt Hotham to Dinner Plain. And, as promised by Himself, the snow on the cross country trails was soft and forgiving, so I buckled up for two days of slogging it up and down the trail to Wire Plain. And whilst some small improvements may have been gained, I still found myself backside down in the snow more times than I wanted. It would seem that as soon as any downward momentum is picked up, all rational thought seems to leave my head and panic sets in, making me incapable of sorting out my left from my right  and of achieving any effective inward rolling of the ankle in order to achieve the desired cessation of forward movement. I am left slightly bewildered by the person who ever thought of strapping planks of slippery wood to ones feet and walking up and down hills on them. What was he thinking (as I’m sure it had to be a He).

Thankfully  for my bones and feet (which did not take kindly to the cross country ski boots) our third day dawned wet and windy, and I was allowed a leave pass.  Instead, we climbed into the car and escaped the sleety hail/snow (called sago by those in the know) and travelled down to Omeo and up the Omeo Highway to Anglers Rest and towards Mt Wills. Another lovely, but winding (take note if you are prone to car sickness) valley, following a very full and fast moving river. The wattles were coming into bloom, in all their different hues of yellow.

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The valley was once dotted with gold mines and their accompanying townships, most of them well gone by now, although their names remain on the map. Between Glen Valley and Glen Wills we came across the Glen Wills cemetery, the burial spot for some 97 locals between the years 1894 and 1920. 40 of the 97 were infants. A sobering reminder of the hardships of the pioneering life.

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After a brief look into the famous Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest we returned to Omeo, and enjoyed a tasty home cooked lunch at the Homestead House Cafe, opposite the Golden Age Hotel.

Our entertainment was provided by eavesdropping into the Ladies Golf Club Committee meeting, all 3 of them, as they debated the catering for an upcoming event. One of the three was keen to offer the slices and cakes free of charge. Another took quite some persuading, but grudgingly agreed to give it a try. We also know that sausage rolls, meat pies and dim sims will be available for sale. We were tempted to ask when the event was being held as the post game tucker was sounding quite enticing!

We took a brief detour outside of Omeo, lured by the Winery 16kms sign. It sure didn’t look like grape growing country, so we were intrigued.  Turns out there is a very small acreage at Cassillis, but the wine makers are now semi retired. Their tasting shed is closed and they only sell at local markets. However, the chap who has recently bought the grape vines plans to keep growing the grapes for them, and will have the wine available for tasting and sale on Public Holidays and maybe the occasional weekend. He’ll put out a sandwich board on the Great Alpine Road when he is open for business, so unless there is a board don’t take the turn off the road if wine is what you seek.

Next morning the promised snow showers were a fairly wet affair, but our time had come to leave the mountain. Our drive down to Harrietville was a slow one, thanks to the cloud and wet snow fall –  not much to be seen out of the windscreen.

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We rewarded ourselves with a coffee at Sixpence Coffee, a small coffee roasters, cafe and bakery in the backstreets of Bright. Despite the wet and cold day, the little space was packed with people enjoying their lattes and a freshly baked cake or pie.

Then it was onwards to Melbourne. Already my vow to abandon any further attempts at cross country skiing was starting to fade. Like childbirth, you forget the agony and sink into the après ski glow. But hang on, I stopped at one child, so perhaps not the best analogy for me! Will I keep trying to conquer this exasperating sport so I can enjoy all the trappings that go with it? I’ll see how I feel come August next year, and how much of the agony I remember.