Port Arthur – Honouring our convict origins

Port Arthur looms large in the Aussie psyche. Maybe it is our convict heritage that keeps the connection strong or maybe our white-Australia history is so new and fresh, that we grab every opportunity that screams ‘history’ with both hands.

Port Arthur is the site of one of Australia’s most notorious penal colonies. Located 101km (by road) south-east of Hobart, on the Tasman peninsula, it was established as a ‘home away from home’ for some of Australia’s most committed criminals. Perhaps that should be changed to England’s most committed criminals, as the majority of the penitentiary’s residents were fully imported from the Mother Country.

Continue reading

Walk Mudgee Region – Part 2

In the first ‘Walk Mudgee’ blog post, I encouraged you to explore Mudgee and its fringes on foot. Now, I want to encourage you to jump in your car, take a little drive through gorgeous countryside, and then do a little more exploring on foot.

If you imagine Mudgee as the hub in the centre of the wheel for a weekend, it is possible to drive in any direction on the ‘spokes’ and discover something special.

Continue reading

Walk Mudgee – Part 1

My home town of Mudgee, Central West NSW, is already a popular weekend destination for Sydneysiders and others in need of a little down time and indulgence, but there is more to Mudgee than food and wine.

I am convinced that many people spend a sumptuous weekend in Mudgee without realising that there is a vast selection of natural wonders right on our door step. OK, ‘natural wonders’ may be a slight exaggeration, but we do have a delightful range of easy day walks and national parks that are within minutes, or less than an hour’s drive, of the Mudgee town clock.

Continue reading

Sailing the High Seas around Tasmania

What is it about sailing that blows out the cobwebs and opens both mind and spirit to Nature? I know sailing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for this country girl, it is my definition of pure freedom.

DSCF0189.JPG

Farewell Hobart

The Brave Man* often talks about buying a boat and sailing off into the sunset. While this is a lovely, romantic notion, the practicalities are far more substantial; lack of expert sailing knowledge for one, and the fact that we live four hours’ drive from the ocean is also a pretty major consideration. I have been told that owning a boat is like standing, fully-clothed under a cold shower while tearing up $100 notes. So, while I applaud my husband’s adventurousness, I have both of my land-lubber legs planted firmly in reality.

If you don’t own a boat, the next best thing is to have friends with a boat! It is a much more straight-forward option, cheaper, easier, and one that keeps The Brave Man’s* global sailing aspirations in check. How lucky for us that our boatie friends are residents of Hobart, Tasmania AND they invited us to go sailing with them for a couple of days? It took us about three seconds to accept their invitation, purchase our white-soled sneakers and dust off our ‘Sailing for Beginners’ book.

DSCF0186.JPG

Our home for the next three days – Content. Note: the Old Man and the Sea pose.

It was a crisp Autumn day as we unpacked the car at the Derwent Sailing Squadron, and lugged all our gear along the pier to where Content was moored. The month of March in my home town can still feature 35°C days but not in Hobart. Just to be on the safe side, we had packed every item of warm clothing we possessed, and were rugged up for wild weather.

To me, there is no more atmospheric sound than the ringing tinkle and slap of boat rigging while boats bob at their moorings. Since it was a weekday, the marina was virtually deserted, reinforcing my gleeful feeling that we were wagging school. (Wagging: a.k.a. jigging, bunking, skipping, skivvying). Our friends informed us that the marina recently surveyed the boat owners and, on average, each boat only unfurled the sheets and sailed one day per year. Now that is a whole lot of money, and a whole lot of joy, to have tied up, going nowhere.

Not Content though. She is a busy lady and her owners regularly toss off her bow lines and point her seaward.

After stacking and stowing, tying and untying, checking and fuelling, and with a shiver of excitement, we were away into a stiff breeze and heading down the Derwent River. It was a ‘pinch myself’ moment as I watched Hobart recede from view and our vista opened to a completely different perspective of Tasmania.

This was no pleasure cruise though as we all pitched in to help with ropes and sails. I do admit I was a bit nervous about taking the wheel. It had been over 20 years since I zipped around Sydney Harbour on an introductory sailing course. Where was the wind? Are the sails luffing? When should I jibe? In my imagination I was picturing ‘Sydney-to-Hobart-style’ tacking and racing, but my moves focused less on strategy and speed, and more on trying to stop the boom swinging and wiping out some poor, unsuspecting passenger. I doubt that I did that successfully.

DSCF0196.JPG

Salt and Pepper squid for lunch!

All that bracing, salty air supercharged our appetites and our fellow shipmates had just the solution. After leaving the high ‘traffic’ sections of the Derwent River, a fishing line was casually tossed over the back of the boat to trail in our wake. Within minutes the line snapped taut and was hauled back in dangling a sizable squid. Into the bucket it went, and out went the fishing line again. In what seemed like only 30 minutes, we had enough squid for the freshest seafood lunch ever. A dusting of flour, salt and pepper, and cooked lightly in olive oil – I had to restrain myself from charging below deck, raiding the kitchen and devouring the lot! Seafood just doesn’t get any fresher or more delicious.

The sail-eat-sail pattern was repeated continuously over the next three days. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t all that suitable for sailing with light winds, or at times, no wind at all. So much for my visions of a wind and storm-lashed Tassie, with the salt spray stinging our faces as we heeled over in the gales. I know it does happen, just not to us on this trip.

DSCF0233.JPG

Stretching our legs on Bruny Island.

We were not deterred though and still made the most of the experience. Down the D’Entrecasteaux Channel we glided and around the tip of Bruny Island. We moored in secluded bays and took short walks along remote bush trails and pebbly shores. It was heavenly to be gently rocked to sleep by the tidal rise and fall, and wake to the sun sparkling mirror-like on the sheltered bays.

Sailing is such a simple way to spend your time, being guided by the wind and, fed by the ocean. The abundant sea life was quite incredible, and that fishing line over the back of the boat brought in exquisite whiting, endless squid and a grand, old daddy crab. Due to our respect for his advanced age, he escaped the pot, was untangled from the line and returned to the ocean to live another day.

DSCF0260.JPG

Dinner!

Our friends were not only sailors, but also divers and the larder was further supplemented with lobster and abalone – all legally harvested of course. In previous posts, I have mentioned my complete lack of gourmet tastebuds, but the lobster was to-die-for. While the abalone was nice, it did not compare to the lobster or any of the other fresh morsels, and I am not really sure why people make such a fuss over this mollusc.

Our sailing adventure in Tassie was the perfect blend of warm friendship, the freshest of fresh food, and the stunning outdoors. It was entertainment enough just to sit and watch the cloud formations change from fluffy white to moody grey, and see the wind change the water from mirror to white caps.

With limp sails, we returned to the civilisation of Hobart knowing that we had enjoyed something pretty remarkable. It was a true privilege to see this wild and pristine part of Australia.

DSCF0270.JPG

Moody clouds over the Derwent River.

I felt like all my troubles had been blown and washed out of me, and I was renewed and rinsed clean.

Perhaps a global sailing adventure is not out of the question after all…

Do you feel the same about sailing?

March 2011

 

The Basics

What: We sailed for three days/two nights on a four berth boat. Boats can be hired via AirBnB from $41 per night. I am not sure if that allows you to sail or just sleep!

Where: We sailed from Hobart, down the Derwent River, through the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, then around the tip of Bruny Island and back again, calling into gorgeous bays and inlets.

When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp but unfortunately not very windy.

Why: If you enjoy sailing then the route we took was beautiful, relatively protected and safe.

DSCF0201.JPG

Waking up to mist on the water. A protected inlet on Bruny Island.

How: We flew to Hobart on Virgin and then our friends acted as both taxi and cruise director/Captain.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and two bestie boaties.

Related Posts: for more information about what to see and do in Tasmania, have a look at my posts about some of the interesting man-made attractions and some stunning short walks in the great Tassie outdoors.

Related Blogs: To really get a true sense of sailing in Tasmania, have a look at this blog by sailing enthusiasts, Jack and Jude: http://jackandjude.com/log/

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Getting the Flavour of Mudgee

I know I am biased, but I love Mudgee.

I have only lived here for 25 years, so I am not quite a local yet, but this town has embraced me from day one.

Mudgee, three-and-a-half hours’ drive north-west of Sydney, has always been a popular weekend escape. Over the past 15 years, the flow of Mudgee-bound traffic has steadily increased, and many people now decide that a weekend is simply not long enough, and they move here permanently.

Like many small towns in rural Australia, the lack of employment opportunities is a constant challenge. However, if you are innovative, have your own business that can tap into broader markets, or are financially self-sustainable, then Mudgee offers lifestyle benefits that are hard to beat. See? I told you I was biased!

midwestern

No wonder we couldn’t get a car park! Photo: Amber Hooper

This ‘tree-change’ trend is showcased each year at the annual Flavours of Mudgee Street Festival. As part of the three-week Mudgee Wine Festival, Flavours of Mudgee creates a huge street party, celebrating all the delicious food and wine produced in our region.

Importantly, it also celebrates the diversity of our population through the medium of food. Not only is there your traditional Aussie BBQ, but also Nepalese, Chinese, Texan BBQ, Thai, Spanish, Italian and Venezuelan delights. Added to that are olive oils and olives, chocolate, cordials, fudge, relishes, ice cream, saffron, cheese, pistachios, breads, jams, honey and even native plants and seeds. All made, or grown, by hand and with an eye on quality. Truly a feast for all the senses.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that this year was the first time I had experienced Flavours of Mudgee. It was not from a lack of interest that I hadn’t attended before, more that there was always something more pressing to do or I was away from town. Why is it that we often don’t prioritise the things in our own backyard?

midwestern - 3 - Amber Hooper.jpg

Market Street Mudgee never looked so good or so busy! Photo: Amber Hooper

The Mudgee CBD was jumping on the day. We had to park our car three blocks away (unheard of in a country town) as the street was so busy. As we strolled around the corner into Market Street, we could see why. Crowds of happy locals and visitors were toasting each other’s health and revelling in the party atmosphere. Estimates were put at around 9 000 people sipping, tasting and dancing along to the music. Not a bad number when you consider the resident population of Mudgee is only 8 500 people. Now that is some party.

It is quite a while since I attended an event that had such a warm and inclusive feel, and I don’t think that feeling had anything to do with the amount of alcohol on offer.

Small children with brightly-painted faces, dragging their colourful balloons behind them, dodged in and out of groups of people. Locals used the opportunity to stop, chat, and to catch up on all the latest news. Even in a country town, time gets away from you and sometimes you have to make a special effort to reconnect with friends.

midwestern-2

Stilt walkers dance through the crowds. Photo: Amber Hooper

Visitors dragged hay bales into a welcoming square formations, sat down, clinked glasses and raised them high to salute their health and the enjoyable weekend.

The Mudgee Wine Festival is held for three weeks each September. Many of the wineries host special music and food events to compliment the tasting and sales of wine. While these are, no doubt, pleasant entertainments, most of these activities take place out at the wineries themselves and outside of the town centre. It could be said that this gives the Wine Festival almost a remote/arms-length feeling, slightly removed from the rest of the community.

In contrast, the Flavours of Mudgee event brought around 27 wine, beer and spirit producers out of their cellar doors and into the main street. No wonder there was a party atmosphere. Not only was this a one-stop-shopping opportunity for visitors, but it also highlighted for local people all the good things on offer in our own backyard that perhaps we don’t make the most of. A good education as well as a taste sensation.

DSCF5399.JPG

The golden light of the setting sun on St Mary’s Catholic Church, Church Street Mudgee

I was also pleased to see some of the local retailers breaking out of their normal shop fronts and showcasing their wares al fresco. In the daily rush, sometimes it is easy to pass by a store, thinking that one day I will pop in when I have time. On the Flavours day/night, there was no excuse not to browse.

As the sun began to slip behind the Mudgee hills, the tone of the occasion started to change from family to fiesta. The stilt walkers retired with the dwindling sunlight, to be replaced by local bands playing tunes that just had to be danced to. The street lights came on and the party rocked into the night.

Even if you are not a wine drinker or don’t have the taste buds for fine and fancy food, the Flavours of Mudgee Festival is worth a visit. It is a free event that genuinely celebrates community on a whole range of levels.

It makes me proud to live in Mudgee.

Will I see you there in 2017?

The Basics

What: Flavours of Mudgee Street Festival is a community street party celebrating good food, wine and people. Wine tasting tokens can be purchased for $10 which includes a glass and five x 30ml tastes. Wine is also sold by the glass or bottle. Food can be purchased from a large variety of stalls. Otherwise it is a free event.

Where: At the intersection of Market and Church Streets, Mudgee.

When: From 4p.m. on Saturday 23 September, 2017.

Why: Why not feel the love of a warm and welcoming community as well as escape to the country?

How: Simply turn up – no bookings required although do book your accommodation well in advance as Mudgee is a very popular weekend destination, especially in September.

Who: Myself, and 8 999 of my closest friends.

Related Posts: For information about another fabulous Mudgee event, have a look at my post about Sculptures in the Garden.

Related Blogs: If I have not tempted you to visit Mudgee yet, then have a look at this blog for the best of food, wine and Mudgee landscape: http://www.notquitenigella.com/2014/12/27/mudgee-weekend-guide/.

For beautiful photography of Mudgee landscapes and locales, have a look at Amber Hooper’s work at: http://themudgeeproject.com.au/

“Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?”

How good does it feel to finally tick something off your Bucket List?

For years I had been glued to the TV news coverage of the annual Canowindra International Balloon Challenge. Each time I saw that rainbow of balloons waft across the screen, I said to myself that ‘I must do that one year, I must do that one year, I must…’.

177.JPG

A colourful rainbow of balloons.

Finally, I decided I had to commit and, since this annual event was around the time of my father’s birthday, I rang my parents to check whether they would care to join me. It appears that they also had the same conversations every year they saw the event on television. So, it was agreed that a weekend in Canowindra amongst the balloons would be the perfect way to celebrate Dad’s 80th birthday in 2014.

Canowindra is a historic little town about 60 km west of Orange in Central West NSW. It is one of those places that has transformed itself from a sleepy agricultural service centre into a food and wine destination. Unlike many larger places though, it has retained its small town, heritage feel which equates to a low-stress and relaxing weekend.

Friday night in Canowindra and the town was jumping. I had booked our accommodation 12 months in advance, and confirmed it multiple times, and it was just as well.

Canowindra was overrun with balloonists, support crews, balloon lovers and thousands of other tourists just like ourselves. The footpaths were bustling and the cafes and pubs overflowing onto the streets. I can only imagine what a positive impact this event must have on the local economy, creating a sense of excitement and energy, if for only one weekend.

152.JPG

More Balloon Glow

We also booked a table at one of the clubs for dinner and, even with a booking, it was a 60-minute wait for some very average food. But it was hot and filling and just what we needed after a big day of travel and sight-seeing.The two main features of the Balloon Challenge, from a visitor’s perspective, are the Balloon Glow on the Saturday night and the Key Grab on the Sunday morning. That leaves plenty of time for a lazy exploration of the Canowindra streets, the many boutiques, art and craft stores and gourmet food and wine outlets, and the Age of Fishes Museum. Of more interest to the men in our party were the many old Holden cars parked cheek-by-jowl (or bumper to bumper?) behind the dusty glass windows in an old service station on the main street. This collection was unique in Australia apparently due mainly to the pristine condition of many of the models. It was a shame that its opening hours were sporadic and unreliable. The men had to make do with pressing their noses up against the glass and looking longingly. (NB: sadly the collection has now been sold and dispersed).

As the day waned we gathered up our folding chairs, picnic baskets and every skerrick of warm clothing we possessed and, along with a thousand of our closest friends, converged on the local sports ground. This was the home of the Balloon Glow and a party atmosphere was definitely in the making with every known food stall and beverage bar onsite. We really didn’t need our picnic basket at all as we feasted on delicious pulled pork rolls and traditional Country Women’s Association delicacies.

053.JPG

A balloon skims the top of the trees as it comes into land at the Balloon Glow

With our fold-up chairs as close to the ‘front row’ as was polite, we were transfixed by a handful of balloonists as they manoeuvred their bubbles over the tallest eucalypt trees to land lightly and precisely on the grass. Now that is skill! Other balloons were trailered onto the field in a collapsed state and placed strategically around the ground.

Excitement built as the sun went down and the number of balloons increased. When it was fully dark, the lights went out, the music began, and the balloons worked their magic. Describing the sight as ‘spectacular’, does not do it justice. The balloons, and the flames inside, winked on and off in time with the music, blinking out vibrant colours and magically appearing out of the darkness. Such a simple activity but so striking and memorable. Sadly the music ended, the lights came on, and the crowds beat a hasty retreat in much need of a hot drink and a warm bed.

193

Here they come for the Key Grab

The next morning dawned bright and clear, as is the autumnal habit of this region, and we crunched across the frosty paddocks to watch the Key Grab. The idea is that balloons must accurately navigate their path to a central target and attempt to grab a key off the top of a tall pole and/or throw their marker into a small circle. The rewards for such precision are some handy cash prizes.

We could have looked a bit silly – a large crowd of people standing in the middle of an empty paddock at 630a.m. on an icy morning. But as we spotted the balloons pop up on the horizon and make a bee-line towards us, we knew it had been worthwhile. They started out looking like boring black dots but as they zoomed closer, the early sun lit them up like floating rainbows – a riot of colour and vibrancy.

202.JPGThe crowd cheered and ducked for cover as the balloons zeroed in on us and the target, but just as they neared, a gust of wind or a subtle breeze would foil their attempt and send them gently veering off into a neighbouring paddock. Some balloonists managed to throw their weighted markers but the ‘golden’ key remained firmly ensconced on the top of its pole. There is always next year.

As we made our way home, we wondered why it had taken us so long to visit Canowindra and the Balloon Challenge. There is so much we didn’t get to see and do there, including a ride in an actual balloon; hopefully it won’t take the same length of time to tick it off the Bucket List all over again.

 

What have you ticked off your Bucket List lately?

April 2014

218.JPGThe Basics

What: We stayed at the Old Vic Inn in a massive room with 15 foot ceilings. Room rates were $119 per room per night and included a light continental breakfast. The building itself is old and a wee bit tired but the location and atmosphere can’t be beaten. There was a small entrance fee to the Balloon Glow but the Key Drop activity was free.

Where: Canowindra, Central West NSW.

When: Canowindra International Balloon Challenge will be held on 18-25 April 2017.

Why: Do this if you are in need of a fun and interesting weekend away in gorgeous countryside or if you have a weakness for hot air balloons. Book your accommodation early.

190.JPGHow: We drove from Mudgee via Dubbo. Yes, the scenic route!

Who: A family affair, including a birthday boy.

Related Posts: Watch this space. I have my very own balloon ride scheduled for 4 March 2017. Excited!!

Related Blogs: For a unique perspective on the balloon festival, have a read of balloon pilot’s blog: https://nomoreusedto.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/canowindra-balloon-challenge-2012/

Give Tasmania a Break! Part 2

Looking over the Franklin River from Donahey's Lookout

Looking over the Franklin River from Donahey’s Lookout

This post follows an earlier one about the ‘must-see’ built attractions we enjoyed in Tasmania. Now, I’d like to share our experiences of Tassie’s great outdoors.

If you are an Aussie, you would have to have spent your life under a rock not to have heard of the many famous Tasmanian walking destinations on offer, such as Cradle Mountain National Park. International readers, you are excused!

We didn’t have time to tick this park off the list, but we made the most of every other short walk opportunity we could find. These walks were the perfect way to break up the road trip, stretch our legs and let the bulk of the grey nomad traffic pass us by. Again, we were grateful to our Hobart friends, keen bushwalkers themselves, who gave us the heads-up about the best short walks in the areas we were visiting.

The Franklin River Nature Walk, Tasmania

The Franklin River Nature Walk, Tasmania

The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, borders both sides of the Lyell Highway as the road crosses east-to-west Tasmania. This park is a good mix of soaring peaks, rough bushland and picture-perfect rivers and streams. It has a number of walks ranging from a short one-hour stroll along boardwalks, to a whole day climbing rugged paths and hiking through dense forest. Even though we didn’t get close to the Franklin River itself, the crystal clear creeks and surrounding wild forests made it abundantly clear that this region was definitely worth fighting for.

As background, in 1982 there was a major push by the Tasmanian Government to dam the Franklin River, and sections of the Gordon River, as part of a hydro-electricity scheme. Naturally, this was strongly opposed by the environmental movement and resulted in the largest conservation battle ever conducted in Australian history. Luckily for us, the ‘greenies’ won the day.

The Nelson Falls walk

The Nelson Falls walk

Driving further west, but still in the same National Park, we stopped again to stroll up to the Nelson Falls. I realise I have been known for doing a spot of extreme walking at times, but the walks we completed that day were mostly short and over relatively accessible terrain. It is hard to believe that so many people just whizz by in their vehicles and miss the majesty of this wilderness. We would have been just as ignorant if we hadn’t been tipped off. Note to self: pick local brains for the best things to see and do, and don’t only rely on tourist brochures.

Arriving in Strahan, we took the opportunity to explore the Gordon River via water rather than on foot. Yes, it was a typical touristy thing to do but sometimes I just have to swallow my pride if I want to access far-flung places.

The lighthouse at Hell's Gate, entrance to Macquarie Harbour

The lighthouse at Hell’s Gate, entrance to Macquarie Harbour

Our cruise took us around Macquarie Harbour and out to Hell’s Gate. As well as its timber and mining heritage, this region was home to one of Australia’s most harsh and bleak convict prisons. The worst and most dangerous convicts were sent to Sarah Island. On this island, convicts experienced severe deprivation and few lived to tell the tale. It is hard to picture such hardship when standing amongst exquisite surrounds on a peaceful Autumn day in the 21st century.

Mirror images on the Gordon River

Mirror images on the Gordon River

The cruise up the Gordon River was simply stunning. I kept shaking my head in wonder at the thought of the damage that could have been done to this unspoiled region, all in the name of progress. At every bend in the river there was another spectacular vista, clear, mirror-like water and impenetrable forest.

Back on land again, we fired up the little car and drove north-easterly, just skirting the edge of Cradle Mountain National Park. Without enough time or the appropriate walking gear, that would have to wait for our return visit one day.

The view down to Wineglass Bay at Freycinet National Park

The view down to Wineglass Bay at Freycinet National Park

Heading south, we swung into the Freycinet National Park. Unlike our other short walks, this park was heaving with day trippers and fellow walkers. Freycinet is an attractive blend of bush and beach. It also has well-developed camping, visitor centre and other facilities, so no wonder it was popular. Our objective was to take the track up to the lookout delivering the famous, postcard views of Wineglass Bay. After much puffing and panting, we arrived and immediately grabbed our cameras. The view was stunning and definitely worth the exertion. We were so tempted to keep walking and scramble down the other side of the mountain to the bay itself, but we had to turn away from the brilliant white beaches and yachts gently bobbing in the azure blue water. How does nature deliver such vibrant colours?

Edging ever closer to Hobart, the last park on our list to explore was a day on Maria Island. The island is a 45-minute ferry ride out from the small town of Triabunna, and the ferry is a handy way to rest your legs before, and after, a day of walking.

The Painted Cliffs, Maria Island

The Painted Cliffs, Maria Island

Maria Island was another penal settlement but not a very successful one. Even though it was an island, this did not deter convicts from making their escape. Escape attempts happened so frequently, and were so successful, that the penal colony was finally abandoned in favour of Port Arthur. Even if you are not into history, this island has enough natural beauty to keep anyone entertained. Armed with a map and interpretative guide, we started out on the coastal path and then back-tracked through the scrub. The walks were of varying lengths, and they moved us around the island, allowing us to take in the best views of bush, beach and convict ruins. The rocks and cliffs that edge the pebble beaches were particularly attractive with their layered colours and sculpture-like erosion.

I don’t believe you have to be a ‘hardened’ walker to enjoy the many incredible parks and trails in Tasmania, and I encourage everyone to get ‘off the beaten track’ if you can.

Short walks or long, Tasmania has too much natural beauty to ignore.

 

Tell me, what walks must we add to the ‘to do’ list when we head to Tassie again?

March 2011

The view from Sarah Island, Macquarie Habour

The view from Sarah Island, Macquarie Habour

The Basics

What: A valid park entry permit is required for entry to Tasmania’s national parks. A range of national park passes are available depending on the time you spend there. Visitors to the state have a number of different pass options available to them, the most cost-effective being the Holiday Pass range. This pass covers entry into all of Tasmania’s national parks for up to two months, and also provides free use of the Cradle Mountain shuttle bus – $60.

Where: Have a look at the Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania website for a map locating – and giving background information about – all parks throughout the state.

When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp, and thankfully the Rain Gods stayed away.

Why: If you love the great outdoors, choose Tasmania.

How: We drove and, other than the slow traffic, it was the best and most flexible way to access the parks.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and tonnes of other happy campers.

Related Posts: When we weren’t walking, we were driving and here is a link to the fantastic man-made attractions we visited.

Related Blogs: I think you would wait a long time before you found a more passionate Tasmanian hiker than Denis. For really detailed and comprehensive information about a whole range of hiking opportunities in south east Tasmania, have a look at his blog at: http://hikinginsetasmania.blogspot.com.au/

 

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Do you grow Sculptures in your Garden?

It is not often that charity, community and culture collide in an event that turns into a genuine win, win, win. The annual Sculptures in the Garden event at Rosby Wines in Mudgee is one of those true winners.

Mudgee, in Central West NSW, is well-known as a weekend escape to enjoy rolling hills, fresh foods and a diverse range of delicious wines to accompany both the view and the victuals. Adding another string to the tourism bow is the ongoing growth of cultural activities such as sculpture.

dscf5447

Duet by Dora A Rognvaldsdottir

Kay Norton-Knight of Rosby Wines has been a long-time supporter of the local arts scene and is an accomplished artist herself. Six years ago, Kay rallied her friends and family, identified a worthy charity, and Sculptures in the Garden was born.

As with many community events, SiG (as Sculptures in the Garden is fondly referred to) started out small with just over 100 works, and has experienced exponential growth each year. In 2016 the exhibition featured 234 works ranging from 20cm high to 6m high, and with price tags from $100 to $18 000.

Even if you are not in the market for a piece of sculpture for your house or garden, this event is simply a charming day out. All the sculptures are cleverly placed in the gardens and surrounds of the rustic Rosby homestead, providing a picture-perfect backdrop to the many works. The local Guide Dogs committee provide sumptuous catering and Rosby wines are available by the glass, or bottle if you feel so inclined.

This year’s event was blessed with stunning Spring weather – ideal for wandering through lush gardens and striking artworks, with a glass of wine in hand. Over 3 000 people did just that over the weekend.

dscf5469

Plant Life by Kay Bazley

But SiG is not just about standing back and looking at art. There was also an opportunity to learn. On both days of the exhibition, there were sculpture walks led by local artists as well as garden walks. A new event this year featured a panel discussion that delved into the importance of public art and its place in the Mudgee region. Edmund Capon AM OBE, the nominated VIP at this year’s event, had plenty of insight to add to the conversation.

The ‘cute’ factor was nailed during a puppy training session, delivered by Karen Hayter from Guide Dogs NSW. The audience melted and drooled over the latest litter of golden pups.

DSCF5460.JPG

It’s the thoughts that count, by Simon Pankhurst

Children were not forgotten in this event. Other than the fact that they could run and play to their hearts’ content through the gardens and paddocks of Rosby, kids also had an opportunity to design and submit their own sculptures. The children were enthusiastic and excited to be able to show off their creativity, and their display demonstrated that there is some serious budding talent out there. A sign of things to come.

SiG has a more lasting impact than just an annual weekend. As well as generating significant funds for the Guide Dogs and tourism traffic throughout the region, it also provides an opportunity for the Mudgee community to connect with a number of signature pieces on a longer-term basis.

The SiG exhibition has four separate acquisitive prizes. Mid-Western Regional Council, Sculptures in the Garden, Moolarben Coal, and Friends of Sculptures in the Garden all provide funds to purchase pieces that become part of a permanent exhibition in the Mudgee CBD.

DSCF5476.JPG

Taking the Plunge, by Stephen Irwin

Mid-Western Regional Council is progressively developing a sculpture walk along the banks of the Cudgegong River. The river meanders through Lawson Park and the sculptures add additional interest to the riverside walk. Currently there are ten separate sculptures, and these will be added to from this year’s SiG. A true statement piece, the 4.4m high ‘Taking the Plunge’ by Stephen Irwin, was one of the three sculptures purchased this year. It will definitely catch the eye of passers-by AND generate a great deal of discussion.

One of the things I really love about SiG is how it makes sculpture totally accessible to Joe Public. I don’t have to be an art-buff to be able to enjoy and recognise the skill of other people. I think this has something to do with the fact that the art is all outdoors in a natural setting – no stuffy galleries or pretentious crowds.

Unlike the gigantic works on show at Bondi’s Sculptures by the Sea, most of these works are also financially accessible. For sure, not everyone would be in the position to snap up an $18 000 masterpiece for their backyard, but as the smaller pieces are quickly red-dotted it is nice to know that in their new homes they will create interest and add colour to the landscape.

DSCF5467.JPG

Sun Dial, by Kenneth Smith

The volunteer team that organises SiG are to be congratulated for all their hard work. They have created a significant and valuable inclusion in the regional tourism calendar, appealing to a different set of interests, as well as having developed an event that raises valuable charity dollars, and exposes plebs like me to the ‘yarts’.

Mudgee may be rich in food and wine but visitors and community alike can also enjoy a new kind of richness – a richness of the soul. Hard to measure but no less important.

Now, are you motivated to fire up the welder?

October 2016

 

The Basics

dscf5465

Mulga Bill, by Jim Cross

What: Sculptures in the Garden is a two-day arts event. The entrance fee is $5.00 per person. Food and wine is available each day. Stay for an hour or all day. Accommodation is available on site at the winery in the Rosby Guesthouse from $150.00 per night.

Where: Rosby is located at 122 Strikes Lane, Eurunderee, NSW, 2850 – an easy 15 minute drive north-west of Mudgee.

When: Annually – the second weekend in October.

Why: Add some culture to your wine escape in Mudgee and drive home with a permanent memory of Mudgee in the form of a work of art.

How: You will need a car to get out to Rosby. No public transport is available to the site but taxis are available from Mudgee.

Who: Rosby is home to Kay and Gerald Norton-Knight. The event is created and operated by volunteers.

Related Posts: Watch this space…

Related Blogs: For another, almost local, perspective on SiG, plus some good photos of the 2014 event, have a look at https://conventandchapel.com/tag/mudgee-sculptures-in-the-garden/

Give Tasmania a Break! Part 1

I don’t know why a lot of people pick on Tasmania and give its residents a hard time about having 11 fingers and two heads!

Yes, it is only a small island dangling off the bottom of Australia, and perhaps it is off the ‘main drag’ of tourist destinations, but it punches well above its weight on a whole lot of levels.

Until 2011, I had never spent much time in Tasmania. Sure, I had seen plenty about it on TV, and had once been locked in a conference room in Hobart for a week, but I had never had the opportunity to really explore. Many people had told me it was green and lush, like a mini-England, but it was time to go and find out for myself.

Luckily for The Brave Man* and I, we have some good friends in Hobart who invited us to go sailing with them around Bruny Island for a couple of days. I will talk about that in a separate post at a later date, as it was such a special experience – a true feast for all the senses.

There is nothing like exploring a place with the locals to get all the inside information on their patch. The thing I particularly enjoy is that you get to explore a place at a much deeper level – the economy, the politics and what makes a community tick. A true warts-and-all picture.

DSCF0279.JPG

The Sea Shepherd takes a well-earned break at Constitution Dock, Hobart

I can safely say that Tasmania won our hearts. Tasmania is the complete package when it comes to the variety of things to see and do. It’s a terrible cliché, but ‘there is something for everyone’ in this postage stamp-like state.

Hobart is well-known for its convict and pioneering heritage. Settled in 1804, many of its handsome sandstone buildings remain intact, giving the city a feel of grandeur and grace. Other than a stroll around the distinctive wharf area – the final port for the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race – a journey to Hobart would not be complete without a visit to MONA.

MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, just has to be seen to be believed. Even if you are not an art lover, go there for a complete reorientation of your senses. I do not have an artistic bone in my body but even I could appreciate the diversity and depth of most of the art works.

The MONA experience started with a relaxing ferry ride from the Hobart wharf, up the Derwent River, to the foot of a sandstone cliff that encases the Museum. Where things started to challenge normality was when I had to walk four storeys underground to disappear into a world of wackiness and confrontation.

I spent most of the next four hours laughing outrageously, laughing nervously or being completely gobsmacked! I have no idea whether those were appropriate responses, and perhaps I was showing my complete lack of culture and civilisation. There was the Fat Car, a plump and pumped up Porsche, as a commentary on our flabby and obese lifestyles. There was a tribute to Madonna which included a wall of 40 televisions, each featuring a person singing ‘Like A Virgin’ off-key. There were Egyptian sarcophagi and a truck in a hall. Yes, a full-size semi-trailer four storeys underground, wedged in a hallway. Go figure!

By the end of the visit, I was physically exhausted and almost sore from the sensory overload. Such an assault on the senses, both positive and negative, has left a deep and lasting impression. Call me crazy, but I think it is worth a trip to Hobart just to experience MONA. It has not converted me to become a modern art fan, but it has certainly put Hobart on the cultural map!

Reeling from all that ‘culcha’, we borrowed a car and headed west out of Hobart to see as much of Tassie as we could in the short time remaining. In another post, I will talk about the excellent range of day walks we enjoyed, but here I will focus on the ‘built’ tourist attractions.

the-wall

A postcard showing the level of detail and the skill of the art of The Wall

If you have the opportunity, another ‘must see’ is The Wall in the Wilderness. Located at Derwent Bridge, midway between Hobart and Strahan, a sculptor is creating a breathtaking work of art in wood. The Wall is made up of three metre high panels of wood, all joined together to form a solid visual expanse. These panels are being progressively carved to highlight the history of the central Tasmanian highlands, starting with the Indigenous people and including the timber industry, pastoralists, miners and Hydro workers. The skill involved is simply outstanding – a wagon has every spoke, chain and rope carved individually and separately to stand out in relief. When we visited in 2011, the wall was around 40 metres long, with the final length to be 100 metres. I agree that sometimes wood turning and wood carving can be a little twee, but this is art in a wooden form. Don’t miss it.

Back in the car, we joined the stream of grey nomads heading west towards Strahan. It gave me pause to wonder whether we had automatically and involuntarily joined the Grey Nomad scene, and although I wasn’t overly happy about it, we were travelling out of school holiday time, and we simply had to roll with it. Literally! Get stuck behind a grey nomad in a caravan or camper, and even though Tasmania is small, it takes a long time to roll anywhere!

dscf0304

The star of the West Coast Wilderness Railway

The West Coast Wilderness Railway was a highlight for the train nut in our travelling party. The steam train puffed its way from Queenstown to Strahan, through some of the most remote and picturesque landscape you could ever come across.

Queenstown is a bit of an anomaly in the normally leafy Tasmanian countryside. It is a moonscape, battered and barren as a result of over 100 years of copper mining. It is a tired community with little going for it other than being the starting point for the tourist railway. I am sure the loyal locals would beg to differ, but the down-at-heel feel and multiple empty shops indicated to me that its time has passed.

DSCF0308.JPG

The toxic Queen River

The negative impacts of the copper mining history can still be seen today with both the Queen and King rivers classified as toxic. A perfect example of paying for the mistakes of generations past.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway is unique because it includes an ABT Rack and Pinion system on part of its track to manage the steep inclines. It strains and groans as it rattles and ratchets its way up the mountain. I wondered if we were going to make it, while the train buff was almost hanging out the carriage window, counting every rack and every pinion. Constructed in 1897, the rail line’s main purpose was to transport massive loads of copper to the port at Strahan, but now it specialises in massive loads of tourists…or loads of massive tourists. Other than being a very pleasant way to spend a day, we were educated about the pioneering history of the region as we rattled along the route, with a number of stops where we could pan for gold, explore ruins and stretch our legs.

DSCF0339.JPG

The harbour at Strahan

Returning to Strahan, we spent the rest of our visit wandering around the streets and docks. Strahan is a charming port town, perfectly set up for tourists with a range of intriguing art and craft stores, and plenty of top quality food and beverages. Wood carving, wooden artefacts and timberyards are prominent, and The Brave Man* bought a few Huon pine offcuts as a memento of his visit. Not the most exciting souvenir in my opinion, but each to his own!

Unfortunately, time beat us and we had to point the little car back towards Hobart. I have only covered a few of the highlights we experienced. There is just so much history and beauty crammed into this gem of an island. One day when we sign on as full-time grey nomads, we will return.

Tell me, what do you recommend we see the next time around?

March 2011

The Basics

DSCF0330.JPG

The King River, a better colour but also toxic

What: MONA is open every day except Tuesdays. Entrance fees are $20 for adults or free if you are under 18 or from Tasmania. The Wall is open seven days and entrance fees apply. West Coast Wilderness Railway is $100 per person including a shuttle bus from Strahan to Queenstown.

Where: MONA is located 11 kilometres north of Hobart – approximately 25 minutes by water, or 20 minutes by road. The return ferry ride costs $20.

When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp, and thankfully the Rain Gods stayed away.

Why: Choose Tasmania if you would like a short break with lots to do in a small space.

How: We drove and, other than the slow traffic, it was the best and most flexible way to move about.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and multiple senior citizens.

Related Posts: Watch this space…

Related Blogs: I am not the only one to wax lyrical about a road trip in Tasmania. For a younger and groovier perspective have a look at http://www.worldofwanderlust.com/life-time-tasmanian-road-trip/

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Playing Tourist in the Tropics

We Australians are spoiled for choice when seeking a bolt-hole to escape the worst of Winter. From any point on our continent, just keep heading north, and each inch on the map will equate to a couple of degrees further up the thermometer.

The Brave Man* (BM) is convinced that he needs a short dose of warmth mid-Winter to delude himself that the worst of the season is almost over. Last year it was Hawaii; this year we set off for Palm Cove in far north Queensland to defrost, and see what all the fuss was about.

DSCF5243.JPG

The beach – without a croc or stinger in sight, Palm Cove.

Palm Cove is one of a series of small beachside communities that populate the region 28km north of Cairns.

If you plan to do much tripping around in this part of the country, I would recommend a hire car. By the time you calculate the cost of taxis and additional shuttle transport, the cost of a hire car and the ultimate flexibility it provides, makes it a financially viable option. In contrast, I would not recommend the Atlas Car Rental company at all. Yes, they were one of the cheapest options available but the staff were exceptionally rude, totally disinterested and refused to supply the size of car originally booked online. The BM* is six foot four inches tall, and he couldn’t even fit behind the steering wheel of our mobile matchbox. Their version of customer service was to hand us the keys and walk away. Buyer beware!

Winding up the rubber band of our little car, we did a quick raid on the supermarket in Cairns before making our way to Palm Cove. For some reason we thought this necessary, not thinking that the towns and villages further north would be of the size to contain decent supermarkets. Wrong.

As we drove north, the Captain Cook Highway took us slightly inland but the abundant tropical vegetation and soft sea breezes indicated that the ocean was never far away. It was obvious to us that this road was an important part of the ‘commuter’ belt with a new, dual lane road much of the way to Palm Cove. It made it so easy to move around.

When planning the trip, the BM* had been told about how noisy it was to stay right on the esplanade in Palm Cove, so he selected the Mango Lagoon Resort & Wellness Spa. It was a leisurely three-block stroll back from the main drag – super-quiet and leafy. Our self-contained apartment was just the right size, with all the mod cons including a washing machine and dryer, and shuttered French doors that opened onto swaying palms and one of the resort’s many pools. Yes, the true definition of a tropical paradise.

The Weather Gods continued to frown on us and, even though it was lovely to pull on the shorts and t-shirts, it either misted, drizzled or rained properly the entire time we were there. We couldn’t complain as we were on holiday, but the locals did not hold back on how unseasonably cold and wet it was as they clomped around in their woollen ugg boots. At 25°C, we thought ugg boots was slight overkill but each to their own.

DSCF5238.JPG

No wonder the beach was deserted…

Knowing that we would not melt under a little rain, and with only four full days to cram everything in, we set out to discover why so many rave about Palm Cove. A stroll along the esplanade with ice creams dripping down our hands, we found it a relaxed and laid back ‘town’ – town being a generous description – and the fastest things were the shuttle buses tootling backwards and forwards to the vast array of accommodation choices. The esplanade is edged with swaying palms, a United Nations of eating houses and ice cream stands, while a long and winding path bordered the beach. I was surprised and disappointed to see signs warning of crocodiles and stingers in the ocean, but a few brave souls frolicked in the green water regardless. The hire car gave us the scope to tour the neighbouring villages of Clifton Beach, Kewarra Beach, Trinity Beach – more swaying palms and ice cream shops – and then explore further afield.

We tried to plan our days around the weather forecast, which turned out to be a really good intention but completely pointless on implementation.

DSCF5259.JPG

Kuranda Rail in the rain

First on the list was a visit to the Kuranda Rail and Skyrail. It was frustrating to watch the rain spatter against the train windows as we weaved and rattled our way up the mountains to Kuranda. The atmospheric train ride and history attached to the railway was fascinating, however Kuranda itself was a bit of a tourist trap – all souvenir shops and over-priced eating establishments. A quick walk up the main street was enough for us.

DSCF5272.JPG

and the Skyrail in the sunshine!

The Skyrail floated over the tree tops of the Barron Gorge National Park as we descended the mountains and back down to the coast. To make the most of the forest below, there are a couple of ‘stations’ where you can hop off the cable car and explore the greenery on foot. We particularly enjoyed a short, guided walking tour from the Barron Falls station. A fascinating insight into how a rainforest ‘works’ and the various layered flora and fauna.

If we weren’t already wet enough, we went from the sublime to the ridiculous with a day’s snorkelling on the Upolo Reef, an outer section of the Great Barrier Reef. We booked on a smaller ‘sailing’ boat with Reef Daytripper, as neither the BM* or I like crowds. Thank goodness there were only 11 of us (plus crew) on board, as we huddled under protection from the rain the majority of the trip. We refused to let the weather dampen our adventure and snorkelled to our hearts’ content amongst the giant clams, sea turtles, neon-striped fish, gropers, sting rays and

greatbarrierreefs.com.au.jpg

One of the busy little clown fish. Photo courtesy: greatbarrierreef.com.au

‘Nemo’ clown fish. It was a weird feeling to snorkel and, at the same time, feel the rain pounding on my back. The cloud cover did not allow the coral colours to really dazzle but I just pretended I was hovering above brilliant reds, blues and greens. There is so much bad news in the media about the reef dying, that I didn’t want to miss a moment.

Another gorgeous day trip was up to Mossman Gorge and then onto Daintree. It was on this specific day that we realised why it is called ‘rainforest’. On a fine day, it must be spectacular but after a couple of hours of being drenched to the skin, we were totally ‘over’ both rain and forest!

dscf5311

The rain and the forest at Mossman Gorge

We sought sanctuary and dryness in the Matchbox car and drove a little further north to the Daintree River. The BM* was desperate to get up close to a crocodile and we got this in spades at the Daintree Cruise Centre.

For around an hour we cruised the Daintree River, taking in the mangroves and wildlife large and small. The weather was still grey and forbidding but not half as forbidding as the huge crocodiles lounging on the river bank waiting for a tourist to dangle a lazy arm over the side of the boat. We ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over the adult crocs and did our best to spot the babies camouflaged in the mud. There

DSCF5319.JPG

One of the residents of the Daintree River area…thank goodness my camera has a decent zoom. I wasn’t getting any closer than I had to!

were vibrant Azure Kingfishers flitting through the mangroves, rainbow-coloured butterflies and a riot of other birdlife skimming the surface of the river. How lucky are we to have the diversity of wildlife – both beautiful and murderous – in Australia?

Palm Cove ticked all the boxes for our Winter escape. It is the perfect destination for a short break with plenty to see and do within an easy drive.

No doubt you could also enjoy the ‘fly and flop’ type-holiday, but watch out for the bities on the beach!

July 2016

The Basics

DSCF5289.JPGWhat: A five day break with self-contained accommodation. Eating out in Palm Cove is very expensive so it was nice to have the option to self-cater.

Where: Palm Cove, Far North Queensland.

When: Do your research. Apparently there are certain times of year when it is safer to swim in the water.

Why: To escape Winter and feel the sun and warmth on our skin – with sunscreen of course.

How: We flew from the Queensland Gold Coast to Cairns with Jetstar and then hired a car.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man*.

Related Posts: See my post Road Trippin

Related Blogs: If you only have 48 hours in Palm Cove, then this blog may help you narrow down your choices: http://blog.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au/48-hours-in-palm-cove/

*The Brave Man (BM) refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

A New Newcastle

As a kid, I remember a few trips to Newcastle – a grimy, dark and often raining place that seemed to be trapped in an industrial fug. The city economy, once famous for its ship building and steel works, has since been rationalised into non-existence. I know I am a late bloomer but it was a joy to discover Newcastle on brilliant, sunny Autumn weekend.

Newcastle didn’t automatically pop into my mind as an ideal ‘getaway’ but I have had to revise my estimation. A family commitment meant that we were destined for this coastal city and The Brave Man* decided to make a weekend of it – catching up with friends and generally enjoying what the city had to offer. We were not disappointed.

newcastle_beach_wave

For some stunning Newcastle and coastal photography – check out http://www.shannonhartigan.com.au

He did some bargain hunting via Wotif and found the Newcastle Beach Hotel for a discounted $129 per night. Yes, the hotel was a little dated but the rooms were large and comfortable and ours had a great view over the rooftops of the city and harbour area. I suspect the other side of the building had sea views. It was a little off-putting that everything was automated, with push-button entry cards and not a human in sight, but I guess that made for ultimate independence and flexibility. The best part was the location – right at the very top of the CBD on Hunter Street and the shortest sea-breeze walk to the beach and salt-water pools.

Another plus was the ready access to places to eat. I am the first to admit that I am no gourmand. I hate cooking, and all those TV foodie shows drive me to despair. If you are reading this blog hoping for gastronomic insight, then put down your computer/tablet/phone and step away now. I am a food pleb!

Due to the late hour we grabbed a quick Thai meal at Sticky Rice, just around the corner. ‘Quick’ was the operative word as the food seemed to materialise at our table within minutes – steaming hot and tasty. The serving sizes were ambitious but we did not admit defeat.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear and we met up with friends for a brisk walk along the coast. I know I am strange but this is my definition of ‘a rage and a good time’. Our walk followed the coastline from Newcastle Beach right up to Merewether Beach – around 5km. This walk has a number of different names but incorporates The Bathers Way (from Nobbys Beach to Merewether Beach) and the Newcastle Memorial Walk (from Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach).

In my book, the walk along the edge of the sea is a ‘must do’ activity – especially if you can manage it at sunrise. To start the day with surfers bobbing in the waves and both seabirds and hang gliders making the most of the thermals – nothing could go wrong. A refreshing sea breeze cooled us as we huffed up the stairs and puffed down the paths. It is a lovely walk but be prepared for an elevated heart rate along the way.

The reward for being so healthy and virtuous was a reviving coffee and muffin at the Merewether Surf Life Saving Club Kiosk. We joined the jumble of dogs, leads and strollers and queued for our coffee, happy to watch the local sun-worshippers and enjoying a laidback Saturday morning vibe. The truly virtuous would have walked the return trip – but not us.

In amongst some family commitments we did manage to wander through the Newcastle CBD. It is pleasing to see so many parts of the city being rejuvenated, with old buildings being repurposed as funky bars and interesting shops. The monthly art and design markets and the Newcastle Writers Festival added to the buzz on the streets.

Dinner at the Green Roof Hotel in Hamilton and their Meatball restaurant was a new experience. You can order anything you like as long as it’s a meatball! El Mexico featured pork meatballs over corn chips and guacamole – interesting but missing something essential somewhere. Am I starting to sound like a foodie yet?

Sunday rolled around, our watches were adjusted to reflect the end of Daylight Saving time, and we tossed our clothes back into the bag. To offset some of the damage done to our waistlines in the previous 24 hours, The Brave Man* donned his neck-to-knees and headed for the sea baths and I stepped out onto the coastal walk again. The water report was ‘fresh and crystal clear’ and there was plenty of local sea life sharing the pool to distract swimmers from completing their laps.

Estabar Newcastle Beach - 1

Source: Estabar

We had a last dose of sociability and caffeine at Estabar as we caught up with more friends. Maybe it was the salt air but everyone was friendly and cruisy. We almost felt like locals too. Estabar, overlooking Newcastle Beach, offered an up close and personal view of the half-marathoners sprinting by as part of the NewRun event. We were suitably impressed but not inspired enough to put down our knife and fork and join in. The 10-kers looked more our style, especially those at the tail-end carrying cans of Coke and enjoying a chat. I am not sure if that is the true intent of the event but it has to be better than sitting on the lounge in front of the TV.

All too soon we were back on the road home to Mudgee. The Hunter Expressway has made a noticeable difference to travel times and we went from the centre of Newcastle – with a stop and an eagle-eye on the speed-limit – in 3.25hrs. Too easy.

Thank you Newcastle for the right mix of activity and interest. We will be back.

April 2016

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Mad Mel in Silverton

Travelling out to Silverton is a commitment, not only in time but also in dollars. But rather than just a commitment, it is also an investment in my Bucket List.

Silverton is 26km northwest of Broken Hill. Flights leave Dubbo twice daily and that is where the financial-commitment part kicks in. A return flight Dubbo-Broken Hill is at least $715, and that is the cheapie, inflexible fare. Perhaps that buys you a share of the ‘x’ in Rex Airlines. The alternatives, though cheaper, are much longer road trips via car or bus, or by hijacking a grey nomad. For the time poor, the plane is the best alternative.

It was mesmerising to watch the colours and terrain change we as we flew ever westward. The patchwork paddocks changed from dusty brown on the edge of Dubbo to vivid ochres closer to Broken Hill. The ‘patches’ became significantly larger and long, straight dirt roads disappeared into the haze of the horizon. The sparseness and bareness of the flat terrain may not appeal to everyone but to me there is beauty in its simplicity. The sense of openness and just plain space is a beautiful thing and, in my eye, ‘is’ Australia.

Silverton is an easy 20 minute drive out of Broken Hill, which provides an opportunity to get even closer to the Outback colours. The dusty blue/green/grey of the low, scrubby bushes contrasts neatly with the red earth and the tawny brown of the emus. It is not as flat as it appears when airborne. A myriad of gullies and small, rocky outcrops add interest and depth to the landscape.

Silverton is a scattering of dusty streets only hinting at the town’s former glory. In its Pub front - old 1heyday in the late 1800s, it was a thriving community, with 2000 people in the town itself and a further 2000 in the surrounding district. Its career was short-lived though, and its boom-to-bust period lasted only eight years. These days, Silverton is home to around 35 dedicated residents.

The reason for my (literally) flying trip to Silverton was a work project related to the Silverton Hotel. How lucky am I?

Patsy and Peter Price took over the Silverton Hotel in 2010. A plumbing career may not be Bar - people 1the usual background for pub owners, but they have taken to their new lifestyle with gusto, improving both the physical facilities of the pub and also reawakening the business. The latest addition to the complex features seven accommodation units sympathetically designed in the style of typical shearers’ quarters but far more comfortable than anything you would normally find adjacent to a shearing shed.

The Hotel appears to be the heart and soul of the community and a natural meeting and rest place for visitors. A constant stream of grey nomads and school-holiday families came through the door from early morning until late evening, all receiving a hearty welcome. Also coming to the pub, but not quite making it through the doors, was a family of DSCF4584 (3)donkeys. You can imagine the interest and amusement their arrival created amongst the tourists. Is this where I say something like, “only in Outback Australia…”

The Silverton Hotel has featured in so many movies it is tricky to know where the pub finishes and the movies start. Throughout its long and colourful life the pub, has been featured in Wake in Fright, A Town Like Alice, Dirty Deeds and of course, Mad Max II, plus many more.

Believe it or not, as I drove away from the pub the next morning the lingerie company Victoria’s Secret was setting up for a photo shoot using the Hotel as a backdrop. No, they did not ask me to help out by modelling a few pieces of strategically-placed lace. Disappointing really….

Silverton falls within the Unincorporated Far West Region of NSW and is managed by a Village Committee. These passionate individuals have worked hard to keep the village interesting and relevant, producing a range of tourism information and coordinating a heritage walk. This 2-hour walk takes in many of the village’s historical highlights and truly gives you the ‘lay of the land’. Make sure you wear a hat, sunscreen and take some water with you.

The remaining buildings in Silverton have stood the test of time and climate. Most of the stone buildings like the Courthouse, Municipal Chambers, and Gaol appear almost grounded in their surroundings – solid and immovable. I can only imagine their glory days and the string of colourful characters that would have passed through their doors.

Some of the buildings are now artists’ homes and galleries, adding a nice creative and DSCF4593cultural aspect to the community. For culture of a completely different sort there is the Mad Max Museum featuring props and memorabilia from the movies shot in the region – or you could get underground and deep down amongst the history of the region by visiting the Day Dream Mine.

One must-see, I am told, is sunset at the Mundi Mundi lookout. I missed it this time, since the crystal clear sky guaranteed an unspectacular evening, but I will keep it in mind for future visits.

I think the bucket list just got that little bit longer again.

April 2016