I have these fantastic visions of me being a super-fit individual with a trim, taut physique, but needless to say there is a vast gap between imagining and reality. The pressure is on though as it is only a few short weeks before we will be donning the down jackets and trekking to Everest Base Camp deep in Nepal’s Himalayas.
I need to transform this middle-age spread into a more compact form and dramatically reduce the number of blubbery kilograms that I must haul up endless mountains.
How good is it when something you have been dreaming about for a long time, actually comes off? That is exactly what happened to me recently when I fulfilled a long-held dream to sail across the skies in a hot air balloon.
For those people who don’t know me well, I am a planner and an organiser. Yes, I would like to be more chilled and ‘go-with-the-flowish’, but after 50-odd years on this earth, I have found that approach just doesn’t work for me. I need goals and I need exciting things on my horizon to keep me motivated and interested.
Many years ago I developed an aversion to birthdays. Not that I despised getting older, although who wouldn’t want to turn the clock back a tad, it was just that I would look back on the previous 12 months and wonder, ‘where did that go’ and ‘what did I achieve’?
Most times I felt like I had accomplished a big, fat nothing. This was inaccurate and no way to think about my life, so I decided to change. Each birthday I would sit down and set myself some small challenges for the next 12 months. Then, I would stick this list, big and bold, on my fridge door. This provided no end of amusement for visitors to my house, but more importantly it kept me honest and kept me focused. Subsequent birthdays were greeted with slightly less trepidation, and a degree of excitement, as I set myself even more ambitious goals.
Without wishing to be morbid, I am now at a stage in life with more years behind me than in front, and it is time to really ‘up the ante’ on the goal-setting front.
Yes, the list is back on the fridge door, and as a sign of the times, it is now termed a ‘Bucket List’. Perhaps this is a poor choice of words, and I do not plan on going anywhere soon, except to remarkable, exotic overseas and Australian destinations.
I am always open to suggestions and here, in no particular order, is the Bucket List so far:
The Mississippi River Trail: A cycle route that starts in Lake Itascain Minnesota, USA, and finishes near the mouth of the river in Venice, Louisiana. It covers 3 600miles (5 794km), using the Mississippi River as the common theme or motif. In the past, the USA was never really high on my travel wish list mainly because the cultural contrast was not significant enough. However, this trip has captured my imagination because of the many states we will pass through – their different climate, architecture, history, scenery and accents. Yes, it will take us around three months, but what a way to experience a country.
Trans-Siberian Railway: This adventure has been on The Brave Man’s* wish list for quite some time. Not as energetic as the first bucket list entry, but no less fascinating. I understand the best ways to tackle this one are to either book on a guided/organised tour or get some assistance with booking tickets and accommodation. Happy to take suggestions on the best ways to approach this adventure.
India: How do they cram so much chaos, colour and culture into one five-letter word? The thought of the scale of the population in India frightens the pants off me, but I am busting to get there to experience such their vibrant culture. I am not brave enough to do this solo or via independent touring so I am currently researching cost-effective and well-regarded tours that will give me a small insight into this country. Fingers crossed, I get to tick this one off the list in 2017.
Turkey: Has always been lurking on the list since we had a short visit to the Marmaris region back in 2003. I loved the collision of Asian, European and Middle Eastern culture and history. We found the people incredibly friendly, and the architecture and arts fascinating. To be on the safe side, we will wait until the dust settles a bit in that region before venturing over. As an aside, there is a 509km walk called the Lycian Way that follows the Turkish coast line from Fethiye to Antalya. Perhaps we could incorporate that stroll into a visit?
Trains Through Asia: I am not sure if you have come across The Man in Seat 61? He has to be world’s largest train nut, and what a wonderful resource he has created for rail-travel fans. The loose plan is to fly into Singapore and then train (and bus where necessary) north through Malaysia, Thailand and finishing in Luang Prabang, Laos. Again, a fantastic way to experience a variety of Asian cultures, move slowly through the changing countryside, and meet the locals.
Houseboat Trip on the Hawkesbury River: This one is much closer to home, and probably the shortest travel adventure. I have always thought a houseboat, a bit like the canal boats in England and France, would be a relaxing and different way to ‘play tourist’. The Hawkesbury River is one of the main rivers that forms a rough border on the northern side of the Sydney basin. Only three hours from home but a world away from the chaos of Sydney.
thrown into the mix. This walk starts at Irun, near the border of France, and follows the Spanish coastline until you cross into the province of Galicia, then turning south-west towards Santiago de Compostela. This is a tough walk apparently, due to the mountainous terrain, so we had better start training now!
Overseas Volunteering: We also plan to spend some time giving back. With The Brave Man’s* extensive education skills, and my bag of tricks, perhaps we can make a small positive difference to someone’s life.
That is just a small sample of what’s currently on the list. I think it’s a nice mix of active, overseas, cultural and the Aussie, but I am more than happy to print out a longer list or buy a larger fridge to display it!
So, now it’s your turn. What is missing from our list? What cracker destinations must we add?
What: The Bucket List is open to all suggestions. I figure once the appeal of sitting on a long haul flight fades, our focus will change and we will travel much closer to home.
When: Anytime, and any length of time.
Why: Who needs a reason to travel?
How: Planes, trains, automobiles plus by boat, on foot, by bicycle.
Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and anyone else up for adventure.
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…’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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?
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.
How: 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!!
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 heyday 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 the 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 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 cultural 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.