Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Alice Springs

Monday 16 May: The town in the red centre of Australia, Alice Springs came into being as a staging post for the telegraph link from London, via Singapore and Darwin, to Britain's south Australian colonies. So I take an afternoon stroll, north along the Todd River (usually dry), to the old telegraph station. It's a pleasant walk punctuated by "good day" greetings from the slightly scary traditional 'black fella' custodians of the area.
Tuesday 17: It's also a long stroll, east back past the train station, to Aralueun Arts Centre where is distinctive Aboriginal art encompassing both traditional and conventional western landscape styles. The Museum of Central Australia is interesting too tracing the earth's evolution from the big bang to traces of early life and mega-fauna with finds on display, like weighty meteorite fragments, mostly from Central Australia, as evidence of the process. Fascinating museum.
Wednesday 18: A walk up step Anzac is rewarded by fine views of MacDonnell Ranges and Mt Gillen which dominate the town.
Photos of Alice Springs.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Ghan to Alice

Sunday 15 May: Another of the world's great big rail journeys. Completed in 2007, The Ghan (86th mode of transport) is named after the tough Muslim Afghan cameleers who first opened up this trail as a caravan route.
So, from Adelaide's Parklands Terminal I take my seat and promptly at 12:20pm we slowly pull out of the city. It's a comfortable overnight trip with reasonable meals and good but expensive wine. First we pass farmland, grain fields mostly, but soon we are in the 'red centre', the outback, proper. Trees give way to bushy scrub and I've seen it all before, magnificently monotonous.
Monday 16: A morning of more interesting bush with rocky backdrops and a single river, still almost dry despite the recent rains. Then, after lunch, we find ourselves in Alice.
Photos of The Ghan.

Barossa Valley

Saturday 14 May: Once again, due to limited time, I'm obliged to see the Barossa Valley as a day tour rather than cycling around as I would have wished, next time! So, here we go again.
First is the iconic Wolf Bass vineyard's range of chardonnay, then their most famous 2008 Barossa shiraz, a Coonawara cabernet sauvignon, a deep velvety 2006 cabernet sauvignon/shiraz/malbek blend and finally their 2007 Barossa shiraz with a spicy finish, nice. Next is Maggy Beer (famous Australian cook) farm shop then onto Barossa Valley Estate for a similar range of wines from this pretty vineyard.
After lunch my camera batteries die before we reach Barossa Langmeil Winery where I'm particularly impressed with their creamy 2008 valley floor shiraz and 2008 freedom shiraz. 2008 really was a good year. Lastly we reach the impressively restored Chateau Tanunda: a 2010 Eden Valley reisling, a pinot grigio, a garnacha rose, a sweetish moscato, a 2008 shiraz primitivo - particularly lovely when served with infused wine chocolate. This is getting good. Next is a nice bottled 2009 shiraz which becomes soft and mellow when decanted followed by a sparkling shiraz which would be great with bacon and eggs then, just when I think it can't get any better, out comes the pineapple marmalade tones of their 2009 botrytis semillon. Days don't get much better than this.
A few Barossa Valley photos.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Adelaide revisited

Tuesday 10 May: I'm forced to upgrade to first class to get a seat on the Overland train to Adelaide. Probably my favourite Aussie city, it has more of the feel of a small country town and I book into the now familiar YHA hostel.
Wednesday 11: This visit I have time to explore the Art Gallery properly. I'm impressed by some traditional Aboriginal works, Herbert Schmalt's Zenobia's last look at Palmyra and John Collier's Priestess of Delphi, among others.
Thursday 12: I also have time now to visit the National Wine Centre where there's a desert wine tasting. Luscious apricot flavours in the pale 2009 yellow Mr Riggs 'sticky end' followed by the more golden yellow and marmalade flavours of the Woodstock 2006 botrytis semillon, then lastly the citrus fruits of Tim Adam's pale straw coloured botrytis reisling. Wonderful, what a great institution.
Fri 13: Today I walk around Adelaide and research more travel plans in the magnificent library of the Royal Geographical Society. This evening is one of the National Wine Centre's Uncorked sessions - meet the maker, taste the wine. Tonight it's Colin Kay from Kay Brothers Winemakers and Vignerons. Originally from Arbroath in Scotland, Colin's family are now settled in the McLaren Vale wine region, yet another job my school careers master omitted to mention. Colin presents us with five fine reds each decanted four hours earlier: a 2009 soft fruity basket pressed grenache, a 2008 mellow cuthbert cabernet sauvignon and two hill side shiraz wines, a 2007 and a 2008, regarded as the best vintage which should mature in about 18 years. Interesting evening.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Yarra Valley

Monday 9 May: I'm running out of visa time so I'm forced to opt for a day tour of the Yarra Valley including lunch and a structured tasting at four wineries. First is Yering Station's three reds where, once again, I go through the seven 's' process to sample their wines: see, sniff, sip, slurp, swallow, spit (optional) and savour. Their 2009 red cherry pinot noir is good but their sangiovese and shiraz viognier not so. Next is Rochford Wines where I enjoy their 2010 late-picked chardonnay, a 2008 cabernet sauvignon and a 2009 shiraz. Yering Farm Wines, a pretty litle family run boutique winery, is next: a 2008 merlot, a 2006 cabernet sauvignon, a nice 2004 pinot noir and a late-harvest desert wine. Lunch is at Domaine Chandon with smooth bubbly and a nice 2008 shiraz. Good day, but wish I had more time to cycle around some of the the other vineyards.
Photos of the Yarra Valley.

Thursday, 26 May 2011


Tuesday 3 May: Melbourne has two National Galleries of Victoria so first I visit the one which houses Australian artists. The collection includes Aboriginal works, early Tasmanian landscapes by John Glover and later Louis Buvelot scenes, an iconic Tom Robert's Shearing the Rams, another of Sydney Nolan's Ned Kelly series - I just love the burning eyes and Fred William's burning red outback landscape Rising smoke shows it as it is. There is also a Sydney Bridge by Grace Crossington-Smith, some op and pop art and a delightful work by John Olsen, Summer in you beaut country, enjoyable day.
Wednesday 4: On the south bank of the Yarra River is the international gallery with some interesting furniture and a nice Andy Warhol Self portrait. It's a pretty walk back along the river bank.
Thursday 5: Back in the city centre just north of the copper-domed Exhibition Hall is Melbourne Museum, stuffed animals galore.
Friday 6: Today I meet up with Louise in Ferntree Gully on the foot slopes of the Danedenong Range at the very eastern tip of Melbourne's suburbs. From Mount Dandenong there are views over the city and nearby is people-friendly bird life. Crimson Rosellas and a King Parrot flock around us for a free meal and following a jog up one-thousand steps I get a free meal too, at Chris and Louise's spacious suburbs-edge home. It's Kangaroo steak, like lean tender beef, washed down with a Pepper Tree shiraz. Thank you guys.
Saturday 7: A quick wander through the Royal Botanic Gardens then on to Old Melbourne Gaol to see where Ned Kelly, among others, was hanged. A somber experience.
Sunday 8: No visit to Melbourne is complete without seeing a game of Aussie rules football so Chris and Louise take me to see Melbourne v Adelaide at the massive Melbourne Cricket Ground. Great game if you're not from Adelaide, who lose by more than a hundred points.
Photos of Melbourne.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


Saturday 30 April: Canberra's War Memorial is more than just a monument, it's a surprisingly emotional museum experience with Anzac day poppies remaining. In the afternoon it's a long but pleasant lakeside stroll to the National Museum of Australia. It's mostly modern collectibles like those you might find in a junk shop at home, but the colourful Aborigine quartz spear tips and art are impressive. The much smaller Canberra Museum and Art Gallery has some sculptures and one of Sydney Nolan's Ned Kelly oils on canvas.
Sunday 1 May: Another long walk, this time south across the Lake Burley Griffin towards Capital Hill, takes me to the National Gallery of Australia and Julie's guided tour of the highlights. She's clearly not a Nolan fan and I have to find the Ned Kelly series for myself. At five million dollars a painting it's quite a collection. In the close by National Portrait Gallery I only recognise four faces: Lieutenant James Cook, David Campasie, Nicole Kidman and Nick Cave. I just have time to see old and new parliament buildings as dusk falls.
I end my day with a row of Wig & Pen Brewery samplers: a rich nutty malt Lazy Days ESB (5.8%), a fruity refreshing pale ale (5%), a mellow earthy IPA and a roast and slightly chocolate cream stout, but horror of horrors it's Sunday and they close at 9:00pm, bloody Aussie licencing laws. I'll have an early night, I'm off to Melbourne tomorrow.
Photos of Canberra.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Belrose and Bondi Beach

Saturday 23 April: I've kindly been invited to stay for Easter at John and Lisa's Sydney home in the northern beach suburb of Belrose. There's no McDonalds nearby so instead I invite the family to a Sardinian restaurant overlooking Freshwater Bay, my treat (I allow myself the occasional splurge). Named Pilau at Freshwater it's extensive Italian and French wine list rivals most in Australia. John and I share their signature dish, a two-person platter of slow oven roasted cuts of suckling pig with fine crisp crackling while Liza picks their Rangers Valley rare hanger steak with cannonau jus - this looks pretty good too. Lisa's sweet desert, white chocolate, apricot and pistachio semifreddo with torched Italian meringue (I think) looks amazing while John an I share a plate of four Italian cheeses served with walnut bread and sweet dried raisins on the vine, all delicious, but for me the semi-hard Venito cows cheese with black truffles is a clear winner. The wine waiter's recommendation is a popular Corsican red, smooth and luscious to my palate much more so than the yet-to-mature Aussie reds of the Hunter Valley, and we finish off with a Clare Valley desert reisling and vintage 25-year old Pays D'uge calvados courtesy of John, followed by more red wine and late night, early morning rugby back at chez Boyle. Such an engaging evening I forget to take photographs.
Sunday 24: Easter home-cooked lunch is a Liza-family team-effort for twenty-four hungry Aussies and one pom. It runs like clockwork, I'm amazed - there are people who's names I'll never remember - Des, another John, Alistair, Georgie, Daniel and so many more - the tenderest roast pork - the firmest poached pear - too much big sparkling shiraz red and Yarra Valley merlot - too little coffee - shamefully I bow out for an early night - too much wine in too few days, too many people, too few photos. But, I have a big new 48-page passport, freedom! Sincere thanks guys - enjoy the Robyn Drayton's "Foreplay" and if you are ever in London . . .
Tuesday 22: More rain. Too cloudy to climb Sydney Harbour bridge so I take in The Rocks Anzac Day celebrations, suddenly the weather clears briefly and I find myself at Bondi Beach. Storm clouds gather and I'm running out of visa time so it's time to head west to Canberra, the nation's capital, west? West is the start of the the long-haul home.
Photos of Belrose and Bondi Beach

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Hunter Valley

Wednesday 20: Yesterday a CountryLink coach transferred me from Byron Bay to join their XPT service at Cassino and this morning I arrive at Maitland station in the cold early dawn with plenty of time to catch the first local bus to Cessnock village in Hunter Valley. The Valley is nearly all about vineyards and after two breakfasts I sign up for the YHA's 11:00am purple bus tour of the wineries. The Hunter Valley is best known for it's heavy shiraz reds, semillon whites and desert wines or 'stickys' as the Aussies call them, but before we set off a bunch of teenagers are drinking heavily - they're French and are "drinking the best stuff first" (French wine), perhaps I've made a mistake going on this tour?
First we call at the large Rosemount estate where their budget allows experimentation, so we try their three light (8.5%) sauvignon blanc botanical range first, each infused with aromas such as blood orange and rosewater, sweet but great for a summers day. Then we progress through their other whites, a light dry 2010 pinot grigio, a 2003 chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills and a sweeter ripe riesling, before hitting their show reserve reds. The 2006 Mudgee shiraz is plummy, vanilla and a little spicy and the 2006 GSM is more fruity with a spicy finish. We finish with their 2009 ruby "O" (over ice) a carbonated blush pink shiraz (think fruit juice) and finally their sweet and nutty fortified aleatico rare Italian muscat liqueur, sickly.
Back in the bus it's north to Constable Estate Vineyards with it's pretty gardens made dull by the rain. Here I join two English couples and first meet Sam, a dusky beauty from Surrey who works in Wimbledon. Again we run through the wineries range from semillon blanc to their full-bodied shiraz red. Sam and I really hit it off and after lunch she suggests we slip away from the others who are cheese tasting and sample the wines at Tempus Two next door. I fail to pick up on the reference and we rejoin the others.
The bus now heads south to Draytons Family Wines for another structured tasting then east to Savannah Estate with very good shiraz reds and a botrytis semilon chardonnay that smells like old socks but tastes delicious. In the evening over dinner I'm enchanted by Sam - thirty somethings don't usually come on to me like this. . .
Thursday 21: This morning I say goodbye to Sam but I can't get her alone to ask for her contact details, story of my life. I take a photograph of the group before they leave and am delighted by Sam's body language, if only I could reach her.
Today, instead of structured tastings, I'm off on my hired bicycle to cherry pick the wineries, so it's a day lush reds and tasty desert wines. But my first stop is Petersons Champagne House for a breakfast of sparkling wine. Their crisp and fruity cuvee is followed by the dry 2007 semillon pinot noir then their sweet and refreshing pink blush rose. Across the road is Hungerford Hill where I go through some of their range: a 2009 Tumberumba pinot noir, a fishcage cabernet, a merlot, a fishcage shiraz, a Tumbarumba shiraz, a lovely 2008 heavy metal hilltops shiraz, a very good botrytis semillon and a toffee flavoured liqueur shiraz, this is a great way to spend a day.
A bit of a hill climb then I turn south and at the end of Halls Road is Pepper Tree Wines where I try four of their wines. I like the three reds, a 2009 shiraz, a shiraz viognier and a cabernet sauvignon, all complex and powerfully peppery, and their botrytis semillon is delightful too. Next up is Tempus Two Winery and their great heavy 2005 sparkling shiraz followed by a mellow 2005 bortytis semillon and an oak honey 2007 botrytis semillon, great. Here I'm surprised to bump into Sam's party again. Final goodbyes but I still can't get her on her own, damn.
Over the road is McGuigan Cellars with more full-bodied wines: a spicy merlot, two shiraz reds, a late-picked traminer with a lovely bouquet and a 2008 botrytis semillon.
Following lunch and after a long hilly cycle ride I find myself at pretty Tyrrell's Vineyards for four more shiraz reds and then on to Oakvale for three reds and a liqueur muscat. Now it's a long ride back to Brokenwood and four more reds followed by two rather wonderful desert wines: huge pineapple flavours in their umpire's vineyard sauvignon blanc/semillon blend and mouthfuls of raisin in their 2008/09 sticky wicket semillon, both the best of the day.
At the end of a gravel track with fine views over the valley is Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard and three more wines: a sparkling moscato desert wine, a dessert semillon and a vin de vie fortified with brandy spirit. I'm tired now but last on my list is Robin Drayton Wines with their hard to beat, best named wine of the day, "Foreplay" botrytis semillon, not to be drunk alone! I buy a couple of bottles and head home.
Friday 22: I decide to walk to the Hunter Beer Brewery for an extra treat, a tasting paddle of four beers: a pale ale, a creamy light wheat beer, a delicious chocolate porter and a sweet oyster stout. The chili porter is not for me.
The wines and beers are wonderful memories to take away from the valley but the most endearing memory is that of bewitching Sam, will I ever see her again, who knows?
Hunter Valley photos.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Byron Bay

Sunday 17 April: Lively seaside town of Cape Byron, mainland Australia's most easterly point. Taking a walk along to the cape I look down and discover wildlife of a different sort - a small leech has attached itself to one of my toes. By the time I find some salt it's swelled to three times larger but it soon shrivels and I pick it off. Bleeding profusely I clean and bandage the tiny puncture holes, no problem.
The cape and lighthouse stand high above the rough seas and I head home in the rain. In the evening Lucky Wonders, a local girl band, play a resounding set of country and bluegrass music in the Railway Pub.
Photos of Byron Bay.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

North Stradbroke Island

Thursday 4 April: Train to Cleveland, bus to the ferry terminal for the fast catamaran Calypso to Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island then an island bus northeast to Manta Lodge near Point Lookout. Rushing I take a stroll around Point Lookout headland towards Main Beach hoping to Whale watch but instead, much to my delight, I creep up on a lone Kangaroo, my first, and am lucky to be able to take a series of photographs. I cut back along the soft sand of Frenchman's Bay, over Dune Rocks and Deadman's Beach to get back home. Great day.
Photos of North Stradbroke Island.