Monday 14 October 2019

Australia: round III

Phil and I were lucky enough to have two weeks leave from work and had been invited to a wedding in a picturesque little town called Daylesford near Melbourne over the middle weekend.

We crammed in so much, but it felt like a truly relaxing and soul nourishing break. Especially at a time when our work life is going through some turbulence!

Day 1 - Hobart

We flew overnight from Singapore to Hobart in Tasmania and had a full day wandering around MONA when we arrived. MONA stands for Museum of Old and New Art and is a really quirky and interesting place. Lots of art themed around sex or death, along with live jazz, trippy light installations and stunning restaurants, all hidden along an underground maze. We ate and drank at Faro where the food and views were matched in their brilliance. Who'd have thought plonking a massive sphere in the middle of a room would look so good?

Despite it being a Saturday there wasn't any real nightlife, which came as a bit of a surprise considering Hobart is the main city in Tasmania. We eventually found a couple of jazz musicians and I began what was to become my daily routine of drinking Tassie pinot noir.

Day 2 - Freicynet, Wineglass Bay, Bicheno

A delightful little farmers market was open so we stocked up on Tasmanian pepper, bread, cheese and gin before driving to Freicyenet National Park and the Wineglass Bay area, known for its stunning views of the bay, which as you've probably guessed, looks like a wine glass. We had a lovely little walk taking in the views and, of course, taking terrific selfies.

We tried and failed to see little penguins in Bicheno that evening (pretty sure we were at the wrong part of the beach), then got in an early dinner before the kitchen closed at 7.30pm - something which we came to realise was standard pretty much everywhere in Tassie!

Day 3 - Bay of Fires, Weldborough

We detoured a little to reach the Bay of Fires and I am so glad we did as it was a slice of coastal heaven with white sand and orange hued granite. The Garden was our favourite area, where we stopped to clamber over rocks and take it all in. 

On the way back we stopped at a place called Anson Bay and ate lunch on a boat pier looking out at a huge lake with no other visible life but for a few birds (including one mahusive pelican!)

After lunch we drove to Little Blue Lake which looked as though the saturation had been turned up. The brightest blue water, paired with green trees all around and large white rocks. Absolutely stunning, and so different from anything we had seen previously.

If these places were anywhere else, they'd be heaving with tourists. What I love about Tassie is that you can go somewhere incredible and be the only ones there.

We ended the day by going on a dusk to dark walk in a tiny village called Weldborough. Not much to say about Weldbourough as it appeared to consist of a hotel and little else. The walk was stunning though and would be epic for off-road biking.

Day 4 - Mount Victoria Reserve, Launceston, Devenport

We drove through Mount Victoria Reserve, stopping at St Columbia Falls, Ralph Falls and a little cheese factory along the way to Launceston. 

We were in Launceston by the late afternoon so walked along Cateract Gorge (lovely name) and took a cable car over the lake at the top as the sun went down. We continued on driving all the way to Devenport, our base for the night. 

Day 5 - Sheffield, Cradle Mountain, Tullah

We passed through a tiny village called Sheffield, complete with a marble shop, a few wacky cafes, an antique shop and hundreds of murals covering the walls. I'm so glad we got to see this little gem on the way through.

We then drove up to Cradle Mountain and hiked up to Marions Lookout and back down to Dove Lake. It was exceptional. Hardly anyone along the track. Large plains of bush and grass (and the odd wombat), rocky faces to scramble up, icey snow at the top, and views for miles.

We headed to Tullah and found a pub. We played chess as the sun set over the mirror lake behind us. I reckon I only lost the game because I was distracted by the view...

Day 6 - Strahan

We took the West Coast Wilderness Railway from Strahan which included champagne and brekkie. It was fun chugging along and interesting to hear that the path was all knocked out and built by tools alone (i.e. no explosives). It sounded pretty horrendous to have worked in the wet and cold for so long, but the payoff was large when the trainline eventually started running and transported copper to Queenstown.

After the train we watched a fantastic 2-man play called The Ship That Never Was. It is the longest running play in Australia so it wasn't surprising that it was incredibly well done.

We stayed in a beautiful AirBnb called Stables - the best place we'd stayed so far on the trip with all its wooden panels and large rugs.

Day 7 - The Wall

Most of the day was spent driving or at the airport waiting for our delayed flight. However, The Wall made it a day to remember. A man called Greg Duncan has self-funded a project, carving a sculpture in 100m of wood. It is sculpture like I have never seen, with the veins on hands, or the strands of hair being carved so delicately it is hard to believe it's not real. No pics I'm afraid.

Day 8 & 9 - Daylesford

Saturday marked the wedding of our friends at Quirindi Stables. So much fun, so much champagne, so much pain the next day nursing our hangovers.

Day 10 - Grampians

On the way out of Daylesford we stopped at Lavendula Farm. Imagine a children's book of a farm and that is pretty much what you get - it had everything down to the little chicks, a cafe for scones and tea and a lake. We arrived at Hall's Gap at dinner time and our Aussie dreams came true when we saw about a hundred kangaroos grazing in the field outside our lodge.

Day 11 - Grampians

A kangaroo joined us for breakfast about 2 metres away on our little balcony. Cute when bent over, terrifying when standing up.

We walked up to the Pinnacle Lookout and almost got blown off the cliff. Wind, then rain, then sun, then hail.. the weather was crazy.

After the Pinnacle we drove over to McKenzie Falls and the Balconies for some more spectacular views over the Grampians.

Day 12 - Grampians, Port Fairy

We met some local friends who took us on a walk to Beehive Falls and up to Briggs Bluff. It was only about 13k but a killer going up such steep inclines. The view was out of this world.

We drove to Port Fairy in the evening which looked like a lovely place. However we were just there to eat and sleep before driving onto the Great Ocean Road the next day.

Day 13 - Great Ocean Road, Lorne

We snuck in a quick game of mini golf then drove along the Great Ocean Road. There were helicopters flying overhead so we made a very rash decision to swing in to the office and inquire.  Before we knew it we were up in the air looking down on the GOR, the Twelve Apostles, London Bridge and the Bay of Islands. The weather was sunny on one side and raining on the other, very cool to look at from up above. A very impulsive but utterly fantastic experience.

We headed on to Lorne as we had been recommended the Eskine Falls hike. As sunset was fast approaching, we drove to the top of the falls then ran/walked all the way down. Jumping across the river, climbing over and under trees, scrambling up rocks. Felt like Lara Croft. Looked like an Adventure Scout. 

Day 14 - Melbourne

Phil ran up to Erskine Falls to collect the car then we drove over to Melbourne to meet a friend for lunch. We spotted a seal in the Yarra River which, after googling, learnt was called Salvatore. 

We had a night out with some other friends in the evening. Lots of dancing, a bit of singing, and another sore head the next day.

Day 15 - Melbourne

I borrowed a bike from the hotel and rode along the river from Richmond up to the city. I didn't realise rowing was so popular in Melbourne. Every 50 meters there was a boat and a cyclist on a loudspeaker belting them instructions. 

I can't believe how much we fitted in to just 2 weeks. The scenery, the wildlife, the people. Everything was even better than I imagined. Australia - you've done it again.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Australia: round II

Gong xi fa cai - which means two days extra leave in my world. Thank you lunar new year for allowing me to go on another holiday!

First impressions of Perth - clean, friendly, chilled. We stayed in North Bridge, at a place called Alex Hotel. It was decked out with scandi style furnishings, had a lovely roof garden breakfast/chill out area.

We spent the first day ambling around the city and did well out of Perth's various clothes shops (which are so much better than Singapore). It was warm, but not sticky like Singapore. Made a change walking around without the familiar feeling of sweat dripping!

I'd heard there's not much to do in Perth usually, but lucky for us the Fringe festival was running while as were there, showcasing musicians, dancers, comedians and a sorts of other acts. We bought tickets to see two acts later that evening - a hypnotist and some kind of bizarre cabaret.

There's a great little restaurant opposite Alex Hotel called Bivouac. Good cocktails. Great food. Especially if you find yourself in newfound vegetarian land like me..

After dinner it was Matt Hale the hypnotist who was incredible. Unfortunately I wasn't able to be hypnotised (not through lack of trying) but it was LOL hilarity watching the others all dance or speak whale to one another on stage. Highly recommend!

Straight after it was El Bizzaro - a bit of burlesque, a bit of nudity and a bit of self-mutilation. I thought it was pretty out there when a guy pushed needles through his cheeks and arms, but then a woman put a sword down her throat and another attached stirrups to rings on a man's back skin and rode him like a horse! Some other things involving his balls + a tube happened which will be engrained on my retinas forever and is just too gross to write here.

To try and forget what we had just witnessed, we found a bar with some live music and proceeded to drink and dance the night away. I can't remember where we went, but aussies sure know how to have a good time!

Despite a raging hangover, we managed to get up and have a look around Fremantle the next day. It's a pretty little town which boasts the 'roundhouse' - apparently the oldest building in Western Australia. 

Something I noticed about Aus, is that almost all women have colourful tattoos on their arms. It looks awesome. Kinda makes me want one... Although the whole 'what do I get that I won't hate in 10 years?' question always holds me back.

We drove down south along the coast towards Margaret River. Along the way we found ourselves in Bussleton. Now Bussleton is world renowned for its pier, which is the longest in the southern hemisphere and the second longest in the world. Pretty amazing eh. 

No I didn't think so either.. but it's brilliant that Bussleton have managed to make a whole tourist attraction from a pier. But we had a good time, catching the little train there and back and spotting some dolphins out at sea along the way.

Something which surprised me was that as soon as the sun goes down, it gets cold. I didn't expect that at all, but I guess I makes sense as the air is so dry, so there's no moisture to retain any heat.

We had booked an air BnB in Prevally, owned by a gorgeous Aussie/English couple, Rob and Sue, who were super friendly. It was difficult not to be over-familiar with Rob, who was the spit of Phil's Dad. Their home was lovely too with a large deck overlooking the ocean. Something I love about air BnB in general is the personal touch. Rob and Sue were able to recommend lots of places for us to go and made us feel so welcome. 

Rob also told us about the history of Prevally which was rather interesting.... An Aussie chap was fighting in Crete in WWII and sought safety at an old monastery in a town called Prevally. The Nazis left them alone as they didn't want to attack the monks which meant our Aussie friend got out safely, picked up by an English submarine. When he returned to Australia, he built the town of Prevally in honour of the Greek monks and sent the monastery money over the years.

Although I'm not sure Prevally can be classed as a town as it has just one shop and one cafe, both of which close by 8pm. Although this was kind of perfect for me who'd been dreaming of sleep all day.

We booked an all-day wine tour with Margaret River Wine Tours the following day and were picked up by Matt, the most Aussie person I've ever met. We were the only people on the tour for the morning so had a personal experience and tasted all sorts of wine from cellar doors in the area.

I would recommend the tour company, but wouldn't advise on an all-day tour - I couldn't hack more wine after lunch so the afternoon was a little wasted on me. 

We were back in time to watch the sunset at Surfers Point, watching the windsurfers doing crazy jumps and bracing ourselves against the wind. With a cloudless sky, the sunset was all sorts of gold and made everything around look beautiful. 

Saturday and our last full day on holiday. We booked a little coasteering experience with a guy called Cam on air BnB experiences. A little tamer than I had hoped, but still good fun climbing over rocks and taking leaps of faith into the foamy ocean below. Cam used to be involved in air rescue and told us a few stories about the shark attacks in the area. He also chose to tell us about the deadly blue ringed octopus that are found in the water where we swimming, just as we jumped in.

Once we finished, Cam recommended we drive over to Hamelin Bay to see sting rays, and being my favourite animal, I didn't need telling twice. We headed straight there and OH MY... Jaw dropping scenes.

There are lots of caves to explore in Margaret River, all along  the aptly named Caves Road. We chose to check out Mammoth Cave as it's self-guided, whereas some of the others you have to wait until a tour group is ready. Mammoth was interesting and bloody enormous (hence the name). The part I found most interesting was the fossils they had found of animals from millions of years ago, which were wiped out when the first humans arrived - we really are shit sometimes.

We had dinner on Margaret River high street, mainly to suss out the area. Dinner was delicious, but there really isn't much down that way. I would suggest doing what we did and staying somewhere near the ocean rather than in the centre. If you hire a car it's easy enough to get everywhere.

Initially we had planned to get up at sunrise and drive back to Fremantle, catch a ferry to Rottnest Island, meet some friendly quokers, and be back in time for our flight. Thankfully, our air BnB host warned us against this as we hadn't thought about how long it would take.  Recommendation to others - give yourself a full day/ overnight at Rottnest as the ferry is a couple of hours each way.

Instead of Rottnest, we rented a kayak and SUP from River Mouth and headed up the Margaret River. I've never seen anything quite like it - the river one one side and the ocean on the other. I'm so glad we got there, it was bloody beautiful.

Before driving back to the airport we took a little detour to Eagle Bay. Lunch at Wise Wine was delicious and the view overlooking the vineyard and the ocean wasn't too shabby either.

Before this trip I thought nothing could beat Victoria or Sydney. I have to say, Western Australia has blown me away! It's not too far from Singapore, so hopefully we'll be back again soon.