Saturday, December 26, 2009

Xmas 2009

For the last few years we have shared Xmas Day with our good friends Ruthy and Richo, and our godless-daughter Katie, taking it in turns to act as host. So Edgwater was our location and we had a wonderful team to join us get thro our 11 course degustation day. The video features the following people announcing each course - careful viewers will note certain people getting "jollier" as the day proceeded:-

Course 1 - summer basil soup by Nicky, presenter Katie P

Course 2 - oysters 3 ways by Katie P, presented by Richo

Course 3 - summer ceviche of salmon and tuna by Katie P, presented by Nicky

Course 4 - BBQ rabbit fillets with braised borlotti beans by Richo, presented by Liz

Course 5 - braised oxtail ravioli by Richo, presented by Michelle

Course 6 - raspberry jelly with raspberry granita by Katie P, presented by Ruthy, eventually!

Much needed walk to give the tummies a break!

Course 7 - roasted veggie cous-cous salad with harissa dressing by Nicky, presented by Margaret

Course 8 - japanese fusion style belly pork by Richo, presented by Katie and Stuey

Course 9 - pepper crusted lamb rump with lentil, sugar snap peas and mint salad by Richo, presented by Nicky

Course 10 - fig and mastic bavarois, made and presented by Katie P

Course 11 - cheese and port, by Ruthy and Richo, presented with style by Stuey

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day 156 – 161 Kangaroo Island to Melbourne – 11-16 Nov 200

26,939 kms, 35 degrees C

We had a long day drive on leaving Kangaroo Island, threading our way North up to the freeway that runs into Victoria. Stuart and the restraint (or guilt) to avoid driving thro the Coonawarra wine region – there were probably too many bottles of wine in trucks on their way to Melbourne already, and the credit card was wilting under the strain!

Dunkeld is at the base of the Grampians, one of our favourites spots in Victoria, half way between the SA border and Melbourne. This was our second trip of the year, first we were here in Feb with Liz and Ian. This time we stayed at the campsite, but we overlooked the camp cooker for the spectacular food at the Royal Mail hotel.

Then it was time to drive to Cape Paterson – we could not get access to our house as it is still tenanted, so we headed off to the beach, via the ferry from Queenscliffe to Sorrento. It was a bit surreal re-entering “normal life” after over 5 months on the road but it was good to see Cape. And at the weekend we drove to Melbourne – we saw Albury, but Wodonga was away.

So that is it – the big trip is over. It has been a truly amazing experience for us. Two weeks holiday is great, but to be away for months is a break on a different level. Australia is a wonderful country – we are privileged to be able to live in such an amazing, diverse part of the world. Our memories will stay with us for a long time – and we have the blog plus videos and pictures to take with us.

In some ways it is sad that the trip is over – but the upside is that we can now embark on our next exciting chapter. Nicky has just landed a Professor position at Bristol University – we head North in June 2010. So who knows where future blog entries will be from – Venice, Florence, Cornwall..... this space to find out!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 154 – 155 Kangaroo Island – 9-10 Nov 2009

25,695 kms, 41 degrees C

Once again, when we thought we had seen it all, the next spot is right up there with the best. Kangaroo Island is 2 hours South of Adelaide, off the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula. We were surprised by how big it is – Australia’s third largest island and seven times the size of Singapore. It is a short, but expensive, ferry ride across a narrow throat of water stuffed full of dolphins. It was amusing, if smug, to watch the “tourists” waste lots of digi shots and video footage. Experience tells us not to bother, they are too difficult to capture at a distance.

As we had limited time on the island we headed straight for Flinders Chase, at the South Western corner. On the way we popped into Seal Bay to see the Australian sealions, which Nicky refers to as fur seals incorrectly on the video. You just cant get the quality journos these days!

The mercury hit 41 degrees as we got to Seal Bay. We had to get the thongs and singlets (wife beaters) out of the bag after getting the colder weather clothes for the SW of WA. As it was hot, the sealions were scattered not too far from the beach. Wise move. The beach was littered with them – we did a guided walk where we managed to get within 10m of theses huge, amiable looking creatures. But they were less than friendly with one another – the males were getting “toey” as it is coming up to the mating season, and they were fighting for the best bit of beach to attract the girls. Boys will be boys!!

Next stop was Flinders Chase. We woke to wallabies in the camp site – even after 5 months of roos and wallabies we do not tire of them. The NZ fur seal colony at Admiralty Rocks kept us amused for over and hour. They are smaller, darker and more active than the sealions but their behaviour was similar – boys fighting for the best “real estate”. Remarkable Rocks were aptly named. Then we found a koala colony, our first of the trip. Koalas were introduced to Kangaroo Island to help dwindling numbers. Due to the lack of (mostly introduced) predators like snakes and foxes, they are thriving, so much so that they are being caught and relocated on the mainland. They are very cute, if a bit dozy.

We then took a tour off the island’s emu and eucalyptus oil factory. Several reader of this blog might recognise this paragraph when they open their Xmas pressies! The emu oil is made from fat of the said bird, the eucalypt oil is distilled from leaves.

And there are wineries on the island. OMG – Stuart nearly fainted, as we are sooo short of wine. Not!

KI is stunning in just about every way.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 151 – 153 Adelaide and surrounds– 6-8 Nov 2009

25,203 kms, 36 degrees C

After the long dusty Nullabor Plain the lush Clare Valley was very welcome. The Clare is one of the top wine regions in Australia, but often is overlooked in comparison with its higher profile cousins like the Barossa and Coonawarra. This is a shame as the wines are terrific and well priced.

The wine industry has major problems in Australia. Growing the grapes and making the wines are the easy bit – the problem is that there are just too many vines in the ground. Stuart cannot believe he is typing these words! There was a call in the Financial Review (yes, we are reading some hi brow stuff on tour) at the weekend to pull up 20% of vines across the country. Leasingham have closed. There are over 40 wineries for sale in Maclaren Vale and Adelaide Hills. Such bad news for wineries is good news for consumers, like us, as the prices drop.

At Clare we tried to visit a few big names then some smaller brands that we have not heard of. We tried Sevenhills, Jim Barry, Tim Adams, Neagles Rock, and Mintaro. The latter is a sub region, just off the main drag in Clare – beautiful country, architecture and wine, of course.

Having bought too much wine, again, we headed South to the outer suburbs of Adelaide to stay with Stuart’s cousin Linda and Frank at the “zoo” in Lewiston. It is amazing what you can pack (or alpac?) onto a 3 acre block – goats, dogs, birds, sheep and Nicky’s favourite, alpacas. They can be used to ward off foxes – they can be pretty fierce and spit, as demonstrated by Matilda on the video! Nicky loves the fact that they poo in the same spot, making life easy for cleaning up and fertiliser collection. And they look a bit like ET when they have been cropped.

We had a great pub meal with in Two Wells – amazing service in that place!!

Barrie and Judy Newman are good friends of ours from BNI days – the Newmans were the franchisees for Adelaide. We took advantage of their hospitality which was great for many reasons, not least being in an air conditioned house when the mercury was hitting the high 30s.

After lunch at Woodstock in Maclaren Vale, Barrie and Judy took us to meet Val and Trevor Griffin at their vineyard in Kuitpo. The Griffins are doing it tough like the rest of the industry but they must survive as their wines are just wonderful. We were dismayed to here that Trevor had made the hard call to let Chardonnay grapes rot on the vines last year as it was not economically viable to make more wine. And the Chardy we tried was a ripper.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day 148 – 150 The Nullarbor – 3-5 Nov 2009

25,024 kms, 22 degrees C

The Nullarbor is latin for “no trees” – having spent the last 3 days on it, we see how it got its name! Since leaving Albany on Monday we have driven 2,591km, or the distance from London to Cyprus, at an average of 650km/day. Since Sunday we have put fuel in the car every day, a total of $744. Just think of the wine that could have bought if we had stayed in Margaret River...

Having survived one of the great road trips in Australia we are relieved to be in Clare Valley in SA. It is great to say it is over, but bits of it were wonderful. The sheer cliffs were dramatic, though we couldn’t get to the Head of the Bight as it was closed (quite how a natural phenomenon like this can be closed had us a little baffled!).

The video shows us entertaining ourselves on the longest straight stretch of road in Australia – 90 miles or 146.6km. It is amazing what cruise control and a well placed knee can do.

Nicky is now playing dinnertime end games – having stacked the shelves full of tinned and dried food in the event of us getting bogged in 50 degrees in the Kimberley, we now have to eat all this stuff. So dinners are getting interesting but they are not likely to win too many awards. And it is amazing where chick peas can turn up!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day 142 – 147 The South West, Yallingup to Esperance – 28 Oct – 2 Nov 2009

22,957 kms, 22 degrees C

From Perth we headed back to Dougie and Beth’s at Yallingup – this time to meet more relos as Hilary and Norman had arrived. Hilary and Dougie are Nicky’s cousins from the Kilpartick side of the family. The Kirsops threw another awesome dinner party – we met some more of Dougie and Beths friends, had great food washed down with Margaret River wines.

Next we headed South East, to Walpole – Dougie, Hilary, Norman, Nicky and Stuart that is as poor Beth had to stay behind to try and sell the house! We moved into Rest Point campsite, a beaut spot right on the water. Steaks and snags were on the menu for dinner, for the humans and the cheeky kookaburras – one took a piece of steak off Dougie’s fork before he had chance to get it to his face. He was probably talking too much...

...which became a bit of a theme for the weekend, check out the video!!! Next was a wonderful morning boat ride with WOW and our wonderful, if slightly mad tour guide Garry. The arvo was spent at the top of the tingle trees in the Valley of the Giants. It was wonderful to spend so much quality time with Hilary and “stormin” for the first time since our wedding 19 years ago.

We then turned “left” to head East – a direction we will be in until we return to Melbourne. But next stop was Emmie and Paulie’s in Albany. And Budga, the dog! We visited our first distillery of the trip and Sunday saw a ripper 4WD trek to Paulie’s favourite surf areas. We gave the car a good work out, which it passed with flying colours.

November already –Nicky’s bottom lip is starting to appear at the thought of going back to Melbourne! Our next stop East was Esperance, yet another Auzzie town with glorious beach location, partially blighted by heavy industry on one of the best beaches you will ever see. Besides that the views were awesome. Twilight beach was voted best beach in Australia in 2006 – there is lot of competition for that particular gong.

The South West has many tree plantations, mostly branded Great Southern or Timbercorp. This was a slightly bitter reminder of a sum of money we put into Great Southern a few years back on the recommendation of our accountant, who is also into the horses. Great Southern and Timbercorp both went to the corporate graveyard this year. If my accountant had a tip for the Melbourne Cup tomorrow, I would not be backing it!!

Tomorrow sees us do battle with the Nullarbor, the long road to Adelaide. We will be spending many hours in the car over the next week, 500-600km per day.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 137 - 141 Perth/Rottnest Island – 23-27 Oct 2009

21,535 kms, 26 degrees C, 11 snakes

Back to Perth – we had lots of “stuff” to do. The car is holding up very well to the rigours of such a trip, but a few things have rattled loose on the corrugations. It went in for a service and Stuey had to do a few "manly" jobs. Testosterone, its shocking stuff. The back bracket on the exhaust broke at 80 mile beach – Stuart borrowed a wire for a bloke in the camp next to us and that got us to Perth, 5 weeks and 6000km later.

We met Andrew Tait, a bass player with WASO and bass maker. Really nice bloke – he gave up and arvo to talk machine heads and stuff with Nicko and Stuey. Then got us tickets to go see WASO do battle with Don Juan, a Ross Edwards fiddle piece and Dvorak 6 (not his greatest piece, he still had the composer L plates on). It was a great evening and wonderful to meet Andrew having heard so much about him.

A pleasant Sunday was spent in the Art Gallery. We joined a guided tour – actually we were the guided tour, just us and our wonderful American guide Alan, who took us thro each section and explained lots of stuff behind significant pieces that we would otherwise have walked past. Its a wonderful collection.

We spent a great day on Rottnest Island, which is an hour’s ferry ride from Freo. Rotto, as is affectionately known, was named Rattenest by the intrepid but stupid Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh – he founds lots of small fury animals that he thought were rats, hence the name which means “rats nest” in Dutch. [you don’t just get great pix, videos, and wonderful prose on this blog, we are now branching into languages too!]. The little fellas are not rats, they are quokkas, very cute small marsupials. They must have huge rats in the canals in Amsterdam!

There is a lot to Rotto including aboriginal history, snorkelling, birdlife, snakes (we saw another one) cycling, beaches yada yada yada, but lets get to the point – its all about the quokkas. They are cute and abundant – it took next to no time after jumping off the ferry before we found our first quokka. It was a major effort to stop Nicky picking one up and taking home with us.

Bikes are the best way to hoon around the island. Bums and quaddies were no so happy about this on the ferry home – its hilly and windy.

And now for one of the craziest stories of the trip so far. A few weeks ago Stuart noticed a lump in his chest, hitherto not recognised. It is just below where the two rib cages meet. Fearing the worst, we managed to arrange an appointment with the Doctor, thanks to Peter and Sylvia Gregory. The good Dr had a prod then sent Stuart off for an ultrasound and x ray. The radiologist asked one question, “have you lost some weight recently”. The said lump is Stuart’s xifi-sternum, a bone that he has had all his life but in recent years has been buried under a blanket of blubber. So the good news was that its not the big C, and alls well. The not so good news was that it cost Stuart over $400 to establish this. The moral of the story is - losing weight can cost you money!!

And finally this is the last blog entry involving Nicko, who has now left for a few days with Michelle in Melbourne. Hats off to the old boy for sticking it out for 11 weeks. He was dropping into 30+ degree temperatures looking as white as a ghost fresh from a UK “summer”, then dragged thro 11,400km of NT and WA at a rate of 1000km per week. A brave man indeed. It was great having you with us Nicko – we are still arguing about who will pay for the diesel and more importantly who will be doing the washing up now that you have gone!!!!

Day 131 - 136 Margaret River – 17-22 Oct 2009

21,100 kms, 26 degrees C

Followers of this blog will have realised by now that the length of the blog entry, video and number of piccies are in proportion to the fun and enjoyment we had in the place. We had to be ruthless in culling our coverage of Margaret River as we had such a good time. So much so we are returning next week!

We stayed with the Kirsops – Dougie (Nicky’s cousin), Beth, Georgie and Paddy (the dog). Visitors to our Cape Paterson beach house will be familiar with our wonderful Kirsop painting – we stayed in the studio, with all Dougie’s current and recent paintings and we can sense another little purchase coming on!

The Kirsops are in the process of selling their wonderful house and moving to a smaller block of land just around the corner (see video). They have been in Yallingup for 20 years and though things have changed over that time it still retains its amazing charm. At dawn and dusk large mobs of roos pop out to get stuck into the grass. Ring necked parrots are beautiful creatures, even if they are not the most popular with rose growers like Beth! The Kirsop gardens are full of birdlife in the morning – the twitchers didn’t know where to point their lens.

We popped out for a couple of nights – the first on a day trip down to Cape Leeuwin. We did the tour to the top of the lighthouse which was informative, spectacular and a good workout for the legs. The road back passes through a wide range of country include Karri forests and some of the best surf beaches in Australia, for example Hamelin Bay.

The eagle sanctuary allowed us to get up close and personal with most of Australia’s type of raptor. Many of these birds are being rehabilitated, to be returned to the wild. The flying display featured a black kite (even though she was brown) – Stuart is looking particularly chuffed to have the glove on.

But all the wonderful tourist attractions mentioned above serve one purpose – to give the palate a break between tastings at Margaret River vineyards!! We went hard but didn’t really scratch the surface. Many of the household names (Vasse Felix, Leeuwin, Cullen, Moss Wood etc) have wines available back home in Melbourne, so we focussed on the smaller and up and coming vineyards. It was great to be able to pick the brains of the locals, especially Mitch, who really knows his wines. He brought round a Moss Wood and E&E Black Pepper Shiraz to dinner at Dougie and Beths – for readers who don’t know that much about Auzzie wines, these are very serious top shelf bottles. You will not find them at Woolies or Tescos!

Day 126 - 130 Fremantle – 12-16 Oct 2009

20,390 kms, 28 degrees C

Perth is the next flagstone on the trip. After four months on the road we have topped 20,000km, which is half way around the world, from London to Christchurch (the furthest city in the world) and have started to make our way back again!

WA is a big place. It is the 2nd largest subnational entity in the world, behind the Sakha Republic in Russia. WA is 2.6m sq km – by comparison, the largest US state is Alaska (no, not Texas) which is 1.7m sq km. And Queensland is also bigger than Alaska.

We have now driven from the NE tip to the SW corner. And we had to stop for fuel. A few times!

It was great to meet up with our good friends Peter and Sylvia Gregory for a fish supper in Northbridge. Peter is a Paediatric Dentist in Perth – Sylvia was busy organising a family function to celebrate her parents 60 years of marriage. That is not a typo, 60 years! Sylvia had letters of congratulation from the Queen, Prime Minister Krudd and just about anyone and everyone who counts below these two in the great food chain of life. Quite remarkable.

We stayed in Mosman Park, near Fremantle, where we spent quite a bit of time. “Freo” is a lively city that has been engulfed in the urban sprawl of Perth. It has a great market, wonderful streetscapes and microbreweries, such as the Sail and Anchor. We tried to sample the complete range of boutique draft beers, all of them wonderful, while watching, “the youth of today”, drink bottled Corona. Are we getting old and crusty? I thought so?!

There are wonderful walking trails, fresh seafood shops on the waterfront and great architecture. We spent more hours than planning in the maritime museum, which has lots of interesting stuff on migrants to Australia. This was of particular interest to Nicko as his mum visited Perth a long time ago. Stuart’s relos landed here while on a £10 passage to Adelaide in 1948. In many ways Freo really was the gateway to Australia.

There are a number of historical moments in Auzzie history where any true blue will tell you where they were when it happened. And they are all sporting, such as Kieren Perkins winning the 1500m freestyle at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 - we were in a shopping centre in Parramatta, watching it on the tele. Next would be Kathy Freemans win in the 400m hurdles at the Sydney Olympics. But the top of the stack would have to be when Australia II won the Americas Cup in 1983, with its controversial winged keel. It was financed by Alan Bond, a corporate crook known as the “lovable rogue”. Unless you were his creditors of course!

Australia II is in the Freeo Maritime Museum, along with the Auzzie jacket worn by Prime Minister Bob Hawke the day after celebrating the success in the US, when he uttered the immortal words, “any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum”. It doesn’t get more Auzzie than that!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 124 - 125 Cervantes – 10-11 Oct 2009

19,880 kms, 21 degrees C

After our short sojourn inland we returned to the coast and headed down to Cervantes. We arrived on the last Saturday of the school hols, where the campsite was pretty full – by the time we left on Monday we were in an empty field.

The big highlight around these parts would have to be the Pinnacles – a series of stone columns standing to attention in the desert. There are a number of theories about how these were formed, but one is that they were dead trees that have been covered by sand dunes, broken down and solidified to create vertical rocks.

There’s plenty of wildlife around here, kangaroos hopping across the sandy roads and heaps of birds, so Nicky is happy.

It’s getting cooler and dramatically we had rain for the first time in four months, since Fraser Island. A bit of a shock to the system. And yes, it’s still very windy – check out the video. We had a fridge full of food to cook but ended up in the pub as it was too cold and windy to try and get the gas stove lighted and sit outside the tent.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Day 122 - 123 Geraldton to Morewa – 8-9 Oct 2009

19,597 kms, 30 degrees C

Geraldton is the Big City in the mid WA coast (for a map, see the Kalbarri previous blog entry). It was a bit of a shock for us to have to deal with traffic lights and roundabouts once more – it seemed like they were from a previous life. It is one of those many Australian coastal cities that have amazing ocean vistas but are blighted by heavy industry, right along the beach, a bit like Gladstone in Qld.

The most notable feature of Gerry was the memorial to the HMAS Sydney, sunk off the WA coast in WW2. The Sydney was lost until 2008 when its wreck was discovered off Steep Point, WA. The memorial is a moving tribute to the 645 souls lost – the dome is made of seagulls, one for each person lost.

Next we headed inland to go Mullewa and Morewa, to see the wildflower country. WA is blessed with a dazzling array of flowers over huge areas in Spring – one of the hotspots was Mullewa where we went to see the wreath flowers, a plant that grows on the side of the road in a circle with flowers on the outside, as if an arranger has created a wreath. The appear for 300m and that it! The roads are full of colour that changes with each passing km.

We were tempted by the local rodeo, especially as we look the part with our Akubra hats!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day 120 - 121 Kalbarri – 6-7 Oct 2009

19,140 kms, 24 degrees C

From Monkey Mia we continued our trek South and next stop was Kalbarri, a very popular spot in school holidays. The town is transformed overnight from a sleepy seaside town to a packed holiday destination when the kids break up.

Our first tourist stop was Rainbow Jungle, a parrot breeding centre. They have and amazing array of squarkers from Oz and overseas.

We are well and truly in the WA wheat belt country, which at this time of year is renowned for its wildflowers. The wildflower centre was OK, but the star of the show was a thorny devil, not the flowers. These are odd creatures indeed – latin name Moloch Horidus just about says it all.

One of the big attractions in the Kalbarri National Park is the loop walk – great views and wildflowers but the flies were unbearable, which is why we are sporting our smart flynets on the self timer shot taken on the cliffs just South of Kalbarri. We spent an hour on the cliffs watching whales breach in the distance and large pods of dolphins fishing closer to the cliffs.

Finally the wildlife in our camp was pretty awesome – a pair of splendid fairy wrens came out each morning with an awesome display of colour and stupidity. The bright blue dude is the bloke, the plainer colours bird his Mrs. They both insisted on attacking their own refection in both the wing mirror and windscreen of the car!!