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The charm of the Solomon Islands goes beyond cheery smiles, waving palm trees and laid back ambience. WWII tourism takes you under the sea for a history lesson.
(Images courtesy of Gerald Rambert)
With the advent of dark tourism: empty prison tours, walks through defunct death camps, murder sites and . . . well, just about anywhere that pain, suffering, death and destruction have put their mark on the earth’s surface are now popular locations for the instagrammer generation of travellers. Planting a big smile in the middle of a frame with barbwire or prison bars in the background make for a boatload of likes for their ‘brand’.
But something a little softer and less likely to hit the digital top of the pop charts is under the water.
All over the world there are wonderful dive sites for those who don the black to dive deep. Close to Australia, just three hour’s flight away are unspoilt gems, the Solomon Islands.
Many of the islands are not easy to access except for private charters or the slow and steady – and rustic banana boats, so best to discover the islands and dive sites with those in the know and in comfort.
Solomon Islands Discovery Cruises is a company that has an inclusive itinerary which is about diving, snorkelling, relaxing and visiting islands and discovering the local culture and traditions – ‘kastom’.
Wreck diving is at a premium, and the echo of WWII resounds here in many ways, mostly underwater and the watery graves are a benign destination these days.
When the tide of the war turned in WWII, many Solomon Islanders became ‘scouts’, who were the eyes and ears of the allies. Prior to the Guadalcanal campaign of August 1942, the Royal Australian Navy activated a network of coast watchers. The coast watchers were Europeans who remained behind enemy lines to radio information about Japanese naval and ground forces and aircraft.
Coast watchers remained concealed.
When the US Marines landed on Guadalcanal more Solomon Islanders offered help as scouts and carriers. There are stories of bravery, loyalty and skills to be told and one of them is when scouts ensured the rescue in August 1943 of a future president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was commander of patrol boat PT-109 which exploded and sank when a Japanese destroyer hit it. An Australian coast watcher and two islanders saw the explosion and found Kennedy and his 10 surviving crew and reported to the Aussie coast watcher who arranged a rescue. An act of divine providence that saved the future president of the USA? Maybe, and maybe one of many such incidents throughout the Pacific.
Scuba diving in the Solomon Islands is a dream for enthusiasts. Not only are there vast swathes of unspoilt and beautiful coral gardens to enjoy, marine life of myriad colourful and plentiful critters, but an ocean-full (not quite) but relatively crowded with WWII relics. Planes of all fighting denomination, artillery, barges and detritus of army, air force and navy equipment that was jettisoned by the Japanese and the American forces when they left or were driven out. So many ships close to the surface and many planes are waiting to be explored. This manmade underwater ghost life has joined the deep blue and is now home to many species of fish and other marine life that has taken up residence, found a good breeding ground and created a deep, watery neighbourhood that divers are fascinated with. There are many shallow wrecks that are suitable for snorkelling too.
Not in the region of Dark Tourism, wreck diving is all about the letting the light in.
The writer was a guest of Solomon Islands Discovery Cruises and Solomon Airlines. http://www.divemunda.com/solomon-islands-discovery-cruises
I sent this blog post out into the world last week but have since had a lovely update on discovering art once you’re out of the big smoke. I received in the mail (how nice to actually have something delivered by the postman) a little booklet/brochure of Renaissance Tours Summer and Autumn 2021 cultural tours.
Lately I have heard people lament that they can’t travel overseas and that they can only take their holidays in Australia. Well, a big bloody ‘boohoo’ to them. This vast, beautiful, strange and curious country has so much to indulge in. And away from the action-packed adventures to be had there’s a wealth of cultural experiences that are up for grabs that are introduced via special itineraries with Renaissance Tours.
Two took my eye that almost matched up with my piece below.
Regional Galleries of New South Wales – Orange, Bathurst and the Blue Mountains from 18-23 April, 2021. Highlights include meeting local artists in their studios, having a private guided tour of the significant Orange Regional Gallery and there’s a visit to an award-winning cellar door for a wine tasting – well, art does make one thirsty.
And there’s another one, Art Galleries of Regional Victoria – Bendigo, Ballarat and the NGV Ian Potter Centre for 18-23 April 2021.
And others are calling me too – William Morris in Adelaide, 11-17 April 2021; New Art Spaces of Tasmania, 26 April to 5 May, 2021 and there are garden tours, ancient landscapes and sacred sites to view, a music festival, Opera in the Yarra Valley, Northern Rivers Food Trail and many more cultural delights to uncover and discover in Australia.
For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org and http://renaissancetours.com.au
Drive, stop, look . . .
Regional art galleries throughout Australia offer a vital contribution to the community’s cultural life. Emerging artists are promoted and travelling exhibitions will see works by artists that are of the highest quality and internationally recognised. If you are lucky enough to catch the gallery’s curator, there’s the opportunity for a yarn about local artists, local history and perhaps a bit of council gossip. Whomever is working at the gallery shop (wonderful for gifts) is a wealth of local info too. Take your credit card with you as this is where you might snap up the next Dobell, Blackwell, Margaret Preston or Grace Cossington Smith.
Here are a few worth putting on the wish list:
- Bega Valley Regional Art Gallery, Bega on the far south coast of NSW;
- Meroogal House, Meroogal, Nowra, South Coast NSW, a gothic-style house where four generations of women lived until the 1980s when it became a museum of domestic life;
- Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre, Murwillumbah, northern NSW;
- Bathurst Regional Gallery, Bathurst, central west NSW;
- Bendigo (pictured) and Ballarat in Victoria are the heavyweights of regional galleries. Travelling exhibitions, Lyndsay family works, the Eureka Flag – both stunning and worth a slow walk round the rooms;
- The Aboriginal Art House, Hahndorf, SA. The gallery has a wide range of Indigenous art and artefacts along with explanations of the various symbols in the artworks.
- Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm on the Dampier Peninsula far north Western Australia, has a stunning pearls on exhibit and pearl shell carvings ‘Riji” by Indigenous Bardi men.
- Bunbury Regional Art Gallery, WA is housed in a peachy-pink heritage building.
- Stanthorpe Regional Gallery, in the Granite Belt, Qld is a new building with exciting exhibitions – and indeed, prospects.
It’s not regional, only a few kms from Hobart but MONA in Tassie is one of the most provocative and exciting galleries in Australia. Go for the experience and go with an open mind.
The most exciting thing to happen in the regional art world is the advent of Wall art and Silo Art. Towns such as Benalla in north east Victoria has an annual Wall art festival which see the town all buzzy and beautiful welcoming the cream of young artists painting walls. And their biggest fans are the Baby Boomers who travel the towns and are familiar with the artists’ work, talk to them and are encouraging. The Silo Art Trail in Victoria shows stunning work done on the high, decommissioned silos. Often the paintings are of local farmers representing the legacy of those on the land.
Australia’s capital city is a little different to those of other countries; it is confined to a territory and is surrounded by the bush, with a mountain range in the backdrop.
It really began as a rather vast paddock with a view of the Brindabella mountain range to the west, the high country snow fields to the south and the Pacific Ocean way over to the east. And that precious piece of Australian territory became the seat of parliament – the Australian Capital Territory, the ACT.
The place was decreed in 1913 and as early as 1908, tenders were put out internationally to design this new city. And Walter Burley Griffin won the toss and the rest is history.
I talked to a local sheep farmer a few years back (beautiful grazing land here) and he said he imagined that Canberra was designed on a template in the sky and plonked down on a bare paddock. Having not thought about this comment for ages, I recalled it recently when I saw a picture taken of the newly built Hotel Kurrajong Canberra from the early 1920s. It sits alone with an odd gum tree observing in bewilderment at the long, two-storey habitat floating in a sea of dirt and space.
And as the elegant building still sits in the same place now with a sophisticated city built up around it and the rooms filled with memories and perhaps the odd ghost – the gum tree has lived its life and has been replaced by thousands more in this ultimately green city.
The hotel was designed by Commonwealth Chief Architect, John Smith Murdoch, also renowned for designing Old Parliament House and built during the Australian Capital Territory’s alcohol prohibition years. There was a strong Temperance Movement in Australia (hard to fathom!) but never full-on prohibition – except for the ACT from 1910-1928 – when new liquor licenses were banned. The writing was on the wall for the pollies!
Hotel Kurrajong accommodated officials transferred from Melbourne to set up Australia’s new capital, Canberra. The hotel hosted officials and press for the opening of Parliament House in 1927 and continued as a home to Members of Parliament, their families and public servants for years to come.
It was basically one of three ‘hostels’ built in the fledgling capital. It catered to single people or couples (married, natch) with no kids. For almost half a century it provided residential accommodation for Members of Parliament. Basically an upmarket boarding house in a country town.
Today’s hotel is more than a shadow of its former self. There’s a calm elegance to the hotel that starts to creep up on you as soon as you arrive.
The garden in front of the entrance when I arrived at the beginning of summer was awash with a crowd of English Tea Roses – pink, fluffy fragrant blooms displayed in the garden.
The lobby, reflecting the Art Deco ambience is cool and collected – a fire flickers in the original fireplace (modern gas) alight even in summer to add to the old school ambience of the lobby with quirky chairs surrounding the fireplace. Chairs are of different designs, to give colour and variety to the welcoming space. Look down – Oscar winning designer Catherine Martin designed the 4m x 5m rug in the lobby.
Rooms (there are 147 of them, with 26 in the heritage wing) are large and have the calming edge with blues, charcoals, a dash of silver, dove grey and a pop of colour in the framed wall prints. The room 205 (the numbering has now changed with the renovation) is remembered as the room in which Ben Chifley (Australian politician who served as Prime Minister from 1945-1949) lived. He suffered a fatal massive heart attack in 1951. There have been various ghost sightings claimed over the years – apparently a grey-suited man manifests pointing towards Old Parliament House.
Big is beautiful as the bed spreads to eternity with the finest linen and some pretty damn fine pillows. Breakfast is in Chifley’s Bar and Grill, plus dinner served here as well – it’s mostly about the great steaks. The outdoor garden beckons on a fine day but best to stay indoors in the middle of winter and summer here.
Getting the goods on Canberra
Jay Hore, Hotel General Manager – Hotel Kurrajong Canberra, knows his way around the city and advises:
Why visit Canberra? “Not only is Canberra the national capital city and the administrative centre of the Australian government, it is the home of the Australian story! Canberra is a place that is a diverse, innovative and modern city that houses the stories of Australia. Whether it’s the world class national attractions or the bustling events calendar, Canberra has plenty to offer visitors of all ages. Couple this with a thriving food and wine scene and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors (we’re called the bush capital for a reason), you’ll see that Canberra is a city full of surprises!
Don”t miss the Botticelli exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, opening 5 March 2021.
Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London https://nga.gov.au/masterpieces
- Museum of Australian Democracy – Old Parliament House
Walking distance from Hotel Kurrajong
- Australian War Memorial
Last post ceremony every day at 5pm
- National Portrait Gallery Love Stories
Walking distance from Hotel Kurrajong
- Questacon – the National Science and Technology Centre – with more than 200 interactive exhibits to explore. www.questacon.edu.au
- Australian National Botanic Gardens
Opening hours 8.30am to 5pm Daily
Lonsdale Street Braddon Great cafes and restaurants. Check out https://lazy-su.com.au/
Extra special places not to miss:
Canberra Glassworks: a gallery and glass art studio. www.canberraglassworks.com
The Gallery of Small Things (a tiny gallery in a suburban backyard) www.galleryofsmalthings.com
Dirty Janes Canberra (a fab emporium of vintage and bespoke items too fab to not buy, plus a cafe): www.dirtyjanes.com
Rizla – a bar serving only Riesling: htpp://www.drinkrizla.com.au
AKIBA ( in the city for Asian fusion) http://www.akiba.com.au
Maybe Canberra should be proud of the nickname ‘Bush Capital’, as the hospitality here has a warmth and the service offers friendly authenticity as a country town – that has been gently plonked down in the middle of a big paddock.
There’s nothing like the experience of walking into an Outback pub in Australia. You might be greeted with an effusive “welcome” or a taciturn “g-day”, be surprised by a slick hipster serving coffees at the bar or a bartender who looks like he wrangles steers. A gap-toothed smile is always on the agenda but the dim, cool bar will be your best ,first impression out of a blazing hot day – and the beer is always cold.
Hopefully, once all borders are open you may visit these classics – so giddy up:
1. Daly Waters Hotel, Northern Territory: an historic NT hotel, it has a long, colourful history that has seen murders, cattle stampedes (in the street, not the bar), shoot outs and drunken brawls. A five-hour drive south of Darwin and you’ll be there. Sorry, all’s calm and civilised these days.
- Tattersall’s ‘Tatts’, Winton Qld: This is the oldest standing hotel in Winton. The real deal, smack bang in the middle of Queensland, with wide verandah overhang and a fine bar. Grab a meal here – this is where you’ll find the ‘great steak slab’.
- Prairie Hotel, Parachilna South Australia: this is something else, a ‘luxury accommodation’ hotel, a casual grab-a-beer bar and a much awarded restaurant serving exquisite gourmet creations. In the Outback in Australia’s desert zone (and after the main course – a remote dessert zone) which stretches from Parachilna to the south to Birdsville – pull into a true blue surprise.
- Palace Hotel, Broken Hill NSW: the building was once a coffee palace in 1889, built by the Temperance Movement. No surprise, the idea was not successful and the place ultimately became a licensed hotel. The splendid old building was one of the stars of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The crazy grandiose murals were painted by an Indigenous artist Gordon Waye. Accommodation ranges from dorms to kitschy suites and the restaurant always gets a good rave.
- Family Hotel, Tibooburra NSW: 340km from Broken Hill, way out in Corner Country (NSW, Queensland and South Australia are nudging each other here) the hotel sits to serve visitors and the town’s population of 135. It has held appeal for musicians and artists and inside the hotel are some authentic works of Aussie artist Clifton Pugh.
- Birdsville Hotel, Birdsville Qld: since 1884 the sandstone walls of this famous pub have weathered floods, fires, cyclones and rowdy crowds that drive or fly in for the annual weekend of Outback eccentricity – the Birdsville Races. For those who brave the unpredictable track, the reward of ‘being in Birdsville’ is the simple thrill of being in this far flung location.
As I said last post ‘How to indulge in Tasmania’, Tassie is hot to trot as borders open up and folk are on the move. Following is more info to fit into the travel plan. This is provided content that I am happy to share as we are all in this together – domestic travel that is! Funny thing, I lived in Geeveston way back in the day when us youngsters would go apple picking and at the end of the season, every nationality gathered at the pub in Huonville and there was an unforgettable party. I was dancing on the bar, blokes were going in for the serious biff and chaos reigned . . . ah, my sweet days of youth. Perhaps a future blog on my Tassie adventure while picking apples and . . . But the area is so very nice now, and has much to offer the traveller . . . just keep yourself nice.
There are plenty of reasons to hang out in the region; some are new and some are as old as the mighty forests that flank its townships. The Huon Valley has been social distancing long before it was on trend, sitting on the edge of World Heritage Wilderness and often popping whole paddocks between neighbours. By its very nature, the valley is drawing visitors and a swag of new locals. Find out why with our top five picks:
- Wilderness and wildlife – you’ve seen the pics; this patch is naturally epic. South West Wilderness Heritage Area is on the doorstep. Summit Hartz peak in a day, wander down to South Cape Bay or perch 30-metres above the forest floor at Tahune Airwalk. Venture underground at Hastings Caves and take a dip in the thermal springs. Don’t be surprised if wallaby eyes are watching on, the Huon Valley teems with wildlife. From migrating whales to Wedge-tailed eagles and wandering wombats, there is no shortage of impromptu appearances of the wild variety.
- For the love of water vistas – they’re everywhere! Sip morning coffee served with mirror reflections on the Huon River. Dip a kayak paddle in lesser-known waterways deep in the Far South. Watch Huon pine boats bob down Cygnet or Franklin way, likely built near their mooring. Snap your Insta-worthy sunrises across winter misted waters or pour a Valley wine at sunset by the Southern Ocean. Water views come standard in these parts, punctuated by the hues of seasonal changes.
- Delish produce – arrive hungry. That is all. This is ocean to plate, farmer to mouth kind of amazing. Pull on gumboots and meet rare pig breeds with Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans or find out why Massaki Koyama’s Geeveston sushi is hailed by some as Australia’s finest. Meet craft cider makers, where apples don’t fall far from the ciderhouse at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed, Frank’s Ciderhouse & Cafe or Pagan Cider. Meet the innovative food and drink producers who choose the Huon Valley as home from Hansen Orchards apple growers to Tas Saff, now selling saffron nationwide through Coles and Woolworths, to the roadside stalls with produce and local blooms.
- Creative inspo – there’s a bounty of prominent artists and makers in the valley; some national treasures who love the anonymity, others recent locals like potter Bronwyn Clarke, who found a natural clay seam running beneath her Deep Bay studio. Wander the artist studios and galleries, bring your sketch pad or sign up for a workshop. Lots is happening in the creative space including acclaimed producer and writer Posie Graham-Evans embarking on a McLeod’s Daughters TV series spin-off. Settle in to this inspiring hub and let the creativity flow. Did we mention Posie has accommodation known as the Writer’s House?
- End of the road – that’s right, you can’t drive further south in Australia. Cockle Creek is literally the end of the road. Park your car at Australia’s southernmost parking lot and pull on your boots. The 4-5hour return walk to South Cape Bay is a cracker. When you get there, next stop is Antarctica. Breathe deeply – it’s some of the freshest air on the planet.
Keen to find out more about any of our five reasons to hang out in the Huon Valley? Pick your fave and we’ll handpick more detail to send your way. If it’s the southern wilds that take your fancy, let us shoot you the latest short walks. Want to connect with our creative community? We’ll fill you in on the current visitor offerings or an emerging landscape artist. If it’s food and drink experiences, we’ll provide your fill from cooking classes to our Pinot labels.
For more information visit: www.huonvalleytas.com/
Here are some accommodation highlights.
The tiny island of ‘Tassie’ has an abundance of attractions and experiences to be indulged in. After a long period of being unable to travel, here is where you will breathe easy, enjoy glorious nature and get a taste of the best of what the island has to offer.
Separated from the mainland by 240km of the unpredictable waters of Bass Strait, the island of Tasmania has a brutal history with its beginnings as a far flung penal colony for hardened villains. And as the island developed, logging, fishing and agriculture began to sustain the island state to become the southern area of Australia and the ‘mother country’s’ fruit basket.
Today, a visit is rich for experiences, from culinary to cool climate wineries, artistic culture to outdoor, natural excursions. Following are six highlights of Tasmania that have been pulled from a hat that is bursting with many more:
Start with arguably Australia’s most beautiful state’s capital city, Hobart. Well after colonial times and up to the 1960s Hobart was a sleepy town that had not progressed and its architecture and back story was ignored by the rest of the country. Now it proudly shows off what was or could have been demolished and forgotten. Places such as Battery Point, built in 1818 to house workers and merchants of the great port. This area is considered to be Australia’s complete colonial village, hardly changed since 1840. Hilly streets, quaint cottages and views to the sea and the imposing backdrop of Mount Wellington looming over Hobart. All that has changed here is the traffic and exorbitant real estate prices.
Constitution and Victoria Docks are the heart of Sullivans Cove where pleasure craft and small fishing boats tie up. Fancy some fish and chips? Perfect food for a wander round this precinct, which is all abuzz when the Wooden Boat Festival is held (every two years) and goes crazy as Constitution Dock is the finish line for the annual, prestigious Sydney to Hobart Race held when the yachts depart Sydney to sail south on Boxing Day.
The city offers stunning botanical gardens, waterside walks – and a trip up Mount Wellington is a treat – but damn cold in winter when snow often decorates the summit and the wind cuts through you.
As Tasmania is a gourmet’s passion there are many beautiful and innovative restaurants in the city and within a 30-minute drive out. For locally sourced food for taste heaven check out: Dier Makr; Fico; Franklin and The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery.
Salamanca Markets held along the dockside’s Georgian buildings is where you’ll find, fine artisan produce and arts and craft. There are small galleries here in the old warehouses that compliment big sister up the road, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
OH, MONA . . .
Embedded into the riverside cliffs along the Derwent and Moorilla Vineyard is an institution that has put Tasmania on the world map . . . MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. This is one of the most exciting attractions ion Australia. Don’t come here looking for an immersion into the gentle art of paintings, come her to be excited, appalled, surprised and moved to tears and laughter. Drive there from the city, 15 minutes, or catch the ferry and enter up the stairs from the river bank. A visit to MONA is about your own experience – be provoked, be entertained.
This rugged island just a short sail from Hobart (best time to go from October to April) is a joy to behold on the journey there. Dolphins at play, gangs of sleepy seals playing possum on the rocks and sea birds swirling above. North and South Bruny are connected by a narrow strip of land called The Neck, which is easier to say than ‘isthmus’.
Take a day trip here or enjoy a few lazy days or spectacular bushwalks that come with ‘glamping’ holidays. Camped out in the bush here and being fed on local seafood and fresh Bruny oysters is irresistible.
South Bruny National Park is where the mighty dolerite cliffs around the southern capes stand; Cloudy Bay’s arc of dunes are the result of relentless ocean swells; Great Taylor’s Bay is a calm and sheltered spot where Bennett wallabies, Tasmanian pademelons and echidnas roam – like they own the place!
Don’t miss the path at Cape Bruny that leads you to the convict built lighthouse – the views from here are spectacular.
Over on the wild west coast you can do the locomotion on an historical train journey. All aboard for the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a restored 1896 rack-and-pinion railway that travels over 34km of river and forest track from Queenstown to Macquarie Harbour or from Strahan to Queenstown. There’s a full day or half day train trip and as you travel through pristine wilderness areas, you’ll cross deep gorges and wonder at the minds that planned this challenging and almost impossible and impassable terrain. All aboard now!
Freycinet National Park has the amazing combination of dramatic mountains, elegant beaches, silky smooth lakes – along along a narrow peninsular. The peaks of The Hazards light up with a tangerine glow at sunset in the summer and are covered in swirling mist during the cold months. Wonderful walks here and a view, before you descend to Wineglass Bay with its perfect beach of glowing white sand is spectacular.
Canoe along the inshore waters and paddling around Coles Bay offers up a splendid view of The Hazards.
Freycinet Lodge is pretty fancy for a stay and great views of Coles Bay. From waterview rooms and restaurants, after a relax, there are organised walks and outdoor activities – if you can tear yourself away from the deck!
Full on posh is the divine Saffire Lodge, a luxurious experience for fine dining, fine spa treatments and a damn fine view of The Hazards when you look out your windows. There’s a trip to Coles Bay to shuck your own oysters while standing in the bay (in waterproof waders) and sipping a glass of bubbly. Nothing could be finer . . .
TASTE OF THE NORTH
Maybe it’s the landscape, or simply the Pinot Noir, but there’s something magical and charming about Josef Chromy Wines. Set 10 minutes outside of Launceston on Tasmania’s northern coast, the winery is housed inside an estate established in 1880, and views stretch out towards the rolling hills and slopes that are covered in vines.
Here, enjoy the total winery immersion event: Sample the Pinot and Chardonnay that the winery is famously known for. As the Tamar Valley’s most notable vineyard, Josef Chromy Wines offers exceptional culinary experiences, from basic tastings at the cellar door to tours pairing wine and chocolate. For a full experience at the winery and restaurant, join a tour that goes ‘behind the label’ for a glimpse of the winemaking process, which is then followed up by an exquisite meal, perfectly paired with the wine. Josef Chromy Wines is located 4 minutes south of the town of Relbia and 10 minutes south of Launceston.
And there’s so many experiences to have here, just sort through Tasmania’s box of tricks which includes: the city of Launceston on the Tamar River; Cradle Mountain; historic Richmond and Port Arthur.
This story was previously published in New Zealand’s leading travel magazine: Visit http://www.letstravelmag.com
Getting close to crossing borders again – head to the top of Oz: Darwin
Once considered the wild west, Darwin was a haven for maintenance avoiding men; dodgy people who needed to disappear, 20th century vagabonds and a town with a drinking culture to set galactic records.
When Cyclone Tracy blew into town on 24 December 1974 and devastated the town and outlying areas, what rose from the flattened town and broken hearts was the origins of a new, modern city that would be a beacon to government, entrepreneurs, tourism activity, young go-getters, especially the migrant and refugee settlers – which has resulted in a busy, buzzy tropical town.
To market . . .
Gone are the days of the slab of steak, three eggs and chips as regular fare, international cuisine is well and truly on the menu in some great restaurants but the place to get your spicy fix is the markets.
While traveling you may be hanging out for a flat white made by a topknot wearing chappie with tats and a goatee, a laksa or a tropical smoothie, Parap Market is where the locals throng to every Saturday morning. Fruit and vegies that you’ve only seen in Asia are on sale and while you tuck into a curry or roti, shut your eyes and taste the spice accompanied by the light aroma of patchouli – yes, this is where the new breed hippie has been reinvented. (You could probably give them a few tips from way back!)
The main place to hit just before sunset is Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. This is Darwin’s most popular tourist spot so arrive early and bags your spot on the beach. They operate from April to the end of October (the dry season). Munch a kangaroo sausage, a meal from the Roadkill Café. listen into the poetry readings, watch a dance troupe or pick up a few Aboriginal arts and Asian crafts. Don’t panic if you miss the magnificent sunset, there’ll be another one tomorrow.
My best place to go
(A fave sunset watching spot is from the less than posh yacht club, the Darwin Trailer Boat Club. The city’s oldest club (1954) started out as a modified caravan on the beach and now serves cold beer and fantastic food from the bistro.)
Or sashay on to a yacht or a restored pearling lugger for a sunset cruise on the harbour, accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine to set the mood.
We reckon you you can still find a decent steak and chips and an authentic burger here but here’s the lowdown on where to find the best eats in town:
Pee Wee’s at the Point; Little Miss Korea (for Barramundi Bibimbap), Alfonsinos, Char Restaurant, Hanuman and Il Lido. But as in any town, sometimes you just have to follow your nose and take a leap of faith.
Best pubs are The Precinct and Lola’s Pergola. There are many other watering holes of various persuasions.
The big hotels have fantastic restaurants and clever clogs chefs. Darwin’s signature dishes include amazing prawns from the Gulf and before you leave you have to seek out Penang Crocodile Curry and the King hit dish – Chili Mud Crab.
Some local pubs will serve you a family meal with surf’n’turf as the special and if you are nostalgic for the 80s there’s always the ‘parmie’ washed down with a cold beer. Bottoms up!
Darwin is home to the weird and wonderful and aside for some seriously lovely attractions you may want to step out of your comfort zone for:
- The Helicopter Pub Crawl (three different pubs to share a yarn or two with the locals and a few bevies and the designated driver is a helicopter pilot;
- Deckchair Cinema is an outdoor movie-going experience where you can watch the stars on the screen and overhead in the starry starry night sky. (It operated during the dry season, so take a picnic and enjoy the flix!)
- Not quite a wild ride but close to it is the Airboat Tour of Darwin Harbour that takes you around the harbour and the mangroves. (An airboat is a flat-bottomed vessel that is propelled by a giant fan instead of a motor.)
- The Crocodile Cage of Death . . . no explanation needed really. Get in the cage, get dunked and the crazed croc (very Darwin) is beneath you, mouth slavering for fresh meat. Or, croc swims in and eats food thrown by keepers. This is fun, go for it.
- Two stories that are important are set at the Flying Doctor Service building on Stokes Wharf. As well as the Flying Doctor history and extraordinary work done across the Outback, there’s the Bombing of Darwin Virtual Reality experience. This is well done and tells the dramatic tales from 1942 of the devastation wrought and the individual human stories.
- Fannie Bay Gaol Museum once housed Darwin’s most desperate criminals between 1883-1979. The cells and gallows are pretty gloomy but are often used as a backdrop for dinner parties! The rare gallows mechanism was modelled on the Newgate Gallows in England – as said previous, pretty gloomy and hairs-on-the- arm-raising.
Galleries and Museums
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is a corker – there’s so much discover and uncover here from maritime archaeology, sublime indigenous art, artefacts and culture to WWII and the story of Cyclone Tracy.
Two other superb museums in the Darwin Military Museum Precinct at East Point include: the Darwin Military Museum and the interactive installations at the Defence of Darwin Experience next door. When you reflect on the dusty hot town of Darwin as the first line of defence for an invasion of Australia in WWII and it being bombed mercilessly, it is a chilling thought as to what might have been.
Sydney likes nothing better than to celebrate the ‘new’. Always up for a party, the city by the harbour turned its attention to the latest Vibe Hotel Sydney Darling Harbour.
Restrictions on borders are being relaxed (at time of writing) and people want to enjoy the new freedom of being able to move about and get a fresh perspective on their old surroundings. Heading out to the countryside is an option but let’s get back into the city, and save our hotels.
Launched in October 2019, almost a year ago now, Vibe Hotel Sydney Darling Harbour, like other Vibe properties in Sydney, landed a perfect location for corporate clients, weekday getaways and weekend warriors.
Sitting on Sussex Street, the 145-room hotel has a playful approach in the design side of the rooms and indeed the common areas.
The entrance to the foyer is a sign of things to come. The soaring ceiling of timber panels create a cathedral effect softened by layered light fittings. The hotel’s dramatic foyer cuts through to the heritage facades in both Sussex Street and nearby James Lane whilst the scalloped façade of the hotel tower gives an overall lightness of expression.
To the left of the foyer. Separated by a comfy couch area is the Sussex Store. Open for breakfast, and drinks during the day. (Times for meals have been put on hold while in the midst of the pandemic.)
The building was built from scratch, on the bed of sandstone history and industry – therefore melding past and present to honour the past and showcase innovation of the 21st century. The brickwork is what ties the old and the new together. The property embraces Sydney’s Sussex Street landscape in an architecturally-designed hotel that pays homage to the hotel’s vibrant and historic surrounds.
The hotel’s design has drawn inspiration from the site’s diverse history and brick heritage.
The rooms have a New Yorkish vibe, with the surprise wardrobe elements with a nod to a Brownstone elevator – mesh door panels – nice touch.
The bathrooms are spacious with slim vertical tiles with brass trim and taps – praise be! Brass is back – and the white and charcoal colour scheme sets it aside from the run of the mill.
Head to the rooftop for something special, Above 319, a beautiful space for a bar, relaxing corners and the heated swimming pool – a bonus in Sydney in the city!
History and heritage
This building is located on land once part of a steam-flour mill owned by Thomas Barker, an engineer, manufacturer, grazier and philanthropist who arrived in Sydney in 1813. From 1828, Barker expanded the Mill substantially and constructed a cloth mill on land adjacent to the existing steam flour mill.
In 1890, the row of buildings between Bathurst Street and James Street were purchased by eminent businessman, Samuel Hordern. He was the son Anthony Hordern II co-founder of one of Australia’s largest retailers from the 19th century, Anthony Hordern & Sons.
By 1920 the building had been sold and leased to a variety of tenants including a bedding factory, bakers, plumbers and a health food store.
The building however would be known as The Hordern Building, regardless of the fact it was never occupied by the Anthony Hordern Stores company itself.
And nearby . . .
The hotel is just north of Chinatown, so good food is a few steps away. It’s a 10-minute walk to the CBD and all the retail therapy you can desire. (While visiting Sydney, hop on the new tram and take a ride from Chinatown to Circular Quay, or for the more adventurous – the ride out to Randwick – slow and steady).
Behind Chinatown there’s the exciting new precinct of Darling Park – with neon sign fantasy, food courts, green space and some spectacular architecture.
Top local flavor tips from Vibe Hotel GM, Daniel Sprange:
- Chinatown Noodle King has the best noodles in Sydney – super close to the hotel in Chinatown.
- Golden Century – salt and pepper prawn / sashimi lobster with ginger stir fry
- Market City level 3 – best for yum cha
- For spicy food, head down Dixon in the direction of Paddy’s Market, cross the road that cuts Dixon St Mall and pick any restaurant on the left..
- Oolong tea for energy at the tea house in Sussex Plaza.
- Greek restaurant above the Belvedere across the road from the hotel – great food and décor
So, go to town and enjoy Vibe Hotel Sydney Darling Harbour. While practicing due diligence in cleanliness and observing all COVID-19, the hotel at the moment has pared down some of the elements in the Sussex Store – all tables socially distanced and the bedrooms are unfettered with no fancy throws and designer cushions – but hey, the crisp sheets and fluffy pillows make up for any lack of extra comfort.
And when the day is done, head to the roof for a quenching beverage and a mighty fine sunset.
To book visit: https://vibehotels.com/hotel/sydney-darling-harbour
It was just a couple of weeks ago, I was driving from Charles de Gaulle airport into Paris and spied, shuffling along the street of one of the outlying suburbs a walking cliché, an old. hunched man, wearing a beret and carrying a baguette at 65cm in length.
The ubiquitous baguette – bread of a thousand legends, countless laws and constrained to the perfect, ordained length – this is the stuff and staff of life to the French nation – the symbol of France perhaps.
Fact: an excellent baguette needs to look, sound, smell and feel the part; with a golden-tinged crust and an ivory coloured centre, and the shell of the loaf must ‘crack’ with just a little pressure and a soft, hollow sound must occur when the bottom is tapped. It should have a warm, cereal and caramel aroma with hints of longing – longing for butter.
We were staying down the hill from the Arc de Triumph in a narrow (of course) street and on the corner was a popular boulangerie – a seductive aroma of butter emanated out the doors.
French bread law
This perfect baton of bread needs protection and the French government did just that in 1993 with the ‘Decret Pain’. This law states that traditional baguettes have to be made on the premises they’re sold and can only be made with four ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. They can’t be frozen at any stage or contain additives or preservatives, which also means they go stale within 24 hours.
So, beware, there is plenty of mediocre bread sold in France and separating the wheat from the chaff requires a good nose …
Finding a good bakery
- To be called a ‘boulangerie’, a French bakery has to make its bread on the premises. If this word doesn’t feature in the name of the bakery or isn’t plastered on the window it could be a plain old dépôt de pain selling factory-made bread.
- Boulangeries are supposed to display a small yellow and blue sign letting you know that your baker is authentic, reading: “Votre boulanger. Un artisan authentique”.
- These appreciated few often have a tell-tale queue snaking outside.
I took up a stalking position one early evening round about 5.30pm and took a few sneaky snaps of folk going into our local boulangerie and I guessed who would be buying an evening baguette (mornings are full on too).
All 20 shoppers I checked out except for two who picked up a pastry, carried their baguette out of the shop. Normally one loaf but a couple of people greedied up and had a handle on two or more.
The baguette is always in a white paper bag that reaches just over half-way up the loaf. I noticed that everyone carrying the fresh baguette would unconsciously snap the end off the loaf and eat it. A quaint tasting habit that I totally get!
- The word baguette is feminine so make sure you ask for une baguette (une to rhyme with June), or just get two, deux baguettes, a number that helpfully stays the same for masculine and feminine words.
- It’s usual to ask for a well or under-cooked baguette: bien cuite for well-cooked and crusty and pas trop cuite for under-cooked and soft.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for half a baguette, une demi-baguette, as most bakeries sell them, and for exactly half the price.
- Baguettes cost between 1 euro and 1.30 euros. Try to pay with close to the exact amount as French bakeries rarely have change for large notes and may not serve you if you don’t have close change.
- A traditional baguette is called a baguette tradition, baguette à l’ancienne or baguette de campagne.
- Look out for interesting varieties such as baguette aux céréales, baguette aux graines de sésame or baguette aux olives.
- Look like a local and eat the end of the baguette on the way home from the bakery, it’s called le quignon, the heel.
- Don’t use a bread board. just use the cutting in the air technique or tear off pieces by hand.
- Traditional Catholics use the bread knife to lightly mark a crucifix on the back of a baguette before cutting it.
- Serve pieces of bread alongside a main course and then again for the cheese course (served before dessert).
- Pieces of bread are never served on side plates, instead they’re put directly on the placemat or tablecloth to the upper right-hand side of the dinner plate.\
- Soften your baguette by dipping it in your morning coffee.
- Although most French people eat baguette without butter, those from Normandy and Brittany insist on a thick layer of unsalted or salted butter.
- Day-old bread can be salvaged by using it to make pain perdu, translated as lost bread or French toast.
There are many stories of the origins of the baguette and all of them probably have a grain of truth in them, but I like this one:
A patriotic tale tells of the possible origin of the baguette (not its shape though) by linking it to the French Revolution. Lack of bead was the principal complaint from the people of Paris and it played a big part in the overthrow of the monarchy. Being the staple of the French diet, the poor watched the nobility eat heaps of fine, white loaves while they faced shortage and even starvation – making do with bread that was almost inedible.
So, after the Revolution, making sure everybody had quality bread was high on the priority list. In 1793 the Convention (the post-Revolution government) made a law stating:
“Richness and poverty must both disappear from the government of equality. It will no longer make a bread of wheat for the rich and a bread of bran for the poor. All bakeries will be held, under the penalty of imprisonment, to make only one type of bread: The Bread of Equality”.
Another story claims that Napoleon Bonaparte passed a law decreeing that bread for his soldiers should be made in long slender loaves of exact measurement to fit in a special pocket on their uniforms. Since those measurements were close to the size of the modern baguette, some folk think this might be when the bread first took on its current form. Maybe it’s Napoleon we have to thank.
These are only a couple of stories of the famous bread’s origins and Mr Google throws up many more. Whatever the reason that this weird shaped bread appeared, by the mid-1800s in Paris, they were everywhere. Merci beaucoup.
Writer, Bev Malzard managed to eat half a fresh baguette every morning. Only half because she had to then eat croissants and pain de chocolat and an oeuf or deux. . .
Much if this info on the history came from a fab website https://bonjourparis.com which features all manner of wonderful information on Paris, food, wine and everything else – tres bon.
Extra info: Michael Kalanty is an award-winning author, baker, and sensory scientist. He holds the patent for The Aroma & Flavor Chart for Bread©. His first book, How To Bake Bread: The Five Families of Bread®won the Gourmand International Award at the Paris Cookbook Fair (2011) for “Best Bread Book in the World”. Contact him through www.MichaelKalanty.com
Epicurean Exchange offers their Paris Bread & Pastry Tour each May. Visit www.EpicureanExchange.com for more about their portfolio of culinary explorations.