The Princess of Podcasts (but she’s not a ballerina) Amanda Kendle interviewed me and posed the question: have you ever made cultural blunders while travelling the world. Oh, yes, indeedy! I have made many, not deliberately but in my early days of travelling, ignorance, naivete or blundering impertinence sometimes brought me undone. Mea Culpa.
Foloing is the interview link with Amanda, so please foirgive me my past indiscretions. And maybe after you have listened you might be brave enough to comment and tell me your messy mistakes you made at the expense of someone else’s culture.
I‘m going out on a limb with this post, taking a risk, throwing caution to the wind, heading into troubled waters . . .that’s a bit dramatic. Posting this piece on Victoria today, 1 June 2021, while the state of Victoria is in a state of lockdown feels a little ambitious? Yes? No? Victorians have suffered the lockdowns due to COCID-19 worse than any other state in Australia and businesses, and industires, such as the travel industry have been fraught with closures, and empty beds and coffers. BUT it WILL bounce back, it was but now, (today) it’s not bouncing at all, barely a foot shuffle. AND when it does open up again let me invite all Aussies and our Kiwi neighbours to visit and enjoy the beautiful state that comes good on all its promises of natural beauty, great food and wine, classy attractions and sincere hospitality.
A small state but packed like an overflowing picnic basket, Victoria has a taste sensation that covers city to country, ocean to mountains and fine food and regional fare to match the perfect wines. Need to know more? Go there.
Gateway to Victoria, the state’s capital city Melbourne is a river city and a class act. A walkable city or the best way to discover the ‘neighbourhoods’ is to hop a tram and head out of the CBD, But before you enter boho Brunswick, precious Prahan, edgy Fitzroy or to be in the sharp breezes of St Kilda beach, get your bearings in and around the city.
Nobody can persuade Melburnians that their coffee and their restaurants aren’t the best in Australia (and maybe the world when you really push the argument). And they do have damn fine food and java too. Also the proliferation of small bars over the past decade has made the social scene uber cool. Tiny, bespoke bars tucked away in alleyways that have survived city development are almost invisible during daylight hours when you do the laneways tours of wall art that is pretty spectacular.
Don’t miss a trip to the Victoria Markets for all that’s edible and wearable; cruise the Yarra River for a new perspective; go see the brilliant National Gallery and the instagrammable features of Federation Square. Take this city slowly and seek out sporting venues, memorable parks and gardens and some quirky, individual shopping adventures.
Yarra yabba do!
Just an hour outside Melbourne is the splendid Yarra Valley boasting elegant vineyards and boutique wineries. This cool climate region produces high quality winning wines and they are there for the day trippers tasting. Chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon are star players and big name labels such as De Bortoli and Domaine Chandon promise fine tipples.
There are tea rooms, restaurants and hotels along the way for a longer stay and close by is Healesville Sanctuary which has a breeding progam for the uniquely designed platypus.
In the region of the Dandenongs here there are beautiful, classic gardens to stroll around, one of the finest being Alfred Nicholas Gardens, Sherbrooke
Great Ocean Road
Near Port Campbell and famous for the string of rock stars, the Twelve Apostles, bold rock formations, sitting in the Southern Ocean beyond mighty cliffs are a sight to behold. The drive along the Great Ocean Road yields rugged landmarks, beautiful beaches and holiday towns (Torquay, Apollo Bay and Lorne). Inland are caves to explore, waterfalls and rainforest. But it’s all about the drive, which is exhilarating where some of the road hugs the cliffs and winds around headlands. Zoom, Zoom.
P.S. There are only eight of the 12 Apostles left standing. The rocky stacks have been washed by wild seas and time and tide has taken its toll.
The ‘B’ cities
Doubling up here with the two big Victorian ‘B’ cities – both inland cities that have been built on the back of gold! Ballarat and Bendigo are separated by 120km. Ballarat is closer to Melbourne and you can catch a train there (1 1/2-hour journey) or drive the 115km.
Both cities have bold charm as they have beautiful architecture from neo-classical, to gothic and Federation styles. All this built with shiny money.
Ballarat’s wealth from the goldfields began when gold was discovered in 1851, an event that took over sleepy sheep grazing paddocks. Within days of the first nugget being extracted the ‘rush’ was on, and thousands of hopeful miners descended on the, what was to become known as the ‘Ballarat Diggings’.
Ballarat and Bendigo have embraced the coffee culture and cafes flourish as well as classy restaurants and bars. And both cities boast splendid regional art galleries that have snaffled up extraordinary exhibitions that the big smoke have missed out on. Culture in the country? Sure is.
In Ballarat’s Fine Art Gallery, see the original Eureka Stockade flag and a wide selection of Australian artists’ work. Also visit Her Majesty’s Theatre which was once graced with the presence of Dame Nellie Melba.
In Bendigo admire the epitome of gold-boom architecture with the Shamrock Hotel, four flamboyant stories high!
So high, silo
Ballarat is a good base camp to take a six-hour (round trip) drive out along the wheat belt of Victoria with viewing stops along the way to discover the Silo Art Trail, an inspired outdoor gallery.
The concept of having the towering (up to 27m high), cylindrical concrete towers as the canvas for murals started with Guido van Helten’s stupendous ‘Farmer Quartet’ in the tiny town of Brim. Decommissioned wheat silos define the landscape here, and honouring farmers and farming history has turned into a smashing success engaging the entire community.
First stop heading north on the 200km trail is at Rupanyup, with a double modern silo decorated by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. This artwork is not for the faint-hearted, given the artists craft their works while working alone, hoisted in a cherry picker. Next stop at Sheep Hills is a four-silo effort by Adnate, where children of the local Indigenous clan dwarf all who stand below.
Onward at Brim is the extraordinary Farmer Quartet, an overwhelming vision with the subtle hues of the landscape humbly depicting four characters from the region – now modest celebrities of the shire.
Further into the Mallee, in Lascelles is the two-silo artwork by Rone. Here, a man and a woman, fourth generation farmers, curve around the silos and are as much a part of the landscape as the Mallee root tree.
The top of the trail is at Patchewollock – a town of dwindling prominence that is the most isolated on the trail. Artist Fintan Magee chose a subject from the only pub in town in Patchewollock: farmer Nick Hulland – a reluctant pin-up.
North east-ish is Victoria’s High Country where the Alpine National Park is home to ten of the state’s highest peaks. The massive park is a space for all seasons: great ski fields in winter; and in summer, miniature wildflowers cover the grassy plateaus above the tree line and the north-eastern small towns are awash with gold and red hues of the autumn parade.
Another two ‘B’ towns that are local celebrities are Bright ands Beechworth. Beechworth is one of Australia’s best preserved gold-rush towns with more than 30 National Trust-classified buildings, a sight for architecture fiends! Also not to be missed here is the Beechworth Bakery, famous for the much sought after Vanilla Slice trophy. You decide!
Provenance in Beechworth is one of the best regional restaurants in Australia, with chef/owner Michael Ryan a Hatted chef many times over. Also, Bridge Road Brewers Bridge Road is fantastic for its range of locally made ales from locally grown hops, as well as its outstanding pizzas. Ox & Hound Bistro is also a gorgeous little French restaurant.
Bright is close by to the ski fields of Mount Hotham and Falls Creek. The town is charming and in April/May it outs it’s colourful attitude into party mode for the Bright Autumn Festival when the deciduous light up, shiny and bright.
Bright is on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, a 100km sealed, off-road walking and bike trail between Wangaratta, Beechworth, Rutherglen (wonderful fortified wines here) and Bright.
Short sections of the trail can be accessed from towns along the route. (My recommendation as the food and wine here is pretty special – so why waste too much time walking?)
And there’s more . . . the Mornington Peninsula (golfers go crazy for the much-awarded Dunes Golf Links at Rye); Phillip Island and Gippsland (national parks, heritage villages, a penguin parade and the classic fishing town of Port Albert); Spa country – Daylesford and Hepburn Springs – and the Lakehouse Restaurant; the Grampians National Park, an area of magnificence – a landscape of rock-encrusted ranges perching high above the Western District.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I started travel writing, folks thought I was taking a holiday. I was often asked to bring back duty free perfume, smokes, booze etc. I did in the beginning and then I stopped buying for anyone else – just a simple “no”, said politely and that was that. (I had my own stuff to bring back.)
I can sit on my couch, in my bed, on the kitchen floor or even sit in the bath, and look around and see familiar items purchased over the past 30 years. I try and live ‘small; but I do like to have and use a few memories that have been collected along the way, and they all have stories to tell.
My first offering is a pair of Chinese Warriors, small in stature but big of heart. I purchased these two fellas in February 1989, just a few months before the Tiananmen Square protest/revolt.
It was my first visit to China, it was minus 10 degrees and such an exciting place to be, Beijing before the world came to it. These two warriors were from an outdoor stall and were inexpensive and probably two of thousands made. They were covered lightly in brown dust that had blown in from the Gobi Desert, the same grime mixed with air pollution that I wore around my neck, scarves, hair and face.
I’ve had the guys on a windowsill protecting me since 1989 and I have never washed or even dusted them. They are as they were, covered in grit from many battles and their armour wears stains with pride. One of their hands broke off after a spill and that had been superglued on so they can continue their watch over me.
I have two souvenirs here (below) from Morocco. I haven’t mentioned the scarves, shoes, fabric or spices but I’m very fond of these pieces. First there’s the little glass containers set in a silver base with a jaunty tassel atop. I did buy larger one’s for the ‘present drawer’ but this pair sit modestly on a kitchen shelf and reminds me to add the pungent spice, cumin, to everything. A taste senstationa I discovered in Morocco. A pinch on yoghurt and honey is good and a hefty shake into anything hot and savoury will transport your tastebuds.
This pair of tumblers were a score from the shop at Yves Saint Laurent Musee in Marrakech. They are a neat fit for my hands and hold enough of a beverage to quench a thirst. Other items in the boutique included clothes, leather handbags, art work, ceramics and sublime fashion accessories. I had previously sold my last kidney so it had to be a modest buy, and the handblown glasses fitted the bill. The museum has a revolving exhibition as there are more than 5000 pieces of wearable fashion to show . . .
Tea for two
This lovely rustically oriental cannister is an old tea caddy. I brought two of them back to Oz after my first visit to Macau (now Macao) around the mid 90s. It was before the super structures shot up over night, ie the Venetian et al. It was a quieter place and many of the antique shops were afterthoughts on the shopping route. This is where and when I first tasted Lord Stowe’s perfect pasteis de nata (Portuguese tarts) and invested in my first cashmere wrap. Both excellent decisions.
These pieces were easy to pack into a suitcase but a companion snaffled up a bargain – a huge Chinese hat box which was the size of an eight year old child, and it wasn’t until she reached the airport coming home that she realised her spatial inadequacy. We got it home – but it wasn’t easy.
Next item is totally utilitarian. In the mid 80s I was holidaying in Malaysia and had a two-day stopover in Singapore. It was my first visit and I ended up in a dusty, higgledy piggledy part of town called Little India. Since visited it’s now a pretty schmick and touristy precinct and my first place to go when I arrive in Singers – I need a curry to start the stay.
But my wandering took me to a shop that sold cooking implements and this chubby pot took my fancy. It has a copper base, it cost the equivalent of $2 then and it has been cooking rice (perfectly) for me for 30 years. It gets taken off a shelf at least once a week and does its work – we are a damn good team.
The beads below have never been worn, but they were hard won and hold a special place in my heart. In the mid-90s I went on a sensational trip to Kenya. It was first visit to Africa. We had stayed at a couple of lodges and we were scheduled to go to a family compound on the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The night before there was an outdoor fire, wine, music, wine, dying embers and wine. On the way back to my hut I slipped on polished concrete and the pain in my ankle was so severe I almost passed out.
Limping badly, the next day we visited the compound and I had to forego the jumping up and down ritual because of my pain.
I was suffering a hangover and a sprained ankle and was grumpy. On leaving the boundary of the reserve there was a woman selling these beaded necklaces – she was asking an exorbitant price and I gave the ‘are you serious’ look and she had it in for me. After much screeching, not me, my head hurt too much, we almost had a tug of war – I now wanted it badly and she knew it. I capitulated, surrendered and handed over the money – a lot of it. She was about to hand me the beaded piece and changed her mind and whipped this one off her neck and handed it over with a big grin. I have no idea what the gesture meant but I’ll take it as one of good will.
A peony, not a pony
I love this vase. It has such elegance and lovely peonies painted around it. I was travelling in and around Bejing with a corporate group of event planners and we were given gifts along the way. This was one them and I have been putting flowers in it for the past 20 years. Our host was the indomitable Helen Wong of Helen Wong Tours (the first person to get journos into China for the Australian Society of Travel Writers conference in 2001 to Shanghai).
What I remember of that time was the gracious and exciting hospitality put on for the planners. We visited the Forbidden City and as we walked to where we could see the expanse of the great courtyard it was lined with about three hundred actors wearing ancient imperial guard costumes. Just one of the wondeful events put on for us.
One day we all went to a section of the Great Wall. And I gave the wall walk a miss – well, I had walked it before . . . and the low, black clouds looked ominous. So Ms Wong and I sat in a tiny tea shop and sipped and chatted. As the storm broke, the view to the wall was a spectacle to behold – hundreds of people were running along the wall draped in blue plastic raincoats – my imagination took over and what I saw was hundreds of condoms tearing along the wall path. I mentioned this to Ms Wong and she gulped and spat her tea out – first and last time I ever saw her lose her cool.
Last BUT certainly not the least of all of my treasures is this plump little ceramic elephant vase. At an agm for the Australian Society of Travel Writers, held in Thailand in 1999, I was on a trip after the city meeting and we stayed south in Hua Hin at the Railway Hotel (it may have changed names now). In the gardens were/ maybe still are, gigantic topiary elephants that were startling. As elephants were the theme du jour I purchased this cutie at the hotel shop. Every time I pop a flower in it I recall three exquisite days spent in that, then underdeveloped town and wandering the uncrowded streets at night and eating monster barbecued prawns outdoors.
So how do I categorise these precious if rather ordinary pieces? Souvenirs? Or jewellery snapped up enroute or that rather heavy doona cover I carried back from the Paris summer sales . . .
Who cares . . I only know that every picture here, tells a story.
I do love a bit of tradition, especially tradition that has a gentle message. While staying at the elegant Metropole Hanoi hotel (Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi), just strolling through the corridors of the original building (built in 1901 by the French colonists) you can see and feel the essence of Indochine and hope to understand this (first) luxury hotel built in the city.
The hotel has a few famous ghosts that shuffle through the corridors when the lights go off and guests are tucked between their immaculate cotton bed linen. Rich dark brown timbers creak mildly underfoot in the rooms and the walls wear the patina of stories told and sold.
Author of many fine books, Graham Greene including The Quiet American spent time here (Suite 228)working on his books and watching the last days of the decline of French colonisation and CIA intrigue. This book and the film has endured and like the French (here from 1887-1954) has left its mark on Hanoi.
The hotel has also outlived its original owners, the colonisers, the CIA, the Japanese, the Chinese, Americans, Australians and all others who came to snatch a slice of Vietnam.
The Metropole Hanoi is a much-loved hotel and I met a man who had been staying here annually since the early 80s. He recalled then that there was a food shortage, and the staff of the hotel were too shy (call that scared) to talk to guests because of the culture of spies that flitted in and out of the shadows as Vietnam began to consolidate as a communist country after a bloody and bitter conflict that lasted from 1955-1975.
There’s a short tour to be had at the hotel where much of the past is recorded in panels. There’s the famous image of Jane Fonda and her visit here with an anti-war message and also Joan Baez stayed here and was present during a hideously long bombing raid across Hanoi over Christmas in 1972. The United States Airforce unleashed Operation Linebacker II, its most intensive bombing campaign since WWII.
Baez and the hotel staff spent 11 nights of the bombardment in an underground bunker crammed with 40 people.
This small network of cells (below) is under the hotel’s back courtyard and was only unearthed during renovations in 2011. Now there’s a new and sad tradition that invited guest into the bunkers narrow rooms where they listen to a crackly, fuzzy tape recording of the bombing and the screams of a mother calling for her son.
Baez based her famous anti-war song Where Are You Now My Son on this incident and partly recorded it in the shelter. The music is punctuated by the thumps of bombs hitting the ground.
Vietnam has weathered many a squall and indeed centuries of storms – and lives and thrives to move on.
The Metropole Hanoi has withstood much and has kept its sense of style, its good manners, and is a shining example of what true hospitality is.
The Shining Ritual
And talking of shining, one of the charming traditions carried out every day at the hotel is the Shining Ritual.
The Shining Ritual indicates Sofitel’s refinement and unveils the secret of excellence through recurrent cleaning and polishing of the Sofitel Legend nameplate located at the hotel entrance.
Every day, hotel staff perform the Shining ritual using a red velvet towel and green tea to clean the brass plate and the bronze gong. In the past, only Royal families had access to velvet, a material symbolising luxury, elegance, quality and beauty. Red is the colour of luck, happiness and success. Green tea, besides having healthy benefits is also a cleaning agent in Vietnamese households.
The Gong, a musical instrument used by most highland ethnic groups in Vietnam, is believed to link people to the spiritual world and is also representative of Vietnam culture as a whole.
Writer Bev Malzard, stayed two nights in the divine Metropole, enjoyed a feast of a breakfast and an afternoon tea to write home about – which she will do as soon as she has shed the three kilos that curiously attached to her body after a three-hour High Tea. Mon dieu!
He insisted he was the most handsome of the two? You choose. I know I made my choice.