There are a few things that you must do/see/experience in Australia to get the rythmn of the place – and one of them is taking a train trip across the vast areas of this amazing continent.
It’s the 90th anniversary of the Ghan this year and there are some special trips ready to be snapped up and booked. Have you done the glorious Aussie train trip? Read on:
Take a cue from Hollywood movie star Margot Robbie and pair your ‘Rock’ with your ‘Rail’ for the ultimate Australian adventure. Margot enjoyed the best of two Outback realities this month, choosing a 24-hour luxury journey aboard The Ghan before heading to Uluru for a spectacular Red Centre experience.
Here’s how to do your own Rock & Rail:
1. Follow in Margot’s footsteps and board The Ghan in Adelaide, leaving the train in Alice Springs to explore the spectacular Red Centre at leisure.
The Ghan departs Adelaide on Sundays year-round, with an additional Wednesday departure between June and August.
The Ghan (Adelaide to Alice Springs) starts from $1319pp for all-inclusive Gold Service travel.
2. Kick off your adventure at Uluru, then board The Ghan in Alice Springs to make your way up to the Top End in unparalleled style.
The Ghan departs Alice Springs on Mondays year-round with an additional Thursday departure between June and August.
The Ghan (Alice Springs to Darwin) starts from $1319pp for all-inclusive Gold Service travel.
3. Book The Ghan Expedition – the quintessential way to explore Australia from top to bottom. An optional upgrade includes a flight to Uluru and a full day’s tour, getting you back in time to the train to continue your amazing transcontinental journey across four magical days.
The Ghan Expedition (Darwin to Adelaide) departs every Wednesday between April and October, with an additional Saturday departure between June and August.
The Ghan Expedition starts from $3489pp for all-inclusive Gold Service travel. The optional Uluru flight and day trip is $1249pp.
Something happened to me in my mid 30s (a few years ago now) I stopped doing any regular exercise. I had dabbled in yoga and even had personal trainer for a short while. And as a teenager, had played competitive squash and tennis. But time and work and the party life offered little useful movement and the promise of sedentary comfort.
But over the past couple of years with decades of sitting on my bum in front of a computer, travelling and sampling the best food in the world . . . my weight ballooned and my fitness added up to being breathless while walking up slight inclines.
So, with a changed work routine, less time at the computer, I now walk as much as I can and spend time at the local pool doing aqua aerobics.
I’m feeling damn good these days, better energy and actually motivated to move more.
Recently I went to a yoga retreat for a couple of days with a group of amazing women. Yoga, schmoga! I liked the idea of it but draw the line when I see pictures of people yoga- ing in various locations from around the world.
Anyway, I did the weekend, attended half the yoga classes (bit old and stiff to fully immerse) and enjoyed the weekend immensely.
Aside from brilliant vegan food – yes – brilliant – created by the ‘laughing chef’ which I went back for seconds, there’s the drumming circle.
Now, in the past I had, I admit, put crap over the ‘wimmins’ drumming circles. But full of peace and love by way of Happy Buddha Retreat I surrendered to the drumming experience.
What a wonderful experience, bashing, tapping, humming and smiling as wide as the Megalong Valley I am a convert. There’s absolutely nothing that can’t be shaken off, damped down or moved out of your mind while the drum rhythm is vibrating through your hands, body and mind.
The beds here are comfy, you can share or have your own room, there’s an ensuite bathroom, a swimming pool and peaceful grounds for relaxing and breathing in the pure mountain air.
Jeevi, originally from Nepal is known as the Laughing Chef and prepares the Happy Buddha Retreats’ brilliant dishes.
Below is some information on a weekend away to immerse yourself in the drumming circle.
This is not a sponsored post, I don’t get paid to talk up these types of experiences – it’s just that I loved it and want to share the happy vibes of the Happy Buddha Retreat. I caught the train from Sydney to Wentworth Falls, about 90 minutes or so from Sydney. The drive is quick and easy and there’s parking.
I may even head back there again myself. Drumming yes, but not the downward dog, who has time when there’s vegan curries to eat . . .
Dating back to the Old West era, Denver is definitely oh, so 21st century.
Denver, the capital of Colorado, features landmark 19th-century buildings, museums that include the Denver Art Museum, an ultramodern complex known for its collection of indigenous works, and the mansion of famed Titanic survivor Molly Brown.
Denver is also a jumping-off point for ski resorts in the nearby Rocky Mountains. It’s a university town and there’s a lot of sporty stuff going on here. And in Denver you will find the highest concentration of recreational marijuana stores in Colorado, with a large number of select stores selling recreational and medical marijuana. Marijuana stores in Denver are required to close by 10pm. See https://www.coloradopotguide.com/where-to-buy-marijuana/colorado/denver/ just sayin’ (it is legal).
It’s called the Mile High City because it is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level (1.6km).
I believe that as the cowboys galloped into town all those years ago and helped grow this city, it was today’s hipsters who moseyed into town in their electric cars, swishing their pony tails that have put the edge on Denver.
It’s always been known as a friendly, easygoing place but the hospitality bar has been raised up and up.
The local Beer Trail boasts an extraordinary craft beer culture – home to Colorado’s oldest and largest beer pubs, and if the beery brew isn’t to your taste there’s a slew of cafes serving coffee that even Aussie coffee snobs approve of.
If you are a Super Bowl fan this is the home of the Denver Broncos and their home is the Mile High Stadium which is open for a walking tour through the hallowed halls.
The main drag is the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian and transit mall is 1.25 miles long, runs along 16th Street in downtown Denver. Stroll it and shop, stop and eat or drink or catch the free tram from one end to the other.
And at the end, cross the road to visit the Union Station, a splendid example of 19th century architecture. Once a bustling transit institution and as roads and flight took goods across the nation, the station’s use declined. But it’s now back in business as a bus and rail terminal and a lovely hotel is inside the original building as Crawford Hotel. The main hall is now a café, bar, lounge area full of gentle buzzing conversation and good vibes. Everyone welcome as long as you ‘be nice’. Union Station is located in LoDo (Lower Downtown), Denver’s vibrant oldest neighbourhood – check out the city’s best known restaurants, galleries, shops, and boutiques.
Just outside of town is the amazing natural amphitheatre Red Rocks where everyone from Bruce Springsteen to U2 have performed. To see a concert here is an out of body experience. The sun goes down, the rocks surrounding you are in sharp contrast to the blackening sky, the lights go up and the music begins!
Culture rules in Denver from high to low – rock to symphony, traditional art to an outdoor gallery of topical wall art, fast food to high table cuisine.
Denver has been the subject of many songs by famous artists especially native son the late John Denver, but my fave is by Jimmy Buffet:
I’m about a mile high in Denver Where the rock meets timberline I’ve walked this ground from town to town Just to finally call it mine
Writer, Bev Malzard squealed when she found out she was going to a concert at Red Rocks to see local boys made good – One Republic (Shooting Stars) . . . oh what a night. And would recommend anyone who enjoys music of any sort to do some research before you travel anywhere and book seats for a concert so you can immerse yourself totally in the music, the scene and with the locals.
AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME LAX-DEN 2hrs 20 mins
BEST TIME TO VISIT April through May and September through October. The city’s shoulder seasons are characterized by comfortable temperatures,
Plenty of street art around town, this bold pour of milk splash is coming from the Dairy Market building.
I was reading a colleague’s ‘year of travel tales’ and thought I might put my 2018 up in lights too. After a few trips last year that were diverse in their locations I have many warm memories and hopefully some insights into what makes the world tick outside my limited realm. Once I began looking through my diary and picking my brains I realised that one year was too much to fit into one blog . . .so half (well, April) a year to begin with.
At new year in 2018 I visited Melbourne with my partner and another friend, nothing planned but called it a holiday. The theme became Street and Wall Art (one of my fave subjects to write about). Melbourne led the way in Oz before other cities and country towns saw the benefit of exposing these fab young artists’ works, the tourism draw and total fun for the locals.
What I learned in Melbourne: Always take an umbrella, no matter what time of year you visit and always have a cake from the Ackland Street bakeries. Life is too short to miss one of these confections. Also discovered the charming Chinese Museum in Cohen Place.
During the Sydney summer, I mooched around town and my suburb going for walks; heading to the beach, and going to the amazing St George Outdoor Cinema. We go to see two movies every season and the thrill of the big screen lifting up from across the harbour, the music coming on and flights on bats swarming through the twilight sky is a very Sydney night to behold.
And what was deemed another ‘holiday’ was an eight-day stay in Bali. Landed and straight up to Ubud for R&R. Four days of bliss. And the day we arrived there was a full-scale royal funeral happening . . . thousands of people packed the streets. It was such a colourful and joyful event – and event it was. Stayed at Honeymoon Guesthouse (this is not a sponsored post), big room with air-con, pool in the grounds and a good brekkie. The Honeymoon s owned by and Australian woman, Janet de Neefe and her husband Ketut Suadana. Janet was the person who started the Bali Writer’s festival, an internationally respected annual event. Her idea for the festival was after one of the bombings in Bali when morale was low and the island needed a boost.
After Ubud we spent two days in Seminyak at the fancy Hotel Indigo and decided that’s what fancy resorts/hotels are for, staying in and resorting to chilling out. It was so damn hot we just dipped in and out of the pool all day, ordered cold drinks and hot chips . . . nice way to spend the day.
Last two days at Sanur, so peaceful and laid back it was almost dull. But the Art Hotel had a funny roof infinity pool (pretty ordinary brekkie), nice cheap room, and close to cafes and restaurants.
What I learned in Bali: buy a cheap hat when you get there, don’t try to carry your good hat on a plane and from place to place. Go to a cooking school for a day’s course. Take moisturiser that is water-based. Don’t order the chicken Parmigiano on Jetstar. See https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/03/19/bali-cooking-class
Benalla the beautiful
Only 24 hours after landing back from Bali we were barreling south from Sydney, heading for a little town in north-east Victoria, Benalla. Stopped off on the way to stay in the wine town of Rutherglen to visit old friends for hippy, happy days in Greece many years ago (that’s an entirely different story).
Benalla’s Wall to Wall Art festival (see above link) was a blast – in a quiet country way. Yet again, exposure of art to locals and the huge crowd it draws from all over. The baby boomer crowd are the travellers who follow the art around, and check into the festivals and know what they like!
What I learned in Benalla: Eat out early. The first night there we ate at the local Chinese and it was pretty good. Next night looking for a restaurant at 8.30pm was more difficult – only the Colonel and his chooks beckoned so we opted for a frozen lasagna, fruit and yoghurt from the supermarket, nuked the dinner-in-a-box in the motel microwave and happy as a couple of Larrys.
Going through last year’s diary between trips I have scribbled: pool; write; pool; write blog; record ‘Barry’; pool; walk; DEADLINE; write; cocktail event; find images today – urgent; find so-and-so to commission a story; pedicure; send proofs; movie; pool; Walking Dead starts tonight; buy food; hairdresser; bake a cake; write; DEADLINE; pool; writers lunch; walk; catch up on blog writing . . . my exciting life!
Nimmitabel – who knew?
Ranked as seventh highest town in Australia (1082m) Nimmitabel is a tiny town (320 population) in the Snowy Monaro region 37km south of Cooma in NSW. I rolled into this town when the two shops had shut – so the place resembled a ghost town. But life hums along quietly here and I was to visit a friend who is a quiet achiever, a legend in some small circles – a man who, with his partner has been rescuing wombats left along the highway. He raises them, looks after them 24 hours’ a day, has them eat him out of house and home (true), travels far and wide to find fresh grass when the drought gives nothing and then he teaches them bush craft and how to live in the wild. There’s not a native animal or bird that someone has found and not brought to him to look after when it has been shot, neglected or run down by cowboy drivers. His name is Garry Malzard.
What I learned in that region: After having lunch at the cool little village of Jugiong, don’t distract your driver and end up in Canberra when you’re hoping for reach Sydney. AND the area around Nimmitabel has the only true chernozem soil in Australia, a very rich, fertile and dark coloured soil.
Next Aussie destination was Adelaide. The Adelaide Central Market. The markets, the markets, the markets . . . best in Oz (IMHO). Shopped and ate.
Headed to the Fleurieu Peninsula – stunning coastline with roaring sea rolling in and vineyards crowding the land. A precious part of South Australia, this region boasts many splendours – one of which is the Star of Greece restaurant that sits on the edge of the cliff with views along the cliffs and beaches of Port Willunga.
The Star has been there for many years and until a recent makeover it was a basic beach shack. And it is still not too up itself and offers conviviality and a homey ambience. No fancy pants here – just the real deal.
What I learned in Adelaide: Get out of town and visit the amazing D’Arenburg Cube . . .go see for yourself. Eat anything fish and chippy! Buy curry spices from The Adelaide Central Market.
Last stop in Oz before the middle of 2018 was a six-day trip to Tasmania. Two days in Launceston, and then a drive to Freycinet National Park to stay in the Coastal Pavilions – glam accommodation and the region home to the famous Freycinet oysters – so wish I liked them as people say they are the best!
Then on to Hobart in one of the worst storms the city had seen in decades – see link below.
So that’s me up until the end of May 2018. I didn’t realise I had such a good time last year . . . I will ponder on the second half for another post.
Outdoor art is the art of the 21st century. Graffiti has graduated!
The Silo Art Trail that snakes through the wheat belt of Victoria is an inspired outdoor gallery. A couple of hours outside Ballarat and you are on your way.
The concept of having the towering (up to 27m), cylindrical concrete towers as the canvas for murals started with Guido van Helten’s stupendous ‘Farmer Quartet’ in the tiny town of Brim. Wheat silos define the landscape here and honouring the farmers and the history of the silos engaged the entire community – and it was lift off.
Shaun Hossach of Juddy Roller Studios proclaims himself as a ‘one-man unionist’ and does the leg work, negotiating and planning for the casual collective of Australian artists. He originally worked with GrainCorp (major sponsor), Taubmans Paints (the paint supplier), Creative Victoria and got the Government Drought Communities involved in the silo project.
GrainCorp’s Luke O’Donnell says that the company is proud to sponsor the Silo Art Trail and more. “GrainCorp supply the decommissioned silos as the canvas, and regard the whole process as a perfect way to hold on to the important legacy that the structures represent and reinvigorate these towns”, he says.
First stop heading north on the 200km trail is at Rupanyup with a double modern silo decorated by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. Seeing the scope of breadth of the art works it’s obvious that this type of work is not for sissies. Cherry pickers have to be ‘driven’. The artists work in all weather, alone, and at a great height at the top of the canvas.
Next stop at Sheep Hills is a four-silo effort by Adnate of children of the local indigenous clan. To be dwarfed by the four lifelike faces is a privilege.
And next at Brim is the extraordinary Farmers Quartet. The vision is almost overwhelming with the subtle hues of the landscape blossoming into four characters of the region humbly portrayed. Real people modelled for this and are the modest celebrities of the shire.
Further into The Mallee, in Lascelles is the two-silo artwork by Rone. Here is a man and a woman, fourth generation farmers curving around the soaring towers and as part of the landscape as the mallee root tree.
Top of the trail is at Patchewollock – a town to dwindling prominence that is the most isolated on the trail. Fintan Magee chose a subject from the only pub in town on his first night in Patchewollock: farmer Nick Hulland who is a reluctant pinup. But he says if it helps the town – he’s happy.
Other work is in preparation for the Silo Art Trail and silos in other states have put their hand up for attention.
We wonder what Norman Mailer (see reference below) would say if he had the good fortune to witness this original and exciting art.
Now, here’s a silo that could do with a good lashing of paint!
Guerilla art is now great art. Walls become artworks and silos the grand canvasses of rural towns. Once was graffiti, is now urban engagement and licence to paint the town red.
It probably began 45,000 years ago in Australia; community minded fellas worked their magic art on to the walls of caves to let passing nomads see what food was available, attractions in the region and objects to be found or maybe just to show off their talent. Rock art galleries started it all.
For thousands of years, human beings have made their mark upon plain surfaces, from stick men to tag-style graffiti.
And when someone criticized the wall vandals of the 80s with the sentence “Punks can’t spell Cappuccino”, that phrase became official graffiti and the wall expression medium had arrived, evolved and gained acceptance by the less-than-art- critical-public.
Pre ‘acceptable’ wall art in New York City, of the 70s gave birth to excessive public graffiti – think subway trains. In one of his essays back in the day, Norman Mailer said New York subway graffiti is “the great art of the 70s”. And it burned brightly until Mayor Ed Koch. elected on a clean-up-the-city every which way platform, scrubbed clean the city. By the mid-80s NYC graffiti had faded quietly and what was left or came later became the acceptable norm.
Across the Atlantic, enigmatic artist Banksy launched his wall art career in his home town, Bristol. Stencils became his medium as his art gained notoriety on a big scale in the late 1990s.
Banksy’s work (below) sneaks up on you. Characteristic of the works are the obvious digs at hypocrisy, violence, greed and authoritarianism but pathos and whimsy are in the creative makeup too.
There have been plaintiff cries of outrage that some of Banksy’s work has been painted over by other artists. No worries. His works and the art of most wall art specialists are not forever, just a fleeting expression from the artists and the topic de jeur.
And at home wall art has changed the urban ‘artscape’ and rural regions. Australia is engaged with a stunning variety of wall/outdoor art that crept in stealthily during the late 90s too. Melbourne had the wall art advantage first up because of the surviving laneways in the inner city. And some of the most creative artists have emerged from the southern capital.
Sydney was a slow starter but every week another piece of excellent art appears on the walls in and around the inner west and on the edge of the CBD. Without a lot of laneways remaining due to concentrated development, the older suburbs snatched the prize.
The big winners for wall art are the small cities and rural towns of Australia with their untouched walls. Professional wall artists including Matt Adnate, Guido van Helten, Kaff-eine, Resio, Rone, Cam Scale and Makatron are working on walls way out of the city and enriching the life of country towns.
The south east Queensland ‘garden city’ of Toowoomba has held the First Coat festival for four consecutive years and through the laneways and backstreets, artists from near and far and embellished blank spaces. Toowoomba has created a home for beautiful works and the weekend festival is now on the party calendar.
Victoria’s Benalla (Rural Street Art Capital) has had monumental success with its Wall to Wall festival since inception in 2015. See blog post from July 3 on the report on the Benalla Wall to Wall festival.
Writer, Bev Malzard hanging about in Melbourne, the Chrissie Amphlett Lane.
Copyright Bev Malzard (Sections of this article have been published previously in the Financial Review Weekend and Travellers Choice Discover magazine.)
Winter in Australia – all over Australia – is not a hardship. Maybe down south there’s snow and drizzle but rarely does it lock residents in their homes for too long.
Now I can only speak from my base that is Sydney, Yeah, Sydney people are pretty much big sissies in the winter from June through to August.
And even though I like to get out and about for walks I admit to taking the easy way out on a chilly day – fire on, tv on, locked in.
My partner and I decided last year to get out of town on the odd weekend the rediscover regions within a couple of hours drive time or even a cheap flight away.
And we even ventured further than an urban adventure close to home.
Last year we flew to Melbourne and hired a car to take us the Ballarat for two nights so we could do the Silo Art Trail drive out through the western district and the Mallee. What a trip. Silo Art Trail couldn’t have been a better day – crisp cold, sunny and low flying clouds on a forever horizon.
And the experience of the illustrated silos fed our addiction to wall/outdoor art (see blog ‘Where the art is’, June 5, 2018 and ‘Painting the Town Red, June 10. 2017).
The following day in Ballarat was crap weather, so we visited the Art Gallery (regional galleries in Australia are inspirational and impressive), grabbed lunch and went to the local movie house – a classic cinema built in the 1930s and renovated with love. After watching a blockbuster film we headed to a splendid restaurant (yes, in Ballarat) Catfish, a lauded foodie haven. And owners and chef Damien and Danielle Jones have just closed Catfish and will reopen as ‘Mr Jones’ – serving refined rustic!
A drive to Melbourne airport next day, a flight back to Sydney and we’d had an amazing weekend.
Ballarat movie theatre, a local cafe and black swans on Lake Wendouree.
Another getaway was a drive to Wisemans Ferry, a gentle area of the historic and beautiful Hawkesbury River. A day was spent walking the old convict road, reading up on the past, and taking the three-minute ferry across the river. We drove on to St Albans, a remote settlement with a pub that has tales to tell of convicts and early farmers’ trials and tribulations.
(Read Kate Grenville’s book The Secret River about a 19th century story of the region.)
Our weekends are sometimes ’half weekends’, such as a trip out west of Sydney to eat classic Vietnamese food for lunch in Cabramatta and another day in Windsor, a town that has fascinating convict buildings and a bustling brunch and lunch society.
Recently we did a three-day escape from the big smoke. A drive out of town to the Blue Mountains and across the Great Dividing Range and landed at Jenolan Caves, the old Caves House continues to have repairs done and the canteen is now a groovy café and offers up good coffee and tasty lunchtime fare. But the sight of Caves House makes one delirious with speculation and imagination – wondering how the heck this came to be. The little settlement is remote from every big town with one road in and one road out – and if the weather is bad – there’s no way out for a few days.
We took a tour though the cold caves and it was marvellous. The stunning caverns that have seen tourists and Victorian adventurers scrabble through, then walk planned paths gaze in awe at the natural architecture of millions of years’ worth of evolution and grand design wrought by time and water.
There are some wonderful nostalgic photographs of guests here from way back where we see woman in long skirts, blouses with leg-o-mutton sleeves and wide brimmed hats, men in coats and ties and hats – all ready to clamber over rocks and indoor ‘climbing walls’.
The following day we drove to Kanangra Boyd National Park. This has to be one of my fave natural views in the world.
The long plateau of sandstone juts out into Kanangra Valley that has undulating, and wonderful folding green valleys below where in a long gone past indigenous tribes trod the nomadic trading route.
We sat looking over the splendour of this vast park – unsullied by crowds, roads and development. Please let it stay that way.
A drive on to Bathurst, a university town and under a big blue sky, typically really cold during winter. A dinner at a great surprise of a restaurant – Dogwood – an Aussie take on the best of American classic food, I went for the gumbo and the ‘dog’.
So, how about making a plan? Get outta town for a couple of days, change your routine and rediscover the geography of your youth or discover an urban treasure or country town within a few hours’ drive from your front door.
As we grow older time seems to be moving faster – let’s halt its progress and advocate for ‘slow travel’ close to home.
Where do you like to ‘get away’ to on weekends not too far from home?
Writer Bev Malzard is in search of the Best Pie, or Vanilla Slice in country towns. Every town or village has a window sign at the local bakery shouting its winning achievements. She keeps taste tasting along the way and quite frankly still hasn’t had the ‘best’ yet. She continues her quest.