Monday, 28 September 2009

Red Centre

The hot air slaps you as you leave the plane and walk down onto the sticky tarmac at Alice Springs airport. Actually not as hot as we'd expected but the desert air was definitely dry. Staying at the Heavitree Gap Outback Lodge, we fed the black footed wallabies that hop down the surrounding MacDonnell Ranges for feeding at sunset, some with joeys in their pouches. Libby made friends with one little fella who was determined to hang onto her hand as she fed him, clawing into her fingers! Ouch. It was John Williamson night at the tavern and Dave wooed Libby with his rendition of 'True Blue'.
We hired a car the next day to drive the 460 odd km to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, taking the Stuart Highway south then the Lassiter Highway west to reach Yulara. Along the way we saw plenty of kangaroo roadkill being picked at by huge and strong wedge-tailed eagles, some the size of large dogs! We made a quick stop to get some pictures of Mt Conner, with the red dirt covering our feet in a kind of 'cheezel dust'.

Uluru is truly awe inspiring, much larger than either of us imagined. As drove around it in the afternoon heat, the deep red rock radiated history and carried its scars as carved into its contours by the eons of time. We were lucky enough to be taking advantage of another wonderful wedding present here, this time from Dave's cousin Julie. For this treat, we were picked up for the 'Sounds of Silence' dinner experience which comprised of late afternoon drinks in the middle of the desert as we watched the sunset behind Kata Tjuta and change the colours of light thrown on Uluru, before sitting down to a lovely three course dinner in the middle of nowhere where the darkness throws a deep black backdrop to the magnificent stars as the constellations are pointed out to you and their stories told. A truly magical evening, even if Dave nearly died of hypothermia out there as he didn't pack a jumper! It's cold in the desert at night people!

We rose at 5am for the cold and dark ride out to see the sunrise at Uluru. It was amazing to see the colours change through dark blues and purples to crimson reds and pink hues. It was bloody cold though and we needed an extra snooze before the long drive back to Alice, catching a few more eagles feasting by the roadside. Alice was a ghost town that evening as everyone was in watching the AFL Grand Final and the next day we just lazed by the pool before flying north again for tropical Darwin.

Mr and Mrs T xx

Radelaide and The Barossa Valley

Leaving the south coast behind, we turned north into Adelaide, 'city of churches', capital of 'the festival state', and other names we'll list some other time. Waiting for us there was Dave's sister Daniella and his brother-in-law/partner-in-crime, Michael, who had flown over from Sydney to meet us and sample the traveller's lifestyle.

We also met up with Michael's cousins, Joe and Maria, Michael, Joe, Jess and Sara, who were so kind to us during our visit. They treated us to a huge breakfast at ETC, shopped with Libby and Daniella on Rundle St (while Dave and Michael took on a mini pub crawl on Hindley St), a massive dinner feast at Cafe Mykonos with all the family and a warm bed for the night. Thanks again guys!

On the Sunday we drove up to the Barossa Valley, starting off the wine fun with a chuckle at Villa Tinto where the winemaker is Albert, a rotund, bearded Argentinian with a wicked sense of humour and enough stories to keep you there tasting his wines for hours! After checking into the lovely Novotel Resort (thanks to Daniella and Michael), we got a little lost finding the Murray Street Vineyards but their Sophia Shiraz was worth the wait, though unfortunately for Dave, it's not available in the UK - dammit! We stopped in at the lovely grounds of the Grant Burge Estate on the way back to our hotel before taking advantage of the free Wolf Blass tasting at the Novotel where their fantastic Grey Label range was on show, with the Shiraz Viognier the pick of the bunch.

We focused on the 'big guns' on the Monday, starting with the massive Penfolds headquarters and tasting some fantastic Coonawarra reds with their distinctive earthy, brick flavour and well as the best of the Barossa shiraz in their reserve range. We then swung over to Wolf Blass where their Gold Label and President's ranges were delicious, though Dave bought a Black Label Cabernet Savignon Shiraz for Daniella and Michael to hold for us (we hope!). As we tasted wine after wine, a huge storm swept across the valley, bringing crazy lighting and thunder and even a small hail shower, so we hid in Tununda Pub for lunch and beers. While taking a long drive in the afternoon, we met a very strange fellow at a small fuel stop/garage in Mt Pleasant, real serial killer material, the kind of guy that when the tv crew turn up and interview the neighbours they all remark 'He seemed a nice enough bloke....always kept to himself.' Strange, strange man.

That night we tracked down 'Australia's best pizza' as seen on tv that night. It was at the Roaring 40s Cafe in Angaston and their smoky meat pizza was the best pizza we'd tasted in South Australia, that's as high we we'd put it. Dave made friends with a very drunk set of footballer in the local pub that night, all drowning their sorrows after losing their final the day before, while Libby got hooked on the Aussie style pokie machines, losing the grand sum of 3 dollars! On the way out of the valley the next morning, we found time to stop at Charles Cimicki whose Trumps Shiraz was super tasty, but better than that was our visit to the World's Biggest Rocking Horse which we climbed and even have a certificate to prove it!

After stopping back in Adelaide to see Michael's Zia (where more food was continually thrust upon us) and visiting pretty (but wet) Semaphore, we took the 'one way expressway' south to Aldinga Beach. It was a cold and windy morning as we walked the beach the next day but we were rewarded for the effort with a magnificent lunch at the famous Star of Greece Cafe, a kitschy beach hut sitting atop the point, taking in fabulous views and offering amazing food - smoked ocean trout with fennel and capers for Dave, pan roasted barramundi with bug tails and courgettes for Libs, banana macadamia pudding with caramel sauce and chocolate sorbet for both of us! Devine!

We then drove through McLaren Vale and over the Adelaide Hills to Hahndorf, a town settled by Germans but now unfortunately a tourist rather than traditional spectacle, so we continued on to Mt Lofty for long but grey views across the city to Bay St Vincent. It was time to leave the coast all together and fly to Australia's red, hot and dusty heart - Alice Springs.

Mr and Mrs T xx

The Great Ocean Road is actually pretty great!

We started out on The Great Ocean on a warm but windy day, taking in Anglesea and Aires Inlet before stopping for a late lunch in Lorne where we were joined by wattle birds and ducks all looking for an easy feed. Libby spotted her first echidna by the road near Cape Patton, thankfully this little fella was waddling along the verge instead of being splattered on the roadside like so many of Australia's fauna. We pulled into Apollo Bay and walked the beach in the late afternoon light (this is starting to sound like a romance novel!) and took a sunset drive along the Barham River Road, blessed with spectacular scenery and full of tiny hidden homesteads on gorgeous bubbling river crossings - a real slice of rural heaven.

It was a rainy start the next day as we left Apollo Bay and drove through the tall gums out to Cape Otway. We skipped the overpriced lighthouse tour but were lucky enough to see a few koalas up close on the way out, including two mothers with their babies! Heading back inland we crossed Laves Hill to the Otway Fly but again skipped the expense and chose the free pleasure of the spectacular limestone formations and azure surf along that stretch of coastline - the famous Twelve Apostles, the Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Islands, London Bridge and Loch Ard Gorge....all gorgeous and a reminder of the slow workings of time as the wind and surf wore away the soft rock to create these formations and is slowly reclaiming them to the sea.

After staying the night in Warrnambool, it was another rainy start as we headed over to Logans Beach where we saw 7 Southern Right Whales less than 100m from shore, again some mothers with calves! Amazing. As we continued west along the coast, we pulled into Port Fairy, where gourmet bistros, cafes and very respected restaurants fill this postcard sized coastal township. We had a great lunch at Rebecca's Cafe, Libs' pumpkin cous cous burger with cumin beetroot dip was the pick of the day! With full bellies, west again we went through Portland and Nelson, hugging the coastline and passing huge wind farms and planted pine forests where we managed to spot a family of emus hanging near the roadside but they ran off when they saw Dave coming with the camera!

After crossing the border into South Australia (and dumping out 'unsafe' Victorian fruit!), we moved through Mt Gambier before returning to the coast again and stopping in another pretty inlet town called Robe. There is an obelisk there that sits on a precipice of soft sandstone above the raging Southern Ocean, once built as a navigational tool for ships, it too will one day go the way of the Twelve Apostles and fall into the sea. On leaving Robe we also stopped for the tourist picturesque moment to take a snapshot of the giant lobster. From there the road continues through Coorong National Park full of flat wetlands boarded by the coast and sand dunes, punctuated with small lagoons of amazing deep purple and red, much like the lagoons we saw in Bolivia. We saw a few very shy emus and a lot of fat lizards.

We stopped in at Port Eliot, a gorgeous colonial town stuck in a time long forgotten but surrounded by perfect coast and beaches, before pulling into Victor Harbour and staying at the Anchorage Hotel on the beach for our last night on the southern coast. It was a trip of about 1200km, with each turn revealing a secret or surprise.

Mr and Mrs T xx

Mel Born

It was windy as hell when we landed into Melbourne, making for an 'interesting' landing. Meeting up with Lou and Gus and getting straight into pre-dinner drinks helped ease the nerves, settling our stomachs for an absolutely amazing degustation meal at Cumulus Inc, a 10 course feast of divine food and wine - oysters, scallops, Iberian ham and smallgoods, freshly baked breads, bulger wheat salad and just when we couldn't eat another morsel, they slap down three racks of lamb all slow cooked for 12 hours so that the succulent meat simply slides off the bone.....YUM!!! After four hours of continuous eating and drinking, we rolled out of there and managed only a small post dinner drink on Bourke Street!

It was a very slow start the next day as we woke with full bellies and heavy heads but that didn't stop us getting into the fry up Lou prepared for us for breakfast! Is there no end to this honeymoon eatfest?!? It was unseasonably hot and windy as we wandered through Richmond food market to get the tram up Chapel Street to Pharan, working our way through the bazaar (telling Lou to stop picking up all the vintage orange glassware!) and great vintage shops like Fat Helen. Quick sushi snack on Acland Street in St Kilda then beers by the bay at Stoke House to catch the sunset and catch up with Oli and Chris who've been travelling longer than us! We then sampled a famous in Melbourne Grill'd burger (not as amazing as a Fergburger in NZ) and back to Pharan for drinks at the Windsor Castle before popping home.

Lou and Gussy took us into town for the 20c tour. We grabbed a few strong coffees on Degraves St, yet another vintage clothing store visit (this time to the massive Retro Star) and walk through the galleries at Federation Square to see some fabulous Aboriginal art and Sidney Nolan classics. Onto a mini pub crawl starting at Rooftop Bar to see the sun go down and some Northern fellas falling down, then across to the superb day glo interior of the Carlton Club for more rooftop beers - as much as it pains me to say it, Melbourne really does have it over Sydney for interesting and entertaining pubs and bars! We then rounded out the night with a visit to Lygon Street for more gelato and mooching before catching Tarantino's scarily funny Inglorious Basterds!

On our last day in Victoria's capital, we took the tram up Victoria Rd to Brunswick St where we wandered along between little boutiques, stopping into Zeta Florence to pick up some antique maps, Hunter Gatherer for more vintage clothing and Atomica Cafe for this best coffee and BLATs (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato) in town! We met up with Lou at her lovely warehouse workspace and walked across to Smith Street for even more vintage, records, clothes...brilliant! Gussy joined up with us for arvo beers at the Beresford Hotel and awesome japanese dinner at a restaurant with a very weird toilet sporting pictures of kittens dressed in police uniforms and smoking!?! Delicious!

Another brilliant visit to a brilliant city, made all the more fun and personal by Lou and Gussy - thanks so much guys. Come visit us ASAP!

Mr and Mrs T xxoo


It was hard to believe it had already been over 13 months since we last landed in Sydney. So much had happened in that time - we'd go hitched, we'd made it halfway around the world but it was still as good as ever to catch up with all the beautiful people in the beautiful city down under.

We kicked off the visit with a few welcome drinks at The Dolphin in Surry Hills, unfortunately coinciding with another loss by the Wallabies to the All Blacks (on the back of the Ashes loss, this was becoming almost too much to take!). But it was all sunshine and good times on the Sunday when Dave's folks hosted a birthday bbq for both of us, attended by the small legion of Dave's extended family. Dave's dad was super impressed by Libs' new found fondness for all things meat!

On Daveo's birthday, we packed a picnic and hired a tandem bike in Centennial Park (Dave steered upfront while Libs did all the backseat driving!) and then went bowling at Fox Studios with Belinda. To top off a brill birthday, we were treated to Churrasco on William Street - for the uninitiated, churrasco is a Brazilian style bbq where they bring long skewers of all forms of delicious meat products to your table, where you weakly protest that you've already eaten enough before you give in and let them slap another sirloin/lamb cutlet/chicken heart onto your plate, leaving you to roll out of the restaurant with serious heartburn and a smile three hours later! Heaven.

Being home and catching up with the Toscanos means food, food, food. Some of the delights we were treated to included fish and chips, ice cream at Watson's Bay with Daniella, plate after plate of homemade salami with Dave's dad Ralph (along with samples of salamis made by Michael's family, AJ's family and Rick's family by way of comparison and contrast), Maria's famous meatballs (followed by a nudie streak from Georgia and Mikey), more fish and chips at South Cronulla beach with Dave's parents, Lebanese with the whole Toscano crew....the list could go on and on....needless to say our waistlines were coming under more and more pressure!
And even when we tried to avoid food by going to the pub instead, Dave won a meat tray in the raffle! We just could not escape! Thankfully we were not alone in this crusade. This time round we were lucky enough to have Libs' parents, Mike and Chris, fly out from the UK to meet us in Sydney and spend time with us which was just wonderful. Of course we took them straight out for lunch, at the Sydney Rowing Club in Abbotsford on a perfect afternoon beside the crystal clear Parramatta River. That evening Dave saw his mighty Eels demolish the Penriff Panfers, guaranteeing their spot in the finals. But even more rewarding was watching Chris and Mike fall in love with the fabulous gelato created by Ciccio and Sal at Gelatomassi in Newtown. Sal nearly fell over when he heard this was their first gelato experience!

Next up was the Blue Mountains. We drove up to Wentworth Falls (stopping in at Penrith on the way to congratulate Dave's cousin Nicholas on winning his football final!) where we dropped into the famous strudel shop for pies and scones (and strudels). Chris was more excited by the Christmas Shop there and it goes without saying there will be a few more Australian touches to the tree in Seaford this year. The weather wasn't great but we got a peak at the Three Sisters (kind of like the Seven Sisters in East Sussex only better) and a late lunch in Leura overlooking the valley.
Sunday was the day to celebrate little Georgia's 5th birthday with a pirates and fairies party, complete with face painting and a rather weird jester/garden gnome character! But it was brilliant to see Georgia, Mikey, Charlie Rose, Oscar, Bobbi and Charlize all in their element. One of the funniest moments was when we found Mikey holding a fairy prisoner with his swashbuckling skills, leaving her cowering on the couch! Such a charmer! After the party favours were handed out, Dave took us on a little tourist drive through the city, taking in the Anzac and Harbour Bridges, Kirribilli, Woolloomooloo and Elizabeth Bay before meeting up with Phillipe for beers in Paddington and pizza on Crown St.

Chris and Mike were thrilled to take the Rivercat from Parramatta into Circular Quay, enjoying the leisurely pace as we sauntered up the river and into Sydney Harbour. From there we hopped on a ferry across the harbour to Taronga Zoo, enjoying glorious sunshine as we took in the amazing freeflight bird show and saw their new baby elephant. We wound down the day by watching the sunset while sipping cocktails at the Blue Horizon Bar in the ShangriLa Hotel, then (another!) huge dinner with the Toscanos, this time at Crinitis in Parramatta.
Part of the reason for Mike and Chris coming out to see us in Sydney was to attend our little 2nd wedding dinner on 5 September, which happened to coincide with their 39th wedding anniversary. It was an opportunity to celebrate with family and friends from Sydney who couldn't make it to Rye in April, including meeting new babies Caterina Petracca and Lucas Mappis. It was also an opportunity for us to wear our wedding outfits and truth be told, Libby got into her dress a lot easier than Dave got into his suit! Seems the good life has been treating Davey Two Meals a little too well! But it was a fabulous night full of lots of good food, wine and chat with the people we love. Thanks to everyone for coming and special thanks to Belinda and Daniella for helping us plan it by remote control while we've been on our travels . And finally thanks to Sarge for putting us up in the fabulous Sir Stamford Circular Quay Hotel - very swish!
As you've seen in this blog, we've done more than a few wine tastings in Argentina and NZ. Well there are more to come and the next region on the list was the Hunter Valley in NSW. We took Mike and Chris with us to keep us on the straight and narrow but we still managed to squeeze in tastings at Hungerford Hill, Tempus Two, Piggs Peake, Tintilla Estate and Bimbadgen Estate, as well as a visit to the Smelly Cheese Shop and gelato in the afternoon. Chris even managed to find yet another Christmas shop for those end of year essentials!

We tried taking in the famous Bondi to Bronte walk but the weather was not on our side so we made only halfway to Tamarama but did manage to spot a few dolphins in the waters below. That night we celebrated Maria's birthday at the Fisherman's Wharf Chinese Restaurant at the Sydney Fish Markets where the lazy susan was under strain all night! But the best moment belonged to Georgia and Mikey who stood with mouths gaping when they gatecrashed a chinese kareoke birthday party but came back to life when they were offered a plate of prawn crackers!

We were so thankful to get to spend a few hours with Rita and Charlize and new baby Caterina - truly beautiful girls, all loving and affectionate and happy and cheeky! Afterwards we met Phil and Priya and Jackie and Julie for pizza dinner at Bar Reggio and drinks at the Lord Nelson (also good to see Phil so happy with Priya, nice one bro!)

The next day, Chris got a little more than she bargained for when she went to get some passport photos at a photo shop. The little chinese man asked Chris 'Please sit on the chair, don't smile and look down' and when she did as asked, found the little man had left his flies undone and had his manhood on show! Needless to say Chris' eyes were slightly and understandably bulging in the photos! To ease the shock, we took Chris and Mike for a picnic in Western Sydney Park, where kookaburras, galahs, cockatoos, rosellas and ravens all squawked as they flew by.

Chris and Mike flew out the next day, the same day as we flew to Melbourne. Before we left we were very happy to have them meet Dave's grandparents, Nonna and Pop, and Dave was super proud when Mike turned on his best Italian accent to say 'Buongiorno' when introduced! Pop returned the favour by cracking open a new bottle of scotch whisky, even though it was only 10am!

As always when visiting Sydney, we crammed in as much as we could but were still left with lots of people we wish we could have spent more time catching up with. That's the difficulty of being so far away but we know we had the best time we could with the little time we had, with the people we love the most. Until next time...

Mr and Mrs T xx

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Westport, Nelson, Marlborough wine region (more vino!) and whale watching at Kaikoura

Heading north along the west coastline towards Hokitika, we passed through Pukekura - population: 2 – then stopped at the National Kiwi Centre to finally witness the funny long beaked birds in their dark surroundings, and strangely we ended up feeding giant 200 year old eels! We headed on to Arthurs Pass, driving up through Otira Gorge and across the Bealey Valley for views of the Southern Alps. We also stopped to view Pancake Rocks along the Tasman Sea coastline stopping in Westport for the night. The following day started with a visit to the nearby seal colony at Tauranga Bay, where some of them must be used to visitors as they posed for our cameras.

We pressed on from Westport straight to Nelson via Murchison and Richmond. Not much to write home about in Nelson except for a fantastic falafel cafe and a very good hostel. It was a beautiful crisp morning when we left Nelson to make the pretty drive along the Tasman Bay to the Marlborough Sounds wine region. It was such a fantastic drive we did it twice! Although we didn’t really have a choice given Daveo left his phone at the hostel in Nelson. Despite the double drive, we did get to sample some lovely wines at Seresin Estate and enjoy a tasty lunch at one of the other nearby wineries.

It was a glorious drive from Blenheim to Kaikoura, hugging the Pacific coastline on our left with the Southern Alp ranges on our right. It was an absolutely perfect day for whale watching, so lucky for the Toscano’s we got the last two tickets for the boat trip! We saw 4 giant sperm whales up close (only 50m away) which was truly awe inspiring – their huge bodies, giant tails, and their spray of water on a perfect blue day, all framed with snow capped alps in the background. We also saw another seal colony and an albatross or two. It was a fantastic day out and truly made up for our very grey day at Milford Sound.

On heading back to Christchurch for our next flight to Sydney we stopped at Hamner Springs to enjoy relaxing in more thermal pools. For our last night in Christchurch we enjoyed a lovely Parisian meal and drinks at a very cool retro bar where the dj spun some great kitsch tunes, topped off by a very drunk kiwi who emerged from the men’s room and insisted on telling us he had just enjoyed a great “pish”.

Sweet as En Zed...G’day Straya.


The Glaciers

From Queenstown we drove through Wanaka and along Lake Hawea, through Haast Pass and onto the desolate West Coast. From there we drove to see Lake Matheson but the thick grey cloud meant our hopes of seeing the gorgeous lake with the surrounding mountains mirrored on its surface were shattered. Instead we drove to isolated Gillespies Beach, all black sand and huge driftwood and on misty days like the one we were there, its eerie persona made it an interesting place to photograph.

The heavy rainfall the night before meant we couldn’t walk all the way up to Fox Glacier so instead we had to stand and look from afar at this huge ice formation, however we had more luck when we continued onto Franz Josef Glacier which we were able to walk right up to, stepping across the riverbed to see the massive ice face. Later that day we enjoyed relaxing at the nearby glacier hot pools. Bliss.

Mrs and Mrs T xx

Milford Sound for Mrs T’s birthday

On the eve of Mrs T’s birthday we drove the stunning road along Lake Wikatipu to Te Anau in prep for our tour of Milford Sound. The drive along Milford Road was spectacular, taking in the views of Mirror Lakes, Lake Gunn (where interestingly your body would freeze rather than decompose if you drowned – hmmm a bit too much information from the tour guide methinks!), through avalanche country, the eery dark tunnel and the aftermaths of tree avalanches where the intricate root system holding the trees to the hard mountain rock has failed, sending huge trees down the steep inclines.

Milford Sound itself was spectacular despite the super wet, grey, thick cloudy weather, although we did see hundreds of waterfalls from steep cliffs, some seals, and a silly tourist on our cruise get stuck outside as we passed a waterfall and getting completely soaked by it! We returned to Queenstown that evening to celebrate Mrs T’s 28th birthday.

Before leaving Queenstown again we drove from QT to Glenorchy along the northern bank of Lake Wakatipu which was simply stunning, boarded on both sides by snow peaked ranges mirrored in the lake. In Glenorchy we discovered the biggest breakfast EVER, the perfect start to a long day of driving ahead.

Mr and Mrs T xx

Queenstown snowboarding...sweet as choice bro!

For our first night in Queenstown we enjoyed a few beers whilst watching the Ashes and in the competitive nature of both The Toscano’s (and everyone knows just how competitive we can get) there was much Pom v Aussie banter knocking around. Libby didn’t even like the cricket until she started watching the Ashes and her competitive nature came forth.

It was perfect conditions for our first day snowboarding at Coronet Peak. Not so perfect on the snowboarding skills front especially as Libby hadn’t boarded since she broke her wrist last year but we had a few more days of snowboarding ahead to get back into it and pick up some choice moves bro.

We spent the second, third, and fourth day boarding at The Remarkables which Libby preferred for the wide easy runs and Dave preferred for the sweet jumps in the terrain park. This peak also has the most amazing views and looks unreal when you’re sitting above the cloud cover and enjoying perfect sunshine when the town below is all grey – weirdly difficult to tell what’s snow and what’s cloud! But to reach that heavenly peak, you have to negotiate an unsealed road full of switchbacks and blind corners, often in less than favourable conditions – make sure your will is in order before driving up that road folks!

By the end of our 4 days snowboarding Libby had got her confidence back and even made it onto the intermediate runs and Dave caught some massive air while trying to land switchies. Sweet as.

Our time in Queenstown couldn’t have passed by without trying a famous Fergburger which was recommended to us by absolutely every person we know who has been to Queenstown and it certainly lived up to its name. They are definitely the best burgers EVER! Needless to say we made two return trips to Fergburger before we left, Libs even demanded a burger for her birthday supper!

But it wasn’t all burgers and beer. We were also able to enjoy a fantastic meal in Queenstown at Captain’s restaurant thanks to Han, Jess, Rach and Nick – amazing seafood platter and excellent NZ wine. Big thanks to you all.

During our tour of the bars and pubs in QT we also saw the world’s most drunk Scottish girl trying to speak Spanish to two poor chicos from Barcelona. Classy.

Mr and Mrs T xx