Entries from April 2016

THE INDIAN PACIFIC, WA, SA, & NSW

April 28, 2016

Just like that, our five weeks driving came to an end.
We had seen so much of this beautiful, vast country, crossing 4 state lines and 4 time zones, stopping at near private beaches and lakes, pausing to climb ancient trees, and playing wildlife spotters in the desert.

I often think that the best part of a trip or a journey is coming home, and certainly no trip is complete until you’re home, back to your point of origin. For us, driving home was not an option (no more driving! please!), and flying home whilst very practical seemed like an anti-climax after all our adventures.

The solution: rail!

Mez and I have always loved train travel, and together we’ve ‘trained’ through Japan, France, Italy…in fact, the first time we met was as a result of my travelling from Melbourne to Sydney on the interstate express. There is something so romantic about train travel; time slows down somehow, you can walk about, share a meal, watch the world go by.

The journey from Perth East takes 3 and a bit days, and 3 nights, though magically once on board, time has an elastic quality. I was content to stare at the ever changing scenery for hours on end, never losing interest. There was so much to see, I didn’t want to miss out on any of it; kangaroos, wedge tail eagles & their gigantic nests, camels, emus, grass tree forests, a million rabbits, an airstrip, abandoned towns…endless ochre earth.

Phone reception is limited, and with no internet or tv, it’s a media black out, instead I read a book. The gentle rocking of the train is very soothing, and with nothing to concern myself with, I feel the most relaxed I have felt in a long time!

We have two cabins, side by side, and it’s decided that we will time share the kids. They can come and go between cabins as they please, and it seems that all the younger families have been allocated cabins in this car, so there is a fun vibe, and little chance of disturbing our neighbours.

The cabins are beautiful. They are vintage, without being old…they have a sense of old fashioned glamour about them. It’s easy to imagine early travellers on this same journey, though theirs taking 75 plus hours and requiring more than 4 changes of train! I can’t enough of all the details, all the wood finishes! For a moment, I am living in my own Wes Anderson ‘Darjeeling Limited’ fantasy! I have anticipated this old fashioned travel vibe, and have packed nice clothes to wear at meals times…I miss those days of dressing up to travel!

At dinner time, the banquette is flipped and transformed into a perfectly turned down bunk, with another popping out above, and in the morning when we return from breakfast, the transformation is reversed, and bunks disappear, and the banquette returns.

Meals and beverages are included in the fare, as well as a complement of Australian wines, and basic spirits. The food is excellent. 3 courses at lunch and dinner, showcasing the best local produce, and every effort made to impress junior diners too. We have a dessert at each sitting, as well as cheese, because it would be rude not to! The highlight at meal times (aside from the actual meal) is dining in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant cart, with all its curlicues and ornate details, all of us piling into a booth and enjoying a changed perspective of the passing landscape.

There are four included whistle stop tours; Kalgoorlie open cut super pit gold mine (sadly cancelled due to delayed departure in Perth), a self walk tour of Cook (a near abandoned desert township), Adelaide (We went straight to the Central Markets!) and Broken Hill. The Broken Hill stop is particularly special for our family; we excuse ourselves from the scheduled tours (Desert Art or Mining History) and head to Mez’s mums childhood home… There are no longer any family members living there, but it’s a poignant moment nonetheless.

This experience really is bucket list worthy, and now that I’ve done west to east, I’m thinking of getting onboard The Ghan, starting in Adelaide and heading north to Darwin, or the other way round.

Uniquely Australian, no doubt about it.
We travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail

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MELBOURNE, VICTORIA

April 21, 2016

To be fair, this post should be called ‘an arvo in Melbourne’…

I spend a bit of time in Melbourne, visiting family, but it’s been years since I actually spent any time in the city proper. My friend Sophie moved from Sydney to Melbourne a few years ago, and so when I am able to, we catch up, but it’s usually on her side of town…St Kilda way, and my mother in laws is northeast of town, as such, the city and all it’s offerings is largely avoided.

This time, Soph and I were keen to catch the Andy Warhol|Ai Weiwei exhibition before it closed. We decided to meet at popular Melbourne lunch spot Chin Chin, then stroll down the hill and across the river to the National Gallery of Victoria.

Chin Chin cranks! It’s super busy, and we snag the last two seats at the bar, surveying the kitchen, watching the assembly line; it barely stops. We have a killer kingfish sashimi, laab, pineapple fried brown rice, betel leaves and a barramundi and pork salad. Good food, and even better people watching from our elevated vantage point.

Full as, we stagger down the hill, stopping briefly at Hosier Lane to check out all the legal graffiti.

Then on to the NGV.

The gallery is busy, the exhibition is chockers, and it’s easy to see why. The Warhol stuff is recognisable, and evocative of the time, almost as if Warhol had his own social network, photographing everything, everyone. It’s relatable, accessible, and most importantly it’s fun! Everyone is snapping away on their smart phones, and it’s encouraged! The Ai Weiwei side of things is big and brash, and interactive! Selfies with the foil balloon installations are pretty much mandatory, and indeed some of the other pieces are selfies themselves of sorts. I wish I’d brought the kids along with me, as there is a brilliant dedicated kids area, with multiple photo booths, a drawing corner, and a room full of Brillo and Heinz boxes to stack and play in. There’s a running cat theme through the room, as it transpires Ai Weiwei is somewhat of a crazy cat man! SO much fun!

A great afternoon, thanks Melbourne.
I’ll be seeing you soon.

we ate at

CHIN CHIN
125 FLINDERS LANE,
MELBOURNE 03 8663 2000

we went to
NGV International
180 St Kilda Road Melbourne
ANDY WARHOL | AI WEIWEI
Adults $26
Concession $22.50
Child $10
(General entry is free)

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MARGARET RIVER, WA, PART TWO

April 14, 2016

I mentioned in my previous post on Margaret River, that the region is huge, and that there is much for small folk to enjoy…
I think it’s only fair that I touch on a few things that for grown ups to enjoy too!

With it’s unique climate, the region is a foodies paradise, and prides itself on top notch dairy, seafood, and of course wine! There are 215 vineyards in the region, with over 95 cellar doors, ranging from farm style to architecturally elaborate, with many offering on site cafes and restaurants.

Here’s where we went during our week in Margs…

WILLS DOMAIN

I hadn’t heard of Wills Domain before, but our friends who we were staying with had been recommended this restaurant by a local winemaker friend…set in amongst rolling hills carpeted in bushy vines, flanked on one side by huge gums, and on the other by grass trees, the view alone is worth the 30 minute drive from Prevelly. Add in beautifully executed mod aus food, and ripper red wines, and you’ll be happy to eat, drink and lose yourself in the view for the afternoon.

VASSE FELIX

We had been to Vasse 4 or 5 years ago, and in the years since they’ve had a face lift. The cellar door and restaurant pavilion is beautiful, with vines and manicured gardens visible at each turn. We were fortunate to have had a fancy wine tasting organised for us…followed by lunch; D E L I C I O U S!!!! You can also have a cheese & charcuterie board/ploughmans lunch on giant beanbags on the lawn downstairs, perfect if you have small mobile types in tow.

VOYAGER ESTATE

The grounds of Voyager are incredible! Rose gardens, perfectly trimmed bushes, row upon row of perfect grapes, immaculate lawns! It is almost worth visiting for the grounds alone…however, the wines are excellent also! And there is so much variety that there is sure to be something to please everyone in your party. We were particularly impressed with their blanc de blancs; bubbly perfection! The restaurant here was on our hit list, but sadly we ran out of time. All the more reason to return!

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS TAPHOUSE & KITCHEN

At the very edge of Margaret River town, next door to the famous bakery, is Swings and Roundabouts Taphouse & Kitchen, and offshoot of the vineyard and cellar of the same name. The food here is rustic, with an emphasis on locally sourced and sustainable produce. Serves are super generous, all the better to share! And share we did! Pizzas, imaginative salads, and tapas styled dishes…we practically rolled out of there we were so stuffed!
34 DEGREES BLUE SEAFOOD

An honourable mention must go to the chaps at 34 Degrees Blue, who not only have the best selection of local seafood going, but are happy to share their local knowledge on where to get all your other food needs met too (10 Kinsella Road, Margaret River 08 9758 8900)

It’s not all about food & wine…Mez played golf the whole way across from Sydney; in Port Lincoln, across the Nullarbor (doing the Nullarbor Links), in Esperance and Denmark, and in Margaret River too, at the Margaret River Golf Club. Naturally after the desert course, he was very impressed with the beautiful grounds at Margs, and amused by the local mob of Roos who had obviously seen it all before and were largely unperturbed by Mez and Benny and their efforts!
He had this to say about it:
“Margaret river golf course is an absolute must! It’s a private course but welcomes visitors and Jon and the staff are beyond friendly! Ripping bloke! The course is in mint condition, lush fairways blur into greens on some holes. Few bunkers but plenty of water hazards particularly on the front 9. The back 9 is harder to play because it is sloped in many parts which hurts if you error your tee shot, so if you only play 9, go for the front. Heaps of roos, but that ads something to what is already one of the best country courses in the state. Most importantly, it’s easy to get on. We played N.Y.E with 2 days notice.” Thanks Mez!
MARGARET RIVER GOLF CLUB
599 Wallcliffe Rd, Margaret River 08 9757 3163

WILLS DOMAIN
cnr Abbey Farm rd and Brash rd, Yallingup 08 97552327

VASSE FELIX
Caves rd and Tom Cullity dr, Cowaramup 08 9756 5000

VOYAGER ESTATE
41 Stevens Road, Margaret River 08 9757 6354

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS TAPHOUSE & KITCHEN
85 Bussell Highway, Margaret River 08 97587155

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MARGARET RIVER, WA

April 7, 2016

Arriving in Margaret River was exciting for the Watts family, as it was the very last stop on our epic migration from east coast to west. It was bittersweet in a way too, as it meant our adventure was drawing to a close. We were meeting some friends, and had a whole week to enjoy the region.

The Margaret River region is huge! It takes more than an hour to drive from Busselton at the very northern tip to Augusta at it’s southernmost tip…too vast to cover it all in one week!

Here’s my roundup of stuff to do with kids!

Gnarabup beach, Prevelly.
We spent new years day here after having breakky at the White Elephant Cafe (Yes! They were open on new years day!) This super kid friendly cafe is at the southern end of the beach, and is at the top of the staircase to get down to the sand, could not be easier. The area beneath the cafe is sheltered from strong wind and waves, and features rockpools and rocky outcrops to explore. There’s a pontoon a few metres out for bigger kids to jump off, and a boat ramp in the middle of the beach, should you have a boat.

Gracetown beach, Gracetown.
Gracetown is roughly the mid way point of the Margaret River capes region, north of the Margaret River township, west of Cowaramup and south of Yallingup. The main beach as you enter the township is located on Cowaramup Bay, a brilliant sheltered natural harbour, with a pontoon and a domed island for confident swimmers to swim out to. Easy access straight onto the beach from carpark for parents/pack horses carrying beach gear.

Hamelin Bay.
I was a bit nervous on the drive down from Prevelly (where we were staying) to Hamelin Bay…would there be stingrays? I had talked it up so much, I was going to be in trouble if they were no shows! It’s a 30 minute drive south, towards Augusta on Caves Road. The drive itself is quite beautiful, and at one point passes through a Karri forest that left us speechless, it was surreal, like being on Endor (for those not familiar with Star Wars, Endor is where Ewoks live!). We needn’t have worried, the rays were there; three HUGE smooth rays and a couple of eagle rays too. They are playful and curious and will swim over your feet looking for treats. They are up for pats too, and feel like giant slimy sponges. Of course, they are wild animals so exercise caution. Once you’re done with the rays, there are more rockpools to play in, and Mez and I even had a snorkel (damn it! we’d brought our snorkelling stuff from Sydney, we HAD to use them, if only once!). The car park here fills up very quickly, my advice would be to go as early as you can.

Swimming in Margaret River.
We were fortunate to have a track running from the back of the house we were staying at in Prevelly right down to the actual river that Margaret River is named for…swimming in a river is not like swimming in the ocean! A bit tricky to get in and out of, but refreshing nonetheless. Try it!

Horseriding at Jesters Flat.
Kinga wanted to go horse riding for her birthday, and so we booked the kids in for a ride at Jesters, a 25 minute drive inland from Margaret River town. Once on the ponies, the kids were welcome to stay on for as long as they liked, but there are only so many times you can go round a corral, and their enthusiasm peaked at 30 mins. Boots and helmets are provided. They also offer bush trail rides and sunset rides at Busselton, but nobody wanted to come with me. Sadface.
White Elephant Cafe
Gnarabup Road, Gnarabup
08 9757 1990

Jesters Flat Horseriding
1549 Rosa Brook Rd, Margaret River
08 9757 4562

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