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June 26, 2008

Hotham's Aussie Snow Job

Skiing on a picture perfect fresh powder day at MT Hotham winter 2010.
Photo by Steve Cuff / Mt Hotham


Why drive to the snow each day when you can wake up in the thick of it?

If, like me, you get car-sick along mountain roads, then Victoria’s Mount Hotham is the ideal Aussie ski destination.

I stayed at Schnapps, a spacious apartment just a snowball’s throw from the chairlift, with killer mountain views. (Though at around $4000 a week in peak season it’s not cheap, with a kitchen, lounge, two bathrooms, and four bunks in the second bedroom it can comfortably house six.)

After hurling my suitcase to the floor, I couldn’t wait to whip on my ski gear and embrace the snow. Thankfully the complex known as Hotham Central – sporting cafes, ski hire and information desk – is just a three minute walk from my apartment.

“You on your own?” Aaron, a friendly young man from Guest Services at the front desk asked me as I stopped to collect a map.

Turned out his job was to guide visitors around the mountains. So Aaron, his colleague Anna and I spent the next 3 hours exploring the slopes together.
The next day I joined a group of ladies who’d paid up to enjoy five days of intensive lessons and a little pampering. They’d enrolled in the L’Oreal Visible Results Women’s Week, which includes four hours of skiing daily, video anaylsis, and massage and beauty lecture. The programme was devised by local instructor Heidi Pierce to help intermediate-level female skiiers reach advanced level. (This year’s course runs from July 21 to 25 but courses can be organized throughout the season. For details visit www.hotham.com.au or call Hotham Snowsports on (03) 5759 4444.).

“This is my second year in a row, and I’m twice the skier I was!” one lady enthused.

At night, there are plenty of fine restaurants to restock on the calories lost in the snow – I especially liked the delicious seafood at the hip White Room, designed by Italian architect Giovanni D’Ambrosio, at Hotham Central, close to traditional favourite, Zirky’s (which has a bustling bar next door.)

Nearby, the increasingly gentrified, tiny town of Dinner Plain – a 15 minute drive down the road - has some hot new eateries; from the delightful, tapas-style Cilantro (its meatballs and prawns were a knockout) to Japanese restaurant Tsubo (its chocolate tart was tantalizing).

Dinner Plain also boasts an impressive new spot for massage and pampering, the Onsen Retreat And Spa.

In the three years since my first Hotham visit, life off the slopes has improved in every way.

Hotham’s best restaurants and beauty parlours are now as good as those in any major city.

But what made my week memorable was the warmth and friendliness of the people. “We pride ourselves on our service,” nods communications manager Alistair Young. Our motto is, ‘it’s all about the guest.’”

Things to Do:
Lash out on a private lesson (two hours costs $210); it can make a huge difference. Visit www.hotham.com.au/snowsports or call (03) 5759 4430 for further details.

Go on the Sparkling Sunset Tour ($35 per person); get taken up to the summit on a heated grooming machine and clink champagne as you watch the sunset. (Bookings can be made at Guest Services at Hotham Central or call (03) 5759 4444.)

Daredevils can try the latest trend, snowkiting – in which skiers and snowboarders hover above the snow holding a kite. (Bookings can be made at Guest Services at Hotham Central or call (03) 5759 4444.)

De-tense with a massage at White Spa on the mountain or at Onsen at Dinner Plain. (Visit www.onsen.com.au or call (03) 5150 8880 for further details.)

How to get there: Hotham is located 4.5 hours drive from Melbourne and 9 hours from Sydney. Hotham has its own airport so the glitterati can charter a flight direct into the resort. Regular folk can fly to Albury (on Qantas, Rex or Virgin), board a coach and enjoy the drive through Victoria’s north eastern “gourmet” region.

Where to stay: The Alberg has single rooms (from $815 for five nights off peak, including breakfast) to three bedroom apartments.

Family friendly options include a two bedroom apartment at the Arlberg ($1870 for five nights off peak and can sleep six) or Alpine Heights ($2285 for five nights off peak and can sleep up to eight people.)

For more info visit www.hotham.com.au

Story: Jacqui Lang

June 23, 2008

NAPOLEON’S GRAND MAURITIUS VICTORY SHORT-LIVED


david ellis

OF all the battles he fought, Napoleon Bonaparte won only one at sea – and remarkably that was not in his own backyard in Europe, but on the other side of the world in the Indian Ocean.

And while he was not personally involved in this historic skirmish in which a small part of his navy resoundingly defeated the British, Napoleon would not have even been around at all had it not been for an ironic twist of fate: when he was a 16-year old French Artillery Officer he applied to join an expedition to the Southern Ocean led by the explorer La Perouse, but was rejected.

As history tells us, La Perouse and his entire crew perished when his ship foundered off what is now Vanuatu, while the adventurous Napoleon whom La Perouse considered unfit for his South Seas foray, went on to become one of France's greatest sons.

In the early 1800s the trade routes from the lucrative Far East to Europe were highly prized, and after grabbing what is now Mauritius from the Dutch and renaming it Ile de France, the French established a naval base at Grand Port.

In August of 1810, four British ships made a surprise raid on Grand Port, and in the absence of the local French naval squadron that was away on patrol, the British continued to fly the French flag from the local fort so as not to give away their presence to the French squadron when it returned.

When that occurred on August 20 1810 the French with their three frigates and two captured East Indiamen (trading ships,) were immediately set upon by the British.    

A bloody battle raged for two days, and while the British squadron of four ships out-gunned the French with 175 cannon to 144, the French fought a masterful fight: due to the shallow waters of the Bay neither side was able to set sail to gain a manoeuvering advantage and had to fight from their ships that rode constrained on their anchors.

The French at one stage shot away the mooring chains of two of the four British ships, setting them free to drift ashore where they were blown apart as they floundered helplessly on the sands; the remaining two were then quickly captured.

And ironically when the French commander and a British captain were injured in this historic encounter, they were taken ashore by their crews for treatment at a local clinic – and found themselves in beds side-by-side and being treated by the same doctor. That clinic is now the National History Museum in the village of Mahebourg and well worth a visit to re-trace the exact details of the Battle of Grand Port.

Napoleon's only-ever naval victory over a British fleet was received with much jubilation in Paris, and was inscribed amongst his other victories on the Arc de Triomphe.

But jubilation was short-lived: just three months later the British, still coveting Ile de France because of its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, launched another attack on the island, this time landing on its northern shores and marching overland to attack the fort at Grand Port.

Not wanting another battle, the French immediately gave up the island and Britain renamed it Mauritius; twenty-five years later they abolished slavery there, giving sugar cane planters the-then very princely sum of two-million pounds as compensation for the loss of the slaves they'd brought from Africa and Madagascar, and to enable them to employ thousands of immigrants from India to work their plantations.

Mauritius gained independence from Britain in 1968 and is now a much sought-after holiday destination for Australians and Europeans, with excellent and well-priced beach resorts, exceptional dining with French and Creole influences, wonderful shopping and colourful markets, and plenty of local cultural and historic attractions.

In May 2010 the Mauritian and French governments are planning a 200th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Grand Port and a Tall Ships Regatta, promising what will be "a very colourful event in a very colourful country."

Keenly-priced holiday opportunities to Mauritius now and for the 2010 celebrations are available through travel agents.

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PHOTO CAPTIONS:

MORE peaceful fleets than in Napoleon's day ply the waters of Mauritius today.

COLOURFUL markets are a highlight of holiday shopping in Mauritius that's a popular getaway for Australians.

Photos: Mauritius Media Centre

June 14, 2008

GOING TROPPO: IT’S ALL BUBBLES, BUSH AND BILLY TEA


 
 
david ellis
 
"LOOK for the bubbles," says Col Adamson as our party of hopefuls, victims of an itinerant tropical downpour, flounders along a muddy trail beside the Broken River in Queensland's Eungella National Park.
 
We're high in the rainforest hinterland behind Mackay, most of us more interested in the umbrellas we were told to bring, but didn't because only sissies carry umbrellas. Or billy tea and damper we're promised at a dry bush camp in the Bali Hai-cloudy mountains; anything in fact to compensate for the dinner we drank the night before.
 
"There they are," says Col. "Just off that sunken tree."  We see nothing but giant raindrops pock-marking the muddied river.
 
"Now, there," says Col, enthusiastic as a child. "Closer to the shore… there, there, here he comes… come on, mate, come on!"
 
Then we see it. Our first platypus in the wild. A tiny fellow swimming straight towards us, duck-bill up curiously sensing the presence of we intruders. Aggrieved, he slips beneath the surface without a ripple. "A young one, so there's a family around," says Col, the park's Number One platypus-spotter with a 100% record on-tour.
 
The rain stops, the sun comes out, and an adult of the family surfaces, but obviously equally disgusted at our presence, she too disappears.
 
 "They'll travel quite a way underwater looking for clearer water conditions," says Col. "Always look for the bubbles they breathe out while feeding before they come to the surface."
 
We note his advice and head for the mini-coach, still ruminating on the bubbles in last night's dinner.
 
Col Adamson and wife Jenny set up Natural North Discovery Tours in Mackay in 1995, did so well they were made an offer they couldn't refuse, and stayed on with the new owners who run a broader range of tours and excursions as Reeforest Tours.
 
In his years here, Col – who chucked-in running his own transport company in NSW to escape the rat-race – has taught himself enough about the area to fill a myriad reference books.
 
Want to know Mackay's history? Col will take you back to the 1860s when, in search of new pastures, a one-time seaman named Captain John Mackay, six stockmen and two Aboriginal trackers drove two bullock teams and 1200 head of cattle hundreds of kilometres north from Armidale. They named a river that ran through the fertile valley they discovered, the Mackay.
 
And why all the sugar cane? "The cattle got water-logged in the first wet season, so the settlers tried growing maze and sugar and even coffee and tea –  only the sugar survived the wet."
 
Col turns to the subject of Eungella. "It has the most rainforest of any National
Park in Queensland," he says. "It used to get over 2.5 metres of rain a year, but that's been leaner in recent years... the bird and animal life absolutely thrives here: kingfishers, cockatoos, honeyeaters, bowerbirds, golden crowned snakes, tusked frogs, platypus, geckos."
 
And 830m up in the clouds there's the Eungella Chalet, a circa-1930 guest house that at one time did just as well as a sly-grog joint because police found it impossible to raid with only one road through the dense rainforest.
 
"And in the 1940s," Col says, "the Americans used it for R&R for officers and put in a fire escape – not in case of fire, but so the girls they brought with them could get away if they saw the Military Police coming."
 
We stop now at one of the jewels on Col's tour: a serene bush camp dubbed The Finch Hatton Hilton in the spectacularly rugged Finch Hatton Gorge. Here the ever-affable Col prepares an impossibly grand bush barbie including billy tea and damper, all the time spinning tales both tall and true.
 
Then, well sated and last night's dinner forgotten, it's time to head for the airport. As we pass a small sugar town's tiny community hall, Col says a local lady used to sing there to entertain the mill families.
 
"But to try to further her career she and her hubby had to move away.
"Her name was Nellie Melba."
 
To join Reeforest Tours' Platypus & Rainforest ECO Safari, outback tours and excursions around the Mackay area and Whitsundays, phone (07) 4959 8360 or visit www.reeforest.com
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June 12, 2008

HIGHLAND FLING OF GARDENS, GALLERIES AND GOURMET DINING



john rozentals and david ellis

photos: sandra burn white



NEW SOUTH WALES’ Southern Highlands – just ninety minutes from Sydney have come a long way since their initial fame in the mid- to late-19th century centred on their coal mines, iron foundries, brick kilns and dairies that supplied “the big smoke.”

And in later-times, the author of Mary Poppins who created one of Hollywood’s most-magical characters from her home here in Bowral… and Australia’s first history-making ensuited motel.

Today the mines, the kilns, the dairies are something of history, Mary Poppins has become a household name, every motel has an ensuite, and the Highlands are now a year-round playground for Sydney-siders, Canberrans, South Coasters and overseas visitors drawn by their lush very-English gardens, flower festivals, quaint tearooms and cafés, fine restaurants and bounteous antique shops.

And for outdoors types, the spectacular Fitzroy Falls and Morton National Park; and whether you’re a sports fan or not there’s the region’s most famous citadel all, Bowral’s (Sir Donald) Bradman Museum and Oval.

Garden buffs home-in on Milton Park that was owned from 1910 to 1960 by the Anthony Hordern family of Sydney retailing fame.

Originally established along Edwardian formal and geometric lines, the magnificent gardens at the front of the mansion were gradually expanded to include a series of terraces, pools and spectacular garden beds amid the property’s many fine old trees.

After buying the property in 1910, Anthony Hordern renamed it after the South Coast town of Milton, which had been established by his grandfather John Booth.

It’s easy to spend an hour or two wandering these gardens, taking photos and discovering delights such as the three oldest weeping beeches in Australia and the oldest variegated tulip tree in the southern hemisphere.

These days, Milton Park is run as a guesthouse and spa resort and offers fine dining in Horderns Restaurant, where new executive chef Joel Bickford is doing wonders with local produce, including Li-Sun mushrooms from a disused railway tunnel now used by microbiologist Noel Arrold to produce a range of these exotic delights.

Accompanying perfectly seared aged, grain-fed beef at Horderns Restaurant, “tunnel mushrooms” provide a veritable explosion of earthy flavours.

A drive to Horderns for lunch, a stroll around Milton Park, and a diversion to Fitzroy Falls, comes highly recommended as a daytrip for those living in or visiting Sydney, Wollongong or Canberra.

And if you’re staying, many of Milton Park’s large, well equipped rooms open out on to the gardens, and there’s a heated pool, complimentary use of the spa pavilion (treatments are extra), tennis, and the opportunity for pre-dinner drinks and a game of snooker on the full-size table in the magnificently decorated bar.

Li-Sun mushrooms also feature on the menus here, and are part of an expanding list of Southern Highlands produce gaining international renown — including farmed barramundi, raspberries, pork, beef, honey, cheese and wine.

The wine industry is growing particularly quickly, with a bevy of small wineries being led by a couple of larger producers such as Centennial Vineyards and Southern Highlands Wines, who revel in their cool climate that’s ideal for fine wines; their proximity to Sydney, the South Coast and Canberra draws many visitors from these places to their cellar-doors and restaurants.

We enjoyed an excellent lunch at Centennial, beside an open fire and with sweeping views of the vineyards and countryside.

And if you’re interested in a round or two of golf, consider a couple of nights at Links House, just across the road from the Bowral Golf Club: purpose-built in 1928 for golfing enthusiasts, it offers very comfortable motel-style accommodation... and made history as the first motel in Australia to offer ensuite facilities.

Its present owner-managers take great pride in the lush gardens, sheltered courtyards and the cosy lounge and library areas.

The motel’s Vida Restaurant again features Noel Arrold’s mushrooms, with chef Phillip Whitton using them in his signature dish — Duck Confit with Tunnel-Mushroom Terrine, with Pomegranate and Pinot Noir Glaze.

If you’re interested in enjoying these indulgences and the many delightful indoor/outdoor cafés, antique shops and galleries throughout this popular Southern Highlands region, contact:

  • Milton Park: 02 4861 1522; www.milton-park.com.au
  • Links House: 02 4861 1977; www.linkshouse.com.au
  • Centennial Vineyards: 02 4861 8700; www.centennial.net.au
  • Tourism Southern Highlands: 1300 657 559; www.southern-highlands.com.au

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PHOTO CAPTIONS:

MILTON Park Gardens – a spectacular horticultural explosion of old and new for garden buffs

DELIGHTFUL outlook over the vineyards from the all-weather verandah of multi-award winning Centennial Vineyards

BREKKIE with a view: Links House dates back to the 1920s.

(Photos: Sandra Burn White)

Story Bridge Climb: A 10th birthday to remember

By Adrienne Costin

“Those people down there look like munchkins!” exclaimed my excited daughter as she looked down on couple walking through the park below while she climbed up the stairs in the first span of Brisbane’s Story Bridge.

I knew then that my 140cm “Wizard of Oz” fan was now quite comfortable with the thought that she was climbing to the top of the bridge she had only previously driven over or played under. A few minutes earlier, she, and her friend Emma who is a similar height, had been unusually quiet as they concentrated on guiding their harness ropes up the safety wire on the side of the steps leading to the 80m summit of the bridge.

Sammie is the wild child of my mob – the one who is crazy about animals, always likes to do her own thing and on the lookout for adventure. When asked if she’d like to do a Story Bridge Adventure Climb for her 10th birthday the day couldn’t come soon enough. Even more thrilling was the fact that the climb operators had recently dropped the minimum age of climbers from 12 years to 10, so she and Emma could boast about being some of the first 10-year-olds to climb the Brisbane landmark.

Even more poignant than sharing this special occasion with Sammie, was the thought that some of the people who built the bridge were probably only a few years older than her and they certainly handn’t had the benefit of a guide, special climbing suits and jackets to keep out the wind and rain, headsets for communication and safety harnesses.

The climb leaders are a collection of extra-ordinary people who spend their days hosting people like us up and over the bridge, all the while supplying an entertaining commentary on Brisbane and the Bridge and making sure the safety rules of the climb are followed at all times. It is they who check you don’t have any objects stashed away on your person that may fall on the cars below, who breathtest you before the climb, who show you how to put on all the gear from the suits through to the harness, two way radios and headphones and then take photos of you while on the climb.

Everything is catered for – even people with runny noses can rest assured they won’t have to endure embarrassing drips because handkerchiefs with elastic arm bands are provided, along with other items like hair scrunchies (you have to until your hair it is has been pulled back), lanyards for glasses and so on. Even the wind jackets which can be put on over the climb suit are clipped in a bag hanging from your waist. Just unzip, pull it on and again, it’s even attached within the bag so there is no chance to wind will take it from you.

This was an evening climb – 4.20pm on a weeknight evening in Autumn, so we saw the sun go down and the moon and stars come up. The lights of the city came on, the traffic grew heavier and the magic of the experience continued to grow as time went on. There’s something quite lovely about being away from the hustle and bustle, about seeing it all from on high. The climbs were leaving at 20 minutes intervals this day so we were able to wave at other groups on different stages of their climb, all of whom seemed suitably awed by the beauty of the evening and the experience. Incredibly the very windy day had also transformed into a relatively peaceful night with only a gentle breeze caressing us.

Beau, our lanky leader, who later admitted we had been his first unsupervised climb, was great company, was not at all phased by the fact there were two little ones in the group. In fact he seemed to like the fact that his every word was being hung onto like the rail on the side of the stairs.

He happily chatted throughout the climb, admitting early on that as an engineering student he found the whole concept of the bridge and its construction amazing. He was keen to answer questions and happy to share a string of very corny jokes with us climbers.

As we cleared the top of the bridge once more and began our descent both girls groaned a little about their adventure ending but agreed it had been really ‘cool’ and maybe they were getting a little tired from all the excitement – after all it was a school night and nearing bed time!

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It takes around 2.5 hours for each climb and this includes pre-climb briefings, suiting up, the climb which goes up and over the first arch of the bridge then down into the centre of the structure where you pass over to the other side and climb back over the arch of the other side of the bridge.

Climb costs from July 1 for children (10-16 years) start at $75.65 for day climbs and night climbs from Monday to Friday, $84.15 for Saturday and Sunday night climbs and Monday to Thursday twilight climbs. Adult only prices apply for Friday-Sunday twilight climbs ($130). Family rates are $288 for a maximum of four people including one or two adults. All children must be a mimimum of 130cm tall and must be accompanied by an adult. If climbing in groups, then every three children must be accompanied by at least one adult.

All climbers receive a Climb certificate and a Return Climbers Pass enabling them to climb for free for a period of 12 months when they book again with 2 full paying climbers.

For more information and bookings visit www.storybridgeadventureclimb.com.au or call 1300 254 627.