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April 26, 2017

Heritage rail journey from Sydney to Melbourne

Doing the Locomotion on Grandma's Express


A ride with Grandma and her aging followers is an authentic trip back in time. Roderick Eime is aboard for the ride.

Grandma's working life began in 1955 taking regular trips between Sydney and Melbourne in the glory days of Australian rail when the shiny Southern Aurora was the bees' knees in interstate travel.

Back then, she'd haul 200 travellers the 500-odd miles at a cracking 65mph a couple of times a week along the century-old rail route between Australia's largest capital cities. Some would be tucked up in First Class Sleepers, while others would ride the comfy recliners. Others might make a jaunty time of it with a claret or lager in the plush lounge car.

At the hi-tech controls in Grandma's cockpit
Today Grandma is taking me on a nostalgic trip back down the line via Junee and Albury to Seymour where she'll hand over to her contemporary, the Southern Cross.

To tell you a bit more about the old girl, she's a 42 Class diesel-electric locomotive powered by a 100 litre, V16 two-stroke engine dishing up some 1600 old fashioned horsepower. She's hooked up to a bit of a motley collection of rolling stock dusted off from the Transport Heritage Trust of NSW's inventory of retired carriages, most of which normally reside at either the 'old rollers' museum at Thirlmere on Sydney's southern outskirts or Eveleigh.

Many of the vintage carriages were constructed at the Clyde workshops in Sydney's west back as far as the 1930s with most finally being put to pasture in the '80s and '90s. We have two from the original Southern Aurora and others from the mid-20th century Newcastle and Riverina Express routes. 150 mostly graying, train-mad travellers are cheerfully bouncing along, swapping tales of the rail journeys of their youth, some even recalling the steam era. In fact, I'm writing this from the lurid orange vinyl bench seats of the '70s era dining car that formed part of the Indian Pacific until 1994.

Alex Crass - a lifetime on the railways
Alex Crass is one of the several volunteers staffing the train. He's already given more than half a century of service to the railways, yet still squeezes into his conductor's uniform and flashes a broad trademark smile that speaks volumes.

“I started out as a fireman on the steam trains, “Alex tells me, “After serving with the RAN during the Korean War era, I started on the railways in 1961 and spent the next 50 years doing just about every other job to do with trains. I tried retirement, but it bores me.”

Like ships and airplanes, once rail gets in your blood it's near impossible to purge. And so it is with the eight score passengers on our Sydney Limited reprise. The brainchild of Richard Boyce from Sydney travel agency, Cruise Express, Richard is an unabashed train nerd who talks in acronyms like PFZs, NAMs and RUBs – all model types of rolling stock in Grandma's wobbly entourage. Passengers complete one way by heritage train of one sort or another, then return in lavish luxury aboard a Princess Cruises' ship. Or vice versa. Brisbane is also on the menu.

“It's been quite a bit of work to secure these trains,” says Richard with obvious understatement. I know that quite apart from negotiating the inevitable bureaucracy that comes with the intricacies of combined volunteer, not-for-profit and government agencies, he spent many hours with such necessary tasks as washing and ironing the dusty carriage curtains.

“But, in spite of the many challenges, the end result has exceeded our wildest dreams. The very first voyage took a couple weeks to sell, but once the word was out, it was a 'runaway train'. The second sold in a matter of hours.”

Melbourne Limited at the historic Junee station

Such has been the success of these 'Rail & Sail' packages that rail buffs from all over the country have gravitated to this lure of the loco and Richard has a waiting list that will see him through the next couple departures at least.

While Grandma takes a well-earned rest after back-to-back long haul runs, smaller, lighter 'rail motors' will be used more often. These diesel-powered trains, like the so-called 'Tin Hare' were more common on shorter regional routes but have also proven surprisingly popular with 'Rail & Sail' clients. Either way, nostalgic rail lovers and cruise fans will get a double dose of their favourite means of propulsion when the next round of these peculiar voyages are announced.

For information about heritage 'Rail & Sail' packages, contact Richard at Cruise Express on 02 9810 5377 or visit www.cruiseexpress.com.au

April 16, 2017

Welcome Back to NSW's Central Coast


With short break holidays becoming more popular amongst Australians, the NSW Central Coast is an ideal place to visit.

Just an hour north of Sydney, this beautiful region is often overlooked by tourists charging along the M1 heading north to the sun. Sadly, the Coast has had a massive downtown in tourism in recent years.

The main reasons include the improvement to the M1 which makes northern tourist spots much more accessible and the decline in camping and tourist type accommodation.

Now, we all know the "jewels of the coast", namely Terrigal and The Entrance, but they are just two of the many gems in this region.

Copacabana, Avoca, Hardy's Bay, Empire Bay, Toowoon Bay and Soldiers Beach are all beautiful, tranquil little spots off the normal tourist routes.

And, it is not just the beaches and waterways that should attract visitors. There are lots of interesting things to do on the Coast.

First up is the Australian Reptile Park which is much more than just snakes and lizards. Australian wildlife including crocodiles, dingoes, kangaroos, emus, Tasmanian devils, echidnas and wallabies are all featured at the park.

There is an impressive playground and the spider display has to be seen to be believed.

The Gosford Classic Car museum is based in the massive former Bunning's warehouse in West Gosford and features a stunning display of 450 vehicles and motorbikes.  All the great names of motoring are represented: Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Triumph, Austin Healey, the list goes on and on.

Another classic collection can be seen at the Ken Duncan Gallery in Erina Heights. The famous landscape photographer purpose built his new gallery on the Central Coast Highway and made it free of charge to guests. You can have a coffee or a full lunch at the adjacent Sanctuary Café.

Of course, two major shopping centres on the Coast are tourist attractions in their own right. Erina Fair and Westfield Tuggerah always seemed to be brimming with people, which is probably a tribute to the Coast's position as a major retirement area.

Gosford is booming at the moment with dozens of major developments underway. These include the impressive seven storey Bonython Tower luxury residential and commercial project funded by advertising guru and entrepreneur John Singleton. "Singo" is also building a 50 unit site Bonython Waters adjacent to Brisbane Water.

These two projects have gained a lot of media attention and have led to a rush of development applications. These will inevitably lead to new tourist accommodation and "things to do" in the Gosford area.

For the more energetic amongst us, the innovative Treetops Adventure Park at Yarramalong is the place to go. It features an amazing array of rope walkways in the trees, plus obstacles, zip lines, cargo next and dozens of challenges. You could easily spend a day enjoying the many activities and it is ideal for a family to spend the day together.

It also gets the kids away from the I pads and phones and out into the great outdoors. Treetrops is one of the great coast success stories and is expanding around Australia.

Horse riding at Glenning Valley, fishing along the beaches and waterways and hiking in Lake Munmorah Recreation Area are just some of the many activities available on the Coast.

For more information: www.visitcentralcoast.com.au

Words by Dallas Sherringham

Images as supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


Images

1.     Enzo Ferrari

2.     Ken Duncan Gallery

3.     Australian Reptile Park

4.     Australian Reptile Park

5.     Treetops Adventure park

6.     Treetops Adventure Park

April 10, 2017

Cruising on Queen Mary 2: Three sides to Cruising


There's something about Mary

With its huge art deco-styled lipstick red funnel, blue and white
livery and wraparound promenade deck, Helen Flanagan was all at sea on
the leviathan ocean liner Queen Mary 2.

Could the grandeur, elegance and romance of the golden age of sea
travel exist today or is that the dominion of the movies such as
Titanic starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio?

After stepping on board the Queen Mary 2, welcomed by a dashing
officer in dazzling whites, gliding along the decks and carpeted
passageways, entering a small but perfectly and cleverly designed
Brittania stateroom decorated in gold and cream, with a generous sized
balcony, it's time for a glass of Veuve Clicquot whilst we unpack.
There's plentiful of robe space and masses of hangers to swallow up
the evening and the less formal albeit casual wear.

If you can afford to step it up several notches the Princess or Royal
Grill categories have lavish staterooms and suites including two 209
square metre grand duplex apartments, plus special restaurants, bowing
butlers and all the upper-crust accoutrements.

All the hallmarks and expectations of glamerama and good taste yet
hints of nostalgia await. From the sweeping staircase in Britannia
Restaurant; the six-storey grand lobby; a ballroom where suave
gentlemen hosts and terribly refined folk in dinner jackets and
sequined frocks, samba to the orchestra; and performing arts in the
Royal Court Theatre; to wide gallery spaces with displays of "stars on
board" such as Greta Garbo, the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson, plus
more than 300 original artworks valued at more than $US5 million,
there's certainly a sense of space and style.

Let's not forget the many outdoor areas with five swimming pools, golf
simulators, putting green, basketball and paddle tennis courts and
more. Plus a cool14 bars and clubs, 10 restaurants of various culinary
persuasions, 8000-book library, spa and gym with aqua-therapy pool,
sauna, ice fountain for the brave, beauty salon and 24-treatment
rooms, the world's first planetarium at sea and eight swanky boutiques
and souvenir-stocked shops with must-buy prices.

The Commodore tells us "the flagship of the Cunard Line towers 62
metres above the waterline - the equivalent of a 23 storey building,
and is the finest ocean liner ever built. Its four diesel engines and
two gas turbines produce the thrust required to launch a jumbo jet.
It's a giant power station run by electric motors…made to take the
heaviest weather…it's as good as it gets."

Grey Goose Citron martinis beckon in the smart Commodore Club,
overlooking the bow, prior to dinner in the Britannia restaurant.
Choices are many, quality and service is excellent, wine list
extensive. Open sandwiches andtarts in Sir Samuel's or British staples fish and chips with mushy
peas and ploughmans are on the menu in the Golden Lion pub. Both are
excellent lunch options as is the Veuve Clicquot Twinings High Tea in
the Winter Garden with white-gloved service of dainty sandwiches and
rolls, choux pastry swans, scones, tartlets and melodious strains of a
harpist.

[Editor's Note: QM2 received substantial updates in 2016. For details about these new features, see here.]

After dinner it's show time with headline acts ranging from opera
singers, comedians, cabaret stars; playing black jack, poker or slot
machines in the casino; or ballroom dancing in the Queens Room, the
largest ballroom at sea. At the G32 night club, sing and dance to
brilliant Caribbean band and after umpteenth stanzas of 'Feelin' hot,
hot, hot', it's time for more refreshments. The night is young and
tomorrow's decisions are easy especially when not in port. Or are
they?

A multitude of options in the daily oracle range from pub trivia,
table tennis, deck quoits, card games, movies, bridge and twist, jazz,
ballroom and line dancing classes, martini mixology, whisky and wine
tastings, fruit and vegetable carving, art classes, scarf tying and
napkin folding to curling up on a steamer chair for a zizz or catching
a few stray rays poolside.

No time to be bored. We're here for a good time, not a long time.

*There are after-all three sides to cruising: starboard, portside and
funside! How true.

For more information and bookings visit www.cunardline.com.au or call 13 24 41.

Words: Helen Flanagan

Images: as supplied.

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

Captions:

  1. Britannia Restaurant
  2. Spa
  3. Succulent lamb
  4. QM2
  5. Stateroom
  6. St Valentine's Day arrival in Sydney

Laid back Luxembourg

 


Charming and romantic, you'll find it hard to come across a more laid back capital city of the same name as the country.

While it doesn't have the same wealth of attractions like its giant neighbours – France and Germany – Luxembourg, where French is the dominant language, has a rich cultural heritage and is pulling out all the stops to lure long-haul travellers, such as visitors from Asia, Australia and the United States, to the only Grand Duchy in the world.

First-time visitors head straight for the Grand Duke's official residence – the grand-ducal palace – to see the changing of the guards, which happens every two hours in fine weather and every 40 minutes to one hour in snow or wintry weather. A late 16th century Spanish Renaissance-style building, the grand-ducal palace - with its conical shaped turrets that look like witches hats - served as a concert hall and tavern under the Nazi occupation of Luxembourg. It was not until 14 April 1945 that the people of Luxembourg could once again cheer Grand Duchess Charlotte on the palace balcony. The Grand Duke's city residence is open to the public during the summer only, with guided tours from mid-July to September, except on Wednesdays.

A few hundred metres away in the heart of the city is Luxembourg's 'Golden Lady'. Called the Gelle Fra monument, it commemorates the thousands of Luxembourgers that volunteered for service in the armed forces during World War 11. Gelle Fra is the nickname given to the Monument of Remembrance, which is situated in Constitution Square – in the Ville Haute quarter of Luxembourg City. The centrepiece of the monument is a 21-metre tall granite obelisk on top of which stands a gilded bronze statue of a lady – representing Nike, goddess of victory or 'Queen of Freedom' holding out a laurel wreath as if placing it upon the head of the nation.

When Luxembourg was occupied by the Nazi forces in World War 11, the Germans dismantled the memorial in 1940. Several parts of the monument were rescued and, after the war, the monument was partially restored. However, the bronze statue (she's painted in gold) of Gelle Fra herself was missing until 1980 when she was found hidden beneath the main stand of the national football stadium.

The monument was not fully reconstructed to its original design until 1984. Today, it symbolises freedom and resistance for the people of Luxembourg.

Another fascinating Old Town drawcard are the famous Bock Casemates - one of the most envied fortresses in Europe. Carved from the city's rocks, the first casemates, or underground tunnels, were built in 1644, in the era of Spanish domination, with the enlargement of the 23-klometre long network of underground galleries taking place 40 years later under the direction of the military engineer and fortifications builder, Vauban, and later, in the 18 century by the Austrians.  The fortress ramparts and the historically impressive Old Town were registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.

From the Bock Promontory, there are panoramic views of the pretty riverside town of Grund, where you can visit the ancient Abbaye de Neumunster – transformed into a current cultural centre – or explore the cobblestone streets and take a walking break at Scott's Pub bar.

For an insight into the changing day-to-day life of Luxembourg's population – it currently stands around 590,000 – the city's History Museum is home to a comprehensive permanent exhibition illustrates the country's history that spans over a thousand years. The museum occupies four patrician houses, which were built from the 17th to the 19th century and still reveal some medieval structures. In just a few minutes, visitors are introduced to 1000 years of history as they pass the various layers of the city's history – from the naked rock foundations on the lower levels to the panoramic views of the Grund and the Rham plateau on the upper levels.

The National Museum of History and Art, which showcases one of the most beautiful Roman mosaics north of the Alps, together with the city's telecommunications museum, which has a remarkable collection of stamps, and the tram and bus museum are also worth a look.

With its close French connection, Luxembourg City is a gourmet's delight, but you'll have to be quick to beat the locals to the best tables which are taken most nights. While the prices will leave a hole in your wallet, you'll find the food – and the wine selection - at fine dining restaurants, like the award-winning La Brassiere Guillaume overlooking the tree-lined main square, is as good as it gets anywhere in Europe, including Paris.

It seems a perfect fit for this splendid stress-free city with more than a touch of pomp and circumstance.

For further details on Luxembourg City, go to www.lcto.lu

Melbourne-based Rail Plus provided first-class rail travel in Europe, with the writer travelling to Luxembourg City from Vienna via Frankfurt and Koblenz. Choose from Eurail's multi-country passes, single country, passes, Select pass, Global Flexi pass or Global Continuous pass. For first and second-class prices, plus expert staff advice on European rail travel, go to www.railplus.com.au

Words and images: John Newton

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au



1. Market flowers galore

2. Grand Ducal Palace

3. 'Golden Lady' statue

4.Cathedral splendour

5 Picturesque streets

6 Casemates cannons

7.Riverside Grund


April 02, 2017

The Secrets of Mystery Island:


Generations of Australians have spent "one day in paradise" on Vanuatu's Mystery Island, but few know the many secrets of this stunning coral atoll.

Since 1980 cruise ships have been anchoring in the pristine waters of the island and treating literally millions of Australians to a taste of a genuine paradise.

If you are visiting this amazing, unspoiled place on a cruise, you will enchanted by its white sand beaches, warm waters and friendly locals,.

Even the name of the island is a mystery, but I am one of the few people who can solve that riddle.

You see, Mystery Island is known to the locals as Inyeug, but it gained its fame and more popular European name by sheer chance. PR man Ron Connelly was hosting a group of travel writers on board the legendary Fairstar when the ship made one of its rare visits to the island.

Pressed by members of his press group about the tiny gem, he said: "I have to admit I have never been there; the ship often can't drop anchor…it's a mystery to me." And Mystery Island it became ever after.

Sitmar, owners of Fairstar, were quick to pick up the name and turn it into a clever marketing gimmick.

I suffered the same fate on my first visit to Mystery Island on board that very same ship. Captain Luigi Nappa could not anchor because of the large swell from the south.

The next time I went there, the ship did anchor, but the swell became very treacherous and it was a battle to get everyone aboard in the late afternoon as the seas picked up.  That evening there were nine broken arms and wrists being treated at the ship's hospital.

Today's ships are much bigger and much more maneuverable than the Fairstar and most visits to the island are performed without incident

The most striking feature of the 1.5sqkm Island is the large grassed airstrip that takes up most of the land area. I have heard it described as everything from a WWII bomber base to a fighter base for the Americans.

In fact, one of the locals, Robert, told me it was built as emergency strip in WWII for military aircraft transiting the area. At that time Japan was dominating the war in the Solomon Islands to the north and Mystery Island had the potential to become a major player if they advanced into Vanuatu, which was called the New Hebrides in those days.

Today, the strip is used twice a week as the airport for nearby major island of Aneityum. Robert told me the flights could be quite adventurous as boxes of very much alive lobsters and crabs were stacked beside passengers on board, all bound for the restaurants of Port Vila.

 On rough flights it has been known for the boxes to break open and live crustaceans to cause havoc amongst the well heeled clients. I thought it was just a good story until one day I saw crates of live lobsters being lifted aboard a tiny twin engine commuter plane followed by two very reluctant government officials who were heading back to the big smoke.

Mystery Island's reputation goes far beyond its name. At night, the locals swear that the island is haunted by the mysterious spirits of their ancestors. They won't have a bar of going there after dark.

This had the unexpected advantage of making it a safe haven for European visitors in the 19th century who feared the fierce cannibals on the adjacent mainland.

An array of Europeans happened upon Aneityum with its vast sandalwood forests and a flock of 12,000 locals who just had to be turned into law abiding, god fearing Christians. Other visitors had more sinister motives, capturing or "blackbirding" the local men for work as slaves in the sugar cane fields of Queensland. Whalers first appeared in the 1850s and also found safe haven on the tiny oasis.

Rather than being saved by the well meaning Presbyterian fire and brimstone preachers, the native population was also decimated by introduced illnesses such as smallpox and measles. Within a generation or two, just 500 people were left. Even the massive1000 seat stone church built on the island was gone, destroyed by a tsunami.

Aneityum's main mountain, a dormant volcano, towers almost 1000m above the rainforest which still has mysteries of its own yet to be discovered. Ancient and mysterious totemic petroglyphs have been found carved into the island's volcanic rock.

Recent research has revealed that a sophisticated lifestyle was enjoyed by locals living in an unspoilt paradise in the days before the Europeans arrived. Far from being "primitive cannibals", the various tribes had an intricate community lifestyle.

However, because there no written histories kept amongst those people, the only knowledge was passed down by traditions. This means we will never know what life was like in this isolated part of the world in ancient times or who first populated the region.

Aneityum's equally fascinating flora is also yet to be fully discovered. At this time, there are a recorded 80 species of stunning orchids and the island also has hot springs and substantial waterfalls, thanks to the seemingly perpetual rainfall.

Aneityum's kauri forests were also decimated by visitors, but have since been replanted by the New Zealand government and are a valuable logging resource,

Now, there is fascinating history to be learnt from a much more recent visit. If you know where to look on Mystery Island, you will find a monument to the most famous visitor to the island.

Queen Elizabeth enjoyed an unscheduled beach barbecue on Mystery Island in 1974, en route from Port Vila to Sydney aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. Strangely yet again, I could find no-one amongst the locals who remembered the visit, however on Aneityum there are photos of the big day proudly brought out for guests.

Looking at the island from a ship, it looks inconsequential compared to its towering neighbor. However as you go ashore in the ship's tender you will be captivated by the crystal clear waters and waving coconut palms. As you near the jetty you will hear singing and music.

Stepping ashore you will suddenly be standing on a white sand beach that will take your breath away. It is named after its most famous visitor, Queen Elizabeth II Beach.

And you will at last be in paradise, as close as you will ever get to a perfect tropical escape.

Words and images by Dallas Sherringham

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

CAPTIONS:

1. An enthusiastic local at the main terminal of Mystery Island airport

2. Boisterous singing in island harmonies is a feature of island life

3 Queen Elizabeth's stunning personal beach with Aneityum in the background

4 The amazing lagoon as enchanted millions of visitors down through the years

5 A shady tropical oasis welcomes Australian cruise passengers