May 28, 2012


David Ellis

ONE day in the mid-1800s when a prospector named David Lindsay was sweltering away in a dry creek bed where it was 40-degrees in the shade – and there was no shade – he stopped to pick at a brilliantly coloured stone from which flashes of red danced devilishly under the harsh Central Australian sunlight.

With his small hand pick he chipped away at the stone, revealing what he reckoned must have been the biggest ruby he'd seen in his life. And when more followed, and more followed those, he walked the 40km up the creek to a small gold prospecting camp at Arltunga to celebrate at its sly-grog tent.

A few months later on the opposite side of the world, some Dutch gem experts whistled aloud at the stones that spilled from a small purse sent to them from Australia. They had to be the best rubies they'd seen in a long time.

So they too took a celebratory drink at the prospects of a wealthy new find in the far-off antipodes.

But the celebrations on both sides of the world were short-lived: the brilliant 'rubies,' rumours of which had now started a 'ruby rush' to the Outback, were only red garnets, worth but a fraction of what everyone had hoped.

So for David, and the other hopefuls, it was back to gold prospecting, collecting what specks and tiny nuggets they could among the gravel at Arltunga… until David Lindsay's ever-vigilant eyes spotted an alluvial vein on a hill just up from his creek.

This turned out to be a far more worthwhile prospect, and soon a gold stamp was brought in to pound the rich ore David had spotted. By the late 1800s the little tent site of a hundred prospectors had swollen to an itinerant 2000 with a police station, stores, assayers offices, government supervisors, a pub – and a cemetery. 

And so Arltunga became the first European settlement in Central Australia, preceding Alice Springs, and at one stage having a 'resident' population of 300 supporting the miners.

The mines yielded some 6-million pounds worth of gold between the late 1800s and early 1900s, and while most were abandoned by the time of World War I, some were still being worked until the 1950s… one until 1998.

The 'ruby boom' meanwhile had died a very quick death.

Arltunga lays in the East MacDonnell Ranges in desert country 110km east of Alice Springs. There's an un-manned Visitors Centre with a fascinating collection of historic photos and memorabilia from the time when hopefuls with only the thought of gold on their minds, trudged 600km from the railhead at Oodnadatta with all they owned in swags on their backs, or in wheelbarrows.

A self-operated slide show is also available at the Visitors Centre with photos and maps on-screen of suggested areas of interest nearby.

And there are the ghostly tumble-down reminders of what was once a town: the police station, its stand-alone cell-from-hell in which temperatures reached 45-plus (before that, prisoners were simply chained to the policeman's iron bed,) the gold stamp and cyanide works, stone floors of one-time houses and a stone pub, abandoned mine workings, sign-posted historic trails, and shaded picnic grounds.

The original hotel – a sign said Sleep Where You Like, But Not On The Bar – has long been nothing more than a ruin, and the most-recent, Arltunga's only business in recent years, pulled its last beers and closed a few months back.

National Parks' rangers are the only ones in this ghost town and during the 'cooler winter months' between May and September obligingly help visitors with information about the site, and offer suggestions on places to visit on foot, by bicycle or by car. The picnic grounds have BBQ facilities and shade shelters, but camping is not permitted (you can camp at the nearby Terphina Gorge Nature Park,) and visitors must to take all their rubbish away with them._

And yet as remote as it is, you don't need 4WD to get here: the road is sealed for the first 70km from Alice Springs, and is gravel for the next forty – "a yob filter" as regulars who enjoy escaping to Arltunga describe it.

For information about holidaying in Central Australia and visiting Arltunga, phone Central Australian Tourism on 1800 645 199.




[] ARLTUNGA: little remains of first European settlement in Central Australia

[] POLICE cell: temperatures reached 45-degrees or more

[] RUSTING remains of the abandoned original gold stamp

[] ORIGINAL police station and cell

[] ONE of the few remaining late 1800s, early 1900s houses

[] ARLTUNGA Hotel that's currently closed: guests were invited to Sleep Where You

   Like, But Not On The Bar   


(Photos courtesy Heritage Branch Dept of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts & Sport Northern Territory Government)


Struth! Enemy action no deterrent to British golfers

Is this the world's biggest divot?

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that publisher of Australian Cruise Magazine and one-time golf hacker, Michael Osborne was sent the following by a golfing mate, something that shows the mettle of golfers in Britain's war-torn 1940s.

Players at the Richmond Golf Club in Surrey – just 15km from Central London – often had their game interrupted by German bombers that missed their mark on the city, and dropped them on surrounding areas including the golf club. When one such enemy bomb demolished an outhouse at the Richmond Club in 1940, directors issued the following Temporary Rules for Members for the remainder of the war:
  • Players are asked to collect bomb and shrapnel splinters to save these causing damage to the Mowing Machines.
  • In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
  • The positions of known delayed-action bombs are marked by red flags at a reasonably, but not guaranteed, safe distance therefrom.
  • Shrapnel and/or bomb splinters on the Fairway, or in Bunkers within a club's length of a ball, may be removed without penalty, and no penalty shall be incurred if a ball is thereby caused to move accidentally.
  • A ball moved by enemy action may be replaced, or if lost or destroyed, a ball may be dropped not nearer the hole without penalty.
  • A ball lying in a crater may be lifted and dropped not nearer the hole, preserving the line to the hole without penalty.
  • A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place. Penalty one stroke.

Michael asks if with this kind of bulldog spirit, was there any wonder Hitler lost The Battle of Britain?

(Photo: North Shore Golf Course Blackpool – another course struck by enemy bombs)

May 26, 2012

Immerse Yourself in Korean Culture at the Jeonju Hanok Village

Inline images 1

Step back in time at the four hundred years old Jeonju Hanok Village two hours south of Seoul by KTX express train and you will be totally immersed in Korean culture and history. Jeonju Hanok Village is a traditional living village not a tourist folk village.  You can stay in a Korean traditional house (hanok) at the Jeonju Living Experience Centre and enjoy the many museums and activities the village offers its visitors.

While the rest of Jeonju city has been industrialised and changed, the Hanok Village remains with its more than eight hundred beautiful traditional Korean houses.  These houses are particularly known for their beautiful architecture with their roof edges upturned to the sky.

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At the Jeonju Hanok Living Experience Centre visitors can stay in a traditional guesthouse within the village.  The Centre was originally a royal house that was constructed during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910)  It offers traditional lodging and cultural experiences like chopping your own firewood to warm the traditional houses that have their own unique under-floor heating system called ondol, which is unique to Korea.

Visitors can hire bicycles from the Centre to enjoy riding around the village, few cars are within this area so it is a great place for cycling and walking. Within the village walls there are many museums including calligraphy museum, wine museum, kimchi museum and of course many great restaurants to enjoy traditional Korean food.  Jeonju has been known throughout history as one of the best regional food centres in Korea and also as the home of traditional Korean Bibimbap – the mixed rice and vegetable dish which is so popular all over the country.

Jeonju is so famous for its Bibimbap that it hosts an annual Bibimbap Festival which will be held from 18-21 October this year.  At this festival you can learn how to make bibimbap, enjoy as many varieties of Bibimbap as you like and join in all the festive and cultural events that are part of the festival.
The Jeonju International Sori (Music) Festival is an international music festival running for the past ten years which will be held this year from 13-17 September.  At this festival you can enjoy all the various forms of Korean traditional music including pansori (Korean opera) as well as diverse world music acts invited for the Festival.

Inline images 3Jeonju Sori Museum is located inside the Jeonju Hanok Village and hosts traditional Pansori (Korean opera) performances every Saturday evening at 8pm from 26 May to 27 October, 2012.  The performance features a 70 minute-long Korean traditional opera and performers will include Korea's most renowned Pansori singers at certain times throughout the period. Admission to the performances is 20,000 won (approx. A$19 ) for adults and children 10,000 won (approx. A$9.50)
If you can't get a bed at the Jeonju Hanok Living Experience Centre then try Yangsajae, a beautiful traditional guest house located within the village.  Yangsajae was once part of the Jeonju Confucian Academy where students prepared for national exams to enter public office.  Students who passed their exams had the honour of having their names displayed at Yangsajae, the building was highly revered as a place of higher learning.  From 1951 to 1955 the famous Korean poet Garam Yi lived in the house.  The house was remodelled in 1980 but builders took great care in preserving the house's historical integrity and much of the building remains in its original form.

Jeonju Hanok Village has some exceptional handmade gifts and souvenirs and you can visit many traditional arts and craft studios including the traditional mulberry paper crafts, lacquerware and natural dyeing techniques and many other beautiful gifts that you can take back home for your friends and family.

It is also a great place for the children, they can learn and play all the Korean traditional games as well as have fun with the local children.  The whole family can have a real Korean experience in an ancient village atmosphere.

For a free travel guidebook to Korea as well as a guide/map to Jeonju email your request to Korea Tourism Organization Sydney office at email: or phone (02) 9251-1717

If  you are planning to visit Jeonju Hanok Village more information can be found through the following websites:

Jeonju Hanok Village –
International Sori Festival –
Jeonju Hanok Living Experience Centre –
Yangsajae traditional guest house -


Struth! Take a slice from the Earl of Sandwich

Roast beef sandwich – CampbellsKitchens

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that in Britain they've just celebrated what's claimed to be the 250th anniversary of the invention of that great institution, the sandwich.

Town of Sandwich – VisitKent
And the biggest celebrations were centred on the town of Sandwich in Kent, where its said that a quarter of a century ago this month John Montagu, the-then Fourth Earl of Sandwich, called on a servant to bring him "a slice of beef between two pieces of bread" so he could continue a game of cards without the need to stop for lunch.

Several others at the table asked if they could be given "the same as Sandwich," so allegedly giving the world its most famous culinary mainstay.

Many disagree with the story and claim that "sandwiches" were a part of life in areas of Europe well before the Earl laid his claim to history… with the French town of Honfleur, that's "twinned" with Sandwich, even sending representatives to the British town this month to show their skills in making baguettes, alongside others from across England, America, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Russia in showing off their talents at sandwich making.

The current earl of Sandwich also hosted a lunch for VIPs – with VIP sandwiches, of course – and noted that his famous forebear had funded Captain Cook's 1770 explorations of Australia and the South Pacific, with Cook discovering what are now the Hawaiian Islands and naming them the Sandwich Islands after his card-loving benefactor.


David Ellis

WHEN a bubbly from England's South Downs in County Sussex won the title of World's Best Sparkling Wine at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2005, screams of horror could be heard from some in Champagne across the Channel in France, while others shrugged it off as little more than an aberration.

When that same English maker won the Decanter World Wine Awards for Best Sparkling in the World in 2010 the reaction from over the water was somewhat more shocked, and last year when it yet again won the International Wine & Spirit Competition for World's Best Sparkling, it had some of the men of Champagne literally gagging on their Gauloises'.

And yet the man behind those English successes has no winemaking lineage and is actually a one-time computer company owner who, with his wife, dumped the city rat-race in the early 1990s to take up a new life in the country making bubbly wine and enjoying the fruits of their labours with family and friends.

And Mike and Chris Roberts, together with their family who now work alongside them, never dreamed of what they'd one day achieve. "We didn't believe it at first," Mike says of their first win in 2005. "Even after they'd sent me the confirmation, I rang the organisers four times to make really sure they had the right winner!"

For the Roberts their successes are just as important for England as they are for their family-owned company. Not that they are anti-French – just proudly British – and Mike admits he's got the French to thank for some of his success: Ridgeview got advice and guidance in its formative years from makers from Champagne, and planted clones of French Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The wine that won England its first "Best Sparkling" award was Ridgeview's Bloomsbury 2002, and interestingly it was another Englishman, Christopher Merret who gave the world its very first sparkling wine.

That was way back in 1662 and Mr Merret in a paper for the Royal Society, described in detail how he created such a bubbly drop, summing it up his wine in somewhat British under-statement as "gay, brisk and sparkling."

Thirty years later France's Dom Perrignon on creating his first bubbly exclaimed more loudly and poetically to those around him: "I am drinking the stars!"

But it actually took another 40 years for the French to get serious about what, until the Roberts came along, has been recognised as the best bubbly in the world.

Mike Roberts attributes the success of his little Ridgeview Estate – which makes around 240,000 bottles of sparkling wines a year – to a unique geographical factor: France's Champagne region is largely renowned for the greatness of its wines because of its soil that's basically chalk layered over clay, and which extends out and under the English Channel to rise again 140km away in the South Downs of Sussex.

"We've this unique soil, we're just 11km in from the sea, our winters are mild, and our summers are dry and actually quite hot," Mike says. "It's the perfect mix for the perfect bubbly."

Mike's assisted in his winemaking by son Simon and winemaker Charlie Holland, while Chris is a working director, daughter Tamara is company General Manager, Simon's wife Mardi (an Aussie from Victoria's Wangaratta) is Sales & Marketing Manager and son-in-law Simon Larder is Supply Chain Administrator.

Ridgeview Estate is open to the public Mondays to Saturdays from 11am to 4pm (except January and February,) with sales and tastings of their sparklings at the Cellar Door. It was their 2006 and 2007 Ridgeview Grosvenor that won the 2010 and 2011 awards, while their Fitzrovia Sparkling Rosé was served by Queen Elizabeth when President Obama visited Buckingham Palace last year.

You'll find Ridgeview in Ditchling in Sussex, an hour south of London by train or 1.5 hours by road. There are around 60 other wineries in the area, some open for tastings.

And the good news is that if you want to enjoy Ridgeview's bubblies they'll be available here from June this year. See select fine wine stores or visit

FOOTNOTE: On May 15 this year Mike Roberts was awarded an MBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace for services to the English wine industry.





[] ESCAPED the rat-race and made history: Mike and Chris Roberts

[] BLOOMING beauty – the drop that captivated judges who awarded it "World's Best Sparkling Wine"

[] MISTY morn on Ridgeview Estate in England's South Downs

[] THE Roberts family: (L-R) Mardi Roberts, Tamara Larder, Mike Roberts, Simon Larder with Owen Larder, Chris Roberts and Simon Roberts

[] PRETTY as a picture: Ridgeview Estate's vineyards in their picturesque Sussex setting.

(Photos: Ridgeview Estate)








May 24, 2012


david ellis

WE feel like we're in a time-warp, finding ourselves here in a 1960s-something hamburger joint wondering if The Fonz will suddenly sweep in and start working the jukebox.

But while we're here, there'll be no Fonz, nor many others for that matter. Most folk are too busy rushing on their way from Miami to spot for 'gators in the nearby Florida Everglades to scarcely give this place a glance, never mind thinking of actually eating here.

More fool them, because The Pit Bar-B-Q on the Tamiami Trail is as American as Uncle Sam, Old Faithful and the joint's signature 'Gator Burger and Key Lime Pie.

And the fact it'll never win an award for décor or design adds to the appeal – that and the food that's pure ol' US of A: burgers and spareribs, wings and crumbed and fried chicken "tenders," hot dogs and fries, potato salad and coleslaw. And ice-cold Bud.

Plus frogs legs and catfish straight from the bayou, "fry biscuits" that are something of a cross between a dumpling and a donut, and sauces to go with your choice: hot or mild barbecue, or Chimichurri that's a lip-smacking concoction of parsley, garlic, jalapeno pepper, oregano, wine vinegar and olive oil straight from Argentina.

And of course everything comes in American-size portions – what else? – to tame the hungers of regular highway-users in the know… and those of us curious enough to be seduced off the bitumen by this intriguing time-warp.

Although we confess that first thoughts after wheeling into the parking lot – hey, we're in Florida now, so let's talk American – were to wonder just whether we  really could have put off that burger and ribs attack till we hit town just another half-hour down the highway?

But we're hooked by the aromas wafting from this diner with its wood-shingle roof and exterior red timber walls that are cluttered with service pipes and signs, a "trash can" that guards the main door, and next to the outdoor tables and benches under shade-shelters, a huge barbecue pit from which the place takes its name.

Inside is pure '60s and '70s – the Pit Bar-B-Q dates back to 1965 and nothing much has changed since then: dining booths straight out of the era of TV's Happy Days but whose red vinyl benches have seen Happier Days, a clutter of tables covered with red-check plastic spreads or simply left bare, saloon-style lights fashioned from wagon-wheels strung from the ceiling, a jukebox, walls adorned with old advertising signs, and notice boards advising everything from boats for sale to seeking the whereabouts of lost dogs.

One old tinplate ad in particular grabs our attention: "Drink Pepsi Cola – A Nickel Drink Worth A Dime." How long is it since Pepsi cost a nickel (5c,) we wonder?

And a list of Rules For Y'All: No Spittin'; No Cussin'; No Peein' off the Porch; No Burpin' or Belchin'.

We place our order at a hole-in-the-wall to the kitchen. Two truckies follow us, ordering burgers and fries, Pepsis and salads.

The prices impress: Burgers from US$8.59, a Loaded Chili Cheese Dog $6.99, Ribs from $11.99, Catfish Fillet Dinner $11.99, 14-ounce (nearly 400gm) Cowboy T-Bone $19.99, the famous 'Gator Burgers $9.99 And we can't resist the sweet/tart Mini Key Lime Pie to finish, just $3.50 for this wonderful egg custard infused with unique Florida limes in a crunchy pastry case and topped with sugared meringue.

We allow ourselves a little groan of contentment. One of our truckie neighbours feels the same: "'bout full, buddy," he tells his mate.

"Can't leave food on the plate, ol' buddy" replies the other, and cleans up the last fries.

That's why we love visiting America. And why, when we next go back to Miami, we'll be straight back on the Tamiami Trail to The Pit Bar-B-Q.

And if you decide to visit – you don't have to be heading to the Everglades, its just 30 minutes from Miami if you are joining a cruise in Florida – you may be lucky enough to strike one of the The Pit's famous Car Shows: enthusiasts regularly fill the car park with restored road warriors from the '50s, '60s and '70s, just to show 'em off or offer for sale.

Check out for their six-page menu.





[] CATFISH and Key Lime Pie, Ribs and 'Gator Burgers – highway dining 60s-style on Florida's Tamiami Trail.

[] OPENED in 1965 and not much has changed since then.

[] OUTDOOR dining area.

[] THE Pit Bar-B-Q hosts regular shows for enthusiasts of road warriors from the '50s, 60s and 70s.


(Photos: The Pit Bar-B-Q)


May 10, 2012


David Ellis

THE newest thing in cruise holidaying in America is in fact the oldest, with the re-launch this month of the 436-passenger American Queen, a sternwheeler that had been laid-up on the banks of the Mississippi River since her previous owners shut down the engines and walked away broke in 2008.

But going back to the future did not come cheaply for the Great American Steamboat Company. It spent US$30-million on buying and renovating "the grandest of all of the wedding-cake boats" that will be based in Memphis (whose city council also contributed some funding to help boost local tourism and employment,) and which will ply the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers on 4- to 10-night itineraries.

And while guests will find themselves indulged within a virtual Victorian-era of antiques, furnishings and spectacularly ornate chandeliers and sweeping staircases, they'll be pampered with the latest in 21st century comforts as well, with flat-screen TVs, luxury ensuites, the latest in bedding designs – and dining that will range from Mom's favourites to the trendiest "today" creations.

Prices for a week currently start from around US$2000pp twin-share plus obligatory tips, but including a hotel night pre-cruise, and the prospects of visiting such iconic "Heartland" destinations as New Orleans, Natchez, Mark Twain's Hannibal, Chattanooga, Pittsburgh, Oak Alley, Baton Rouge and St Francisville.

And interestingly the new owners have opted for an all-American crew of 174 to indulge their 436 guests. "We believe that to be absolutely essential, reflecting who we are," said CEO Jeff Krida, adding that two-thirds of crew hail from Tennessee or Louisiana where, because of the recession, there was no shortage of applicants… and with only around 40% having had any previous cruise or hospitality industry experience, the company was able to choose from those showing the most upbeat and positive attitudes.

"The average age of our guests will be around 60," Mr Krida said. "But the average age of our staff is around 30: we've instilled in them the need to anticipate the needs of our older, upscale guests, to make eye contact with them, to say 'Please' and 'Thank You,' that sort of thing.

By doing so, he says the company is bringing to the region a unique time- machine designed to take guests back to a romantic era when steamboats plied the length of the Mississippi.

In fact the first was built in 1811 by Nicholas Roosevelt who sailed it from his hometown Pennsylvania down the Ohio River to join the Mississippi – and ended-up 28-days later in New Orleans. And it wasn't long before anything up to two hundred steam-driven paddle- and sternwheelers were gathering up passengers and freight on any one day at each of scores of waterfronts from Minnesota in the far north, to New Orleans 3700km away in the far south, and on myriad tributaries reaching like tentacles into 31 States.

By the 1970s, however, trains, planes and automobiles had made their mark on the river trade, and passenger traffic in particular became almost a thing of the past, while freight operators moved to more efficient diesel-powered river freighters and tug-drawn barges.

The final death knell for the paddlewheelers was sounded in November 2008 when the biggest of them all, the American Queen was mothballed with mountainous debts.

Two companies that vied to bail her out eventually joined together as the Great American Steamboat Company to put this spectacular vessel back into the Mississippi tourist business.

Her itineraries on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers are diverse, covering everything from Southern Culture, to Springtime on the River, Music of the 1950s, Music of the 1960s, Big Bands, the Civil War, Fall (Autumn) Colours, Old Fashioned Holidays, and even the Kentucky Derby.

So picture yourself sitting on deck in a rocker looking out at grand Southern mansions or Elvis Presley's Graceland at a gracious ten-to-twelve knots, or tucking into traditional riverboat dishes of jambalaya, southern fried chicken, shrimps with olives and green onions, pot roasts, skillet-cooked turkey and potatoes, or decadent chocolate brownies, pecan pie, soft molasses cookies…

And while taking-in the views by day, toe-tapping to Dixieland, jazz, gospel and blues, or at night Southern-style cabaret and vaudeville....

For itineraries, more details and prices phone Cruise Specialist Holidays toll-free 1300 79 49 59.



[] BACK on the river, US$130m renovations for abandoned American Queen

[] SWEEPING Victoriana staircase symbol of a time before

[] GRAND Salon for nightly Southern-style cabaret and vaudeville

[] INDULGENCE with Deluxe Outside Staterooms with verandahs

[] LADIES only – the Ladies Parlour on American Queen

[] FINE dining in the J.M. White Dining Room

[] LOCAL specialty Shrimp and Corn Fritters

[] RIVERBOATIN' favourite, Fried Catfish with Jalepono Tartar Sauce

(Photos: Great American Steamboat Company)

May 07, 2012

STRUTH! Deep Sleep Hotel

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that not content to have a hotel within the tallest building in the world, Dubai is now going in the opposite direction – it's going to have a hotel in which guests will spend their nights underwater.

A Swiss company called BIG InvestConsult is behind what it calls the Water Discus Hotel, an almost-James Bond-like structure that will consist of two main discs that will look like what its name suggests – one discus-shaped several metres above the water with several smaller discs projected off it, and the other discus-shaped ten metres below the surface of the sea.

They'll be connected by a central circular cylinder and three narrower legs, with guests getting down to twenty-one glass-walled hotel rooms, a submerged dive room and a bar by lifts in the main supporting cylinder.

The hotel's designers, Deep Ocean Technology say holidaymakers will go to bed with views of live coral, fish and other marine life, while the over-water discus will allow them to take-in the above-water views, sunshine and full dining and bar and recreational facilities.

And if you are worried about the likelihood of a little leak possibly becoming a major one, the underwater discus will automatically rise immediately to the sea's surface in the event of any danger.

(Photo: BIG InvestConsult)

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