May 22, 2017

South Australia: Eyre Freshener

by Roderick Eime

As a child on family holidays in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I remember the Eyre Peninsula as a dry, dusty and windswept land covered in saltbush and red sand. More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to completely revise my childhood recollections.

Named for Edward John Eyre who nearly died several times on his crossing to Albany in 1841, he and his Aboriginal companion, Wylie, were the last of a party of five to make it alive. John Charles Darke was not so lucky, he’s buried near the foot of his namesake peak just SW of Kimba after being killed in a native attack in 1844.

From these harsh and foreboding beginnings, the Eyre Peninsula has quietly flourished. Port Lincoln has grown exponentially since the Japanese caught on to the excellent tuna caught and farmed there. Whyalla has always been an iron ore, steel and shipbuilding city and is the third most populous in the state behind Adelaide and Mount Gambier, while Ceduna and Port Augusta form the “bookends” east and west.

For an ultra close-up of the Port Lincoln tuna, jump aboard with Matt Waller of Adventure Bay Charters and you can dive into his net full of baby (20kg) Southern Blue Fin tuna and even hand feed them if you’re game. Matt can also offer relaxing day cruises on Boston Bay to visit the local sea lions.

You’ll be as surprised as I was at the culinary delights of Coffin Bay. Sit back and enjoy a feed of their famous oysters at The Oysterbeds Seafood Restaurant, grown in the ideal waters just across the road. Pour one of the excellent local wines to match. Ask for a Lincoln Estates Sauvignon Blanc or a Boston Bay Shiraz.

If adrenalin experiences are your go, then you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more exciting than a quick dip with the wild Great White Sharks. Calypso Star Charters are in high demand for their shark cruises to Neptune Island, off Port Lincoln. When you’re done with the man-eaters, take a dip with the local sea lions that delight in a game of underwater tag.

MV True North at anchor off Pearson Island

Cruise lovers can take their pick from True North Adventure Cruises’ annual Southern Safari, a luxury food, wine and fun cruise from Adelaide to Ceduna via Kangaroo Island or Classic International Cruises 3- or 4-night “sojourns at sea” aboard the Athena. True North Adventure Cruises visit the remote and uninhabited Investigator Group off the west coast, where you can wander (carefully) among the stunning rock formations and see the rare endemic rock wallaby.

Surprise yourself, rediscover the pleasures treasures of the Eyre Peninsula. I did.

Did You Know?

The coastline of the Peninsula was first mapped by rival explorers Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin in 1801-02.

Coffin Bay was not named for a sea burial but after Flinders’ naval buddy, Sir Isaac Coffin.

Further research:

May 21, 2017

Brilliant Brittany

A Week in Brittany

"Leaning out the window of our accommodations on the rural outskirts of Bordeaux we're assailed by two things: a cat which wants to come in and share our comfort, and the scent of the garden. First to hit me is the strong perfume of lavender; it is everywhere. There was a mist or a bit of rain last night and the dewy drops have settled on the willowy plants and their purple flowers growing in the garden outside and are squeezing the aroma from the leaves.

Picking up the acquiescent cat to slowly wander around the acre or so that makes up the gardens of our abode, there's another scent; the "lawn" or grass meadow is scattered with mint and as we walk it assails our nostrils with the most marvellous scent. Stopping to take it all in there's yet more to tease the senses: the herby aroma of bay laurel mingles with the spice of sage growing wild; a huge fig has dropped over-ripe, purple fruits in profusion onto the ground where they've splattered and the rich heady perfume has joined the cacophony of scent. The air itself seems to celebrate the bounty, and as I type the thyme convinces us that it's time to explore a little more. There is so much more to discover in this verdant countryside".

Australian journalist Jackie Gill and photographer friend Debra Mitchell, along with a group of Aussie friends, found much to love during their recent visit to France.

Part of their five week stay included a portion organised by a Frenchwoman, Pascale Gerson, who lives in Australia and has a passion for introducing her home country to visitors through her popular "Visit My French Village" tourism venture.

The Aussie contingent enjoyed a stay in a property on the outskirts of Bordeaux – which prompted the opening paragraph of this story – and then a week in Brittany. The wonderfully rustic accommodations were once the oxen stables of a large 13th century chateaux which still looms on the landscape behind the chestnut trees.

The accommodations are a short wander to the town of La Chapelle-Caro; and a only a few more steps in other directions to other, equally delightful little towns. Most of the pathways wind through woodlands, or along the side of century-old canals. A half hour walk takes the thirsty visitor to another of the tiny enchanting French villages, with a pub which looks over the canal. It's very easy to settle in and enjoy a vin rouge in the afternoon sunlight.

"Every distant vista has a steeple. From every road there is a horizon cut by green forest and field, and brown paddocks ploughed and ready for planting and, everywhere the evidence of people. Houses – small and large and sometimes enormous – dot the countryside and everywhere there are villages; towns that are home to sometimes a handful of houses and sometimes thousands.

Throughout the country identical houses jam the road sides, dressed in shades of cream and light yellow with high sloping v-shaped roofs of slate. It's hard to go five kilometres without passing through another enclave; many appear to be un-named and unknown as towns to anyone but those who reside there. We have learnt how to tell the difference. True villages are defined by the churches around which all are built. And what churches they are. With Roman, Gothic and Medieval roots they soar above the centre of the town with arched windows and high oak doors. Located in the centre of each village, usually near the town square, and almost always, we have noticed, with a cat, their bell towers pierce the sky, and stone or slate, the steeples make their mark on the horizons of the French countryside."

From the accommodation the visitors ranged across Brittany; exploring ancient megaliths and standing stones; oyster beds at the wide, clean beach; staring awe-struck at Mont St Michel in the afternoon light; wandering through a forest called Broceliande where Merlin the Magician is said to have died.

Pascale's promise is that visitors to her "French Village" will get a taste of the real France. That was certainly the case. With its crepes and apple and its cider and corn fields; its window boxes full of geraniums it was a glorious experience. "Visit My French Village" organised the accommodations, pick-ups and drop-offs and all the little extras that ensure a brilliant, hassle free experience for the visitor.

Journalist Jackie Gill writes a blog called The Blue Hats ( or FB The BlueHats).

Images: as supplied.

Feature supplied by:


1 Walking along the canal at Le Roc-St-Andre

2 Small village of Montertelot

3 Montertelot drinking with the locals

4 Josselin medieval town

5 Café in a small village in Brittany

6 Local market in Malestroit

May 15, 2017

STRUTH! Americans have their love of ice cream licked

WE'VE  recently got to wondering: will Australians ever put the third Sunday of July into their diaries – like in America, where the day's been celebrated as National Ice Cream Day for over 30 years.

And it was by presidential decree, in 1984 ice-cream lovin' President Ronald Reagan proclaiming July as National Ice Cream month, and it's third Sunday as National Ice Cream Day.

Yet bizarrely, despite their size and their presidential decree Americans are not the world's biggest consumers per capita of ice cream… would you believe that title goers to tiny New Zealand where the locals lick up 28.4 litres per person of the stuff annually… with the Americans in second place at 20.8 litres per person, and Aussies third at 18 litres per head.

Which should be good enough reason for us all to put the third Sunday of July into our diaries for our own personal Ice Cream Day if industry or government won't do anything about it to make it official.

And incidentally, as far back as 340BC Alexander the Great's chefs mixed him snow, ice, honey and nectar as a summer cooler, Marco Polo in the late 13th century took home to Italy a Chinese recipe similar to what we now know as sherbert and which eventually evolved into Italian ice-cream, while in England "cream ice" was served to Charles I in the 17th century.

America's first ice-cream was recorded in 1744 in a letter written by Maryland Governor, William Bladen, while accounts show George Washington spent a whopping $200 on ice-cream during the steamy summer of 1790, strawberry-infused ice-cream was served in The White House in 1813… and the first commercial ice-creams hit America's streets in the mid-1800s.

ICE CREAM in every imaginable colour and flavour… the Americans have got it licked. (WikiMedia)

May 01, 2017

Sailing the Orient with ms Volendam


Cherry Blossoms brighten the ordinary weather as features editor John Newton sails from China to Korea and Japan.

As perfect days go, the masses of springtime cherry blossoms in Japan that have become a national obsession – and a major international tourism drawcard – were putting on a blooming jaw-dropping show.

For the 1400 passengers aboard our cruise ship – ms Volendam – it was a splendid and welcome sight, first to see blue skies, and then catch their first glimpse of the delicate, majestic pale pink blooms after days of peering out at sea blanketed by fog.

It seemed fitting that the Nagasaki Peace Park should be such a serene place of beauty and colour after what happened to the city on 9 August 1945 when an atomic bomb exploded, killing 73,884, injuring 74,909 and leaving 120,820 homeless.

Nagasaki was the first Japanese port of call on Volendam's 14-day cruise from Hong Kong to Yokohama, the port city of Tokyo – a distance of 3153 nautical miles.

Located in the park at the epicentre of the bomb blast, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum – opened in 1996 - captures life in the city before that fateful day 72 years ago, together with artefacts of the devastation caused by the bomb called 'Fatman'. These include a wall clock which 'froze' at 11.02am – the moment Nagasaki was destroyed. The clock was found in a house near Shinto in Sakamoto Machi, about 800 metres from the hypocentre.

Nagasaki's Omura Park is also filled with 300 blossoming cherry trees in spring and is recognised as one of 'Japan's top 100 cherry blossom spots'.

Not known for prolific cherry blossom displays, Kagoshima – the second cruise stopover in Japan - is a hot spring haven with the second largest number of hot springs in Japan. The city spreads along Kinko Bay and boasts one of the most unusual vistas in the world, with Sakura-jima - an active volcano – rising from the waters, just a few kilometres away.

Millions of people across Japan hold hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties underneath the trees in local parks during the short blooming season (late March-mid-April) of the cherry blossoms, or sakura in Japanese.   In Tokyo, Kawaguchiko at the foot of Mt. Fuji and Arakura Sengen Shrine, are reputed to be among the city's best spots to enjoy sakura.

Japan was like a breath of fresh air after days at sea and disappointing visits to Shanghai and Seoul, although the Great Wall in Beijing more than made up for a couple of pricey excursions. These included a high-speed bullet train (Chinese version) ride from Shanghai to Hangzhou and the city's West Cape Cultural Landscape, a World Cultural Heritage site.

After a long, tedious immigration process off the ship, the train from Shanghai's Hongqiao railway station – Asia's biggest, covering 1.3 million square metres –  lived up to expectations and soon hit nearly 300 kilometres an hour, arriving on time in Hangzhou in just over an hour.

It was after the rush of adrenalin on the train that the tour started to turn sour. First, the set lunch at a so-called four-star hotel was enough to put people off Chinese food forever, while the staff were rude with a 'couldn't care less' attitude. Glad to be out of there, we headed to Hangzhou's West Lake, which spreads over nearly 60- square kilometres. It has more than 100 places of interest, but our fleeting visit took in only a short, uninteresting cruise and a ramble along the scenic shoreline. Back in Shanghai, the mind-boggling city is where we should have stayed in the first place to sample at least a couple of the city's 20,000 restaurants.

Seoul, a soulless city, was yet another disappointment, although the pretty young ladies in national costume at the Gyeongbok Palace and Folklore Museum were far more photogenic than the dour palace buildings that we couldn't enter.

While the Korean-style barbecue lunch was far superior to the Hangzhou experience, the downtown stopover at busy Insa-dong Street followed by an open-air market crush proved to be a letdown for the ship's passengers looking for a quality shopping spree. Tacky souvenirs and cheap quality clothes were not on anyone's list.

An eerie, sea fog (a real pea-souper, as they say in the UK) kept almost everyone off the Volendam's decks as the ship – with its foghorn blaring every two minutes - headed to Tianjin, the port of Beijing, where the sun came out as we set off on a long coach journey to the Summer Palace & Garden of Cultivated Harmony and on to the Great Wall. A memorable hour or so was spent climbing steps and breathing heavily along a restored section with incredible views.

The fog was back the next day when we spared a thought for those who'd booked Beijing excursions on the second day. Police closed the highway to the city, forcing the coaches to turn back to the ship.

Japan was eagerly awaited – and it didn't disappoint in all three cities, with our pre-booked Mt Fuji and bullet train trip in Tokyo capping an exciting end to a cruise of more highs than lows, dominated by gloomy, cold spring weather – down in some places to 7C - resulting in more action in the spa salon than in the indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

HAL ms Volendam

The author was a guest of Holland America Lines

For details on HAL's 2017 and 2018 world cruises, go to:


Words and images: John Newton

Feature supplied by:


1.     West Lake Gardens

2.     Gyeongbok Palace

3.     The Great Wall

4.     Cherry Blossoms

5.     Nagasaki clock

6.     Mt Fuji

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