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August 29, 2019

History of the Barossa Valley

Colonel William Light
The Barossa Valley has been admired from the earliest times. Colonel Light wrote in his diary in December 1837:

Wednesday December 13: Left our camp at 6.00 am and travelled nearly in a NE direction over high, undulating ground of rich soil for about six miles when we came to some parts rather boggy. On descending into a beautiful little plain we met with plenty of fresh water. Stopped about 9.30 am at a small river running in a tortuous form from the eastward ... At length, about 5.00 pm, we came to a beautiful valley which I named Lynedoch Vale after my much esteemed friend, Lord Lynedoch.

The history of the Barossa Valley is fascinating and can be bound to the fortunes and enterprise of one particular man, George Fife Angas. Angas was a merchant, banker, landowner and philanthropist. He initially became interested in Australia through his correspondence with Lieutenant-Governor Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land, Captain Irwin in Western Australia, and through Baptist missionaries, of whose church he was a member. In 1832, he joined the committee of the South Australian Land Company to promote systematic colonization rather than the founding of colonies based upon transportation. The initial proposals for settlement in South Australia were refused by the Colonial Secretary. However, Wakefield, Garth and Torrens persisted and success was finally realized with the establishment of settlements on Kangaroo Island and at Adelaide. Both these colonies were only part of Angas's enterprise. His belief in systematic colonization of South Australia remained undeterred. He lobbied the Colonial Office, subsidized authors and published magazines and pamphlets to recruit settlers, amongst whom were pious dissenters and non-conformist ministers. The largest groups of devout families which he persuaded to immigrate to the new colony were the German Lutherans under the pastorship of

Kavel. The scheme for German immigration to Australia did not receive official recognition, but this did not deter Angas who personally advanced £8,000 to the German group for their migration.

German settlers in Bethany (National Gallery of Australia: JW Giles)

The German settlers arrived and many of them became tenants on the Angas Estate at Klemzig, and later at Angaston. Angas's chief clerk was Charles Flaxman who accompanied the German immigrants to Australia. Flaxman was lavish in spending Angas's money. In one dealing he ordered seven special surveys on the Rhine and Gawler Rivers in the Barossa for £28,000. He was recalled to London where he was in debt to G. F. Angas & Co. As a result, in 1840 Angas took Flaxman's interests in the Barossa but it was not until 1848, due to ill health, that Angas decided to live in South Australia. By this time the German settlers were beginning to pay their rent. Angas was greeted warmly in South Australia and built his magnificent Georgian homestead at Lindsay Park, near Angaston. His efforts can still be seen today.

In 1838, another expedition was undertaken by Messrs Hill, Wood, Wilks and Oahahan. The following notes from Light's diary are of interest in the description of this fertile region:

March 2: Crossed over the River Para. We then directed our course to the eastward, passing over a pretty range of hill country. At 4.00 pm arrived in a valley with plenty of Kangaroo grass and a rivulet running through it. Here we encamped for the night. The valley was swarming with cockatoos, seven of which we shot. We gave it the name of Cockatoo Valley.

March 3: At 4.00 am left the valley and passed through a thick scrub; course - north east. Started a dozen Kangaroos, but did not kill one. The country much similar to that we saw the day previously-good and indifferent by turns. At 9 o'clock we arrived at Lyndvale Valley - a beautiful place, good land and plenty of grass, but no springs or running water. Saw many Kangaroos during the morning.


A letter in the Glasgow Argus of May 1891 by “one of the most active and experienced surveyors in the province' stated:

Go beyond the Mount Lofty ranges ... you have, with very insignificant breaks, a line upwards of 100 miles long of the finest land in the world ... of the six surveys taken by Mr Flaxman to the north and east of the Barossa range, being the northern limit of the stretch of country already mentioned, too much cannot be said. They lie in one block or contiguous to each other, and are of the most magnificent description.
Amongst those who were sent out to the colony by George Fife Angas in 1836 was Menge, a German geologist and mineralogist. His letter of 9 March 1840 was prophetic:

You are surprised, perhaps, that I delayed so long my reports to you respecting New Silesia (Barossa Valley) and named after the district from where the German Immigrants came. 

Now, since I saw not only the Gawler but also the Para running with fresh water in the midst of the dry season, I can give you the assurance: first, that all the land on both sides of the Barossa range may be brought under irrigation and kept producing grapes all the year round and second, that New Silesia will become the first wining country in all Australia ...

Flaxman Valley abounds in opal of every colour; moreover, in onyx, chalcedony, jasper, cornelian, catseye, asbestos, etc. It abounds in white marble, in iron, copper and tin.


The German settlers flourished and the vision of the Barossa Valley as a Garden of Eden became a reality. The Germans settled in village-type groupings and nowhere in South Australia are the hamlet and village settlements so numerous and so delineated. The persistence of Germanic customs is shown paradoxically in the tremendous ardour of their religious differences. Initially, settlements clustered around the church, but doctrinal schisms created new churches and therefore new settlements.

Until the First World War, German was the language of the Valley. With its disappearance went many relics of German culture which had long differentiated the Barossa society from its Anglo-Australian neighbours. The Lutheran Church remains as the only real tie of Deutschtum, and this is mainly in the support of schools and maintaining the corporateness of individual settlements.

From: 'The Barossa Valley' by Nola Totham. Macmillan. 1978. Golden Fleece Regional Series.

August 28, 2019

Rediscovering the Barossa Valley



The new Barossa Food and Wine Experience Tour uncovers secrets even the locals are only just discovering. Roderick Eime tags along.

Like the rich red terroir itself, the Barossa is in my blood. My father’s family were among the first pioneers to settle here in the mid 19th century, setting up farm at Concordia, just outside Gawler. While I’ve never lived in the Barossa, I’ve always had relatives to visit and I even learned to drive on the quiet, scenic backroads behind Tanunda.

My last few visits have been as a tourist and my most recent excursion was with Sealink, the Kangaroo Island Ferry people who have expanded into the tourism business proper with tour buses, cruises and resorts.

Some people are starting to think the Barossa Valley is getting over-exposed, throwing shadows over the neighbouring, lesser, wine regions of the Clare and Eden Valleys. But the Barossa has always remained relevant with new ways to entice the visitor and it’s great to know that after a lifetime of visiting the place of my roots, it can still surprise.

Here are three new locations I’d never visited (and one I had) for me to commend to you.

We begin at Pindarie where winemaker Wendy Allan and husband Tony share the story of this stunning property that has evolved from a run-down and over-cleared family farm to a sustainable and totally regenerated property. The couple have planted over 12,500 trees in the last 20 years alone and are now producing wines that can hold their own among some of the big South Australian names. Their ‘Risk Taker’ Tempranillo is a stand out performer with the dark Spanish grape gaining momentum despite it being unfamiliar among Barossa vineyards. Apparently this exotic varietal is finding the warm climes of South Australia appealing and produces a richer, darker wine than it does at home on the Iberian Peninsula.

Wine tasting at Pindarie (RE)

Next is Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop which, I must confess, is now my third visit, reinforcing the success of this celebrity chef’s entrepreneurial skills and natural leadership abilities in the gourmet food arena - all culminating in this busy little outlet. If you are visiting on your own time, lunch is a must in daughter Elli’s eatery next door. But be sure to book, as it’s chockers every day of the week.

Our hot lunch, meanwhile, is at the eye-popping Lambert Estate winery at Angaston. The story behind this unusual property is unique in the Valley in that it is not founded by one of the old families, rather an American businessman who brought his family here from, of all places, Winsconsin. Better known for Milwaukee’s beer and big motorcycles, Lambert fell in love with the Barossa in the 1990s and decided to grow grapes on 100 acres of fabulous soil. Today his ultramodern cellardoor is a winery, tasting room and restaurant with super quality food and wine.

Lambert’s 2015 Shiraz ‘The Commitment’ is a knockout and a credit to winemaking son Kirk and Peruvian daughter-in-law Vanesa. Step up to ‘The Family Tree’, one of the best premium, old vine, single vintage Shiraz under $100 you will find anywhere. I couldn’t decide, so I bought one of each.

Oodles of fine chocolate at Barossa Valley Chocolate Company at Tanunda

As a fitting send off, we capped our day with a visit to the brand new premises of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company at Tanunda where we sit down to a flight of local Vineyard Road wines and a selection of divine chocolates, with an expert to guide us in the mysterious (to me, at least) art of wine and chocolate pairing. The new ‘ruby’ flavour is a surprise to my tastebuds, that’s for sure. Come back in your own time and take one of the chocolate making classes or hold your special event.

After our tasting, we stumble past more than 250 chocolate products in dark, milk and white with a healthy sampling ringing the till at days’ end.

Fifty years ago there wasn’t a great deal besides the big wineries of Seppeltsfield and Kaiser Stuhl and the faint hints of old Barossa Deutsch in the sidestreets. Today the Barossa is world famous for more than just superb wines. It’s a destination in itself and one you should visit at the earliest opportunity. My great-great grandfather would be pleased.

The Facts



The Barossa Food and Wine Experience Tour is priced at A$135 per adult and includes morning pick up and evening set down at selected Adelaide Hotels, full-day guided small coach tour with expert commentary by local driver/guide, lunch, all activities and tastings.

The tour departs at 9am from the Adelaide bus terminal (near the Central Market) Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, returning about 5pm.

For further information contact Adelaide Sightseeing on T: 1300 769 762 or visit www.adelaidesightseeing.com.au


August 25, 2019

USA: Stunning Bryce Canyon National Park is out of this world

(c) Phensri Rutledge


Len Rutledge finds there are few more stunning places on earth than the great National Parks of western USA. 

The concept of a park or nature reserve under state ownership is believed to have originated in the United States in 1870 but Australia was not far behind as we established our first park and the world’s second national park in 1878 just south of Sydney.

I have just returned from a visit through six of the U.S parks and I am very impressed. Each is different and it is impossible to say which is best. Bryce Canyon in southern Utah was the first I visited so this seems a good place to start.

The first thing you have to understand about Bryce is that it is not a single canyon (unlike say the Grand Canyon) but a series of huge amphitheatres carved into a high plateau. They are gigantic. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheatre which is filled with irregular eroded spires of rock called hoodoos. These are formed when ice and rainwater wear away the weak limestone rock. Hoodoos exist in many places but here is the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth.

The starting point for a park visit should be the Visitor Centre. Here you will find information at the ranger help desk, exhibits, interactive consoles and a prairie dog maze, a 22-minute award-winning film which plays on the hour and half-hour, and publications, maps and souvenirs available for purchase through the bookstore. There goes the first hour!

(c) Phensri Rutledge



Over two million visitors come to experience Bryce Canyon National Park each year, most between March and early October. Every visitor to the park will spend at least some time marvelling at its four main viewpoints, all found within a few kilometres of the visitor centre. Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point all provide stunning views into the amphitheatre with Sunset Point being my personal favourite.

Here you can gaze into the most awe-inspiring sections of the park. Between April and October, a free bus shuttle service is operated in this area of the park to reduce congestion but you can also walk or drive between the points.

I strongly suggest the easy 1.6-kilometre paved trail along the edge of the amphitheatre between Sunset and Sunrise Points for marvellous views. Then if you have the time and energy, take the 2.9-kilometre trail from Sunrise Point to Queen’s Garden. Walking amongst the huge hoodoos is an amazing experience.

(c) Visit Utah

Time permitting, I also strongly recommend catching one of the free ranger activities. You can join a Ranger and in 30 minutes hear the current scientific explanation behind Bryce Canyon's unique geologic history from ancient lakes to the power of erosion. Great views, fascinating plant and wildlife stories, a touch of geology and a wealth of cultural history is available for those who join the 1.5-hour rim walk from Sunset Point.

Because there are no external light sources, the park night can be very dark. Rangers run astronomy tours which include a 1-hour multimedia presentation then stargazing with telescopes. Then on full-moon nights rangers offer very popular hikes where torches are prohibited and lugged footwear is required.

There is a free twice-daily guided tour to Rainbow Point, during the April-October period operated by the Bryce Canyon Shuttle. This 3.5-hour round-trip tour covers 65 kilometres with stops along many of the park's scenic viewpoints. You need to dress appropriately for the weather and bring lunch, snacks, water, etc. This tour is also ideal for backpackers wanting to be dropped off at any of the park's backcountry trailheads.

In spring, summer and autumn, Canyon Trail Rides wranglers lead 2-hour and 4-hour horse and mule rides into Bryce Amphitheatre along a dedicated horse trail and the Peek-a-boo Loop Trail.

Because Bryce covers 650 metres of elevation, the park exists in three distinct climatic zones: spruce/fir forest, Ponderosa Pine forest, and Pinyon Pine/juniper forest. This diversity of habitat provides for high biodiversity.

The canyons and plateau of Bryce Canyon National Park are home to many animals, including migratory Hummingbirds, nesting Peregrine Falcon, Rocky Mountain Elk, Mountain Lions, Coyotes, and Pronghorn Antelope. Most are not easy to see so we had to be satisfied with Ground Squirrels, Chipmunk and one Prairie Dog in the far distance.

There are no large cities close to Bryce Canyon but there is plenty of accommodation choice. Within the park the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge and its surrounding structures offer 114 rooms including lodge suites, motel rooms and cabins. Reservations are highly recommended. Just outside the park and close to a shuttle pick-up point there are several hotels, inns, motels and lodges. We stayed in St George, a nice city of about 180,000 and the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S. in 2018 but this is about a 2.5-hour drive from Bryce Canyon.

Campground (Visit Utah)

Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds, located in close proximity to the Visitor Centre. To bring a car here you need to pay the US$35 park entrance fee then the applicable camp ground fee.

 
www.LenRutledge.com
https://www.facebook.com/ExperienceGuides/
Words: Len Rutledge   Images: Phensri Rutledge
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

August 18, 2019

Glamorous glittering Dubai



Sandip Hor finds that when someone mentions a glittering city, Dubai strikes his mind instantly.

It’s the second largest city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which lives with the never-ending desire of building icons, best described with superlatives such as tallest, largest, first, only and so on. Here large is the stepping stone for largest and luxurious is only a brick in the world of luxury.

It’s the haven for shopaholics, the commercial nucleus of the Gulf and hub of Emirates Airlines, which flies to almost every corner of the world from this desert city.

Obviously, the city has no shortage of hotels to provide a bed for the increasing number of visitors. However, among many,  the plush and glittering Taj Dubai stands out distinctly to many visitors because of its convenient location, ultramodern facilities and par excellence hospitality.

Lobby of the Taj Dubai (supplied)

The hotel is a grand fusion of extravagance, heritage and trendiness with over 3000 pieces of exquisite paintings and sculptures elegantly studded to it proclaiming its rich artistic traditions.

The Indian themed hotel has 296 rooms and suites, each tastefully decorated with grand furnishings, offering views of either the city skyline or Burj Khalifa Tower, the world’s tallest building.

The location in the heart of the Business Bay is a plus for the business travellers while Dubai Mall, one of the city’s top-rated shopping complexes, is only minutes away. The hotel runs regular shuttle services between the hotel and the shopping sanctuary where a major attraction is an indoor aquarium and the outdoor dancing fountain. The international airport is only 15 km away.

Bombay Brasserie

“Spoilt for choice” is perhaps the factual slogan to express the eating experience at any of the hotels seven restaurants and bars that entice guests with an authentic culinary journey through a great mix of cultures and countries. Experienced teams deliver an authentic experience through the culinary delights of each restaurant with Taj’s world-renowned service ensures a memorable meal for each and every guest. Bombay Brasserie is popular with curry lovers while Miss Tess serves many recipes from other parts of Asia- China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan. Breakfast is served at the Tesero where the buffet spread includes items from the kitchens of India and China, in addition all the other usual items from a variety of juices, fruits, cereals, salads, cold cuts, and bakery products to sausages and eggs prepared to orders.

The hotel offers many facilities to relax, keep fit and shed off those extra calories gained. These include the Jiva spa, swimming pool and state-of-the-art fitness centre.

For the business-minded, the hotel is perfect for all types of meetings, conferences and banquets.

Life can be delightful when sleeping at the Taj Dubai.

More information: www.tajhotels.com

Words: Sandip Hor

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

August 13, 2019

Remembering the early Variety Club Bashes


The Redex Variety Club Bash attracts many a persistent "rapscallion", Ben Seehusen of Epping Real Estate being no exception. He's participated in all five "Bashes", surviving fire, flood and frustration, and managing to have lots of fun along the way. Ben tells some of his stories to Linda Emslie.

Ben's passion for motor-sport began in the late sixties when he rallied a VW in the Southern Cross events. He also gained some road racing experience in various events at Warwick Farm, Amaroo and Oran Park, preferring a Volkswagen Sports Sedan as his competition vehicle.

After hearing Dick Smith talk on the radio about the revamped Redex Trial (The Variety Bash), Ben was keen to enter. The first firm refusal was no obstacle; "Dick was only organising it for a few of his mates." Neither was the $1000 "to show our good intentions“. Repeated phone calls and letters saw Ben and his manic mechanic added to the list of fifty-three participants.



In 1974 Ben's old "woppy" sports sedan had blown up in a training run. Since then he hadn't participated in motor-sport for one reason or another. So this new adventure in 1985 called for a new car. Or, rather an old car. (One of the pre-requisites for the Variety Bash was to have a pre '66 model car.)

As Ben's "rather keen on the old Vee Dub" he went for a '58 Beetle. This valiant vehicle was pitted against other old timers such as a 1928 soft top Alfa Romeo, driven by the dinner suited Len Evans. Other hot favourites were huge 'yank tanks', Mercedes, and a Holden "built like a wine bottle, about which we thought if it ever rolled it would never bloody stop. 'There was even a London taxi one year. The little VW, however, was a match for any of these even though it only had room for two team members. That meant all costs were split just two ways, upping the expenses just a little.

Ben has competed in each succeeding Bourke Bash, and has witnessed many funny incidents. Annual amusement is supplied, without fail, by the tumble-troubled George who, Ben tells us, hasn't survived a single rally without either blowing up his car, or rolling it. "But, that's George every year."



One of the funniest incidents Ben remembers was the time they lost their oil cooler somewhere near Bourke.

Ben and his navigator were slowed down by some black soil plains. Torrential rain had turned the black plains into a slippery, treacherous quagmire. Ben's navigator was out bouncing up and down on the rear bumper bar for traction, while the Beetle crawled along at 15km/h. They decided they wouldn't make it through to Bourke on this route, so headed for Brewarrina instead. The local copper opened up the service station for them. (Sunday afternoons in Brewarrina are pretty quiet). They were told that the road to Bourke was closed. However, seeing as they had made it through on the Brewarrina road they would probably get through on the Bourke road.

"I'll just follow you through and make sure you get onto the bitumen," the friendly policeman said.

"It was teeming with rain and there were sheets of water everywhere over the road. Mud and junk everywhere." The copper ducked home to grab his wife for a Sunday drive and followed the Beetle out onto the muddy plains in his paddywagon.

Ben barrelled along doing 70 or 80 miles an hour, slewing sideways through puddles, making the most of the empty slippery road. When Ben looked in the rear vision mirror he saw the old copper's wagon doing the same thing!". Ben recalls it's the only time he's been able to do 80 mile an hour "where I've had a copper two foot up me clanger...He was having a ball." Sixty miles out of Brewarrina the oil cooler hose came off and Ben's WW lost all its oil. No problem, the policeman gave them the ride of their lives in the back of the paddywagon to get some more oil. Without him they would have been "up the creek without a paddle". The necessary repairs were completed in record time, and the Beetle continued its rally. This year's Bourke to Broome bash almost saw the end of the battling Beetle, however. The daunting entry fee of $10,000 didn't pose much of a problem,



to be contd

August 11, 2019

Return to Sri Lanka








‘AYUBOWAN’ The lovely greeting salutation, which is Sinhalese for Long Life

I was invited by the Sri Lankan Government to return and review the tourism side of the after effects of the April terrorism atrocities. My previous visit was in 2016, following an official invitation from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to represent Australian travel media at their special conference; Tourism: A Catalyst for Development, Peace and Reconciliation in Passikudah, Sri Lanka.

I joined up with a group of Australian travel agents and one trade media lass for a 10-day exploration of the major tourist destinations.

Arriving at Colombo, the first thing noticed is the very obvious increase in security, which gives one the feeling of safety. Tourism is one of the main industries for this tiny island nation – about the size of Tasmania – but with a population of over 21 million.

From Colombo, we headed North East to Sigiriya, then to the coast and Trincomalee. Next we headed back to the heart of the country and Kandy, then further South to Ella and back to the East coast town to Galle, before leaving for Mt Lavina and returning to Colombo. Many a kilometre!

What had changed? It is very obvious that the people of Sri Lanka have formed a unified bond, forgetting about various religious differences and merging as one to overcome the tragedy. All places of worship were open and people were smiling and going about their daily chores. Even the various political groups seem to be onside for the recovery.

Everywhere we went the hotels and resorts were showing good occupancy and we managed to bump into Aussie travellers at most of them, who all expressed that they felt totally safe and were all enjoying their holidays.

As we all know, things can change, so always check at: https://smartraveller.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx for the latest advice!

Reasons why you should go ….

Sri Lanka – The Wonder of Asia

A land of many colours, attractions and opportunities for travellers.

A tiny country, once known as Ceylon, with a huge history.

About 2,600 years of recorded history dates this civilisation. One such is the Ramayana, when the island was called Lanka and was a fortress for King Ravana.

Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century BC, to become the dominant religion.

Around the 6th century BC the Sinhalese arrived from Northern India and a substantial civilisation evolved. They established various kingdoms and continued to prosper until the 16th century.

Then the Europeans, looking for exotic spices started a series of invasions. The Portuguese in the 16th century, the Dutch took over in the 17th century. Then followed the British in 1796 who then took over the whole island in 1815. Leading to most of the island became a British colony in 1902,

In 1948, then known as Ceylon they became independent and changed their name to Sri Lanka in 1972.

Natural scenic beauty from golden beaches with crystal waters, to mist-covered valleys covered in ethical tea plantations.


Heritage – Sigiriya, the Eighth Wonder on the World, a fifth century AD fortress and a water garden displays some of the most futuristic elements of landscaping and some of the oldest murals recorded in the country.

Wildlife - Ignoring its small size Sri Lanka boasts of one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world whether in plants or animals and is included among the top five biodiversity hotspots in the world. Of the ninety-one species of mammals found in Sri Lanka Asian elephants, sloth bear, leopards, sambar and wild buffaloes engages the majority of the attention of wildlife enthusiast.

Despite the mighty elephants and rare amphibians found in the country, birds are the glory of Sri Lanka’s wildlife. Boasting nearly 433 bird species of which 233 are resident Sri Lanka holds 20 endemic species while another 80 species have developed distinct Sri Lankan races, compared to their cousins in Indian mainland.

Accommodation – As tourism is one of the mainstays of the economy, a full gambit of accommodation is on offer, from top-level resorts and hotels to modest budget opportunities including homestays.

Cuisine – With such a wonderful and varied cultural background, added to by an abundance of wonderful fresh produce, you will find some of the most delicious food I have sampled anywhere in the world.

The People – Sri Lanka is a melting pot of cultural variety, predominantly, as one would expect from an Indian heritage, blended with the various visitors and invaders from over the centuries. A beautiful and friendly nation of multi-national people, who are delighted to be of assistance to travellers. In particular to Australians, all you have to do is mention cricket and you will find a passionate local expert, who enjoys the chance to have their team taking on the Aussies.

Words and images: Michael Osborne.

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

August 10, 2019

Starry nights at Lake Tekapo


Observing the brilliance of a million and more stars, Sheriden Rhodes is privileged to enjoy a UNESCO-supported heritage reserve some call the ‘park in the sky’.

I’m gazing into the blackness atop Mt John Observatory at what is possibly the clearest night sky in the world. As we stand 300m above NZ's Lake Tekapo, with its translucent aquamarine hue caused by glacial silt, we are blanketed by millions of stars. Even with the naked eye, it’s impressive. The air is crisp, there are no lights to detract from the celestial view and around me I hear “oohs” and “aahs” as happy astro-tourists take in one of the world’s best views of the southern sky.

The observatory – home to the most southerly permanent optical observatory and the country’s biggest telescope – is the main site for astronomy research in the country. Just a short drive from Lake Tekapo, Mt John offers an uninterrupted 360° panorama of towering mountains, lakes and ancient glacial deposits. Most importantly it sits below one of the clearest and darkest skies in New Zealand.

Four years ago UNESCO launched the Starlight Initiative to protect the clearest and darkest skies from light pollution – a sight fast disappearing due to industrial light and pollution. Next came the move to set up a World Heritage Starlight Reserve.

50 to 60 million stars out there

On a clear night, Graeme Murray, who runs Earth and Sky stargazing tours, says the Mt John telescope looks at 50-60 million stars using an advanced form of space research called microlensing. The observatory has discovered a number of planets but its big breakthrough came about six months ago when astronomers were the first to discover rogue planets in deep space that are not attached to any solar system or sun. The latest prognosis is that there are twice as many of those rogue planets out there as there are stars.

After looking at various constellations, star clusters and Saturn through powerful telescopes, we move inside to the warmth of Mt John’s Astro Cafe to learn what makes the night sky here unique. Hot chocolate is served as we watch a presentation by astronomy guide Kristian Wilson.

“There are lots of places in NZ where it’s awesome to look at the night sky, but the weather is different. Here we have a dry location with minimal light pollution, dust, moisture and clouds. You can pinpoint particular stars and clusters with crystal clear accuracy, something you’ll never see in the city,” Kristian says.

Mt John is at the forefront of securing the first UNESCO listing for its night sky. The local Mackenzie Council has for two decades enforced strict lighting bylaws to protect the observatory and subsequent economic and tourism activity. Lighting is shielded from the sky and beamed down. Floodlighting is restricted and outside lights must be turned off between 11pm and sunrise.

Not everyone is happy about it. Some local farmers and business operators who need light to work at night, understandably, are against the push for what locals call the ‘park in the sky’; others do not want to be told by the United Nations how to run things. Graeme, however, argues that the UNESCO listing will protect Mackenzie’s pristine night sky for generations to come and put the Mackenzie district on the map.

Aside from some of the world’s best stargazing, Lake Tekapo’s surrounding snowcapped mountains and turquoise lake offer a spectacular backdrop for a bunch of fun Alpine activities. There’s skiing at resorts including Roundhill and Mt Dobson and bathing in hot pools, tubing and ice skating at the Alpine Springs and Spa Winter Park. An absolute must if visiting the area is a Grand Traverse flight with Air Safaris – fly eye-height with Mount Cook and Mount Tasman and over the 29km Tasman Glacier.

This story originally published in
Get Up & Go - Summer 2012
There are numerous places to base yourself while in Lake Tekapo, but my pick is Parkbrae Estate’s Aldourie Lodge, Tekapo’s oldest house with views of the lake and the much photographed Church of the Good Shepherd. After soaking in the local hot pools, we gather around the fire, drinking wine and chatting into the night. Eventually, I drag myself off to bed, but not before stepping outside one last time and gazing upward, grateful that something is being done to preserve this astonishing celestial view for my children’s children.



August 07, 2019

Greek Islands: Sumptuous Santorini



Surrounded by the indigo Aegean, Santorini is a glorious blue and white testament to the island beauty that is typically Greek.

Before the Latin Empire named it in the 13th century after the cathedral of Saint Irene, Santorini was known as Kallist, which translated as “the most beautiful one”. Seems there’s been unanimity for centuries. Not just the best Greek island but the ‘best island in the world’, said the BBC in recent times.

First impressions count for a lot and mine was not many notches below spectacular. A direct flight from Heathrow had me on the ground at Monolithis Airport late in the afternoon and a brief dash from the airport positioned me on a ridge above the caldera just as the sun was setting. For something that happens every day this took on all the elements of an exquisite occasion, complete with lines of folk and choruses of sighing exclamations (more than a few in antipodean accent). For while sunset tends to reliably draw an audience in tourist locations all across the big blue marble, the Santorini setting is pretty much peerless.

This island had one of the most dramatic volcanic explosions in recorded history some 3600 years ago (in a region where volcanic activity goes back millions), which resulted in the vast three-side rectangular lagoon with soaring three hundred metre high walls. So deep that almost every ocean craft in the world can enter its protected domain – with up to four a day bringing in agog visitors in peak season. The tumultuous activity left the island with a crescent shape that lends weight to the popular theory that this was the fabled realm of Atlantis. As part of a generation who had come of age listening to Scottish troubadour Donovan recite and sing Atlantis I found myself easily musing upon how “All the Gods who play in the mythological dramas in all legends from all lands were from far Atlantis”. Of course.

The spell was never allowed to be broken. A room boy shouldered my suitcase and set off at a loping pace along a high winding path near Imerovigli village just a couple of kilometres from Fira (or Thera) the island’s main town, to Grace Santorini, a boutique property etched in the caldera wall.

Lifelike doll's face stares out from a
Santorini boutique (Roderick Eime)
Santorini is one of only two islands in Europe with a hot desert climate. Within the Cyclades group, of which Santorini is the southernmost member and ferry-reached Mykonos has the loudest parties, there is an appealing architecture style of low-lying cubical stone houses either whitewashed or coloured by volcanic ash, with some rooms (or produce/wine cellars) dug into the surrounding pumice for effective all-season insulation. My room at the Grace Santorini gave the impression that it had been tunnelled into the cliff, with wooden shutters opening onto the ever breath-taking view. I had a small spa pool but a level up, exerting an almost hypnotic pull, was the shimmering infinity pool that features in almost every published image of the hotel.

Once you tear yourself away from all of this, there are quiet villages, tavernas, museums, cave houses, castles, walks along dusty paths to dive in the deep waters of Ammoudi, the rebuilt 13th century BC city of Akrotiri, thermal springs, scuba diving, boat rides, old harbours and blue domed churches. For some, certainly, after the sun has so dramatically slipped from sight – it is a primarily gastronomic experience. The island is famed for succulent cherry tomatoes and caper berries sold preserved in oil in jars by street vendors. There are sesame-coated almonds, pistachios, yoghurt with honey and walnuts, fresh fish and the ever-present gyros on pita rolls. This is bread-basket, fruit-of-plenty land.

And while the cruise liner flow ensures that there are the requisite rows of souvenir stalls, there is a startling number of one-off boutiques, emporiums and craft shops with unique items not duplicated all along the road.

Like most of the Greek Islands, Santorini is a world apart from Athens and the mainland. It comes alive in high season and seems to stand apart from the nation’s heavily-publicised travails, though an absolute reliance on tourism on the part of 15,500 residents makes one conscious of a certain fragility and constant attention to preservation.

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Originally published in Get Up & Go Magazine Summer 2015

August 04, 2019

Hunter Gatherings: a day of wine and food in the Hunter Valley

click to view video
Words by John Maddocks
Images by Roderick Eime and John Maddocks

It's an early start in Sydney for our group of wine and food lovers, but no-one's complaining. In fact, there's an air of anticipation as we board the brand new, custom-built luxury coach and settle in for the two-hour journey north to the Hunter region. After all, we're headed for three exceptional estates in the country's oldest wine producing region and lunch at an award-winning restaurant. And when the wine tasting is over, we won't have to worry about driving.

John and James Lusby of Tintilla Estate
Taking a day tour makes sense in other ways too. With over 150 vineyards in the Hunter Valley, some expert guidance is needed. A lot has happened here since James Busby came back from Europe in 1832 with 20,000 vine cuttings and inspired the founding of vineyards that currently boast some of the oldest vine stock in the world. And while most wine buffs know that the Hunter has long been renowned for a unique Semillon and famous Shiraz, a new breed of young winemakers is now producing Sangiovese, Fiano and Tempranillo styles as well.

After turning off the Pacific Motorway, we enjoy the attractive Hunter landscape of rolling hills, endless vines and numerous olive groves. Soon there are several sightings of kangaroos. Reaching Pokolbin, we enter the tree-lined driveway at Tintilla Estate and are soon greeted by our hosts, John and James Lusby. Here we taste a range of whites and reds, starting with a Spritzanti and moving on to a Semillon called The Angus. Tintilla also boasts a highly rated Shiraz, an excellent Merlot and a distinctive Cabernet Merlot. The Lusbys were central in pioneering Sangiovese in the Hunter, producing a Rosato di Jupiter and a blended style. The tasting is accompanied by some delicious Tintilla olives.

Tintilla Estate wine tasting

The striking thing about our next stop, Bimbadgen, is undoubtedly the amazing view. In fact, the name itself derives from an indigenous word for 'place of good view'. Bimbadgen is well known for several other reasons too, including world-class concerts in the 'Day on the Green' program and the multi-award winning Esca restaurant. Our lunch choices at Esca are matched with appropriate wines, so the Char Siu Duck, for example, is matched with a Bimbadgen Fiano and the delicious St Agur dessert of figs, lavender, honey and meringue is accompanied by a Merlot.

Char Siu Duck at Bimbadgen
Our last stop is Leogate Estate, which needs no introduction to wine connoisseurs. The original Brokenback Vineyard was planted under the direction of a syndicate headed by the late wine writer Len Evans, and what is now Leogate Estate produces some of the finest examples of Hunter Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz. The wines are so good, in fact, that Leogate's 'The Basin' Reserve Shiraz and 'Brokenback Vineyard' Shiraz have been selected for Qantas First and Business Class wine lists. Needless to say, the wine tasting here was memorable.



The writer travelled courtesy of AAT Kings

Getting there: AAT Kings runs a Hunter Valley Harvest Wine Experience from Sydney. See https://www.aatkings.com/tours/sydney/hunter-valley-harvest-wine-experience/

Visit:

Tintilla Estate
725 Hermitage Road, Pokolbin NSW
Tel: (02) 6574 7093
https://www.tintilla.com.au/

Bimbadgen
790 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW
Tel:(02)49984600
https://www.bimbadgen.com.au

Leogate Estate
1693 Broke Road Pokolbin NSW
(02) 4998 7499
https://www.leogate.com.au/

See John's new book Against the Odds: surviving the world's worst tsunami and overcoming trauma at www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07CZCHX8S/

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au




August 03, 2019

Full Steam Ahead with Australia's first female steam engineer [video]



Our railway buff, Roderick Eime, travels to Queenstown and meets a special lady aboard Tasmania’s historic West Coast Wilderness Railway.

One of the tourism icons of Tasmania’s rugged and isolated West Coast is the namesake Wilderness Railway. It seems everyone has heard of this famous little railway, but not so many of us have actually ridden these very special rails.

Driven by an ingenious system devised by the Swiss railway engineer, Carl Roman Abt, the line first opened under controversial circumstances in 1892 and ran regular services through the stunning mountain scenery to the mines and dam works until 1963, when road transport superseded the steam infrastructure.

After a period of neglect, the railway was revived as a tourism and heritage attraction after a multi-million dollar renovation and resumed tourism services in 2003. The railway hit another speed bump in 2013, but the ball was picked up by the Tasmanian Government and, after yet more repairs and rehabilitation, reopened along its full 32.5 km length in 2014.



Now sparkling like a new pin, the Abt locomotives chug merrily up the 1 in 15 grade through freshly painted stations at Dubbil Barril, Rinadeena and Lynchford. At Dubbil Barril, the train is reversed on a classic turntable and the entire complement of passengers turn out to watch the spectacle of high-pressure steam and clunking cogs.

As I jostled for position with my camera, I noticed something a bit unusual. One of the overall-clad engineers was a woman. It was hard to tell because she swung the heavy mallet and pushed on the heavy levers just like any bloke, but what gave her away was her massive smile. Here was someone having a ball.

With the engine swung around and reattached to the rolling stock, I introduced myself to Allie Hume, Australia’s only licensed female steam engineer.



“I started off selling tickets and doing commentary and then an opportunity came up to get up on the footplate in 2005,” Allie tells me, casually wiping the grease from her hands, “and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”

Obviously, there’s quite a bit to do to gain a position up the noisy end of the train.

“You start with a boiler ticket and become a fireman to start with, then you need to sit a special exam for this railway to get the next ticket.”

But everyone wants to drive a train, so what did you have to do then?

“To be a driver you need to know what’s called ‘reciprocating steam’, then a few more tests before your final driver’s exam.”

Allie’s no amateur, she’s been on the ‘footplate’ (a flat metal plate that serves as the floor of the cab) for ten years. So did she always wanted to be a train driver?

“My brothers used to have train sets as kids and I was never interested in dolls, so I’d play with them more than the other kids. Later on, I got into high-performance vehicles and racing cars. But it was really just this particular railway that has a special attraction and when the opportunity came up I grabbed it!”

And who can blame her? The West Coast Wilderness Railway is one of those special engineering feats that brings railway enthusiasts from all over the world, and with enthusiasm like Allie’s, it’s always great fun for everyone.

For more information about the WCWR, schedules and pricing, see www.wcwr.com.au