Monday, 26 November 2012

I'm now back in the big city and staying near the harbour - and what a truly gorgeous harbour it is. I took a walk from Circular Quay to The Rocks yesterday, crossing under the famous bridge. It's quite a sight just looking up at it, so there's no way, jose, I'm climbing up-and-over the curved bit (technical term escapes me at this point) as some daft souls are doing. And they pay to do that?

The bridge could do with a lick of paint, dare I venture. It's a bit of a boring, battleship-grey colour, so when it gets its telegraph from the Queen in 20 years' time, maybe it could be painted blue, red or even wattle-yellow?

The harbour's enchanting after sunset with all those lovely twinkling lights; add a lightning show to the mix (as there was last night) and it's scary too. The ferries just ply on regardless: to Manly, Darling Harbour, Balmain - wherever they're heading. I quite fancy going to and from work on the ferry,as lots do.         
Phew what a scorcher. It's sure hot in these parts; as in Ballina on the Richmond river, just on the edge of NSW before you jump over into Queensland. Even the pelicans have decided to take it nice and easy; just floating by, looking cool. I've been warming (figuratively-speaking) to the local jelly fish which are surprisingly pretty: all bluey-green. The sun must be playing tricks on me.

Ballina's an understated sort of place with a great community-art gallery serving one of the best lemon tarts I've had so far in Oz - and I've munched my way through quite a few.  But there's art too, not just munchies, so give the gallery a whirl.

It waas all pretty quiet on the riverbank; except for some Karawongs. These crow-like black and white birds have been hanging around in the trees being rather annoying - i.e very vocal - with a repertoire extending from birdie wolf-whistles, to wowwwwwwwwwwws. I wonder what's going through their little brains?  Stone the flippin' crows if I know the answer to that one.

I caught the bus to Byron Bay, the hippie capital of NSW - if not Australia. There's lots of arty, crafty, 'we're-ever-so-eco-friendly-here' stuff to browse around. On the beach, hordes of  schoolies were letting their hair, and pretty much everything else, down, now school's out. My timing could have been better, but I picked up some tips on the art of having fun while still sober-ish.  

If Byron's too full on, consider Lennox Head, roughtly halfway along the coast between Ballina and Byron. Or just buy a freedom pass ($12) and hop on and off the bus wherever you fancy.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

It's so easy to become spellbound by nature in Oz, and you don't have to head into the Outback to get a warm, nature-at-its-raw-best, feeling.

This morning I'm being chauffeured through one of the national parks in the southern reaches of Sydney. Gum trees and lots of Wattle (the bright-yellow national flower of Oz) are whizzing by;  and before long we're heading along the Pacific Highway which skirts around the park. The PH reminds me a little of Melbourne's Great Ocean Road. The GOR takes some beating though. It's not just an ok road; it's an awesome one. Which probably accounts for its name - at the risk of stating the obvious here.

I hope there aren't any bush-fires this summer. The fires do have a 'good' side it seems, nature-wise, allowing the trees to grow back bigger and better than ever, says one of the park wardens. Fair enough.
Just a bit of extra info on the koala front. Before I left the UK, my nieces gave me a koala trinket for my bracelet. Wasn't sure whether it was a Bruce or a Kim. Hello Banjo.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Crocs are never out of the news. Their shenanigans, whatever, in the Northern Territory provide endless material for the tabloids. So why the fascination with these creepy creatures? I asked the first Aussie I could find to throw some light on the subject. "Don't ask me - I don't give a rats about crocs."  Rats seem to figure quite a lot in Aussie sayings. The best one I've heard so far, para-phrasing a bit, is: 'God, he was so frantic: like a rat in a blender.' That's quite an image to conjure-up.

I've been hoping to get pretty up-close with wildlife (excepting spiders and snakes of course), so meeting cute Banjo the koala, chomping merrily on his eucalyptus leaf at a wildlife park south of Sydney yesterday, was bliss - for me anyway. Not sure what the little fella thought about being stroked, petted and generally swooned-over, but he behaved impeccably, with no scratching, biting or general misbehaving.

You're not allowed to hold koalas in NSW, although it's ok to in Queensland. Didn't get to the bottom of that one. Sadly the little fluffy guys (and gals) are endangered, so a koala hospital is offering softies the chance to adopt a koala for Xmas. Think I'll pass on that one. Not sure the little guy would be warm enough back home.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ok, I'm now in Sydney. I was told to be prepared for a buzzy; hip-happening sort of place. While Melbourne's conservative (small c; maybe a big one too), arty and sporty, Sydney's 'out-there.' I grabbed the Aussie-English dictionary for an explanation of that one: it's A Good Thing.
I've had the best of all starts here. Wandering along the waterfront I saw some roadies busily setting-up for a performance near the Opera House - for Coldplay. I grabbed one of the guys in black who looked rather important and told him I'd love him forever if he could get me into see the band tomorrow; to end a run of bad luck as it were. "So you're a Brit, and you're telling me you haven't managed to get to one of their concerts yet...what's all that about? Struth. See what I can do." So helpful, these Aussie chaps.

Anyway, I was given the nod, and at 5am the next morning I clapped, sang along and looked suitably besotted through four great songs (broken-up by some nice audience-band interaction, and a bit of hanging around), at the free mini-concert live on Channel 7's Sunrise programme. Brill.

After all that excitement I was rather peckish, and caught-up with some friends in the Strand Arcade in the City's shopping centre for an Italian; at what turned out to be the noisiest watering-hole in town. So why so busy? I asked the manager. "Don't you know, Thursday's the new Friday." Ok, so what do I do tomorrow then?

Later on I met an interesting chap wandering around in the arcade wearing a fetching fedora. It turned out he was promoting his hat shop by offering passers-by free gin. Would I like to slug a tipple or two?  Worth a shot I thought...

Monday, 12 November 2012

My last day in Melbourne. So what do I think about the 'world's most liveable city'? Fair dinkum, it's a great place.

Federation Square?  The architecture seems to divide opinion. I thought it was a bit of a mess, to be honest. Anyway, the Visitor Centre next door can set you right on where to go in the city - for free. First off, take the circular tourist tram to get your bearings, suggested a friendly lady at the centre. So I did just that. Afterwards, I headed along the river bank and dozed under a tree, as the joggers worked themselves into a lather all around me. It was too flippin' hot to do anything else.

But I reckon the best bits of Melbourne are up into the hills, and on the coast. Head along the Mornington Peninsula, full of signs saying: 'slow down, koala crossing' - which, of course, could be a wind-up, but I think the fluffy marsups do hang around in these parts - for a nice day out. Flinders is good for grub; the pretty beach huts at Brighton probably cost a hell of a lot more than those in the UK, but are just as cute. The weather was horr-en-dous the day we drove wherever we fancied, but it is still, technically, spring so what do I expect?

Head north of Melbourne into the Yarra Valley if you want to taste some fashionably fab wines for nought, at the estates dotting the area. On the way, take in Stevenson Waterfall, where the surrounding trees bear the hallmarks of the terrible bushfires a few years' ago.

And what about the Great Ocean Road? Spare yourself the long drive to the Apostles at the end: Lorne & Mogg's Creek, sort of half-way along, will give you the drift. Airey's Inlet is a beaut: pretty cafe, blinding-white lighthouse and an Apostle-like rock jutting out of the water as if to say 'hi'.
I finally caught up with The Artist last night at a private screening in a lovely federation home in inner-Melbourne. I had one of the best seats in the house (squashy  sofa) and settled in to watch the movie with my cup of tea - and a tim-tams bisquit, an Aussie speciality, which doesn't look too disimilar to a Penguin bic.Good though. Had two; really wanted three.

And the film? It was a tad long, and I dozed off at some point. Perhaps I should have sat on a hard chair instead?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Tasmania, or Tassie to you and me, is supposed to be a bit like the UK in the 50s. Well it rains a lot. I got soaked in Hobart's Salamanca Square trying to dodge the drizzle under a tree, while crowds lined the square hoping to shake Prince Charles' hand as he went walkabout.

I recommend Hobart's impressive museum and art gallery (TMAG) which won't cost you a cent to look around. The Southern Oceans/Antarctica exhibition explains why the roaring forties, furious fifties and screaming sixties' winds, make this ocean so tricky for sailors. The 'House of the Blizzard' 3D section transports you inside an antarctic hut - without your having to get your tootsies cold, or eat disgusting, dried food.

These days, doctors attached to South Pole expeditions are trained in dentisty as people's fillings, along with their teeth, have a habit of falling out. One doctor made a temporary tooth out of elephant tusk (which he just happend to have around, clearly) and it worked so well, the recipient was still wearing it three years' later. Clearly a case of obsessive compulsive attachment syndrome or OCAS; a condition I've just invented.

For a more edgy arty experience, head for MONA which is well worth a look around and is a nice trip on the ferry from the capital, Hobart.

If you haven't got long on Tassie it might be worth heading to Richmond, a 40 mins' bus ride north of Hobart, through the wineries. I was sitting in a cafe enjoying the local fish, luchet (a bit like cod), when the waitress warned us all to put our cars (didn't have one of course) inside as there was a storm coming 'the like of which we haven't seen for years'. The storm missed us by miles. 

Richmond prison is a good place to get some background on how the convicts were treated.You guessed it, rather badly. But they were given wine or beer - and then promptly punished for getting drunk.         
I saw a baby kookaburra on the banks of the Yarra last night. He was awesome, as they say here - a lot. I was rather hoping the little fella would 'laugh'. No joy. He didn't hang around long enough to do very much at all as it happens, other than blink a bit. He took off rapido, swooping so close to my head that I thought he might be taking me along for the ride. It turns out he'd spied a tasty morsel in the shape of a 6-foot snake in the neighbour's garden. Oh yuk. 

The Yarra (aboriginal for 'never dry up') might be muddy and uninviting in stretches, but the platyapus/pusses, who are said to love hanging around on the river banks, (although no-one actually remembers seeing one), like to call the area home.  Good for them.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Pommie wins the Melbourne Cup! Well not exactly. But I did back the horse, Green Moon, that ran a dream race. It was a bit of a stroke of luck as I hadn't a clue who/what to back; just waved my left hand around and plonked a finger randomly on the form guide. So scientific. So I'm around $50 dollars better off for a $4 stake. Beaut.