Australia 2014: Sydney – Part 2

After our guided tour of the Sydney Opera House, we broke tradition with all the tramping we had done and ate dessert for lunch at Guylian Belgian Chocolate Café near the opera house. We ordered slices of chocolate cheesecake and washed it down with hot chocolate while we people-watched on the outdoor patio.

Now that we had packed on the calories, we again played tourist for the afternoon, sightseeing and shopping, adding to the Kathmandu bag we had purchased in Christchurch—a smart luggage addition certain to come in handy for future travels.

Back at the Marriott, we changed for dinner at Tetsuya’s. The food and the service can be summed up in one word: exceptional. As for the ambience, it’s an architectural oasis in the heart of the city. Please excuse the rumpled menu (shown at the end of this post). It didn’t survive the flight home as well as we did.


On our last morning in Sydney, we paid a visit to Sammie to say goodbye to the sea lion who had become a famous fixture on the dock steps near the opera house. From there, we walked to Dawes Point, the site of Australia’s first fortified position, constructed in 1788 to protect the cove from foreign invaders. All that remains of the former Dawes Point Battery, which was manned until 1916, are five cannons. The fort was removed during construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge, which passes above the park.

The week before our scheduled departure from Sydney to the DFW International Airport, Quantas/American Airlines had put into operation its first Airbus A380, and this would be our first flight on the transatlantic, long-reach jet. As we settled in for the seventeen-hour flight, I wondered why someone couldn’t bring back the Concorde, and of course speed it up for an even faster ride.

Boarding our first Airbus A380.

In an earlier blog post I mention that The Henry Jones Art Hotel was purchased by the Federal Group. Every time I left the hotel, I wondered with great curiosity what might be housed in the giant warehouse sitting on the waterfront adjacent to the Henry Jones. And I was still wondering when I began to dig into Hobart’s convict past for these series of blog posts. “It’s just a giant shipping shed,” the concierge told me. But what a great location—right on the River Derwent with a fabulous view of Mount Wellington—the perfect site for restaurants, shops, or art galleries. So I was delighted to come across this article during my recent research: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-4723752/Review-Macq01-hotel- Now my interest in Tasmania’s compelling convict history has been piqued again. Perhaps it is time to delve deeper into the past of Elizabeth “Ma Dwyer,” the landlady and madam of “The Blue House?” 

Until next week. “G’day.”



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Tasmania 2014: Hobart – Part 3

Tramping in Melaleuca

Mid-morning, Fin from Par Avion Wilderness Tours picked us up at The Henry James Art Hotel and drove us to the airport in Cambridge for our tour of the Southwest National Park. This magnificent park encompasses over six hundred thousand acres of wilderness and is the largest park in Tasmania. Much of the land is remote and retains the same wildness that once characterized new frontiers.

Our plane, a twin-engine “prop job” as I called it, sat on the tarmac. I knew the plane would be small, so the size came as no surprise, and I didn’t blink an eye that Par Avion’s hangar is number thirteen, as I’ve never found the number unlucky, even on a Friday. But what did catch my attention was that Fin, the young man who met us at the hotel, was also our pilot. He must have read the astonished look on my face, as he was quick to reassure me that he had been flying since he turned sixteen and he was now twenty-four. Flying helped him pay for college. We boarded, along with Michael, our guide for the day. Twice, Fin tried to start the engines. He was unsuccessful because of the chilly morning, and his ground crew had to hand-crank both. Young pilot? Hand-cranking the engines to start them?

Stop worrying, I told myself, but soon after we took flight, Fin informed us he would be landing on Bruny Island to “meet up with some birdies.” Two takeoffs and two landings? “No worries,” he said, easing my anxieties throughout the flight with good communication. “Bumpy through this area,” he’d alerted us. “I fly this route all the time and I’m familiar with the changes in current and the zephyrs. No need to be concerned.”

Elevated metal walkways through the peatlands.

We landed on Bruny Island and our four “birdies” climbed aboard, hauling along plenty of camera gear. Someone had spotted the elusive green parrot, and the quest was on to photograph the bird, assuming anyone saw it. Fin and Michael stowed the last of the birdies’ gear and we left Bruny Island, following the South Coast Track all the way to Melaleuca, which is accessible only by boat or plane.

On the ground in Melaleuca, the birdies went their way and we boarded our boat for a ride down Melaleuca Inlet and into Bathurst Harbour and Port Davey. We glided along the calm surface, peaceful and far from civilization. When we reached land, we disembarked and set out for our “ground tour” of the area, tramping along on elevated boardwalks that protected the peatlands below us. Peat is partially decomposed plant matter that forms in wetlands and can be harvested for fuel. In 2016, Tasmania suffered a series of large bushfires that did considerable damage to the peat bogs and the park. Containing and extinguishing a peat fire is challenging, because peatlands are highly flammable.

Clayton’s shack

In the afternoon, we left land and reboarded our boat to motor to Clayton’s shack. We docked and trekked up the hill to the small, now-vacant home in a remote section of the park. Already at the house were the birdies, digging into a hearty lunch. They chatted excitedly. Yes, they had captured “quite a bit of footage of the elusive green parrot” and were celebrating with wine. Before we left the house, Michael announced, “If you need to use the bathroom, there is only a pit toilet.” A clean outhouse, I noted, having availed myself of the facility.

Lunch over, we resumed our seats in the boat and rode the choppy waters back toward the landing strip. The only wildlife we spotted were black swans navigating the undulating surface. We came ashore, waited for the birdies to gather their camera equipment, and again they said goodbye. They planned to catch a later flight to Bruny Island, as they still had more bird-watching before dusk fell.

Flying over the boat dock as we leave Melaleuca.

On the return flight, Fin flew over Federation Peak, Mount Picton, and Hobart itself before we landed at Cambridge Airport. It had been a long, almost eight-hour day, but the remoteness and the tranquility of the park, and even the plane flight, all made for a fun day.

Famished, we strolled to the Drunken Admiral Seafarers Restaurant for dinner. A very short stroll away, the restaurant is located at 17–19 Hunter Street, a stone’s throw from the Henry Jones Hotel at 25 Hunter Street. As the name implies, seafood and shellfish is their specialty. We both ordered the fish market chowder for starters, and Yachties Seafood Mixed Grill for the entrées—Tassie scallops, prawns, and grilled blue-eye fish. For sides, green salads and French bread. We chose a Shaw + Smith sauvignon blanc to accompany the meal and passed on dessert. When we left the Drunken Admiral, the day ended as it had started, with a fine mist in the air. The weather reminded me of my college days in Oregon.

While doing research on Hobart, I came across some interesting information on the Drunken Admiral, which was built in 1825–6. Considered one of the finest structures in the colony, the building was constructed of brick with a stone facade, and a slate roof imported from Scotland—quite extravagant for its time. After various uses throughout the years, from a depot for new immigrant arrivals, to a home to two brothers who ran it as a flour mill and warehouse, to housing for Henry Jones’s staff after he purchased it in 1923, it finally became a restaurant in 1979. But the most intriguing fact is that the Drunken Admiral has had its share of ghost sightings. The restaurant owner has reported glasses exploding in people’s hands, bottles sliding off shelves, and women leaving the restroom complaining of feeling as though they have been strangled. In 1880, a Chinese market man was found hanging in the courtyard behind the restaurant. In the 1960s, a worker at the Drunken Admiral who knew nothing about the hanging claimed he saw a Chinese man drift through the walls.


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New Zealand: Te Anau – Part 3

Although I am not a fan of small aircraft, which definitely includes helicopters, I couldn’t contain my excitement about a flyover of Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound on day three in Te Anau. This would be my first helicopter ride. Alan’s staff had arranged the aerial tour, and our pilot would be Michael Hayes from Southern Lakes Helicopters. His father owns the company, and he learned to fly at a young age.

Mid-morning, Michael landed his chopper on the front lawn of the Fiordland Lodge, and we walked out to greet him. Joining us on the ride were Bruce and Jen from Melbourne, Australia. Before we took off, Michael told us the weather wasn’t cooperating and the sounds would be “too socked in” to see anything, but he would still take us up, weather permitting.

Armed with our camera gear, we boarded, belted ourselves in, and donned earphones before we soared skyward and glided over Lake Te Anau. I didn’t expect the ride to be as smooth as it started out. Michael said we might encounter some choppy weather, but he had made this flight so many times that he had learned to expect sudden current changes. His tone was so confident that I relaxed and concentrated on taking photos.

Jen, my seat companion, couldn’t have been more gracious, moving back when I wanted to take a shot from her side of the craft and I returned the favor. David sat in the front seat with Bruce, who was equally happy to share the sights for a photo op.

As a mountain loomed into view, I kept thinking, “Okay, Michael, pull up. Pull up!” But he circled, came alongside it, hovered, and landed on the side of the mountain in a small clearing. Exhilarating, to say the least. We spent some time photographing the magnificent views and were preparing to leave when clouds began to form over the sounds below. Michael said we should head back because “the weather was not the best to be flying in, period.”

On the return trip, we flew over the Kepler Track, which traverses the ridgeline of Mount Luxmore, and I made a note to put this tramp on my must-do list for our next visit to Te Anau. The alpine and lake views from this ridge had to be absolutely stunning. You can barely see the hiking trail along the top ridge of the photo.

Michael also suggested the Milford Track, considered “the finest in the world,” for tramping. According to the trail description, it starts out as a “limbering walk,” but a side track that leads to Sutherland Falls is one of New Zealand’s highest trails at over 640 feet.

Although the “soupy” weather had ruined our plans to see the sounds, we had taken some great pictures and I’d had a wonderful time on my first helicopter ride. I would do it again, and hope for better weather.

Another photo of the hiking trail.

For lunch, David and I drove into Te Anau and found a small pizza place. We ordered several slices and shared them outdoors, basking in the now-sunny day. We had just finished eating when Bruce and Jen waved as they entered the same pizza place. Te Anau is a small, quaint town, and we spent the afternoon sightseeing and shopping for souvenirs.

That evening, back at the lodge, we were sipping predinner drinks before a roaring fire in the lodge’s living room when Jen and Bruce walked up to the small bar near the dining room and ordered drinks. They found seats at the far end of the room and opened their laptops. Curious as to what photos they had taken during our helicopter ride, I approached them. They are a friendly couple and were happy to share their photographs. I asked Bruce if I could use some on my blog when I decided to post about my trip. He said he would go one better—burn a DVD and mail it to me. And he kept his promise, along with sending a video of our helicopter ride. I had no idea he had recorded our flight. I will post his photos and video at a later date. Stay tuned.

The four of us had dinner together and we were still seated, chatting away, long after the rest of the guests had departed. The waitstaff were patient and worked around us, clearing tables and resetting them for breakfast. But we still had plenty to talk about, so we moved to the fireplace seating and sipped port until late into the night. No, I do not recall what we ate for dinner. We were too busy talking.



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