Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day 15 Cowra to Home. Collect $200*. Pay $1360 credit card bill.

What a beautiful way to come back into Sydney.
Unfortunately I was all out of travel cliches apart from the ones about returning home.

The trip was a great success. Our philosophies for the trip, holidaying in general and humour made large changes of plan a breeze. I didn't crash her car which I think was a great help. Best of all we saw a great many things essentially randomly. We ate well, drank well and I only set the smoke detector off on two occasions.
The first of these was after the long drive from Echuca to Torquay and I was more tired than I thought, hence I was a bit petulant. The fish was smoking away briskly when my frayed consciousness was assailed by 'that most useless noise', to quote the Duke of Wellington. I instantly flashed to anger and cursed the little bastard as I twisted its head off and ripped its brain out. Childish, yes, but such a satisfyingly primordial way of fixing a problem. After laughing at my display Caroline pointed out how useful it was that I was tall enough to do that. The next morning she set fire to the toast and had to do the traditional tea towel fanning to stop the shrilling. I was jogging along the beach at the time, so I was no help to anyone apart from any excitable young women watching.
From then on, whenever I cooked inside I always disabled the smoke detector.

In Portland I asked the aunt what we would do for the afternoon.
She replied "We can go home. You can take the battery out of the smoke alarm. And I'll turn the toaster up to full!"

We learned never ever ever to go to, nor to recommend anyone else go to, Tilba Tilba. Tilba Tilba is on the NSW south coast - inland a bit. It is very near Mt Dromedary. It received this wonderful write up by a travel writer in the SMH who was simply delighted with the whole place. It is a embarrassment. Caroline ripped up the article when we got back to the car and muttered darkly.

Probably the most important lesson we learned was not to take dining advice from a boat captain who serves packet soup to his patrons. Although, maybe that is what they meant when they talked of Packet Steamers arriving off Eden.

I'll just finish this off quickly like 'Mansfield Park', because even I am sick of writing about how wonderful everything turned out.

The important thing was at the end of it I got my nice wine and a two week growth.

* Actually collect $280 from Lord MattressHammer's final rent payment. Previously he supplied it in an envelope marked "Rent". This one was marked "Whores and Booze".
I called the girls and had each to myself for a couple of hours, and then both together at the end of the night. This is literally true. They know who they are.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Day 14 Henty to Cowra


From: harryka@gmail.com
To: admin@tahbilkwinery.com

Dear tasty girls,

Here follows the review of the Doodle Cooma Arms Hotel in Henty as requested.

You will possibly recall that I chose to stay at this pub based solely on it's name.
My faith was perfectly justified.
It's a really nice place.
The new owners have had it for one and a half months and have spent that entire time cleaning it, they tell me.
It is a very attractive building with very high ceilings and a proper Aussie country pub feel to it. The rooms are large and though most of them don't have ensuites there are three or four large shower and toilet rooms, so no probs there.

The meals are enormous and very very nice indeed. I had scotch fillet with mushroom sauce and it was as big as a child's thigh (which I also eat with mushroom sauce).
I can't remember what my delightful Aunt had since i don't really care for her at all and the entire two week trip was shammed affection on my part.

The staff were attentive and pleasant. The rooms and meals were well priced.

On another topic, I thought your winery to be the nicest one we visited on our trip. If I were to use former schoolmates of mine I would say your winery was Rachel Tegue. She was the prettiest girl in school and a delight to be around, and even though I wasn't able to view her cellars, as I was at your winery, I still have many pleasant memories.

Sir Hairy Simspon KA

[Addendum: For 'tasty' read 'tasting'. This will be fixed in the new edition. Ed.]
I have received no reply.

Yes. That is a bistro style still-life painted on a saw hanging above the restaurant doorway. Yes. Yes, I know. Yes.

We drove through The Rock, Wagga Wagga, Junee, Cootamundra and Young to get to Cowra. It was like a high-speed Henry Lawson poem.

Sakura Matsuri is the Cowra Cherry Blossom festival of October that we missed by a week. The Japanese gardens here are possibly the most, um, diplomatic of gardens. They are in Cowra because of the WW2 prisoner of war camp. The thing is, under the Bushido code and general whackiness of Imperial Japan, Japanese soldiers who didn't die were subject to profound shame, but since the Australians treated them so well even after the well publicised Japanese atrocities AND the break-out at Cowra, a subsequent Japanese government felt a garden would be a good thing that would acknowledge certain things, but not the ones that can't be.
The gardens are very nice indeed. They are a surprising harmony between Australain natives and Japanese ornamentals: which was the 'healing' guiding philosophy of the project. The designer was the number one Japanese garden designer.
The hill behind looks like this.

The garden looks like this.

There are a couple of Japanese style buildings, a bonsai area, a koi pond and an art gallery for museum pieces, artwork gifts from Japanese people and an area for local artists.
I instantly recognised the lungfish from my 'Wildlife of Gondwana' paleontology book. I think that's pretty impressive for someone making it out of bits of plough.

We retired to a coffee house with the newspaper and inquired after dinner. I had been pressing Caroline fof a number of traditional country Australian experiences, and one of those was Country Town Chinese.
I knew it was going to be bad and it didn't disappoint at all! It was horrible. You must go.
At least it was vaguely edible unlike a similar experiment in Maitland with the Slobro where, through tears of laughter, my sweet and sour pork (we were going hardcore) was consigned to the bin. At first he didn't believe me that it was inedible. And at least it was better than "Taste if Eden" which was, in all honesty, absolutely embarrassingly bad. If the aliens landed and ate at 'Taste of Eden' they would have given up and nuked us from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

I went to find the lavatories.
The toilets are a scream.
No, really: I saw them and I screamed.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Day 13 Heathcote to Henty

[Written while drinking their 2001 oaked chardonnay for just less than $4 a bottle.]

First stop Tahbilk Winery.
I know Tahbilk from a few years ago when I was on a usual 'Haven't seen that before; I'll buy it' wine shopping in Newtown. I came up with a Tahbilk 2005 Marsanne, and subsequently based a dinner party around four bottles of it.
Awesome. I did a bit of research and found out that France lost it's Marsanne to Phytophthora and replanted from Tahbilk material.
So when I saw that Tahbilk was on our route of advance the Bells of Destiny rang. (They go "Booooooooong", if you want to know, which is a bit racially insensitive, and also a bit ironic when you consider destiny and history etc.)

Tahbilk was set up in 1860 as a proper stand-alone chateau, such that they have the original blacksmith and stables etc buildings.
We were greeted by the cat - which is always a plus in my book.

Their tasting barn has a museum to the left with a trove of material and awards. To the right is the tasting bar. Underneath is the cellar into which you are welcome to wander. The tasting ladies were pleasantly chatty.
It is all set up for that soft-sell experiential style.
Their target market is, well, me.
It is perfect.

And what is even better is they have a bona fide billabong on the way in with - get this - a resident cormorant! Your jolly swagman couldn't choose a better looking nor situated billabong to jump into.

We drove into New South Wales and had lunch on the opposite shore of Lake Mulwala to which what we had whom been on when before a week before this which what.
They do good skies here.

We take our first proper dead-straight country dirt road on our way to Henty.
What's at Henty? you ask.
The mid-point between Heathcote and Cowra; and a pub that I booked solely on its name.

Wheat field in eucalypts.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Day 12 Henty Bay to Heathcote

According to the Bendigo museum the Chinese dug round shafts because they thought demons live in corners. At Henty Bay they weren't demons just my dirty socks.
So, it was good-bye to our luxury three-bedroom, sea-side cabin. It was the first time we'd had a wine-cellar slash wardrobe before. Bet you don't have one of those at home, eh?!
From now on ever k was one k closer to home.

I had naturally chosen a not-quite-direct scenic route which took us by the Grampians and into Ararat for morning tea. There was an ornamental lake pleasingly stocked with black swans, teal, coot, marsh hen and even a pelican. It wasn't the first time I cursed that I hadn't bought my twelve gauge.

The orchid house in the Ararat gardens.

We drove through Maryborough and had lunch at a nice spot called Campbells Creek.

The pretty purple is the horrible weed Patersons Curse. I foolishly didn't take a photo of the vivid yellow of the flowering canola crops as the perfect photographic juxtaposition to this purple.

Then we got into the tiny, dusty village of Heathcote and the door fell off.

Caroline maintains I subjected it to a fit of rage brought on by drunken-ness. But I SHOWED HER!!!?!

Don't go to Heathcote on a weekday. Almost all the wineries are small jobbies only open on weekends. We only had enough time to visit three tastings, but the first was a jackpot. Huntleigh Wines is one dude who is selling up his stock and retiring. He has two wines: a 2005 Traminer which is ok, and a 1999 Cab sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot (ie a Bordeaux) which is one of the nicest wines I've ever had.
The other two tastings were in town and were crap. 'Heathcote cellar' was shite. The restaurant two doors down offered a limited tasting but I struck gold there with a nectarine wine.
I would very much like to go back on a weekend and do it properly.

The caravan park was pretty crap, but beggars can't be choosers especially when it's the only one in town.
Caroline was ironically trying to talk it up.
"I mean, for sixty bucks..." she waved her hands at various parts of the cramped cabin, "...you get to sleep in the kitchen HAHAha! On your pink chenille bedspread!"
My aunt had thoughtfully taken it off her bed so I wouldn't stick to the vinyl of the sofa.

And now: Adventurerering with Grammar.

Caroline with the chops...

Punching Harry in the chops...

...and punching Harry by the chops.

But these chops did perish from this earth and were eaten with an orange and garlic marinade.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Day 11 Henty Bay/Portland

We drove the six kilometres by the quick route this time. Last night's excursion to town had seen us take the long way into town, go shopping, and then hare off on the wrong road out of town.
'This is a long six kilometres' the aunt suggested.
'And we're too high' the nephew replied.
Then we encountered extensive roadworks that we didn't recognise. We had been joking the last few days that the roadworks were being laid on especially for us but there was no way they could have done so much work in so little time.
We did a u-turn immediately afterwards which was the closest conjunction of a u-turn to roadworks that we did on the trip. And a good thing too. The route back to Sydney from the caravan park joined this road AFTER these roadworks and we would have missed them!

We drove to the petrified forest and walked along the seacliffs to find out they are geological formations not preserved treee trunks.
'Damned wind ruined my hairstyle again!' complained the aunt.
The landscape is perfectly alien. I will be shooting scenes of "Return to the Planet of No Return 2" here. Lord MattressHammer has started the script already. Well, he came up with the title. I'm sure it will be fine.

A school house from 1866

Then it was off to the seal colony via a two hour walk up and onto a headland. It's a very interesting walk. The bay slopes very gently so the waters are vividly blue.

Private Cemetery of the Kennedy Family who all died of snake bite walking off the path to see what this gravestone was.

'You're only a third of the way. If you want a seat, you can put it up yourself, slack arse.'

The headland rises from the blue like it's drawing breath. The land is cattle pasture and the owners have built their house out of the wind on the reverse slope. It's a perfect spot for a castle. Martins and swallows are ubiquitous. The martins twitter continuously and frequently alight on the wire fence beside the trail. Skylarks are announcing their territories with sounds of a canary crossed with an Atari.
If you had one super power would it be invisiblity or flight?
No contest.

Eldritch bushes, straight from a Tim Burton set, trail their ghost fingers in the wind.

We reached the viewing platform that stands about eighty(?) metres above the seal colony and saw three seals lolling about. The star of the show was this kestrel whose roost was directly underneath the platform. I've got a whole series of shots as he crossed slightly below us. In two of them he's looking directly at the camera.
At more of a distance a little falcon put on a great display of hovering - hanging crucified against the sky.

Caroline had been to the large seal colony on Montague Island and of this one said "Well, it was called a colony, but it was more of a meet-and-greet."

We drove back to the caravan park via town and the aluminium smelter. A purpose-built port is attached to the smelter that allows them to supply ingots and other raw aluminium products directly to their customers in a business plan known as "He who smelt it, dealt it."

At the caravan park I saw a pair of hooded plovers. These small birds nest just above the hide tide mark. I turned back at this point so as not to disturb them.

I was alone on the beach. The basalt boulder seawall obscured the houses beyond. All I could see was the ribbon of sand between that dark bastion and the incoming tide. The sand glistened like a promise. I tossed my head and raced the waves like a healthy colt. I snickered arrogantly as the wave ran up the beach and consumed my footprints. The young women watching felt their hearts leap within their breasts to see the muscles sprung taut along my flanks.
I was magnificent.
One of the young ladies was taken faint and slipped off the seawall into the crashing waves. I read later that she'd been torn apart by sea creatures and was now on display at the maritime museum.

Caroline's comment: 'Oh, dream on.'

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Day 10 Peterborough to Henty Bay via Geography and Cheese

'There are clifftop walks all around Portland.'
'Goody. Why are you telling me this?'
'Because yesterday you said you loved clifftop walks. Or was that just to LURE ME TO MY DEATH?!?'

I had become more diligent in my role as photographer, mostly by taking a photo whenever Caroline pointed out anything of interest to her. That is why I have two photos, taken from the Twelve Apostles Carpark, of a cow. They are such awesome shots that they are dangerous to put on teh interweb for fear that your eyeballs will explode instantly.

We took a leisurely drive back to the Twelve Apostles Part 2 and (executing a planned u-turn) then headed west again to Loch Ard Gorge (named after the ship that wrecked here), the Arch, London Bridge and the Bay of Islands just past Peterborough.

Loch Ard Gorge

Loch Ard Gorge

The Arch

The Arch

Xanthorrhoea flower spike.

The cheese place was so disappointing that I can't write about it.

A little known gem is the Tower Hill Game Reserve. Not herds of wilderbeast and one-legged warriors silhouetted by the setting sun, but a large volcanic crater that was cleared and then regenerated. Serendipitously I took the wrong turn-off and we ended up on the outer rim looking south into the crater. The structure was perfectly apparent - the sea had eroded the southern third of the rim but not quite reached the central mound. The c-shaped crater is a seasonal swamp; at times almost completely submerged by rainwater.

Entering the reserve proper I almost ran over a koala. A hundred metres on, five emus were foraging in the rushes. Walking tracks cover the slopes of the central mound, and raised boardwalks allow the snake infested swamp to be traversed. On the drive out we saw black swans resting and then a marsh harrier flew overhead. I stopped the car just before the exit to get more shots down into the crater when the marsh harrier flew past below me and called. I looked for the harrier's mate and saw her and, presumably, their adolescent offspring. We were treated to ten minutes of graceful soaring.
If you are in the area you must go there.

The Codrington wind farm wasn't giving tours that day so we observed from the distant carpark. We met an expat English duo and had a chat. Caroline started singing my praises.
'You're not actually allowed to sell me to these people, you know!'