Australia: Tassie on two wheels downhill

By Mike Van de Elzen

9:15 AM Tuesday Oct 8, 2013

Australia’s southern island is pretty big. A mountain bike helps Michael Van de Elzen to see some of its best sights

 

Michael mountain bikes down Mt Wellington and up to MONA with guide Rob Potter. Photo / Christine Cornege

Michael mountain bikes down Mt Wellington and up to MONA with guide Rob Potter. Photo / Christine Cornege

Biking is my thing. When I need to clear my head, to get out of the kitchen, I jump on my bike and head for the hills. I love the adrenaline kick of mountain biking and I love to go fast. My build means I’m a bit slower on the ups but, going downhill, I’m in my element.

There’s no better way to see a different side of a place than on a bike. It doesn’t matter if it is a gentle roll or a fast, buzzy trip, you get a different perspective, you meet different people and you’re out in fresh air. What could be better?

On my Australian travels, I’ve been consuming a lot of incredible food, wine and beer so giving the legs a workout won’t do me any harm.

I have heard good things about biking in Tasmania. If you are a speed nut, apparently you head to Mt Wellington – clearly it’s not the one I’m familiar with in Auckland.

Tasmania and its gateway city, Hobart, are so different to other parts of Australia. For a start, Tasmania is lush and green, almost New Zealand-like, whereas so many other parts of Australia look parched.

 

Hobart reminds me of Christchurch, both southern cities split through the centre by a waterway. I love the wharf area, tucked behind buildings that once housed the IXL jam factory but which now house bars, cafes and art galleries. The view from my room at Sullivans Cove Apartments takes in the water and the town.

Today, my itinerary’s main event is a bike ride and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been so busy with my new restaurant, plus I have a new baby and a toddler – finding spare time to cycle just hasn’t been happening.

But first, I can’t resist looking around the Saturday Salamanca markets in the centre of Hobart with everything from wooden toys to leather bags and meat pies. The markets have a rule – if you buy another person’s stall, you have to sell a similar product. So a scarf vendor is replaced by another scarf vendor. This keeps the market varied. Funnily enough, I buy a scarf as it is so cold.

I also buy rolls for lunch before heading up Mt Wellington to meet the people I’ll ride with. At more than 1200m high, the mountain is impressive. No matter where you go in Hobart, you can always get your bearings from Mt Wellington.

The locals say it’s a 40-minute ride to the top but they are talking to someone whose biking legs are coming out of mothballs. Someone has warned the boys at Vertigo MTB about my fitness and I’m relieved to find I’ll ride down the mountain rather than huffing and puffing all the way to the top.

Rob Potter is my guide for the off-road descent on a shiny new 150mm Rocky Mountain. Awesome! But it is also scary. Why do I need so much suspension? What’s down there?

It’s a chilly 2C – eight less than in the heart of the city. Despite being bloody cold, the 360-degree views of the city, waterways and mountains are breathtaking. I had imagined Tasmania as a little island at the bottom of Aussie, but no way. It is huge.

It’s time to ride. Rob assures me I’ll be fine and to just stay behind him. With that briefing, we’re off. Down – down – down.

The trail is firm and pebbly; even a beginner could ride it. We start in thick bush with giant pines overhead but soon the track opens up and is more dirt-based, with open spaces. We ride under fallen trees, along the top of them, around corners made out of berms and earth switchbacks – all making a great mountain bike track and before long I have found my cycling wings.

Rob suggests I ride in front and it is exhilarating being on my edge of speed versus control. It takes me 40 minutes to get to the bottom and I’m grinning ear to ear as we end up at Mona. The Museum of Old and New Art was built on what was a vineyard, planted in 1948 by Italian migrant Claudio Alcorso, who founded Tasmania’s modern wine industry.

I’ve also worked up an appetite for tonight’s meal at Ethos in the city centre.

The new word in world cuisine is foraging and this restaurant is all over it. I choose a six-course dinner but there’s no menu.

After asking if there is anything I can’t eat, the chef sends out the courses based on what has been bought or scorched that day. From home-cooked sourdough rolls to radishes with black garlic, smoked oxtail, lamb with pearl barley and crab apple cheeks to finish. I can’t fault it. A perfect end to a memorable day.

Tasmania has been a hidden gem for me. I am blown away by the quality of the cuisine and its different approaches. I’ve felt at home here and I can’t wait to return with my wife, Bee, as I just know she will fall in love with Tassie, too.

Tassie’s top spots

Trip the bike fantastic

Whether it’s back-country riding in the Tasmanian wilderness, adrenalin-filled mountain descents or new flow trail rides, VertigoMTB has Tassie mountainbiking covered with guided adventures ranging from half-day rides to three-day adventures.

Photo / Christine Cornege
Photo / Christine Cornege

The point-to-point rides have been developed for small groups of avid mountainbikers and have environmental setting, technical variety, diverse terrain, challenge and entertainment in mind. They are not for the fainthearted, inexperienced or out-of-condition.

Experienced rider guides lead the groups, taking in single-track, double-track and some fire-road, plus stops for a re-group while riders enjoy the surroundings.

The rides pass through World Heritage areas. There is the time for a walk at Cradle Mountain and the option of cruising the remote Pieman River in the state’s west for a post-ride wind-down.

The tour selection includes accommodation and food with suppliers selected based on location, comfort, quality and ability to feed hungry riders on hearty local fare.

See what the world is talking about

Mona, the Museum of Old and New Art, opened in Hobart in 2011, houses a collection ranging from Egyptian mummies to some of the world’s most thought-provoking contemporary art. The building’s subterranean design and the owner’s unconventional and challenging curatorial approach make it a must-see for visitors to Tasmania.

Mona takes a different approach to interpretation; there are no labels or wall texts. Instead, visitors use a touch-screen device to informs them about works in their proximity. Called the O, it allows visitors to select the level of information they need and to vote for works they “hate” or “love”.

Itinerary options include a Mona fast catamaran service from the Hobart waterfront or Mona-Roma mini-bus transport. Indulgent day-and-night packages include accommodation at the luxurious Mona Pavilions, plus wine and food.

Mona is on the Derwent River, just 15 minutes’ drive north of Hobart.

Michael Van de Elzen travelled to Tasmania with the assistance of Tourism Australia, Discover Tasmania and Air New Zealand. For more information see Explore – Food and wine

Getting There: Fly there with Air New Zealand. Book now

Find out more at Australia.com

 

The New Zealand Herald

Australia: Cycling around Batmania

By Jon Bridges

9:00 AM Sunday Oct 6, 2013

Armed with the traditional Aboriginal greeting of a gum leaf, Jon Bridges is set to discover Melbourne on two wheels

Bicycle tours in Melbourne are a great way to see the city.

Bicycle tours in Melbourne are a great way to see the city.

In no other major city would you start a bike tour by being handed a leaf; so it’s with curiosity that I take a gum leaf from tour guide Murray as we straddle our bikes beside Melbourne’s majestic Yarra River.

It doesn’t matter where I go, I love to ride my bike. There is no better way to get your bearings and feel the atmosphere. So I am excited to explore both Melbourne’s CBD and the Great Ocean Road by bike.

Murray Johnson of Real Melbourne Bike Tours is a former journalist. His background has filled him with a knowledge and love of Melbourne that makes him the ideal host for bike tours of the city.

Murray explains that the lemon gum is one of 130 types of Australian gum leaf and that the gift of gum leaves is a traditional Aboriginal greeting. I put the pleasantly pungent leaf in my pocket where it stays throughout my visit to Melbourne, making my fingers smell like lemon every time I reach for my camera.

Melbourne is literally streets ahead of most New Zealand urban centres in making way for cycling. Luck was on their side in 1837 when city designer Robert Hoddle defied the British governor’s call for narrow streets and instead built the streets of the “Hoddle Grid” wide enough for a bullock cart to do a U-turn.

As Murray and I cycle toward the laneways, we see precious few bullock carts but the wide streets not only mean you can get a good view of the historic buildings but they also leave ample room for cycle ways. Gratifyingly, the city is flush with cycle commuters.

Murray is an encyclopaedia of knowledge and riding through Melbourne’s centre with him is like spending a day at the museum. Each beautiful Victorian building has its story and the wealth from the world’s biggest gold rush nearby in the 1860s is still visible in sculpted stone. I’m fascinated to learn that Melbourne was originally called Batmania after a trickster called John Batman made a bogus treaty with the locals and named the place after himself. It seems right to remember Batmania as we leave the wide streets for the narrow laneways and cycle along Hosier Lane, the world centre of street art. Stone walls are covered with ever-changing paintings and, until a couple of months ago, there was a beautiful tribute to Heath Ledger’s Batman character, painted by another visiting Kiwi, Owen Dippie.

Gallery

Melbourne’s vibe is almost electric. The city embraces cyclists like it embraced immigration, embraces art, coffee and change. There’s always something to see everywhere and, to highlight that, the city sponsored an art competition to place art high on the sides of buildings and in trees to encourage people to look above as well as around.

As we ride I take in as much as I can, but there are some things it helps to have a local to find. The saying among bar, cafe and restaurant Melbourne owners is “If you hide it, they will come” and, as we ride through the laneways, Murray shows me anonymous doorways concealing the city’s coolest bars and eateries. For our food stop we call into the Southern Hemisphere’s largest open air market, Victoria Market.

We finish our tour riding through Fitzroy and along Lygon St’s Little Italy. Murray and I straddle our bikes across the road from a restaurant’s vintage neon sign, its words “Borsari’s corner” and “Ex-Olympic Champion” framing a picture of a man on a bike. The man is Nino Borsari. Standing there, I fall in love with the story of the larger-than-life Italian who, in 1939, was stranded in Melbourne by World War II and went on to become a champion of Italian immigrants. Little Italy crystallised around his bike shop and his personality. It feels right to park our bikes outside the restaurant bearing his name as we step inside for delicious antipasto and local shiraz.

The next day I get a small taste of a different adventure as we drive 90 minutes south to the start of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. This National Heritage-listed route traces 200km of stunning scenery along the Shipwreck Coast from Torquay to Allansford. I’d love to ride it all, as many people do, but there’s time only to pull the borrowed bike out of the rental car long enough to get a feel for the road.

The day is wet and windy, and stopping at the coastal vantage points, busloads of tourists look at me bemusedly as I pull up slightly wet on my bike to appreciate the incredible views.

They call this place the Shipwreck Coast because Australia’s first visitors had to thread a narrow strait to reach Melbourne and the weather often (638 times!) made this tragically difficult. It seems appropriate that I ride this road in challenging winter weather. The road is beautiful road and even in these conditions I am sad to have to climb back into the car after only a few hours’ taking in the stunning limestone formations off the coast and learning about the shipwrecks. I will be back here to ride this road with friends.

When I fly into New Zealand days later I notice only just in time that I still have the lemon gum leaf in my pocket. I’m sure MAF wouldn’t have been keen to hear its story or smell its lemony fragrance.

Art & design tour

The number of galleries in Melbourne increases every year, as does the public art. The guides at Hidden Secrets Tours will show you some of the city’s creative elements. For two hours discover new installations and artists making their mark on the streetscape.

Street art in Melbourne.
Street art in Melbourne.

Public art

Visitors can explore the history and creativity hidden in Melbourne’s laneways and byways on one of the city’s arts walks or tours. Check out work by local and international artists in the City Lights programme, take the Art from the City Circle tram ride, or walk through city streets, laneways and along the Yarra River to experience the city’s public artworks.

Melbourne bike share

Melbourne slopes gently to the bay, and you can rent a bike and coast along bike lanes and paths to shops and cafes, or through the Yarra River’s parks and gardens. Push your wheels even further to the St Kilda foreshore or on to the beautiful beaches of the peninsula. Jump on a Melbourne Bike Share hire bike from one of the CBD docking stations. Bring a helmet or buy one from a vending machine or 7-Eleven. Return it for a refund when you drop off the bike.

Bicycle tours in Melbourne are a great way to see the city.
Bicycle tours in Melbourne are a great way to see the city.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum, Great Ocean Road

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village is a maritime village and museum built around the 1858 State Heritage-listed Warrnambool Lighthouse. It is the ideal starting point to discover the maritime history of the Shipwreck Coast and Great Ocean Road. More than 180 ships have come to grief along the coast, and Flagstaff Hill holds Victoria’s largest maritime and shipwreck collection. Its feature piece is the porcelain Loch Ard Peacock, a A$4m relic from the 1878 wreck of Loch Ard. Shipwrecked is a theatrical multi-media and outdoor special effects experience telling the story of the Loch Ard disaster.

 

Jon Bridges travelled to Victoria with the assistance of Tourism Australia, Tourism Victoria and Air New Zealand. For more information see Explore – Culture.

Getting There: Fly there with Air New Zealand Book now.

Find out more at Australia.com.

The New Zealand Herald

Australia: Wildlife and wilderness

By Judy Bailey

9:00 AM Tuesday Aug 27, 2013

Southern right whales journey to the Great Australian Bight each year to breed. Photo / Getty Images

Southern right whales journey to the Great Australian Bight each year to breed. Photo / Getty Images

The countryside is full of the promise of spring as we head out of Adelaide for the short drive to the Fleurieu Peninsula. McLaren Vale’s almond trees are in full bloom, standing out like beacons among the sleeping vines. This is the heart of South Australia’s wine country.

I’m joining the Heysen Trail, one of the world’s great walks, stretching 1200km from the Flinders Ranges in the north to Cape Jervis on the southern point of the peninsula.

The wonderful thing about this trail is its diversity, passing through farmland, over golden beaches, gum and pine forests, up rocky escarpments, waterfalls and major peaks – Mt Lofty, Mt Remarkable and Mt Magnificent. (You can almost hear those early pioneers marvelling at the sheer grandeur of the landscape.) There’s a real sense of history as you camp in tiny stone shepherd’s huts and pass by the remains of old gold mines. The walk also climbs along some of the most spectacular coastal cliffs you’re likely to experience.

I’m mesmerised – but there’s walking to be done. We’re heading for the cliffs at Waitpinga. Spring is whale-watching season, when the female southern right whales journey through the Southern Ocean from Antarctica to the Great Australian Bight, where they will give birth and raise their calves.

Our sense of anticipation builds as we near the coast at Middleton, a tiny beachside town with a cranking surf break at the eastern end of the cliffs, where we hope to spot the whales from the shore.

And there they are. At least five giant females rolling in the bay’s deep, clear waters, their babies by their sides. Lazily arching and turning, their blowholes are like fountains reaching for the sky. It’s a remarkable sight.

A handful of locals are watching, happily sharing their wonderment with us. The whales are a couple of hundred metres offshore, side by side with a group of surfers keeping a wary eye on them. The whales will stay here for several months until their young are old enough to avoid falling victim to hungry seals and other predators, and then they’ll return to the ice.

One of the things I love about travel is the people you meet along the way and, if you’re lucky, on this clifftop section of the trail you may chance upon a petite bundle of energy by the name of Elizabeth Steele-Collins.

Elizabeth’s property, Sea-wings, borders the Waitpinga Cliffs. She’s a gifted photographer, whale watcher, researcher and conservationist. She is also a committed member of the Friends of the Heysen Trail, an organisation of around 800 volunteers who administer and maintain the trail.

Elizabeth is often to be found on the track photographing the glorious birdlife as it swoops and dives in the swirling currents above the cliffs. This area is home to the only pair of white-bellied sea eagles on the South Australian coast – and planes now fly high over here so the eagles are undisturbed. There are brash, brightly coloured parrots, too, and laughing kookaburras, delicate firetails and new holland honeyeaters.

Also special is the vegetation. Mostly native, its biodiversity boasts a number of rare plants. Come in spring and you’ll enjoy the display of the wildflowers.

The trail is named after South Australia’s landscape artist Sir Hans Heysen, which is fitting as it was Sir Hans who introduced the world to the beauty of the gum tree, capturing its glowing trunk and graceful limbs. He also painted prodigiously in the Flinders Ranges.

The trail passes through the picturesque town of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, where Sir Hans lived and painted. You can visit his Arts and Crafts bungalow set in a lush country garden.

He welcomed artists and musicians from all over the world. Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova apparently danced in his living room and coveted the still-life painting above the fireplace in the drawing room, but Sir Hans refused to part with it. The house is much the same as it was in his day and his descendants still use it as a weekend retreat.

Also just off the track, at Kuitpo, you’ll find Geoff Hardy’s K1 winery. A fifth-generation member of the famous Australian wine family, Geoff moved to the Adelaide Hills in search of a cooler climate to grow his new Gruner Veltliner and Arneis grapes. He and his delightful family have turned the estate into an award winner, taking out both the Australian winemaker of the year and the Australian wine company of the year awards. (If wine’s your passion, a section of the trail passes through the Barossa Valley.)

The Heysen Trail is graded easy to strenuous. Some basic navigation skills would be handy on the long stretches. To walk it in one hit would take two to three months – most people do it in stages.

The best walking season for the trail is April to November. Outside those times it’s considered dangerous because of the threat of bush fires, snakes and dehydration.

I didn’t see any snakes – too cold at this time of year – but I did see kangaroos and wallabies. Echidnas are common, too.

They say the Heysen Trail is a South Australian treasure. Now I know why.

Where to lay your head

The many options for accommodation on a wonderful nature walk

• South Australia has a wide variety of accommodation options, from hotels and motels to self-contained apartments, holiday homes, bed and breakfasts, camping grounds or even quiet vineyard cottages.

• Judy stayed at The Haus Studio Apartments in Hahndorf, about a 20-minute drive from Adelaide.

• Hahndorf is a small town in the Adelaide Hills and Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement. During World War I, the South Australian Government changed many German place names and Hahndorf’s was altered to Ambleside. This name remained until the late 1930s, when it reverted to Hahndorf.

• From Adelaide Hills you can reach the wine regions of Barossa and Clare Valley, houseboat or cruise the Murray River, enjoy the coastlines of Fleurieu and York Peninsulas and the wildlife on Kangaroo Island.

• southaustralia.co.nz

Take a walk on the Heysen Trail

• You can choose to walk a half-day or a full-day section of the 1200km Heysen Trail … or to hike it from end to end.

• Walking the entire trail would take between 50 and 60 days.

• The southern section, from Cape Jervis to Spalding in the Mid North, is ideal for beginners and people walking with children, and follows the Mount Lofty Ranges. The northern section, from Spalding to Parachilna Gorge, is more isolated and can be rugged at times. It is more suited to experienced walkers.

• Up to four litres of water a day is needed if you’re walking the track.

Australia Checklist

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Adelaide four to seven days a week. Pick up a rental car and make your way to one of the many sections along the Heysen Trail.

Online: For more information on the Heysen Trail, visit heysentrail.asn.au

Judy Bailey travelled to South Australia with the assistance of Tourism Australia, the South Australian Tourism Commissionand Air New Zealand. For more information see Australia Passion: Nature and Wildlife

Getting There: Fly there with Air New Zealand Book now.

Find out more at Australia.com

 

The New Zealand Herald

Australia: Lord’s treasury of wildlife

By Stuart Parker

9:00 AM Wednesday Oct 2, 2013

An aerial view of the beautiful Lord Howe Island. Photo / Tourism New South Wales

An aerial view of the beautiful Lord Howe Island. Photo / Tourism New South Wales
 

We passed each other like strangers on a city street, the shark heading back out to sea, me finning through a gap in the coral reef towards the beach.

It wasn’t a big shark, but it wasn’t exactly small either, I reflected, glancing back nervously.

Big enough to add a bit of an edge to snorkelling over the small but beautiful reef at Neds Beach on Lord Howe Island.

But not big enough to frighten me away altogether.

Sharks usually have food on their mind, and this specimen was no doubt drawn to the beach by the fish that gather in thigh-deep water each day to be hand-fed by visitors.

Some of these scavengers aren’t so small either, and there are a few nervous moments as you wade into the ocean to scatter bread to the waiting shoals of fish.

Top of the pecking order clamouring for a feed are kingfish, up to 1m long. They glide around you, occasionally breaking the surface and opening their cavernous mouths to catch lumps of bread.

Smaller fish hang in the shallower water, or between your legs, shyly picking up the scraps.

Close encounters with wildlife are just one of the many charms of Lord Howe, a World Heritage-listed groups of islands in the Pacific, 700km north-east of Sydney.

Scenically spectacular, Lord Howe teems with important animal and plant species – many found nowhere else in the world.

The coral reefs, the world’s most southerly, are an unexpected wonder, considering Lord Howe is part of New South Wales and is just two hours’ flight from Sydney.

Lord Howe and its surrounding islands reputedly have some of the world’s best scuba diving, but even first-time snorkellers can enjoy the stunning coral in its shallow lagoon.

Drop off the side of a glass-bottomed tour boat and you can glide over colourful coral that matches much of what’s easily accessible on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.

Bright yellow fish hang in curtains, daintily speckled moray eels poke pugnaciously out of coral caves and stingrays doze on the floor of the lagoon. Easy to spot is one fish that is unique to Lord Howe – the doubleheaded wrasse – so named because of the Elephant Man-like bump on its forehead.

Ashore, Lord Howe bristles with birdlife and you don’t have to be a birdwatcher with binoculars around your neck to appreciate the wonder and drama of the summer breeding season.

Get up close to the wild birds of Lord Howe. Photo / Tourism New South Wales
Get up close to the wild birds of Lord Howe. Photo / Tourism New South Wales

Many migratory seabirds return each year to Lord Howe from Asia, or from the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean, to breed on the island’s beaches, trees or mountain cliffs.

Fluffy baby white terns perch precariously on the bare branches of the Norfolk Island pines that line Lord Howe’s lagoon, waiting patiently for their parents to bring home supplies of tiny fish.

Sometimes storms or strong winds blow the young terns to the ground below, where they may be abandoned and starve.

After one recent storm, the Wilson family from Lord Howe’s bicycle hire shop rescued several baby terns, put them on a perch and played mother, feeding the helpless youngsters scraps of fish between renting out bikes.

Whether all the fluffy orphans would survive was doubtful, but at least one mother that had lost her chick was persuaded to take another lost baby under her wing.

Lord Howe’s fledgling sooty terns have their feet more safely on the ground.

They sit among the sand dunes at North Bay, watching the skies for the return of their parents with fish, which is regurgitated and passed from beak to beak.

High on the 777m Mt Lidgbird, one of the two imposing volcanic peaks that dominate Lord Howe, baby red-tailed tropic birds sit safely in caves that dot its cliffs.

Beneath the peak, tropic bird adults ride the winds or swoop back and forth to the ocean far below, their long, streamer-like tails behind them. You don’t have to scale a cliff to see the flesh-footed shearwater, more commonly known as the muttonbird. In fact, watching muttonbirds come home at the end of the day is one of Lord Howe’s must-see evening attractions.

An odd mixture of grace and clumsiness, muttonbirds nest in burrows on the forest floors of Lord Howe.

During the day they swoop majestically over the ocean and dive as far as 70m deep in the ocean in search of squid and other marine life, recent research has revealed.

As darkness falls over Lord Howe, they return to land to feed their young.

But muttonbirds don’t so much land, as crash to earth. All their aerial grace is lost as they thump into the ground and then trip and stumble into the forest to the same burrows they inhabit year after year. The birds freeze in the spotlight of tourists’ torches.

It’s a little comical, although the muttonbirds’ awkwardness on the ground can be costly.

They are sometimes run over by cars on the roads of Lord Howe. Eight were killed after one recent evening function at Neds Beach, islanders were told in a notice that appealed for more care. Some islanders wondered out loud if all the bird deaths were accidental.

The coral reefs at Lord Howe are a haven for divers and snorkelters.
The coral reefs at Lord Howe are a haven for divers and snorkelters.

One Lord Howe resident nearly driven to extinction since a British ship discovered the island in 1788 is the woodhen, or Lord Howe Island rail.

Unique to Lord Howe, this unspectacular, flightless and curious little bird can be seen poking around in the undergrowth of the island’s kentia palm forests, displaying little fear of humans.

They also have an unhealthy tendency to emerge from hiding to investigate unusual noises. Humans and the dogs, cats and pigs they brought to Lord Howe had a terrible impact on the little woodhen, one of the world’s rarest birds.

Rampaging feral pigs drove the woodhen higher and higher on Lord Howe’s twin peaks until finally in 1975 just 26 birds remained.

Their only refuge was on the cloud-shrouded upper slopes of Mt Gower, veteran island guide Jack Shick says during the nine-hour hike to the top of Lord Howe’s highest peak.

The woodhen were safe there because the top of the 875m mountain was too steep for the wild pigs, Shick explains at a spot – nicknamed the “get-up place” – where walkers must pull themselves up by rope.

The island eventually got rid of the feral pigs and launched a captive breeding programme that has helped woodhen numbers rebound to around 220 today.

Woodhen now inhabit the lower forests on Lord Howe but those that remain on Mt Gower still emerge to greet climbers who scale the peak three or four times a week to enjoy the amazing views – clouds permitting.

Those clouds create a damp, mysterious, moss-covered forest atop Mt Gower that is also one of the world’s last breeding strongholds for the endangered providence petrel.

Shick once guided TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough to the peak to film the rare seabird. For Attenborough and his film crew the arduous climb was worth it, because a wild petrel flopped down from the sky, sat on his hand and then crawled up his neck.

“It’s a fully wild bird – we see it flying away into the distance. Why does it come so close? We have no idea,” a stunned Attenborough told viewers of his TV series The Life of Birds.

Attenborough, who has seen many of the world’s greatest natural wonders, once declared Lord Howe to be “so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable”.

For Antipodeans, Lord Howe is so close and so accessible that to not go there, at least once in your life, would also be “almost unbelievable”.

Diving hotspots

With warm, clear waters, teeming with marine life, spectacular shipwrecks and the world’s largest coral reef, Queensland is a scuba divers’ paradise. Some top diving spots on the Great Barrier Reef, from north to south:

1. Cod Hole, near Lizard Island

Haven for friendly potato cod weighing 6-150kg, hand-fed for the past 20 years.The site off Lizard Island is accessed via Cairns or Port Douglas.

2. Agincourt Reef

Agincourt Reef, off Port Douglas, is a series of many small reefs with at least 16 different dive sites.

Diving is a great way to see ocean wildlife.
Diving is a great way to see ocean wildlife.

3. Osprey Reef

One of the world’s most spectacular dive sites, located in the Coral Sea off Cairns.

4. Wheeler Reef

Perfectly circular, this magnificent example of marine biodiversity off the coast of Townsville is one of the best night dives on the reef.

5. Yongala Wreck

One hundred years after sinking off Townsville, the SS Yongala is today one of the world’s top wreck dives. Giant Queensland gropers hang beneath the stern.

6. Bait Reef, Whitsundays

One of the most pristine diving locations on the outer Great Barrier Reef. With a depth of 4-18m and visibility of 10-20m, the site is accessed from Airlie Beach (mainland) or Hamilton Island.

7. Hardy Reef, Whitsundays

See a large variety of soft and hard corals and many ‘people friendly’ fish.Reefworld is here, with guided diving, snorkelling and overnight stays.

8. Heron Island, Central Queensland

Accessed from Gladstone, Heron Island is a true coral bay where you can step off the island to fantastic coral gardens and pinnacles. wilsonisland.comdive-queensland.com.au

Fly there with Air New Zealand.

Explore more at myaustraliapassion.co.nz

 

The New Zealand Herald

Union deal would delay job cuts for a year: Air New Zealand

 

Air New Zealand says it will delay the axing of 180 wide-body maintenance jobs if it can get an industrial agreement with a union covering some of the engineers.

The airline said it will stick to plans to keep its refurbishment of eight Boeing 777-200s in Auckland if the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association ratifies an employment agreement.

Last September it announced the revamp of the planes – including adding more seats and entertainment systems – and said “with pride this work will be undertaken at our Auckland engineering base”. But since it has floated a plan to do the work overseas.

Although it will cost $12 million more to do the work here, the airline yesterday said it was prepared to take the financial hit.

The volume of heavy engineering work is dwindling as Air New Zealand and other airlines modernise their fleets and preserving the jobs for another year could just be a stop-gap measure.

“It doesn’t get rid of the issue, which is [that] there isn’t any work coming in, but it would buy another 12 months,” said Air New Zealand’s chief operating officer Bruce Parton.

He said if there was an agreement with the association work would continue to July 2015 instead of coming to a halt in May next year.

The association’s national secretary Jacqui Roberts said she was hopeful of a resolution but the contract was snagged by legal issues around coverage of her members doing two different engineering jobs.

“We definitely want to protect our members’ work. The company is saying they want to have industrial stability – they could just roll over our current agreement,” she said.

Both the EPMU and Air New Zealand cite the addition of new aircraft as the main reason for the drop off in heavy maintenance work.

Air New Zealand is phasing out its five 767s and its two 747s and replacing them with new planes, including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which requires less routine maintenance and servicing than the older planes.

Parton said: “We all go and buy a brand new car and the mechanic around the corner doesn’t get as much work. Everyone in the region is buying brand new cars.”

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union assistant director of organising Strachan Crang said the 777 refurbishment could give workers breathing space.

“We’re going to be working hard to retain that 777 work in New Zealand so that gives us time to find alternatives and time for the political parties to get the New Zealand dollar down so we can be competitive on the world stage,” he said.

Crang said prospects of finding replacement contracts from airlines still using older planes was being hurt by the high New Zealand dollar.

“There have been productivity gains in double figures over the last three years but they’ve been eroded.”

“This is a highly engaged workforce and we’re engaging with the company all the time on this issue. This is a sad, sad day for aircraft engineering.”

The airline has shed hundreds of staff over the past 18 months, and 80 jobs at Safe Air, an engineering subsidiary in Blenheim, remain at risk.

On Thursday it is set to announce a $180 million-plus profit for the past financial year.

 

The New Zealand Herald

Price-fixing case: Air New Zealand agrees to settle

File photo / NZ Herald

File photo / NZ Herald

Air New Zealand has done a u-turn in its long-running air-cargo case with the Commerce Commission and has agreed to settle the proceedings.

The national carrier and the regulator had originally reached a settlement agreement in the price-fixing litigation but Air New Zealand made a 11th hour bid to cancel the deal.
However, in a joint statement this afternoon from both parties, Air New Zealand has appeared to have backed down and agreed to settle:

“Air New Zealand has withdrawn its proceeding challenging the Settlement Agreement in the Air Cargo proceeding and will pay costs to the Commission in relation to the settlement of this dispute. The parties have agreed a basis for settling the proceedings.
There will now be a penalty hearing and the parties are seeking the earliest available date for that hearing,” the statement said.

Ten other airlines have admitted their role in the price-fixing case and have paid penalties of $35 million.

Air New Zealand was one of the airlines which the commission filed proceedings against in December 2008.

The commission alleged that the airlines colluded to impose fuel and security surcharges for air cargo shipments to and from New Zealand.

In April, the High Court ordered three more airlines pay a combined total of $9.6 million in penalties for their role in the air cargo cartel case, the commission said in a statement issued at the time.

According to the commission, it received penalty judgments against Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd for $4.3 million, Thai Airways International Plc for $2.7 million, and MASkargo System Berhad Ltd for $2.6 million for price fixing in breach of the Commerce Act.

The commission said it had previously received penalties from seven other airlines: British Airways Plc, Cargolux Airlines International SA, Emirates, Japan Airlines International Co Ltd, Korean Air Lines Co Ltd, Qantas Airways Ltd, and Singapore Airlines Cargo.

By Hamish Fletcher

 

The New Zealand Herald – 05 June 2013