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: Melbourne’s winning formula

11:00 AM Thursday Oct 3, 2013

Amid champagne, glamour, girls and celebrity glitz, Winston Aldworth notices there’s a car race going on

The Rolex Grid Girls spread the sponsor's bonhomie.

The Rolex Grid Girls spread the sponsor’s bonhomie.

Watching cars race isn’t meant to be like this. Looking down on a Formula 1 race is like witnessing a session of low-flying spaceship racing.

We’re doing it surrounded by celebrities, champagne, some impressive aircraft flypasts and a great deal of noise, not all of it generated by engines. For the novice guest, the circus that surrounds the Australian Grand Prix can seem bigger than the race itself.

With a blessed spot in the Qantas lounge, I’m standing, beer in hand, about two metres directly above the head of Mark Webber, the Australian F1driver beloved of Melbourne and embittered by his fellow Red Bull driver, Germany’s Sebastian Vettel. The Qantas lounge is directly above the garage of the car in pole position – that’s Vettel’s.

The Red Bull drivers, like all their rivals, are lean. When Ferrari-driving Spaniard Fernando Alonso peacocks his way to his car, he looks little enough for a mechanic to pick up and pop in his toolbox.

Like any sport, you need to be a true fan to know just what the hell is going on in Formula 1. The truest of fans will know not only the ins and outs of engine power and aerodynamics, they’ll also have honed up on the finer points of resentment and mistrust between Webber and Vettel.

But – more than any other sport – this is one where you can remain ignorant of the nuance and simply get swept along in the ludicrous event. You don’t need to talk the torque to have a blast at Melbourne’s Grand Prix. In fact, the people who seem to be most enjoying the day look like they couldn’t tell a McLaren from a Mazda.

Formula 1, perhaps more than any other sport, recognises the importance of putting on a show; of making the event bigger than the race itself. Not a fan of motor sport? Not a problem. Think of it less as a sport and more as skinny teenagers racing spaceships.

And spaceships they are.

There’s a lot going on. Celebrities are racing, historic cars do laps and there’s a race for – that most Aussie of all things motoring – the V8s. Jimmy Barnes sings. A motorcycle team perform outrageous aerial feats on a giant Hot Wheels track. A Qantas jet gives us a flypast as does an F18 Hornet from the Aussie air force – inviting us, not for the last time today, to recalibrate our volume benchmarks.

The Rolex Girls – a dozen or so beautiful young women spreading the sponsor’s bonhomie – sweep serenely through the crowd. The masses part. At one point they have about 100 men trailing in their fragrant wake.

Celebrities – mostly of the knockabout Australian variety – abound. At one point I am introduced to Leo Sayer (the short, frizzy-haired pop star who was big in the 1970s). I thought he was Richard Simmons, another short, frizzy-haired star who was big in the 1970s. I was just about to commend his (Simmons) performance in those Air New Zealand safety videos, when he (Sayer) got distracted and wandered away.

A celeb-spotter better informed than me was able to stop me from completing my error and embarrassing myself.

Sayer is a huge Formula 1 fan and has followed the circus around the world. When the cars take their place on the Melbourne grid he trots from machine to machine, chatting to racing team staff and to the Rolex Girls who hold the signs marking each grid position. It’s just one more surreal sideshow at this mad, brilliant circus.

But there’s no doubting the main attraction.

On a pitwalk before the main event we get the chance to check out the cars. The striking thing is their single-minded sense of purpose. No room for shopping bags in the back. It’s rare, in this multi-tasking age, to see a piece of technology designed so purely for one thing.

At some point, all Formula 1 visitors will be tempted to “have a listen” without the earplugs in.

The volume of a Formula 1 car is a benchmark sound which you know, from the moment you hear it unprotected, has forever adjusted your personal definition of what the word “loud” means.

You hear it for a bit and you think to yourself, “Jesus, that’s loud. Nothing could possibly be louder than that.” And then a few moments later, it’s louder than it was. So you think, “Aha! Got me! Nothing could be louder than that.” And, of course, it gets louder still. And that’s when there’s just one passing by. The start of the race, with 21 roaring spaceships on the grid resets all the dials.

This visceral wall of noise – so loud it’s directionless, coming from everywhere – is what I imagine it would be like to be shrunken and placed inside the engine of a particularly loud lawn mower.

A full-throttle drive by clocks in at around 147dB (a gunshot is a relatively passe 133dB). So, yes, those little foam earplugs they give you? Pop them in.

On our pitlane walk, the steering wheel of Kimi Raikkonen is proffered to us. Look but don’t touch. Raikkonen is a Finn whose ruddy face and liking for strong spirits might seem to fit more comfortably behind the wheel of a tractor than in the high-glamour world of F1. (Raikkonen ultimately won the race, followed home by the tiny Ferrari-driving Spaniard Fernando Alonso and the unloved German, Vettel.)

The steering wheel is a fiendishly complicated mechanism. The cars are monsters.

Formula 1 is vastly safer than it once was – the last race fatality was Ayrton Senna who, in 1994, became the 24th driver to die in a grand prix. The 23rd, Roland Ratzenberger, died the day before Senna.

But the menace of these giant cars is still clear. After a grid girl at the 1999 British grand prix cheerily wished Michael Schumacher luck by saying “break a leg”, the less-than-cheery German found himself a few hours later hospitalised with his leg in plaster.

Albert Park, with its lake in the middle, is a cracking location in which to watch skinny teenagers racing spaceships. The Melbourne skyline makes for a beautiful backdrop as they blast off down the track.

F1 bosses are on the verge of a new deal that will keep the circus visiting Melbourne beyond 2015. I chatted some Melburnians who would happily see the back of the event. It’s loud, blocks off a heap of streets for the best part of a week and costs taxpayers around $50 million. Supporters see it for what it is: A ludicrous, glorious and ultimately wildly fun jewel in the crown of a city that prides itself on big sporting events.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Qantas flies daily from Auckland to Melbourne.
Details: Melbourne Grand Prix 2014 is on March 14-16.

Winston Aldworth travelled as a guest of Tourism Victoria and Qantas.

 

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: Hit the road

2:45 PM Tuesday Oct 1, 2013

Indian Ocean Drive.

Indian Ocean Drive.

Aussie roadies

Driving holidays are one of the best ways to experience the wide-open spaces and unique landscapes of Western Australia. Rental cars and motorhomes are readily available. See suggested itineraries at westernaustralia.com.

Indian Ocean Drive

WA’s new coastal road has opened, and with it new beaches, natural wonders, fun, adventures and new places to visit, stay and live. Experience the wealth of flowers and wildlife you haven’t been able to get near. Or simply hop in the car for a leisurely drive and enjoy the hospitality of towns along the way like Lancelin, Seabird, Guilderton,Ledge Point, Cervantes and Jurien Bay.

Trails near Margaret river.
Trails near Margaret river.

Margaret River

In the beautiful southwest of Western Australia, 280km or a three-hour drive south of Perth, the Margaret River region offers a huge selection of world-class wineries, gourmet food and boutique accommodation.

 

The New Zealand Herald

Australia: Where tourism treads softly

Lucy Bennett experiences a mountain high at an ecologically sound Hunter region retreat

Kangaroos and other wild animals are able to go about their business at Eaglereach Wilderness Resort.

Kangaroos and other wild animals are able to go about their business at Eaglereach Wilderness Resort.

Paul Miley is a newspaperman from way back – what he doesn’t know about the Australian media probably isn’t worth knowing. These days, though, he spends his time running a unique mountaintop retreat high above the Hunter Valley in NSW.

Around 20 years ago, Miley bought a large tract of land, sight unseen, with the idea of opening an exclusive wilderness retreat with a focus on luxury that worked in harmony with his conservation values. Eaglereach Wilderness Resort, just over two hours’ drive from Sydney in the Hunter region, is the result.

To get to the clutch of 38 lodges that perch on a ridge some 450m above sea level, one must first navigate the mountain road, which apparently follows the trails left by wildlife as they wound their way up and down the hill. Just when you think there’s no way the narrow and tightly winding road would allow the progress of materials for the construction of anything other than a rustic hut, the road flattens out and what begins as glimpses of lodges the size of suburban homes, opens up into a tennis court, swimming pool and playground, and then a reception area and restaurant.

The complex of facilities and lodgesis a monument to the determination of Miley and his wife Carmen.

It appears they have bent the unforgiving Aussie bush to their will. In fact, they have slipped into its embrace, creating a resort that sits unobtrusively within the habitat of a large number of native birds and animals, and always puts them first.

Although guests can enjoy a massage or a facial if they want to, or sit on the deck of the restaurant with a drink in hand, there are rules attached to the privilege of holidaying in such an area. Guests are asked to be frugal with the water, the sole source of which is rain, to use only biodegradable detergents, to drive at a maximum speed of 20km/h to avoid hitting wildlife… to “tread softly”, the resort’s motto.

The rewards for following the rules are rich. The area is teeming with wildlife, including possums, kangaroos, bandicoots, wedge-tailed eagles and even the odd koala.

Miley and his team have planted thousands of trees in a bid to attract more koalas into the area. Other projects have included the construction of a lagoon at the bottom of a hill to collect the rainwater draining downhill, and cutting tracks to access sights, such as the subtropical rainforest that grows alongside the gums and paperbark trees.

Miley likes his guests to get out and about, and has created many opportunities for outdoor activity. There are bushwalks and four-wheel-drive tracks cut into the bush, and kayaks and mountain bikes are available. You can fish for perch, if you throw it back, or you can go yabbying, and eat them.

When you’re all tuckered out from all that fresh air and exercise, you can dine in the resort’s restaurant, which created a name for itself under the stewardship of Richard Branson’s former personal chef. With the proximity of the wine-producing Hunter Valley right next door, the wine list is wonderful, and features labels from as far afield as Margaret River and New Zealand.

Despite what he has achieved already, Miley has big plans for Eaglereach – more lodges, more activities for his guests – but he always has the good of the environment at heart. When he first arrived to inspect his land, a wedge-tailed eagle flew so close to him that he remarked, “I could just about reach out and touch that”, and his “tread softly” approach to tourism means the eagles will always have their natural habitat in which to flourish.
Hunter Region Checklist

GETTING THERE: Air New Zealand flies daily to Sydney – the Hunter Valley is about 150km from Sydney by car.

ONLINE: visitnsw.com
• Lucy Bennett stayed at Eaglereach Wilderness Resort courtesy of Tourism Australia and Destination NSW.

 

The New Zealand Herald – 18 June 2013