Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gleeful: The music edition

I went to see English brother-and-sister trio Kitty, Daisy and Lewis last night. I hadn't seen them live before and wasn't sure what to expect as their new songs didn't knock my socks off and they aren't bursting with charisma in their video clips.! The show did knock my socks off. They played plenty of songs from the album I own, but they were even better live. It was impossible to stand still (but too hot to move around too much!). And loud! That Daisy sure can bang a drum.

The most impressive thing is that they are only young 'uns (the eldest is about 23) but they play quite an  array of instruments - between them last night they played guitars, drums, harmonica, piano accordian, keyboard and banjo.  Imagine how good they'll be when they reach their 30s...

Here's them playing Hillbilly Music live. Yeeeee-haw!

We caught the last few songs of the support act, Kira Puru & The Bruise from Newcastle, and they were pretty good - blaring guitars and a lead singer with a huge, Etta James-esque voice. Must investigate further....

Other music I'm listening to and loving now (thanks to Three D Radio's (The Whole) Kit and Caboodle):

Monday, January 9, 2012

What I did on my holidays

I'm back - back from my holidays in New South Wales and Tasmania, and back from what has turned into a fairly lengthy break from blogging (for a blog described as "almost daily", anyway). I think I had blog burnout.

I'm also back at work which is decidedly ungleeful, but let's talk about holidays instead. I had a relaxing week at my Mum's in Wauchope, near Port Macquarie. I hadn't seen her since July, so it was great to spend some time together.

Green (click to enlarge all pics)

We had a laid back Christmas as usual, and then spent a couple of days travelling about the picturesque hilly countryside of the mid-north coast hinterland. I've said it here before, but I'll say it again: it such a beautiful part of Australia. It's impossibly green - as if someone has ramped up the saturation on their photo editing software beyond a shade of green that could be considered natural. It's just so lush and green all year round.  There's hills and valleys with ponds covered in water lilies. There's alpaca and deer in the paddocks, as well as more commonplace livestock. There's forests with narrow, winding roads lined with tree ferns. There's frogs!

We visited Comboyne Plateau and Ellenborough Falls (Australia's second-highest single drop waterfall - above), Elands and Wingham. There's a lovely old red-roofed timber church at Marlee on the road to Wingham which was built in 1834 and still holds services.

Another day we drove to Walcha, a small rural centre at the end of a high, windy road through forest and farmland. We also visited two waterfalls near Walcha - Tia Falls and Apsley Falls (below) - which tumble into deep, rocky gorges. 

I was sad to leave Mum's, although less so than usual because I only had one day at home before heading off on my much-anticipated holiday to Tasmania with Luke (our first proper holiday together).

We packed quite a bit in - day one was spent at Port Arthur, where I saw my first bumblebees gathering pollen in the Governer's Garden.  Bumblebees! I've never seen them before (obviously). I probably got more excited about the bumblebees than anything else on the whole holiday...

Not a great picture of the bee (they kept moving),
but if you look closely, you can see it has a furry yellow bottom

I also liked the furry fences at Port Arthur.

We took a cruise to the Isle of the Dead, the resting place for Port Arthur's dead (convict and otherwise). It's one of the more unusual cemeteries I've visited.

Back in Hobart that night, we visited the wharves which were abuzz with the Taste of Tasmania food and wine festival. Some of the yachts which took part of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, including the winner and runner-up, were still docked there. They are HUGE, very looooooong with tall masts that just keep heading skywards. No wonder they're called maxi-yachts.

Wild Oats, the Sydney to Hobart runner up,
towering over its neighbours

We wandered along Salamanca Place and Battery Point and were charmed by the lovely old, but well kept, cottages of Arthur Circus (see photos here).

I saw a great old sign (one of several fine examples spotted during the holiday - see my photo blog for more). 

Day 2 dawned clear and sunny so we drove to the summit of Mount Wellington for a panoramic view of Hobart and surrounds. It's a very pretty city (not that you can see much of it in this photo). 

There were lots of licheny rocks and weathered, dead trees up there.

Then we were off to MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art) which opened last year and rapidly took top spot among Hobart's tourist attractions. It's mostly new rather than old art and it's probably not the sort of art gallery most people would take their granny to. Not everything is confronting, but it's the works featuring images of genitals, poop, entrails and oral sex that do tend to stick with you! I did like the wall of vulvas though - a long row of plain white plaster casts of real women's lady parts in all their infinite variety. It was truly fascinating! I reckon it should be compulsory viewing for all young people  - that's what real bodies look like without photoshopping and relentless depilation.

After MONA we headed out of town to Richmond, the quaint little village that's home to Australia's oldest bridge, built by convicts in 1823 (before Melbourne was even a place!). There were even some ducks paddling about in the foreground to complete the picturesque scene. 

Back in Hobart again, we enjoyed a tasty dinner at Mure's seafood restaurant on the wharves. I'm not a seafood eater generally, but I thought, "What the hell!"  and had a crack at it. I had a very tasty prawn entree, while Luke had mussels, and we both had the king fish for main, which was delicious (not very fishy tasting!).

For dessert we both had Eton Mess. Have you heard of this? It was new to me until the previous night at the Taste of Tasmania festival where one of the berry farm stalls was selling it and Luke said how yummy it is. It's a concoction of meringue pieces, berries and cream. Since I like pavlova, I tried one, but it was pretty much just a cup of strawberries and cream (not that that's a bad thing, just not what I was expecting).  Mure's interpretation of the Eton Mess, however, was far superior - there was plenty of crunchy meringue and fresh mango and passionfruit on a bed of sweet creme fraiche. Very yum. We left full as googs. Fuller, maybe.  

On day 3 we left Hobart headed for Freycinet National Park on the East Coast, stopping at a little place called Buckland to photograph the town's old church and graveyard.

Cape Tourville Lighthouse

We visited Cape Tourville where there were skinks aplently on the footpaths,  and then Sleepy Bay before heading to the start of the Wineglass Bay walking track. It was a warm day and although the walk isn't long, the track is steep in places so I was sweaty, red-faced and out of breath when we got to the lookout.

Up, up, up

We continued on all the way to the Wineglass Bay beach itself where we rested and took photos. I dipped my toes in the water but (not surprisingly) it was rather chilly.  That didn't deter others though.

Note the awesome cloudage

The walk back to the car park the way we came wasn't as long and hard as I feared it would seem. I was pretty pleased with my efforts - it was a challenging trek but I didn't stop as often as I thought I would. I'm well off being in peak condition, but I'm not horribly unfit either!

We saw a wallaby in the car park (the first live one one we saw on the trip - so much roadkill) before jumping into our little hire car and heading for Moina, near Cradle Mountain, where we were staying the night. At one point I didn't think we were going to make it - we needed to refuel, but the two service stations we passed had run out of petrol and we didn't have enough to get to the next town with a servo. We had to slowly backtrack 30 kms to Swansea, running on empty literally all the way. I was sure we were going to conk out in the middle of nowhere, but the road back to Swansea was all downhill so we made it. Yay! Massive relief!  The beardy guy working at the servo said "Thanks, cobber" to Luke. Hehe.

It was just after 10.00pm when we finally got to our cabin for the night after travelling a long and winding road through the mountains in the dark. We didn't see another car until we were almost at our destination and it was a bit spooky. We did see vast numbers of some stupid, bouncy native animal (potoroos?). They seemed to think bouncing full tilt at our moving vehicle was the way to safety. We managed to avoid most of them.  

It was such a relief to have a hot shower and climb into bed that night.

Day 4 was Cradle Mountain. When we got to the Visitor's Centre, a cold wind was blowing light rain sideways at us. We considered abandoning our plans, but in the end we thought we might as well head to Dove Lake and see what it was like. We bought some warmer gear than we'd packed (Tasmania: sunscreen one day; thermal gloves the next!) and got on the shuttle bus.

The peaks were shrouded with low cloud (as they usually are) when we arrived, but it wasn't as windy or damp, so we set off to trek around Dove Lake. I don't think either of us expected to see the peaks on a day like that, but as we walked along the path through the lush rainforest, the clouds lifted and the sun turned the lake from cold grey to beautiful blue. First one craggy peak emerged from its misty shroud and then - hooray! - the other peak made an appearance! It continued to drift in and out of cloud, but we considered ourselves pretty damned lucky to have seen them both.

After completing the lap of Dove Lake (and taking the obligatory photos of the old boat shed) we headed back to the Visitor Centre. There's plenty of other walks to do, but we were headed for Montezuma Falls, Tasmania's highest waterfall, on the road to Queenstown.

Montezuma Falls was my fourth waterfall in a week, but it was the prettiest. It was well worth the long and at times muddy walk along a path that used to be a tram track in the area's mining heydey. The forest was beautiful - green and shady, lined with tree ferns and with trees and rocks cloaked in mosses dripping with moisture. We could hear a creek  burbling along beside us. I managed to take an impromptu paddle in the creek, which left me with damp pants half way to my knees and soggy socks for the remainder of the walk. Squelch! It was so nice to change into dry shoes and socks once we got back to our car.

We arrived in Queenstown around dinner time. Bedtime was once again very welcome.

Day 5 was a less strenuous day. We took a quick spin around Queenstown, which is known for the bare, rugged hills circling the township and its tin mine. The trees that weren't chopped down years ago to feed the mine's furnaces were killed off by acid rain from the mining operations, leaving an odd moonscape behind.

But it wasn't the moonscape that captured our attention so much as the streets lined with ramshackle dwellings. I reckon about 80% of the houses in town were on the verge collapsing in a heap. Why so rundown? We couldn't figure it out. There were quite a few shacks with satelllite dishes though. Those Queenstowners aren't the least bit house proud (except for the house with about a thousand garden gnomes in the front yard), but sure they do enjoy their TV.

Just behind the main street

We spent most of the rest of the day sitting on a steam train pootling between Queenstown and the coastal town of Strahan. The train line was a massive feat of engineering and physical endurance when it was built through the heavily wooded mountains in the late 1890s, primarily to transport the area's mining booty to the port of Strahan.  These days it's called the West Coast Wilderness Railway and it transports tourists in comfort between the two destinations, stopping at several old stations along the way, and passing through the King and Queen River valleys.  It was a pleasant ride.

We stayed in Strahan that night and enjoyed the luxury of a spa in our bathroom. Just what my sore muscles needed.

Day 6 was another day of sitting on our backsides listening to commentary, this time cruising Macquarie Harbour and the lower reaches of the Gordon River.  We stopped off at to see the ruins at Sarah Island, Tasmania's first and most brutal convict settlement, before heading up river for a rainforest walk. There were two snakes basking in the sun (out of harm's way) along the walk, but I'm not entirely convinced the tour operators didn't plant them there! Luke said he saw one move though. Animatronics, I suspect.


Luke and I both snoozed on the way back to port - all that fresh air and warm sun...

Back on land, we bought ourselves a salt and pepper grinders set made of Huon Pine (which the area is known for). They are so smooth and it's so satisfying the way the curves fit in the palm of your hand... Seasoning my dinner will never be the same mundane activity again.

Then we hit the road back to Hobart. It was nice to be back in the land of Vodafone reception. That night we had a quick bite down at Salamanca Place again because there was very little open near our CBD hotel. Hobart is very...quiet. I like it though. We had the comfiest bed of our trip on the final night. Almost as comfy as home.

Our final day was spent wandering the stalls of the famous Salamanca Market, which was thronged with tourists. We liked the multi-coloured carrots.

Luke bought some souvenirs for his daughter, then we wandered the nearby (but rather expensive)galleries before revisiting Battery Point and Arthur Circle. I liked this old sign.

Our last port of call before heading to the airport was the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, huddled between the CBD and the Derwent River. You know how much I love the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, right? I feel unfaithful saying this, but...the Tassie Botanical Gardens aren't as expansive, but I think they are much prettier. Just look at this gorgeous lily pond (more photos here and here).


They  also have much more of an English garden feel to them, with lots of beautiful flowering plants. And bumblebees! Nearly every flower we looked at had a bumblebee (or a boring old normal bee) busily gathering pollen.

Artichoke with two pollen-diving bumblebees

And then it was off to the airport for the plane home. Yes, it was nice to get home, but I could have handled a few extra days away. We'll definitely go back to Tassie to see the bits we didn't have time for on this trip.