How To Fiesta In Alicante


Alicante isn’t a city that’s known for its looks; nor is it a place that I would call ‘pretty’. My anticipation for a picturesque, cute Spanish old town was quickly let down once I realized it was run amok with nightclubs, drunken hen do’s and ugly, decrepit buildings. In fact, you might be wondering what’s so great about this typical English holiday destination with little to see aside from the sea. A fiesta with the locals of course!

As the locals do at Mercado Central, Alicante

As the locals do at Mercado Central, Alicante

Alicante is a small city on the Costa Blanca with a great foodie scene at a fraction of the cost of the larger tourist cities like Barcelona and Madrid. While aside from the monstrous Moorish Castillo de Santa Barbara that towers over the popular beach Playa del Postiguet, there aren’t many massive tourist sites to see (although I do recommend making the time for this one and it’s stunning coastal views). That’s okay though when it’s sunny year-round, there’s plenty of paellas to keep you full (try Dársena on the waterfront) and there’s, of course, a party around every corner.

Where to fiesta in Alicante:

Hogueras de San Juan: We witnessed the start of the summer’s most important festival, the celebration of the arrival of the summer solstice. We were lucky to see the Artistic Fiesta Lights in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and the parade of natives dressed in traditional garments, impressively some sporting large paper mâché heads whilst on stilts. Unfortunately, we missed the best bit of the festival, on the 24th of June is the Night of Burning or “Noche de la Cremà”, when 200 large satirical paper mâché statues are lit on fire.

Hogueras de San Juan

Hogueras de San Juan

Mercado Central: On a Saturday afternoon locals gather around midday at the epicenter of the city, the central market. After roaming the meat, cheese, fruit, veg, and fish stalls, a common shopping place for regulars (don’t forget to hold your nose from the stench), everyone orders a small plate of pre-cut Iberico Jamon from one of the vendors, grabs an unlabeled beer from the booze stall, and stands in the sun outside catching up with friends before starting their Saturday night. We too took part in the tradition which was one of the highlights of our trip, chatting with amicable locals to the sound of chants for the forthcoming football match and trying different varieties of Spanish ham and cheese…and of course, beer.

Choosing our Jamon platter in Mercado Central

Choosing our Jamon platter in Mercado Central

Devouring Jamon in Mercado Central in Cambridge Graduation (Dr!) hat!

Devouring Jamon in Mercado Central in Cambridge Graduation (Dr!) hat!

Carrer Castanos: If you like generously free poured gin and tonics in large round glasses, shisha’s and salsa dancing at any hour of the day, this is your spot. Bar Ten10 offers all of the above, and we couldn’t help ourselves to a midafternoon boogie after indulging a few too many beers outside Mercado Central. For a safer option, take a turn on Calle San Francisco for a variety of cute tapas restaurants, sit alfresco and enjoy fresh squid, fried green peppers and so much more. El Rebujito Taperia was highly recommended, although the squid didn’t live up to its expectations.

Jules with Al Fonso and Davide

Jules with Al Fonso and Davide

Football: The Champions League Final 2017 took place whilst we were in town, Real Madrid vs. Juventus, and without a question, the city supported their famous neighbor Madrid. Pubs and tabernas put their TV’s outside, as everyone under the sun gathered to witness the epic match. We were lucky to find a spot to sip Aperol spritz perched on the ledge outside Amapola Pub, to observe the locals go nuts in the frenzy watching Real Madrid defend their UEFA Champions League title. Even better, next door, Taberna San Pascual served the best aubergine lasagna and Spanish meatballs; one of our best meals in the city.

Champions League Final at Amapola Pub

Champions League Final at Amapola Pub

Il Barrio: If you’re 18 and want to party, Il Barrio on a Friday and Saturday night is where it happens. Who would have thought we were too old for it? The youngins poured onto the streets out from upbeat discotheques to rock metal clubs. Instead, we chose to dance our hearts out at Havana Club, one of the few places that played both Spanish and Top 20 English-speaking dance beats. For a few hours, we were the only ones on the dance floor, sangria in hand, rocking out as if we were anywhere in the world. Plus, if you venture during the day there’s always spots like La Tasca del Barrio to keep you busy with their killer tapas and wine selection.

Jamon from La Tasca del Barrio

Jamon from La Tasca del Barrio

So there you have it! If it’s simply the sun, sangria and tapas you are seeking, shared with friendly locals and a stunning coastline, leave your tourist map at home because you’re still in for a treat. In fact, there are no hawkers to chase you down, some even need to go find their English speaking friend to help. And whilst we were slightly off season, I can’t comment on the mega beach and pool parties that sculpt the classic summer sesh. So would I go back? Likely not, but for a quick and cheap holiday in the sun I certainly don’t regret going either.

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The Gambrinus’ Stein (Lille, France)


We find ourselves in the small city of Lille in the French Flanders, far enough north to neighbor the Belgian border and thick with Flemish influence; food and architecture included.

Nicole Vecchio Bryce and street art; Rue de la Monnaie, Lille, France

Nicole Vecchio Bryce and street art; Rue de la Monnaie, Lille, France

“What do you mean you’re going to drink beer and not wine,” my mother questioned. “I thought you were going to France?”

Within the proximity of Lille (pronounced lee-eel) there is a growing trend of microbreweries and beer fooding i.e. beer pairing is a very real thing. We might as well be in Belgium. But we are not. My sister and I dash through customs at London’s St. Pancreas International and zip through the Chunnel into northern France. Only a mere hour and a half later we are on Lille’s doorstep. It’s noticeably colder than London and we immediately complain.

Rue de la Monnaie, Lille, France

Rue de la Monnaie, Lille, France

Luckily the city is quite small and manageable for anyone easy on their feet. Within 10 minutes walk we arrive at our hotel in Vieux Lille (Old Lille). This is where things start to appear picturesque and around every corner I squeal “OMG, but isn’t it just so cute?!” My sister Nicole only then grasps that we are in a foreign country and English isn’t the first language. I greet the receptionist with a confident yet mispronounced bonjure and after entering the smallest elevator on earth we land in our immaculate room. Oh Europe I’ve missed you!

 

We only had a few hours to kill before our grand beer adventure but managed to, what we had initially assumed, see it all. In Vieux Lille we mastered the narrow cobblestone streets and took random turns trying to get lost but actually found our way amongst the cute local shops, craft beer sellers and row upon row of exquisite restaurants. We rode bikes through the windy garden paths of Jardin Vauban, sipped Belgian beers alfresco in La Grand Palais square, and snacked on local specialities like beef tartare, Welsh rarebit and waffles with Nutella. Yum!

At 4 pm we stood in front of the tourist office in anticipation to meet our tour, the beer tasting treasure hunt The Gambrinus’ Stein, organized through the craft beer tasting tourism group L’Echappee Biere. Young Aurelie and her companion Olivier greeted us and whisked us away to our first stop, the unassuming Theatre Cafe, to explain how the game would work. The bad news, Nik and I were the only people on the tour so we weren’t going to make friends as we had hoped. The good news, we couldn’t lose as we had no competitors!

The Gambrinus' Stein, Beer Treasure Hunt

The Gambrinus’ Stein, Beer Treasure Hunt

We were handed a booklet that explained it all. 4 bars, 3 hours and a series of clues to get us from one to the next. The clues weren’t googlable and were intended to have us experience the city by observing the elements so easily overlooked when just passing by. This is what made it both interesting, and yet so damn hard! We snorted with confidence that 3 hours would be a breeze, yet 3 hours and 15 minutes later I was texting Aurelie that we couldn’t locate the final bar.

In addition to the clues such as “once on the square that makes you cry when you cook, keep going straight. If you see a beer shop you are following the correct path,” there were also hints, historical notes and riddles. We would receive extra credit for social sharing photos of key points of interest (and smart marketing on their behalf), and once we made it to the bar would hand over our ticket to the barman who was already expecting us and complete a questionnaire on the given beer color, country of origin, ABV and style. Clever little game don’t you think?

La Grand Palais, Lille, France

La Grand Palais, Lille, France

Into early evening it grew dark and the game intensified as we peered at etchings in the architecture, storefront names and church nuances. But it was fun! At the final bar Olivier met us to go through our answers and rewarded us points, as if we had been competing against others. It was cute and humble and as we sat and chatted about where we should go eat charcuterie and sample some French wines (heaven forbid) I fell even more in love with this small little company of friends who invented a game to educate tourists on not just their city but the world of beer that is so prevalent in it. Their website states, “there are more than 40 breweries in the Nord Pas de Calais, and approximatively 150 in Belgium.”

Olivier handed over our “winning” prize of a large quadruple Trappist. Aurelie shortly followed with a second bottle, saying there was one for each of us. When we tried to resist that it was all just too much, she replied “for my bad English.” Her English was great by the way, and we even appreciated that our booklet was in English as well.

Grand Place, Vieux Lille

Grand Place, Vieux Lille

For 25 euro what an amazing journey. We were educated, awarded beer, and taken to some amazing, unique and colorful bars that we would have so easily overlooked if not had been recommended by locals.  I won’t spoil it for you, but I would definitely recommend you give it a go next time in Lille although I’m still unsure if Gambrinus ever found his stein!

We ended the evening with the most exquisite steak with bearnaise, frittes and a cheese and charcuterie board at La Part de Anges followed by a few glasses of burgundy at neighboring wine bar Monsieur Jacques with a big smile and a day well accomplished.

Steak and Frites at La Part des Anges, Lille

Steak and Frites at La Part des Anges, Lille

Christmas in South Australia


Port Neill Bay

My first Christmas in Australia, what can I say. Simply put I was sold on the promise I was going to shear a sheep.

Christmas away from home will never replace Christmas as I know it, nor should it try to.  But at a minimum this Christmas gave me insight into a new Australia. I wanted to avoid the feeling of Christmas but in the end I walked away with more than I could have anticipated.

I flew to South Australia the evening before Christmas Eve to spend the holidays with my flat mate Wes and his family. All I knew about where I was going is that I would first fly the hour to Adelaide, then get on a small commuter plane and after arriving in Port Lincoln drive another hour north. Tell that to any Australian and they nod, “ah the middle of nowhere”.

Peering out of the window before landing in the Eyre Peninsula, farmland stretched for hundreds of miles then hit the sea. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the contrast of country and sea smashed against each other. I started picturing mermaid sheep.  Mer-sheep? But once I arrived I was greeted with such gracious hospitality that didn’t stop until I boarded the plane back to Melbourne.

Rockeby Farm Pantry

Rockeby Farm Pantry

I spent that first evening on Rockeby Farm, the family farm Wes grew up on. Driving down the pitch-black dirt roads late at night, the air quiet, I squirmed at the thought of knowing that there was no one around for miles. Everyone knows I’m scared of the dark. But the old farmhouse, built in early 1900s, was warm and I spent a few hours getting to know his parents, Sue and Mark, who kindly taught me a bit about their farm properties as we sipped a few wines. We spent only that first night on the country farm though and were off to the beach in Port Neill for the next few days.

But first Wes took me to town. We spent Christmas Eve morning sitting on the Tumby Bay pier eating fresh chicken sandwiches from Ritz Café, watching a young boy expertly fish alone off of the side, as Wes told me stories about growing up in such a small, rural area. Tumby as it’s known, is a good 30 minutes from the farm and is where he went to school – one school for all children from kindergarten to 12th grade. There were 46 kids in his grade when he started; he graduated with 16 and was only one of 6 to go to university. Talk about small town ambition.

He then whisked me away to Boston Bay Wines, a small boutique vineyard and cellar door set on a hill where the vines overlook the ocean, just outside of Port Lincoln. We sampled the gamut and stocked up for Christmas with their Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and award winning Riesling.

There was no stopping us there, so we were off to Delacolline Estate next. Stepping out of the car we were greeted with the sound of hundreds of bees chatting away over their afternoon lunch.  I was so ecstatic at the thought of visiting my first lavender farm, the sweet scent overwhelmed the property and the fields of purple snuggled next to the vines made for a beautiful backdrop. Not to mention the 2005 Riesling was a stand out and we also couldn’t resist a bottle of Sparkling Shiraz, as it’s an Aussie Christmas tradition after all.

The Eyre Peninsula is known to be one of the purest seas in the world. Remote and desolate, with many untouched bays it makes for pristine fishing grounds. It’s a region that prides itself on sustainability and is where seafood such as oysters, abalone, tuna, prawns and more is exported from daily.  Of course I had to try some. Sarin’s Restaurant in the Port Lincoln Hotel is the best spot in town to devour the famous Coffin Bay oysters, which is exactly what we did before stopping off in quiet and stunning Coffin Bay itself.

We stayed at the beach house for the next few nights, and that evening I accompanied his parents and siblings to the local pub. Wes unfortunately had an emergency oyster spew on our ride home so recovered in bed alone. In a town of 300 people, the one pub is where everyone, and I mean everyone, goes for a social gathering; parents, grandparents and small children included. I felt a treat being introduced as the foreigner from far away America and giggled to myself as it seemed every second person was named Hannah.

I woke up Christmas morning to a quiet house and decided to start the day with a run on the beach. As I approached the half-moon bay of Port Neill, Mark’s words at the pub the night before couldn’t ring in any truer. He told me, “Why go to a beach with lots of people? If there’s people, just go to the next one”.  I told him I never knew such a luxury.

Port Neill Beach

Port Neill Beach

As I began to run, I saw the sand ahead, the water clear blue to my right and the sun beaming down against it; and that’s when I got emotional. I think it hit me all at once. The sparkling water and unexpected beauty really let the distance and pure remoteness sink in. Christmas, and this couldn’t be any more of a contrast of what I’d be doing at home. It’s exactly what I asked for if I couldn’t have the real thing. In that moment I felt the luckiest person in the world, and it was a moment for me that was incredibility awesome.

Even more awesome was when I got back to the house I had eggs and bacon waiting for me. We then exchanged a few gifts. I was overjoyed for the generous touch of perfume from my flat mate and homemade heating pad Sue made with grain from the farm, a gift I had been secretly hoping for. Even more special was the Christmas-themed box and stocking that made its way from the US then onto the plane with me so I could open a gift from my family on Christmas morning. The day followed with an impromptu game of tennis in the sun, some reading and sunbathing and the enjoyment of our wine purchases from the day prior.

Wes watering flowers in the sun

Watering flowers

Boxing Day, while still very casual and relaxed, was celebrated with even more grandeur as all of Wes’ 3 siblings and their partners, as well as his grandparents attended at the beach house for a traditional seafood lunch feast.  As I cracked open my popper, I found myself realizing I’ve picked up some Aussie slang like the common contradictory response of “yea, no”. The outback must have gotten to me.

Before getting too settled in Mark had myself, Wes’ brother Lewis and girlfriend Chelsea out on his boat at dusk to catch the next day’s lunch. Chelsea and I caught 7 snoek between the two of us, a great success as it was her first time fishing.

On my final day Mark, Wes and I headed back to the farm. Unfortunately due to the holidays there wasn’t enough time to get the sheep ready for shearing. Mark made up for it though and gave me a full tour of the farm. First he emptied the trough, and then Wes and I hopped out of the cab of the truck to herd 340 lambs from one paddock to the other. We simply walked along through the fields, both casually and slowly, and those fools just kept running away…right where we wanted them to go. My deed was done.

That evening we BBQ’d the most exquisite, uhum, lamb for dinner then ended in the late hours laughing till I cried playing the vulgar game Cards Against Humanity the Australian edition with the family.

Thank you Wes, Sue, Mark, Lewis, Karl and Hannah for your amazing hospitality, beautiful homes and an amazing holiday adventure!

Game On Adelaide: A Weekend of Food and Wine


Adelaide’s pretty rad – and there’s more to it than the mocking nickname of ‘Rad-elaide’. Ever since I first visited in 2011 I’ve stood behind its defense, but even more so now that I’ve learnt on my most recent visit that is has made a conscious effort to play cultural hard ball.

This trip no doubt contained another visit to the Barossa Valley disguised behind a work-related conference held at the Adelaide Convention Center. With the Intercontinental, albeit a bit dated, in a prime location overlooking the Adelaide Oval and the beautiful running tracks along the River Torrens, I was already set up to achieve great sights.

IMG_2540

River Torrens

Upon arriving I gave my friend a tour of the small city.  We started along North Terrace beside University of Adelaide’s beautiful 19th century sandstone buildings, a contrast against the neighboring modern architecture of its newer lecture halls.

Looping around at Rundle Park took us onto Rundle Street, home to boutiques, cafes, pubs and assortment of restaurants. For a sunny Friday afternoon we stopped off in the Belgian Beer Café and historic pub the Austral for a few pints to start the holiday off.

Lisa Rundle Street

Rundle Street

Rundle Street turns into Rundle Mall where you can find most of your common name brand stores like Meyer, Sports Girl, JB Hi-Fi and the likes. Most famously on the corner of Rundle Mall and Hindley Street sits Australia’s oldest family owned chocolate maker, Haigh’s Chocolates.

My perception of Adelaide was turned upside down when I discovered Peel Street later that evening. Here sits the latest note-worthy restaurant in the city with the same name, Peel Street, and it’s a must stop off (restaurant bookings required). The closest thing Adelaide has in comparison to big sister Melbourne, this small laneway has a splattering of hip bars and underground cocktail lounges to make any local feel privileged thanks to the new small venue license recently instated to help entrepreneurs bring a new vibe to the CBD.

Highlights include Clever Little Tailor, a tiny bar offering a variety of top notch spirits and hand crafted beers set against the original exposed brick and structure. Next door, dine at Bread and Bone Wood Grill for a quick and fancy burger or dog. They really are all the rage but we went a bit rogue by ordering the fish and pork belly, both also to be admired. The waiter kindly offered us entry into the cocktail lounge downstairs, Maybe Mae, where I felt as if I entered some secret world found only in the 1920s, green leather booths, plush carpet and drinks served in crystal. One more stop across the street at Mexican inspired Chihuahua Bar for a wine and a lovely chat with the want to be rock star spun bartender before calling it a night as we had a full day of wine touring ahead of us.

Since I’ve made my rounds in the world-renowned Barossa Valley previously, this time the goal was to visit boutique wineries in a small group to uncover the greatest Shiraz presented to me. Cellar Door Wine Tours asked in advance where we wanted to visit and hand crafted the itinerary amongst all the guests’ top picks.

  1. Murray Street Vineyards was the perfect first stop, as we tasted while sitting around a square table so that all 10 guests had the opportunity to get to know each other. It was refreshing to be greeted by a young host, as Ryan was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, specifically as he demonstrated double aeration. I wanted to walk away with the Gomersal Estate 2010 Shiraz but was nervous to purchase any wine too early in the day– my greatest regret for sure.
  2. Maggie Beer is a gourmet food brand well known by dinner party hosts and the like. The beautiful shop sits on top of an aqua green lake making it a fantastic picnic spot. The best part about the small shop is there is something to taste in nearly every nook and cranny – from fig paste to pate to cider and caramel topping. I spent my time devouring enough homemade bread dipped in olive oil and damper to hold me over until lunch. I also took note of the cooking school that could be a good excuse to come back.
  3. Penfolds was my biggest disappointment of the day. While this isn’t boutique in anyone’s mind, it was a special request from another guest. Honestly, what they offer on tasting is the same as what you can buy in the liquor store and it was only the Tawny I was tempted to buy until I found out that too is distributed in my local bottle shop.
  4. Chateau Yaldara and Café Y is where we stopped for both a tasting and lunch. I wasn’t too impressed with their wines except their sparkling Shiraz and while you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I definitely would recommend they undergo a branding exercise for their labeling. Luckily the family-owned cafe made up for it with lunch that was described to us by the son in the most intimate detail and while I’m not much of a pasta lover I couldn’t resist the duck ravioli.
  5. Rockford Wines interestingly do their tastings in an old horse stable making it a unique atmosphere for the much anticipated tasting. This winery was our tradeoff for Grant Burge (the one we asked to visit) being too busy. I found the pourer entertaining as he reminded us of Murray from Flight of the Concords so I walked away with a bottle of their Tawny as a Christmas present for my hosts.
  6. Turkey Flat is one of the oldest boutique vineyards in the region. I was sold on a bottle of the now-sold-out 2012 Cabernet as the wine maker was both very chatty and informative, reminding us that 2010 and 2012 were the good years for grapes after the drought. I also couldn’t resist buying the cheeky fortified NV Pedro Ximenez too.

The biggest surprise from the day was the amount of cabernet sauvignon coming out of the Barossa Valley. I truly didn’t expect it and while I didn’t find a long lasting lover in Shiraz to take home, it did make me have a deep think about how much my taste buds have changed as of late.

Back in Adelaide central, one more spot not to miss is the Gouger Street restaurants and the Adelaide Central Market. My absolute, hands down, no questions asked top notch visit was to Cork Wine Café who specialize in organic and biodynamic wines from all over the world. I melted over the La Distesa 2013 ‘Terra Silvate’ Verdicchio and Architects of Wine 2013 Chardonnay. As they do tasting flights, with quite generous pours mind you, it was easy to fall into place here for a few hours.

With so many restaurants to choose from on Gouger Street, primarily deriving from Asian influence, it was hard to choose. Thankfully the staff from Cork Wine recommended the two best places (and most sought after as we couldn’t get a table until 9 pm so book ahead) on the strip including Little NNQ and Concubine.

For a quick weekend of social activities before putting on my work hat we sure managed to cover a lot of ground, including Jamie Oliver’s latest wave to hit Adelaide Jamie’s Italian. But Adelaide, you’re still missing one key element before you can truly reach your cultural trophy and that is – what’s open for breakfast?

Brisbane’s become cooler than me


Everyone always digs on Brisbane. Even when I first moved to Australia it was all “it’s too small; everything closes early; there’s nowhere good to eat.” Compare it to likes of Sydney or Melbourne, and yeah, I get it. But guess what haters, at some point since moving away a year and a half ago, Brisbane’s upped its ante.

I always said if I could have the culture of Melbourne coupled with the weather of Brisbane I would be set for life. Now, I’m not going to go as far and say it’s been accomplished but seriously Brisbane, you’re picking up your weight.

On my most recent visit I was blown away at the duck liver parfait served at James Street’s trendy Gerard’s Bar. In fact, I added it on my “best thing ever” list and that was even after devouring truffle salami and mackerel tartare. Could the Brisbane dining scene be creeping in Melbourne’s wake?

And as for Fortitude Valley, the once seedy and still may be but only if you don’t know where to go now that Brisbane is cool, nightlife neighborhood, I didn’t go out ‘in’ the Valley but rather ‘under’ the Valley. Greaser, an American themed bar is housed in the cellar of a 130-year-old heritage building offering craft beers, American imports and a stellar whiskey list on the side of classic hot dogs.

Sure, I was still living in town when the hippest thing was old Queensland cottages being converted into uber-chic bars like Alfred & Constance, Kettle & Tin and Sixes & Sevens – as they all have uber-cool names too, but I hear even ‘hippie-haven’ West End has transformed itself upmarket with some new additions in its pocket.

I think it goes without saying another area where Brisbane hasn’t failed us is the craft beer front. From my old hang The Scratch to Tenerife’s Tippler’s Tap and their recent Southbank prodigy Tomohawk Bar and let’s not forget the micro-brewers Green Beacon and classic Bacchus Brewing, Brisbane is where its at.

What’s still not cool is having to leave an establishment to go find a bathroom somewhere down the street rather then in the bar/restaurant/café, but over time you may just get that right too, Brisbane.

In the meantime, I recognize there’s all the extra stuff that even made Brisbane cool back when I was living there. An awesome music scene, a laid back life style and pristine beaches in an arm’s reach, so yeah Brisbane, maybe you were cool all along.

Read more about my adventures in Brisbane here.

Queenstown: A Solo Adventure


I intently stared out of the window, camera in position as we descended out of the cloudbank and into view of the vast snow tipped mountains called the Remarkables. This landscape is absolutely extraordinary.

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The plane began to shake as we entered the windy valley between the incredibly close mountain ranges, then all of the sudden, oomph. My head smacked the side of the window and my tray table unfastened itself from the locked position. Panic. We must have dropped a few feet before leveling out again. “Don’t worry,” said the flight attendant over the intercom. “It’s just the wind between the mountains, nothing to be alarmed about.”

Welcome to Queenstown! A buzzing town of snow bunnies crossed with adventure sports, breathtaking scenery and world-renowned pinot noir sipped against the backdrop of white capped peaks.

“Are you skiing?”  “Snowboarding then?” “So, what are you doing here?”  My reply was simple, I’m here to eat well and drink wine. Snow Sheep Queenstown In a town where every other backpacker, boys weekend or family vacation seem to hit the slopes or jump off either one of the tallest or oldest bungy’s in the world, is it possible to enjoy yourself as a single traveler not in the slightest interested in the above? Sure is. I’d even rate Queenstown as not only my number one favorite destination in New Zealand but at the top of my books all around. So what’s there to get up to?

The Bars:

I hung with the locals at Atlas Beer Café, deemed Queenstown’s home of craft beer including microbrew Emerson’s (go with the English Porter on the hand pump) along with some guest taps and locally sourced food, like the lick smacking steak with demi-glace and Café de Paris butter, served with a side salad and fries.

The Find, previously known as The World Bar, was a great place to go solo. Maybe it’s just because Queenstown, unlike many Aussie bars, actually have bar stools at the bar. There’s nothing better than saddling up at the bar for a snack staring up at the teapots which house cocktails for the backpackers who trickle in later in the evening.

And lastly, cozy, dimly lit places like The Bunker  and Bardauex offer extensive New Zealand wine collections and a soothing, chilled out atmosphere with big comfy sofas around outdoor fire pits or indoor blazes.

This is between all of the countless bars and nightclubs including Cowboy’s, Winnie’s and Searle Social Club amongst many other late night spots where you can find inebriated late teens and early twenty-something’s, and myself on one or two occasions, dancing the night away.

The Wine:

But then let’s not forget it was the wine I came for.

The Winery is a storefront that offers a taste of over 80 different New Zealand wines. Grouped by variety, the philosophy of this place is simple, yet expensive. Insert your “wine card” and choose from a taste, half glass, or full glass of some of the most desired wines in the region. At about an average of $5 a taste, I tried a few high-end Pinots then called it day.

This was after I went on my Queenstown Trail: Original Wine Tour just the day before. Lance, a 20 year wine-guide veteran led us to four different wineries in the Gibbston Valley, Central Otago. I’d rate them as such:

Best Tasting Room: Gibbston Valley Winery – set in New Zealand’s largest wine cave

Best Tasting Host: Waitiri Creek – Jason, the vineyard manager of this family owned winery passionately and simply broke down the chemistry of wine making into terms us normal-folk could understand

Best Wine: Remarkable Wines – only winery where I enjoyed the whole range; walked away with the 2009 Pinot Noir

Best Notoriety: Amisfield – while I can’t afford their both delicate and elegant vintages, Will and Kate famously made a stop here on their recent visit

The Food:

When in New Zealand it’s all about the lamb, oysters and prime cuts of beef.

I felt I was back in Melbourne while dining at Madame Woo, an eclectic modern Asian restaurant with delectable sticky pork belly dishes and thick curry’s set to tune of some of my favorite bands like the Kooks and Cold War Kids.

While Vudu Café is rated the number one brunch spot, you’d be lucky to score a seat. Instead, Bob’s Weigh Café was a smaller, simpler option serving great muesli and rumored the best coffee in town.

The Great Outdoors:

Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing aside, in town there are still a few options.

While the number one activity is to ride the Skyline Gondola up Bob’s Peak, I decided to take the bolder way up: my two feet. It took an hour from the base to zig zag through the forest up the mountain following the Tiki Trail. I’m not going to say it was easy, but nothing any reasonably fit person couldn’t handle with a few huff and puff’s in between Gatorade guzzling breaks. Even better, the trail was absolutely quiet. Only every so often I’d run into another hiker passing down on the trail. The best part was finally reaching the top and the breathtaking views over Lake Watakipu. Lake Wakatipu Once at the summit there are a few options from dining, bungying, zip-lining, more hiking or the luge. And while the luge came highly recommended from a charming traveler I met, after standing in line for an hour in freezing rain sandwiched between two families with small, irritating children, my ride down the ‘scenic track’ was more of an escape effort if anything. With the rain coming down too heavy to hike back down Bob’s Peak, I coughed up the steep fair of $19 for the Gondola ride back into town. Queenstown Luge The People:

And none of my above experiences would have been so great if I was truly alone in it all. There were kind, approachable people that I met along the way. From an impromptu pub-crawl to discover the town with a friendly Norwegian, to the American and Aussie girls from my wine tour who invited me along to dinner and the handsome Irish boy who bought me chocolate/chocolate-chip ice cream. It was only on the last day as I sat in a café to escape the cold and rain before flying back to Australia that I had a sense of being alone, but luckily a book and one last English Porter did the trick.

My Tasmanian Secrets


Tasmania is not in Africa. It’s is not a remote tropical island in Southeast Asia either. If fact, Tasmania is just another state within Australia.

Often the butt of insensitive jokes by many Australians about inbred farmers, backward small town ways and the like, my recent visit was nothing of a joke though. I came purely for the Pinot Noir but left with so much more.

Hobart

A flight from Melbourne to Hobart round-trip cost me less then accommodation for one night in Launceston. It’s cheap and conveniently an hour away. I’m also lucky my friend David has a corporate apartment downtown so that was a gracious offer that made things very easy.

But with less than 48 hours in Hobart we had to narrow down our options and I would highly recommend the below:

Salamanca Place: for a small town, this is where the action happens. An old historic square with cafes, restaurants and bars around the parameter its one of the few areas open late and bound to have some people around, especially when we flew on a Thursday evening. On Saturday mornings the Salamanca Market is one of the most famous in Australia, with over 300 stalls of local crafts, produce, street performers and more. For drink and nosh I recommend Cargo Bar Pizza Lounge and Grape Food and Wine.

Criterion salted caramel waffles

Criterion salted caramel waffles

Criterion Street Café: was literally the best breakfast I’ve had in my life. After a friends recommendation to try the caramel salted waffles with vanilla mascarpone I was immediately smitten. We also wanted to try to the corn and green chili fritters since after all, it was breakfast. The service was impeccable, anticipating we wanted the fritters to share at the start and the waffles for dessert; they brought out two separate, huge servings and didn’t even charge extra. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so full, but I would get on a plane right now to eat there again.

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA): This is the place known for being weird. Australians flock to Tasmania to visit the one true modern art gallery in the country. Those who have visited places such as MoMa and the Tate think it’s nothing too different but if you’re in Hobart this is a must visit.

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While you can drive, one of the best parts of the experience is to hop on the Mona Roma, the high-speed ferry that takes about 40 minutes to reach the museum. While not only being an educational ride with commentary about the landscape, the ferry offers decorative artwork, a funky interior of leather stools, a live parrot and even fake sheep as seats (cattle car) in addition to serving Moo Brew and Moorilla Estate wines on board. On the MONA property you could literally spend a whole day in the exhibits alone, everything from a room of TVs singing Madonna acapella to a poo machine, a project simulating the digestive system of the human body. But then there’s the food such as wood fired pizza, local cheese and meat platters and even fine dining; and the drink, like wine tastings from Moorila Estate and beer flights from Boo Brew; and the scenery, overlooking the water, the vineyard and the town in the background. Saturdays they host markets on the lawn, where on occasion are live performers and it’s just a great place to relax in the sun and enjoy chilled out Tasmania.

East Coast

After leaving Hobart we decided to drive up the east coast to make our way north to Launceston. It all happened in just one day and was jam-packed. I definitely recommend spacing it out if you’ve got the time.

Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park: There’s a reason why I love and thoroughly read my in flight magazine. In this instance, without doing so I would not have known to visit and contribute to saving the endangered Tasmanian devils. They’re only found in the wild in Tasmania, so what a once in a lifetime experience. The entrance fee was a bit steep at $33, but knowing the proceeds went toward a good cause made it worth it. The dog like animals, many of which have a contagious facial cancer were interesting to watch, as they are the largest meat-eating marsupial. While in heat they made loud, screeching noises while barring their razor teeth and were quite aggressive during their feeding time, which we got to watch (dead possum, yum). There were some other animals at the park as well such as kangaroos, wallabies, and birds so there is enough wildlife to kill an hour or so to make it worth the visit.

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Port Arthur

Port Arthur

Port Arthur: is a historical site about an hour and half southeast of Hobart that used to house convicts. Not just any convicts, but those that had already committed a crime and their first punishment was to be sent to Australia in the first place. If you committed another, Port Arthur was your likely destiny. The admission fee included a 40 minute guided tour, which was enough to help us understand what we were looking at and where we wanted to spend the remainder of our time while exploring the grounds. Unfortunately, because we had such a long drive ahead of us it meant we didn’t discover much, but even dropping by made for a beautiful drive and an educational experience.

Freycinet National Park: is a beautiful national park on the east coast of Tasmania about 3 hours north from Port Arthur. Our sole purpose was to visit Wineglass Bay, an outlet of Cole’s Bay shaped like a wineglass. Our plan was to drive up the coast, have a hike around the national park, watch the water shimmer against Wineglass Bay and then travel on to Launceston. But we arrived too late. Dusk was starting to set and frankly, Wineglass Bay didn’t look like anything special. The park information center was already closed and we didn’t have a permit to park. We went for about a 5-minute hike, or more specifically it was just a walk to the water’s edge, and decided to call it a day. Luckily the Edge Restaurant at the Edge of the Bay Resort was open for dinner. We figured, at the least enjoying a delicious meal overlooking the bay would make the long travel time worth it before we had to head back into the car to make our way further North. I had the local specialty of the blue eye trevalla coupled with the Freycinet Valley’s own, Gala Estate Riesling.

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No one told us in advance not to drive at night though. I will tell you now, do not drive at night! It was another two hours after we left Cole’s Bay to Launceston and we figured easy enough. But once on the road, winding our way away from the coast inland and north the GPS took us through another national park. Pitch black, there was no one else on the slow, curvy road. I put on my glasses because at that point I had one official duty, to watch the side of the road for animals. Carcass after carcass of dead animal bodies lay splattered on the road ahead of us so we decided to slow down even more, going no more then 40 kilometers while the radio blasted Saturday evening techno music. It was going to be a long 2 hours, and despite our best efforts before we knew it, boom. Regrettably, a huge kangaroo ran into the car from the side. Luckily he hopped away and we are still praying he is okay.

Launceston

I recently discovered that Tasmanians from Hobart and Launceston have a city rivalry. With just a short amount of time in both cities, I’d put my money on Launceston.

Tamar Valley: Pronounced tame-er, out of all the wine valleys in Tasmania we chose to tour this one. Their Pinot Noirs can be described as heavy and earthy, similar to those of Oregon in the Northwest of the US.  I had high hopes and anticipated shipping home cases and cases, but I left with just one bottle in my suitcase (interestingly from the Coal River Valley outside of Hobart). I’m not sure if my disappointment was because I don’t fully understand my own pallet, or simply because I was more surprised to learn and love their dry Rieslings, interesting Fume Blanc’s and mild Sparkling. I even revisited my old friends Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio and learnt in more detail the actual difference of the two.

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We booked a tour with Prestige Leisure Tours, and by luck we were actually the only ones booked in for the day. That meant we could customize the tour to our liking and our number one priority was to visit Bay of Fires, one of our top picks from the Pinot Palooza event we attended back in September.  But first we made a stop a Josef Chromy, the worldwide winner for their 2011 Chardonnay that was obviously, but unfortunately not available for tasting. I did however purchase the 2013 to hold on to in the hopes it will mature just as nicely as I’m told that Chardonnay is Tasmania’s best kept secret.

The favorite of the day was Dalamere Vineyard, a small family owned winery in the Pipers Brook region. We got to sit with the winemaker Fran and chat in detail about their handpicked fruits and it was pleasant to just be in a casual, non-touristy setting. Despite them being known for their excellent sparkling, I left with the most interesting of them all, the 2013 Fume Blanc.

We had lunch at Piper’s Brook Vineyard, but I was less impressed with their larger scale production and average food. We then moved on to Leaning Church, another small, picturesque vineyard with amazing views, but I found none of the wine too memorable. At the least, our fabulous driver Michael was helpful in providing recommendations on how to spend our last 24 hours in Tasmania.

Dickens Cider: offers amazing, locally produced ciders and the cute bar in downtown Launceston was a clear next stop once we returned from the wine tour. This is real cider too, thick, cloudy and only natural sugars, it was a refreshing alternative to the bottled stuff I usually drink on other occasions.

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The owner recommended and made reservations for us at the Black Cow Bistro, one of the town’s best upmarket restaurants offering Tasmania’s finest steak. Oh my, truffle béarnaise sauce on lean Tasmanian beef, despite us being quite a few drinks deep we still enjoyed the deliciousness of it all. We made one last stop off for the night, despite it being a Sunday and stumbled over to St. John Craft Beer. I was so excited to try some different beers offered on their ten or so taps but left frustrated and disappointed. The two brothers who owned the place were quite rude and unhelpful, assuming I would want just an average lager and didn’t offer tastings. It was like pulling teeth before I got handed over the amazing Kooinda Black IPA.

Coal River Valley

It was only 2 hours south down the middle of the state to the quant town of Richmond before we turned off to visit much acclaimed Frogmore Creek Wines. We had a couple of hours to kill before our flight back to Melbourne and I refused to leave without a Pinot Noir, despite the other 3 bottles of white wine in my suitcase. Unfortunately their restaurant was closed so we had a quick tasting, I bought a bottle of the 2012 42 degrees Pinot Noir and we moved on.

Coal Valley Vineyard

Coal Valley Vineyard

Coal Valley Vineyard was just a kilometer or so down the road so we turned off to enjoy an amazing cheese platter and a glass of pinot in the sunshine overlooking the vines. This was the perfect way to close off the vacation. Shortly afterward we made our way over to Barilla Bay Oyster Farm, literally a five-minute drive from the airport to try some fresh oysters before boarding our flight. The restaurant didn’t open until 5 unfortunately, so we got a plate of 12 fresh oysters from the take out counter and sat and enjoyed them on ice with a squeeze of lemon.

The Qantas Lounge in Hobart’s airport is only open until 4 pm fyi, which was really disappointing. We still had some time until our evening flight departed so sat in the airport enjoying one last pinot, Abel’s Tempest Pinot Noir, the same wine we had on our first night in Salamanca to close out the trip in a very Tassie way.

Melbourne Food & Wine, Oh So Fine


The annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is happening now. Should I consider these 17 days my new favorite time of year?

Despite involuntary urges to register myself for nearly every fine dining, wine sipping, foodie-mingling experience, I had to restrain myself. Instead, I opted to dabble lightly in the water-themed festivities by attending one free and one paid event.

Nestled in bustling Queensbridge Square (Southbank) and literally on the Yarra River overlooking the city is the Immersery, festival kitchen, bar and rain garden.   In theory, it’s a free event but in reality you won’t leave without being tempted to spend some cash.

The Immersery

The Immersery

The massive pop-up venue has a floating bar featuring live acoustic music, a rainforest and misting rooftop bar serving Victoria’s Seppelt, Coldstream Hills and T’Gallant wine and a tempting menu of dumplings, fine meat selections and vegetarian options crafted by leading chef’s from Melbourne’s top restaurants Silo, Añada & Bomba, Huxtable & Huxtaburger, Borrowed Space, and Tani Eat & Drink. To be honest, after spending $55 on a bottle of Coldstream Hills Chardonnay, $30 on the disappointing meat platter we roamed around to learn a bit more about green living, explored the mist of the rain garden and called it day.

My highlight of the festival however was the King and the Squire five-course degustation held at the Portland Hotel and James Squire Brewhouse last Saturday. I expected pub food and poorly matched beer pairings but left with a stomach full of exquisite deliciousness and ten beers deep.

King Island Tasting Menu, The King and The Squire

King Island Tasting Menu

Sat at long tables the event was a mix of family style sharing and individual serves all paired to the likes of James Squire beers around the theme of King Island, a small island off the coast of Tasmania known for beef, cheese and seafood. General Manager Joe kicked things off with an entertaining introduction of how they conceptualized the King Island theme around Cloud Juice and walked us through each course offering educational tips on the differences between lager and ale, the beer making process and how to pour the perfect pint.

The meal started off with a shooter size serve of gazpacho: seaweed, a hint of chili and quite rich, it was the perfect serving size and ended with a large oyster at the finish. Also, a great paring with the Orchard Crush Apple Cider.

The next course was worth the money alone. As Joe finished telling us about Cloud Juice, the purest of rainwater collected on King Island and bottled to the likes of marketing influenced tourists I saw the masterpiece out of the corner of my eye being served to the next table. Huge buckets full of a seafood wonderland served on ice. Whole lobsters, razor clams, mussels, raw oysters, oysters shots, and 5 pepper fried prawns. A bucket served four people and that was overly generous. As I expertly removed the lobster meat from the claw like a seasoned professional in one pull, the experience combined with the taste sent me back to summers at the Jersey Shore.

Our next course, and we’re nearly full at this stage, was a large portion of very rare steak, almost too rare but also so tender. Accompanied by crispy carrots covered in cinnamon, a beautifully sweet parsnip puree and oxtail dumplings exploding with flavor. While others commented the oxtail was unnecessary and too much meat on the plate I agree there could have been a green however the bitterness of the cabbage on the dumpling exterior was a nice balance to the rest of the dish. The Nine Tales Amber Ale was the perfect accompaniment to the red meat.

Whether you want desert or not when someone puts a warm chocolate fondant in front of you with fresh mint mango sorbet (the one item not from King Island yet there was no shame in admitting it), it’s impossible to say no. Paired with the Jack of Spades Porter it went handsomely with the chocolate.

To close the day was a platter of King Island roaring 40’s blue, sharp cheddar and a soft Brie with two last beers.

After thanking the top chef Nick, Joe was more than accurate when he said, “ I think we all know the hero of the day is the cow!” I’m overly impressed with the attention to detail, serving sizes and both value and superiority of the food. Will definitely be attending a future event at the Portland Hotel.

To top it off, as I said, attention to detail, we were all given a quick tour of the brewery, sample menus from the day’s servings, and a bottle of Cloud Juice!

Stencil this, spray paint that


Melbourne is known as the street art capital of the world. Although graffiti is illegal – murals, paintings and stencils (permit provided) perfectly are. This makes exploring Melbourne’s many colorful laneways a great way to spend time when out and about in this vibrant city.

My company decided to offer Recreation Day last Friday; a day dedicated to getting colleagues out of the office to get active while building relationships. The options consisted of activities such as rock climbing, art and chocolate tours, badminton, a day at the movies, and a stencil class.

At first glance, I thought nothing much of the stencil class, especially when considering my lack of artistic talent. However, after a closer evaluation I discovered that the class offered was actually quite unique so decided to give it a try.

Blender Studios in North Melbourne is held within the dark exterior of Dark Horse Experiment art gallery and Blender Lane – which is covered with over 12 years of street art. Blender Studios also hosts Melbourne Street Art Tours where well-known street artists take guests on a tour of the city’s famous street-art covered laneways.

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Upon arrival amongst 19 other colleagues, Michael and Jenny who would spend the next two hours with us shaping our very own artwork greeted us. We were encouraged by Michael to begin sketching designs on a blank sheet of paper to get our creative juices flowing. I stared aimlessly at mine for a while before drawing a very disagreeable version of my turtle tattoo.  Glaring at my sketch I reconfirmed what I already knew, drawing is not my forte.

Michael then gathered us around to demonstrate how to take a drawing and trace over it on transparent plastic. Next, placing the plastic on the cutting matt, you carefully had to use a small knife, slightly on an angle, to cut out your design. He made it look so simple too, but oh was it more difficult then you would expect to cut a straight a line!

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Luckily I came prepared. After conversing with some friends for an idea in advance, I was inspired to create an iconic Melbourne scene; something I could take home and remember the experience by. After a quick Google search a few hours before heading out to the class, I decided on a symbolic tram.

Thankfully, Michael was happy to lend a hand and did the tracing of the image onto the plastic for me, making suggestions on what outlines to cut out and which ones to keep in the image for the best stencil affect. I can’t say my cutting skills were that great though, and there were quite a few extra cut outs included unintentionally.

The fun really began once my stencil cut out was finished and I made my way out to Blender Lane. Canvas in hand, I evaluated all the color options in aerosol cans to decide what to put as my backdrop. I decided for a camo green and then sought out a few opinions on how to best position my trams. Luckily for me, the talented bunch I was surrounded by offered some perks, and one of my colleagues had a stencil of the Melbourne skyline. While making new friends, I swapped my tram for his skyline and from there a concept was born.

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After looking around it was awesome to see what creative ideas everyone had. From a Banksy rat on the skyline to rolling waves and a silhouette of one person’s child, I finished feeling very cultured and shared a special Melbourne-only experience. My fingers were spray-painted pink and nostrils filled with paint smell. Although it felt like some of my colleagues were hanging in just another laneway…just doing some casual street art, I truly felt accomplished.

Anne Marie and I were invited back by Jenny to attend the exhibit at the art gallery, which was opening in just a few hours. We killed time by hitting up Workshop Bar, a really cool boutique beer bar, coffee shop and outdoor garden, with funky beats playing in the background and an after work crowd filling the space.

Dark Horse Experiment

We returned to the exhibit shortly later, free wine in hand pretending to understand the art world and mingle with the fashionable before hitting up Chinatown to indulge in greasy chili chicken and dumplings.

It was a true Melbournian adventure!

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Where the beer flows like wine: Margaret River


Take a big whiff. Stick your nose in the glass, hold it by your fingertips and inhale slowly. Using your wrist, twirl the glass around in circles. Take another whiff. Smell different?

Ah, the art of wine tasting. Yes, the likes of France, Italy, California, and Chile all have their appeal but to Australians why would they bother trying such foreign wines when some of the best of the best is in their very own backyard.

I’m lucky that in my short time here (a year and a half already, sheesh) I’ve sampled some fine Shiraz in the Barossa Valley, Semillon in the Hunter Valley, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in the Yarra Valley and finally, the Cabernet’s and Sauvignon Blanc’s of Margaret River – with a few others in between of course. It almost seems like no matter where you are in Australia, you’re bound to stumble upon some damn fine wine.

Lucky for me just 3.5 hours drive south of Perth, Western Australia resides the small wine region of Margaret River. A friend from Brisbane was also in Perth the same weekend so it was a no brainer to rent a car for a full fledge road trip to indulge in another yet to be undertaken wine region.

As with everything I’d experienced outside of the city of Perth in WA, the landscape traveling south was barren. Flat farmland stretched for miles with mom and pop service stations scant. Running out of petrol (aka gas) was not an option. Music pumped, windows down with the sun setting over striking vineyards we approached the endearing town of Margaret River.

Interestingly enough, Margaret River is the name of the region, river, and town. And a beautiful region that is, with hiking trails, beautiful beaches and world renowned surf breaks, endless vineyards and more or less one main drag in the center of it all, Bussell Highway. This small and quiet town is consistently invaded by pinky finger sipping tourists and grape picking backpackers. And at the heart of it after a full day of exploring is the main pub in town, Settlers Tavern, as they quote “the kind of pub every wine region should have”.

Lucky for us arriving at about 7:30 pm on a Saturday, coinciding with the AFL (Australia Football League) Grand Final with the Sydney Swans taking the reins, it was off to the Settlers Tavern for some good old fashion pub grub and a taste of some local beer, specifically the quite mild yet delicious Margaret River Pale Ale on tap. The townies were a bit too celebratory so it was back to the hostel where I befriended Hazel from Wales, the boys from northern England who coined me “Alabama” because they couldn’t remember where in America I was from (a first) and a few other locals before eventually making my way back to where all things end, the Settlers Tavern again just a few hours later to rock out to Zarm, a fantastic live Rastafarian band who were as good as Bob Marley himself.

After a very late night it was an early rise to meet Bushtucker Wine Tours to indulge in what we came here for, to taste the fabulous wines of Margaret River. A small group of about 15, it was nice to actually join a tour that was in the vicinity to where we were staying, as opposed to on my excursions having to travel outside of a city, into the country etc. Getting back without having to pee is always a struggle, but thank goodness for Margaret River’s locality, wooh.

Stop 1: Adifern Winery

We approached our first vineyard at about 11 am. I found the tasting very rushed and detached. Being that it was a holiday weekend (strangely it was the Queen’s birthday but not really they just moved it to this Monday randomly) it was quite busy in the area and I felt we were hurried in and out. With that, none of the wines particularly stood out for me, although others on the tour disagreed, so I had my samples and moved on. The property however was beautiful, with bright flowers, endless fields of vines and farm animals roaming.

Before traveling on our guide did something that made me very unhappy at the time. She asked everyone to get on the bus and to sit next to someone they don’t know, introduce yourself, and have a chat until we got to the next place. I was not interested in playing this game one bit, so I sat in the row with the single seat hoping it would save me while I heard my friend Louise chiming away a few rows behind me. In the end I spoke to my neighbor Caitlin, who coincidentally is also from Brisbane and was traveling by herself. Darnist thing, now she’s our friend and we’re organizing dinner parties and making introductions to our groups of friends back in town.

Stop 2: Brookwood Estate

We started the tasting with a sweet yet soft sip of the bubbles. Hmmm, yes I can dig this. Normally I don’t purchase the bubbles but with summer nearly here I envisioned myself sitting in the local park with a glass of these bubbles soaking up the rays with some friends and so I forked over the $30 for a bottle to live out my new fantasy. I was also a strong fan of the Shiraz Cabernet 2010 but at the time only wanted to commit to one, so the bubbles it was.

Unfortunately however I found the staff very rude. While trying to decide, Shiraz/Cab verses bubbles, shiraz/cab verses bubbles, shiraz/cab verses bubbles I was hoping to gain a bit more information about the wines, as I also was purchasing a SSB (Semillon Sauvignon Blanc) for the colleague who’s house I stayed at the week prior, and just found this one staff member’s demeanor downright snooty and unappreciative of my business. In the end I still bought the wines, because they were mighty tasty, however I strongly feel it can’t go unsaid.

But then it was lunch time, wahoo! Sitting out on the veranda looking out over the vineyard I sipped the purchased glass of the aforementioned Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 since it wasn’t coming home with me and indulged in delights such as smoked crocodile, fresh pumpkin bread, and locally crafted chutneys and spreads. It was a bit unique offering of cold tapas but in the end was very satisfying and a great intense mixture of flavors.

Then the fun really began. Our guide offered up the witchetty grub to the group. Say what? Yes, it’s a bug or technically moth larvae and is a traditional provision for Aboriginals. The first person who raised their hand got to choose the head or the tail since it was going to be consumed after being cut in half. Immediately Louise’s hand jumped up, and we looked around the table and realized she was the only one who volunteered to eat the thing. The seconds ticked by as I contemplated if I should take one for the team with my friend, but then just before I braved it another girl in the group jumped in and ate the bit with the head. When asked what it tasted like Louise told us “it’s crunchy but soft inside, tastes like a macadamia nut.” I guess I’ll never know.

Stop 3: Tassell Park

In terms of atmosphere and fun this winery took the cake. It might have been because we’ve already sampled two other wineries, had lunch and therefore I’ve shaken my hangover and sour mood but the overall reason was the hostess. She was fun, educational and gave everyone a laugh and a smile. We tried everything from the lower range all the way to the private bin labels. And although in the balmy weather we ended the tasting with a zesty sampling of mulled wine, I walked out of there with a packet so get ready for a Christmas special recipe!

Stop 4: Cowaramup Brewing Company

Yay, beer break. Cowaramup is another town just a few kilometers outside of Margaret River off of Bussell Highway. If you can’t remember the name, just call it cowabunga like I did. For $14.50 you can get a taster of all the beers on tap, which of course is what we did, and then enjoyed the sun in the green pasture out back where we chatted to some other people on the tour who live in a remote area of Western Australia up near Broome. Nowhere zone.  I could have sat there for hours, taking in the rays, sipping deliciousness from light to dark, enjoying life. But then we had to move on.

Stop 5: Margaret River Dairy Company

I LOVE cheese! Cheese, cheese, cheese. This cute little dairy complex had a just enough room to squeeze us in, sample a few, and my golly the feta and brie were fabulous, make a purchase and head out the door. While Louise scored us some deliciousness to divulge later, I wandered around the property snapping photos. It was a quick stop off, and then we were on our way.

Stop 6: Margaret River Chocolate Factory

Whew, this is a lot of stuff isn’t it? I wasn’t event tempted by the chocolate at this stage. Well, that’s not true, this was probably the busiest place we ventured to all day, as all tours stop here. The chocolate warehouse was huge and had chocolates in all shapes, sizes, flavors etc. There was popcorn and ice-cream and it was a bit like heaven I would imagine. I just found my way to the free samples, which is very generous because you can scoop out the serves yourself, and then was ready to move on to the final stop off.

Stop 7: Thompson Estate

The owner of this last winery, a cardiologist, spoke to us all about the family business. I sipped, and swirled and chatted away as I realized this was my last chance to make a purchase. Their wines consisted of the Thompson Estate Range and the Locum Range, which is the cheaper of two. Interestingly enough, at times I enjoyed the Locum Range better than the more expensive so I walked out of there with a crisp bottle of 2011 Chardonnay, a new variety favorite of mine, to compliment the cheeses we just purchased for an afternoon snack.

We returned to Margaret River Backpackers around 5 and as the weather was fantastic that day we found all of our new friends from the previous evening hanging out back on the porch. Louise and I glowing from our wine tasting saddled up to the table to savor the cheese and wine and tell stories from the day. We found our way back to Settler’s Tavern that evening for dinner and then mingled the night away.

On the drive back to Perth the next morning we took our time on Bussell Highway, having breakfast in “cowabunga” where cow statues line the road before stopping off in Busselton to walk the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere. Families were fishing off the jetty enjoying the Monday holiday in the sun. As we casually made our way closer to the city we realized we made the unforgiving mistake when the gas light ticked on and we needed to find a servo (gas station) fast. Luckily we did, but the stress got tenser as the clocked ticked on, the traffic backed up, and my flight back to Brisbane inched closer and closer. Luckily for me, Louise’s skilled driving dropped me at the Perth Airport a mere 10 minutes before the flight departed, some charming skills convinced the ticket agents to print a boarding pass even though the flight was closed and I rushed through the gates after getting picked on for the bomb swat test, every time! And only to find the flight delayed an hour. Whew. I swear though, walking the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere, 1.8 kilometers across Geographe Bay, sure was worth it.