Wipe Out

They make it look so natural. Like it’s effortless to paddle yourself into a wave at the precise moment it begins to pick up momentum; then use all of your upper body muscles to stand, whilst balancing yourself and shifting your weight to the right proportions. Include a few sharp turns, 360 degree twirls and a flip in the air to top it all off before riding face first onto the shore to greet thousands of spectators applauding you and taking your photo.

The anticipation of who would be the 2012 Quiksilver Pro champion had been circulating in conversations on the Gold Coast for weeks. Kelly Slater, 11 time world champion, and at the ripe age of 40, was sensed to be the central cause of this. I read in Tracks, the official ASP (Association of Surf Professionals) tour guide that being able to say you’ve witnessed Kelly Slater surf is on the same par with saying you saw Ali fight. I’m unsure if this actually does carry that level of weight, however, I can at least say I saw it. Guess what though, he lost!

Today was the last day of the Quiksilver Pro, stop one of the ASP World Tour, held at Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast. The past two weeks have been leading up to this day, with competitions going on between men, women (Roxy Pro) and grommets (children). The unfortunate weather of yesterday had everyone wondering if the semi-finals and finals would get pushed back, but thankfully this afternoon was full of blissful sunshine and surf.

Up until this morning the broadcasters would pepper Slater’s name into commentary, increasing the suspense amongst the crowd of when he would finally show. Loyal to their national surfers were the Aussies for big names like Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson and Owen Wright along with Brazilians supporting Gabriel Medina and Adriano de Souza. Regardless of background though, no one would deny USA born Slater.


During the Pro the usually quiet beach town of Coolangatta becomes the hot ticket. Pop up stores line the beach along Snapper Rocks to include Quiksilver and Roxy merch, food stalls sell healthy snacks, and marketing sponsorships are evident in every crevice. During the evening those working behind the scenes come out to play at trendy nightspots like Komune and Neverland.

Another reason Coolly becomes a hot ticket? Because literally everyone is so damn hot! Beautiful, blond, and toned. Holy mother. Yeah, so when my feet were sinking into the sand and I wanted to rest I had plenty to rest my eyes on. Apparently surfing isn’t as effortless as I suspected. Whew.

I still refuse to go in the water past my knees, so my days of actually attempting to surf are limited. But, I would like to enviously congratulate Taj Burrow who just this afternoon received a check for $75,000 as the winner of the Quiksilver Pro.  Taj has never won a world title, however, this could be his year.

Hey! Mr. Tamborine Man

Apparently snakes don’t give warning before they attack! I know, weird right? I’ll make it clear up front that I have not been bitten by a snake however, I have been intrigued after having a discussion on the top of Mount Tamborine, whilst  overlooking the valley, of people who have been bitten on the ankle by a snake, and only realize such after returning home from their walk. I would assume there would have been some fair warning. Apparently because of all the flooding last year the snakes are coming out to play!

Cheers! We're on our way

Mt. Tamborine is a boutique wine region on an eight kilometer ridge of a mountain chain along the Gold Coast. Since my friend Nidya was celebrating a birthday we rented a limo and headed to the southern hinterlands – up the mountain for some schnapps, wine, beer and cheese tasting to celebrate! I relived what felt like prom, posing for photos out front of the limo before our friendly driver Brian ushered us on our way.

Mt. Tamborine Distillery, so cute!

First stop was Mt. Tamborine Distillery. A cute little property tucked back behind black iron gates, the distillery sits amongst gingerbread house style buildings with large black and white spades plastered over the exterior. Vintage gardening tools rest against oak barrels as the fountain trickles calmly in the background. We were greeted instantaneously by the colorful owner Michael and his wife with a rendition of happy birthday played on accordion.

Michael from Mt. Tamborine Distillery wrapping some lemoncello

Michael looks a bit like Father Christmas only in his Hawaiian style shirt it all seemed out of place. The eclectic charm of the distillery was a good choice for this first stop as the variety of schnapps in hand painted colorful glass, from wattle toffee to Turkish delight to musk and lemocello (a favorite amongst the group), had given everyone a head start with their buzz so early in the morning. I’m thinking that the champagne we had up the mountain didn’t help either.

I’d recommend a stop here for anyone traveling in the region – polite, unconventional, and fun. The handmade eastern European knickknacks around the shop were enjoyable to browse through and we all left with a little something – whether it is a bottle of schnapps or hand-woven wool hats. But before we got too comfortable it was time to move on.

The vineyard at Witches Falls

Witches Falls Winery is one of the most favored in the region. In addition to light and fruity syrahs and sauvignon blancs with hints of capsicum (pepper) and oak they also specialize in batches of wild fermented yeast varieties. A big risk for wine makers because the outcome is so unpredictable however the viognier was one that I couldn’t refuse to take back with me.

Gallery Walk

Back in town is what is known as Gallery Walk. It’s the closest thing to “downtown” as it gets up in this mountain community, with a strip of art galleries, fudge shops, local craft merchants and handmade goodies all around. Tucked at the top of the street sits Mount Tamborine Brewery. With the small craft brewery on site, this cute stop off is a great place to get lunch, use the toilet (as many of the wineries don’t allow customers to use the restrooms unless there is a restaurant on site – weird!), and sample some of their delicious brews. $10 gets a sampler of 4 beers that the knowledgeable staff helps mix and match based on your preferences for taste. I chose the darker variety which had an awesome Belgian dubbel, black forest German dark beer, a mild lager and strong wheat. Also here is the cheese factory where they make delicious cheese on the premises and may have judged us a little bit for wanting a taste of nearly everything! I have a garlic goat cheese waiting for me to dip into that I’m having hard time not gobbling down instantaneously.

Flight of beers at Mt. Tamborine Brewery

Cheeeeeese Factory

All the champagne, schnapps, wine and beer started getting to our heads so we traveled farther down Gallery Walk to the Mt. Tamborine Winery to
have lunch on large picnic tables outside. The food was a bit disappointing as was the fact there was no actual vineyard. We nibbled on small baguettes, salads and lamb shanks. I find it interesting that lamb shanks in N. America can be quite expensive and only served at certain restaurants where it is a dish that I’m told many Australians have grown up with and I’ve spotted it on menus quite frequently. So, because we were running a bit tight on time we opted to skip the tasting and find a view so we could enjoy the scrumptious looking rocky road cupcakes made by Sharni.

The top of the world at Mt. Tamborine

Brian drove us to a lookout point on the side of the mountain where hang gliders often leap from. As the wind blew my hat off of my head and we watched it tumble down the mountain Jacqui caught it in time just before it leaped over the same edge the hang gliders often do. I asked her not to risk if for a $9.99 hat but luckily she was fast! So there we sat, quietly and calmly eating our cupcakes while taking in the breathtaking view and winding down from a very long day which unpredictably was going to be a lot longer. This is where we talked about the damn snakes that don’t give warning.  I also asked Brian if this was a popular make out point however I don’t think he heard me because I never got a response.

We turned into the side streets of Paddington, back in Brisbane, bladders nearly busting and contemplated where to take the night. Naps before dinner or shine right through. I think the answer is obvious.

Vietamese at Kim Lan post winery tour

Those with other evening obligations traded spots with some of the guys since they didn’t join on the wine tour and there was no better spot to dine then KimLan in Chinatown. I watched Nidya eat a fried Quail whole – literally, whiling singing the tune “bones bones bones bones bones” as I couldn’t believe it is okay to eat friend bird bones, spine and all. But, I’ll let you judge her for that.  Happy Birthday Nidya!

Happy Birthday Nidya!

It’s okay; I’m not a professional.

One would say a professional blogger may comment on such things about 99% of the population and what it truly means to share the wealth, or perhaps the probability of it snowing in New York unexpectedly this past Halloween, or the odds of having floods again in Queensland this summer. The interesting thing is, I’m not a professional blogger. Yup, a massive surprise to us all.

In no way do I have intentions to undermine any of the above controversial global issues nor contribute an educated opinion without supporting the facts (which I’m aware doesn’t require professional blogging skills) but I’m just here this time around to talk about a few simple things in life: Byron Bay and the hippies, Surfers Paradise and the tanned guerillas, and the quality of the XXXX brewery tour to outshine any of its beer worthiness. I would assume a best practice in blogging may be to assume one subject area and objectively present your opinion. I like to combine all subjects that I experience over a week or two period of time and overwhelm my readership with an explosion of thoughts.

Byron Bay Street Art

About a 2 hour drive south of Brisbane, crossing over the Queensland border into the state of New South Wales, sits Byron Bay. It’s known for its laid back atmosphere, a carefree paradise where hippies sit around bonfires in the evening strumming their guitars amongst the plethora of backpackers that flock to this coastal town. There are strips of local beach shops mixed amongst high street retailers, stalls selling fish tacos and wheatgrass shakes mixed in between a thriving nightlife.

Jacqui rocking back from the beach

A weekend getaway found me approaching this beach town passing the surf shops and tanned and toned surfers walking the highway with board in tow giving me a sense of the Australia that foreigner’s picture in their heads. The relaxed, artsy hostels packed with locals and travelers alike make this a prime stop off for most backpackers traveling along the east coast. We were just here however to celebrate a birthday.

Cheeky Monkeys

After late night shenanigans at notorious, trashy and divey Cheeky Monkey’s we spent the following morning letting the rays soak up our hangovers before heading to the Cape Byron Lighthouse that marks the most easterly point in Australia. Also noted that whilst tanning on the beach the lifeguards simply put up a sign near the rocks that hug the walking path (aka sidewalk), bathrooms, and road with “Snake in the grass. Please leave alone.” Let’s hope that was a friendly, cuddling sort of snake, not one of the world’s deadliest that live in these parts.

Snakes in the grass!

Most easternly point of Australia

So that brings me to the following weekend, pre-Halloween weekend. A bit depressing that this would have marked the 6th year of Emily and Lisa’s Halloween extravaganza where we rent a bar in Manhattan, give away $$$ worth of prizes and provide our friends with a place to get down and scary. Alas, I hopped on a train, down the coast again, for my first trip to Surfer’s Paradise.
Surfer’s is a place that many a traveler to Australia puts on their agenda. But reality check! Surfer’s is a touristy, high-rise filled Gold Coast destination, complete with tanned guerilla men, meter maid fairies in Leia-like bikinis and clubs pumping with mega techno beats. Think Jersey Shore people. And not the Jersey Shore I grew up with as my home away from home.

Oh, Surfer's Paradise

Halloween of oh-eleven came about a bit like this…I was way “over” my Oktoberfest costume that showed up the Monday after the event, that I refused to wear it and instead am hoping to score some bucks on eBay and therefore roamed the streets of Brisbane searching for a fun, scary, and cute Halloween costume. Guess what though? There are no Halloween costumes in ALL of Brisbane! Target, Kmart, Big W, chemist shops, malls…NOTHING! My best bet would be hiring (aka renting) a costume for about $70 bucks a pop at a costume store which was not an option so I got some office supplies, made some leopard (note Leopard, not cat) ears and ended up with some girlie affair of a costume. *By stating “I”made what I meant is asked some creative colleague types to make on my behalf.

I'm a freaking Leopard okay, not a CAT!

We went Surf Club hopping – from Broad Beach (less trashy, more classy) North to Surfers stopping off at the Surf Clubs for some brews. Surf Clubs perhaps could be comparable to US golf club houses, but not quite the class – you pay a fee to access food, bar and premium real estate. Very good fun.

Surf Club Hopping

And so I have to give a proper shout out to one of my best besties Emily who prior to me arriving in Brissy gave me the sweet present of a gift voucher to the XXXX brewery. XXXX is a Queensland icon. A crisp, unflavorful beer drunk by the Queenslandish Queenslanders in a way that Nascar drivers drink Coors Lite. Get it, right? But from beer appreciator to beer appreciator I couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring gift.

It took months to recruit some local friends to join me on this beer journey; many of them grew up in Brisbane and have worked for years at Wiley, where the lights of the brewery shine up from the view from our office cubicles, however mission accomplished. The $38 dollars to fork over was hard to justify but my dear mates Nidya and Anna were in and on we marched up the hill to the brewery on a warm Spring Wednesday evening.

Impressive! I recommend to any friend or family member who will pay $2000 to fly over to hang with me! Funny, old school adverts showcasing authentic Aussie males sipping their XXXX in the bush being men of men with strong backwoods accents; bring in a hopping kangaroo and they couldn’t have been more picturesque Australian. With corny tour operator leading the pack, this journey took us through the history of this beer to the bottling process where we watched factory workers attempting to stop bottles from slamming into each other before breaking on the factory floor. Hilarious for us spectators.

I learned things such as the Aussie term “sculling” aka chugging, is derived from the Vikings who would decapitate their enemy then drink beer out of their skull, as well as the urban myth of authentic Aussie spread Vegemite being derived from leftover beer yeast. When on the factory floor I dared Anna to ask about how many workers have had their arm sliced off in the machinery; I don’t believe our guide when she said no one recently.

At the end of the tour we got 4 beers – pronounced “be-ya’s” which weren’t small, in addition to a bbq feast. We envisioned some sausages and light salad but what we got were full course meals of sausage, ribs, salad, cous cous, potato salad, and a roll. Big hit! Plus, becoming bff’s with tour guides Jessica and Paul, who let us pour our own beers behind the bar, and took photos with us. We walked away after taking off our bright orange safety vests and protection goggles with a souvenir of a XXXX lanyard and memories to last a lifetime. They gave us no choice as they were professional talkers. Or whatever.

Behind the bar at XXXX

They also brew things like the delicous James Squire imprint which tainted me with their dark, delicious Porter. Mmmm yummy stouts!

My final thoughts of random include a few things:
Spaghetti. I grew up calling spaghetti, spaghetti. Not spaghetti and meatballs, regardless if that’s what it contained, just spaghetti. In the UK, as well as here in Australia, you would specify more so as spaghetti Bolognese. Or as the Aussies do, just call it Spag Bole.

Secondly, summer storms. It’s still not summer, but already the storms are coming. The hard, fast rain pounding on the pavement, the lightening lighting up the sky, my face under the pillow, it’s all a taste of what’s to come. I’m scared.

And lastly, toilets. Many restaurants don’t have their own restroom. It’s typically some sort of public toilet shared by multiple restaurants down some weird alleyway or whatever. I don’t like it. But that’s how it is, public toilets even for private businesses. Fine.