Archive for the travel Category

New year, new home, new books!

Posted in gothic, horror, musings, travel with tags , , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by jason nahrung

website clipping of ballarat

When I’ve told people we’re moving to Ballarat, there are two comments that usually follow: ‘Why?’ and, ‘It’s cold, y’know. Like, freezing.’

To the latter, the simple answer is, y’know, coats. But the former is a bit more long winded, to do with property prices in Melbourne, and how Ballarat is as close as we could get to spitting distance of the big smoke, and how it’s got a uni and a writers’ centre and a literature festival (hey, it’s Victoria: what town doesn’t have a literature festival? or a market…), and so on. I liken it to being on the Sunshine Coast and working in Brissie, without the coast. Or the ranges, for that matter. Okay, so it’s got a train and it’s got two lanes of divided road with a respectable stretch of 110kmh in between, and it takes about same amount of time, traffic (an hour and a bit) and rail gods (90 minutes and a bit) allowing.

Ballarat’s a tidy town, brimming with neat cottages and such, and history oozing out its mine shafts. No river to speak of, but lots of culverts, and a very fine lake with swans. I’m told it has a very good Irish pub, obviously that friend’s first memory of a previous visit, and a very fine bakery, too — my friends have broad tastes, clearly. Plus — OMG — an absinthe bar!

Kirstyn and I are looking forward to exploring the place, and the surrounds — for instance, the Pyrenees wine district, which I’m told does a very drinkable shiraz, which is what I want in a wine region. Oh yes. AND we’ve spotted a cafe with a view of the cemetery from the al freso dining area — w00t!

By the end of February, we’ll be Ballaratians. Some might pronounce the former Ballah-ratt-e-ans, but I’m thinking of going for Bal-ah-ray-shuns. I guess Rats could also come up. B-Rat is just far too street. I’m stopping now.

So, a new address, our own patch of suburban dirt with a line already dotted out for a future chook pen, I believe. Excitements!

To go with the new house, new books (though the books came first, to be honest), one apiece: my outback vampire road-trippin’ blood-lettin’ romp, Blood and Dust, and Kirstyn’s dark tale of family secrets, an amazing game of make believe and how what you wish for can be a tad detrimental, Perfections. Both are available now in digital formats (all of ‘em) thanks to the small but passionate team at Xoum.

There will be some kind of ceremony to mark the arrival of these two yarns into the wilds, but it’s been delayed by the move. One thing to be said for e-books — no packing!

house with Hills hoist

A Hills hoist of our own


Time out in the Grampians

Posted in things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by jason nahrung

halls gap from pinnacle in grampians national parkHectic times here at the desk, so not a lot of bloggage; needless to say, skiving off last weekend to hit the Grampians was a blessed relief. We stayed at the well appointed Boronia Peak Villas, close enough to walk to the centre of Halls Gap and the most excellent Kookaburra restaurant (you really do need to book for weekend dinner; we were lucky to get in and saw more than one hungry diner turned away).

Kangaroos rule Halls Gap, and we also saw deer and plenty of bird life: cockatoos, galahs, ducks with parades of ducklings, parrots of all shades, wrens, ravens and currawongs, and simply oodles of all sorts … and that was just in town!

Twas spring and wildflowers were spraying colour all over the national park, a much more colourful affair than our previous visit in May when the weather had been somewhat drab compared to the warm sun and cool breezes we encountered at the weekend.

pinnacle walk in grampiansWe managed to get in walks to the spectacular Pinnacle — the 2km journey was steep but not entirely mountain goat terrain, with some amazing rock formations and a stunning view at the top — and the much smoother creek-side Silverband Falls, still showing signs of devastating flooding in 2011, and the Balconies lookout, with quick stops at the Boroka Lookout and Lake Bellfield along the way.

Back in May, we did the steep stairs down to the base of Mackenzie Falls, too, but we ran out of time this weekend.

It really is a gorgeous area, and only three hours from Melbourne. It really does make you appreciate the effort to not only protect such sites, but to make them accessible.

cliff in grampians

These are some of the pix I took on my mobile phone after both sets of batteries for my point-and-shoot died. More from the weekend, including actual camera shots, are at my Flickr site.

Napoleon conquers at NGV

Posted in art, things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2012 by jason nahrung

napoleon exhibit at ngv

It took two-and-a-half hours to go through the Napoleon exhibition at NGV yesterday. It wasn’t particularly crowded, but there was oodles to see and read. Simply oodles. Busts, furniture, books, uniforms, paintings. Music.

This line jumped out:

The attention paid to the decorative arts in particular was part of a wider plan to revive the country’s economy…

Whoa! Art as an important part of a nation’s economy as well as identity? Revolutionary stuff, at least Down Under.

Napoleon’s savvy might not have made it down here just yet, but the little dictator was fascinated by Terra Australis, in particular Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery.

A section of the exhibit is dedicated to giving the French their due in the mapping of the coastline and the cataloguing of its flora and fauna. Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, even had black swans, emus and kangaroos in the garden.

The Australian connection runs close to home, too. I also wasn’t aware of the Napoleonic memorabilia to be found at Briars Park on the Mornington Peninsula, thanks to a family connection running to Napoleon’s incarceration on St Helena.

napoleon on horsebackAnother section sets the scene for his rise to power, and then it’s a chronological introduction to his career and the way art changed with the times as classic imperial motifs rose to the fore.

You can trace his evolution from thin-faced general to round-cheeked emperor; a video of his death mask completes the passage. One watercolour portrait on a small box shows eyes of avarice; another display contrasts his simple soldierly tastes with the pomp of state; elsewhere there is mention of manipulation of the media of the day with exaggerated reportage and widespread iconography of his greatness.

As always in such a historical display, there’s the fascination at the thought of these items being used: the combs and travelling boxes, the chair with the lion-headed arms, the Psyche mirror …

A familiarity with the French ruler’s history is advisable to help fill in the gaps, but what a champion display this is.

Meals on wheels: Melbourne’s Colonial Tramcar Restaurant

melbourne's colonial tramcar restaurantOn Sunday night we dined out in style for a friend’s 50th, indulging in five courses on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant.

The 1947 tram has been decked out with lamps, tables for four and for two, a chef and bar service, and for three hours it trundles amongst a convoy of three around Melbourne — St Kilda, Albert Park and Docklands slid past the tinted windows, while a various artists playlist of the Eagles, Prince and Sinead O’Connor played quietly in the background.

The food was top notch: appetiser of dips, entree of grilled barramundi, main of eye fillet, cheese and then sticky date pudding for dessert, all washed down with sparkling and red wine, with port to finish. All included in the price. The staff were awesomely friendly, too.

Rather than rush home from the tram, we made a night of it, crashing at Citigate, right opposite Flinders St Station, which meant we could walk everywhere we needed to go: ideal springtime lunch at Southbank, then to the tram, then to the gallery in the morning before the train home. The room was spacious enough for two people with only one carry-on bag between them, there was an iPod dock, the staff were wonderfully friendly, and this was the view from the twelfth floor:

view from citigate hotel melbourneQuiet, too. All they need now are proper cave curtains to keep out the sunlight.

Writing by the dock of the lake

Posted in things to do in melbourne, travel, writing with tags , , , , , , on September 5, 2012 by jason nahrung

writers soaking up the sun at Lake Mulwala

Lake view at Mulwala

The writing group to which I belong hit Lake Mulwala at the weekend for a three-night writing retreat. What a brilliant spot it was, with a dozen of us camped in a two-storey joint on the lakeside: a drowned forest, a plethora of birds — including cockatoos and a black swan who came a’visiting — and some amazing moon rises, including a blue moon!

The town sits on the New South Wales side of the Victorian border, across from the rural town of Yarrawonga, and took about three-and-a-half hours of scenic driving to get to from Melbourne. We also popped into Euroa to stretch the legs and scarf down a very tasty lunch.

wine by the case

Winery supply run

It was also fortuitous that the Rutherglen wine district is only a short drive away. After tasting and lunch ($20 with a drink, w00t!) at Rutherglen winery in town, we hit All Saints (with added cheese!), Stanton & Killeen and Campbells . We returned with the rattle of bottles; fortifieds mostly. The muscats hit the sweet spot.

But the aim was writing, when we weren’t chowing down on our self-catered banquets. And writing we did, each in their own way. I managed to untangle a lot of the knots in a new novel, so slowly but surely that yarn is coming together. There was plotting. There was scribbling. Typing. Solitaire. Ahem.

Mulwala lake retreat

Wordsmiths at work

It is such an advantage to be able to get away to somewhere quiet with like-minded souls and just butt up against the story. With only cockatoos and pretty sunsets to distract, it was a very productive and rewarding time indeed. Having a nearby walking track along the lake edge was an asset, too, because sometimes the brain just needs some downtime to process and come up with some subconscious solutions.

The retreat has added impetus for a new Supernova website, which seeks to draw together the various news and views of the members as well as extol the simple virtue of having a constructive support network to keep you on track. Ellen has written about the retreat there to help get the ball rolling.

Sunset over Lake Mulwala

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  • Icefields Parkway a Rocky Mountain high(way)

    Posted in travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2012 by jason nahrung

    Gravity-defying glaciers. Mirror lakes. Towering mountains. Tumbling waterfalls. Grazing elk. Is it really any wonder it takes all day to drive the mere 230km from Lake Louise to Jasper?

    The Icefields Parkway, aka Highway 93, links the two towns in the Canadian Rockies, and is often cited as one of the most scenic drives in the world. With two lanes of tarmac in both directions, plentiful parking sites and a speed limit of 90kmh, the route is made for rubberneckers.

    The parkway begins 2km outside of Lake Louise, a picturesque town in its own right and location of the renowned Fairmont property, the Chateau Lake Louise. The hotel, a grand old dame of Rockies opulence dating back to 1911, boasts a glorious site at one end of Lake Louise, with the Victoria Glacier suspended like a boa around the neck of Victoria Mountain at the far end.

    lake louise

    Lake Louise

    Our road trip from Calgary starts on the right foot – checking in after detours to Banff and Emerald Lake, we are upgraded to a Lakeview Room, offering an unimpeded view of lake and glacier. We put the good luck down to a combination of being Presidents Club members and travelling between seasons, and drink to it over a dinner of beautifully prepared steak, fish and calamari in the saloon, one of the hotel’s less elegant dining options.

    More pictures

    We set off for Jasper after a morning walk alongside the mirror-smooth lake and a massive breakfast, taken in the ground floor Poppy Brasserie where picture windows afford another stunning view of the lake.

    It’s an awe-inspiring drive along Highway 93. Much of the road, set about 2000m above sea level, follows river valleys, with snow-capped mountains towering past the 3000m mark on either side. The mountains’ feet are swathed in dark green conifer forest, but the tree line peters out to reveal cliffs of weather-worn granite, the slopes streaked with waterfalls and raw scars from rockfalls.

    The awe really sets in about 30km out of Lake Louise, triggered by Crowfoot Glacier above Bow Lake. It’s the kind of panorama that makes you fully appreciate the convenience of the many pull-over sites alongside the road – a circumstance that doesn’t go unnoticed by the ravens, who hop around as soon as the car pulls up in the hope of scraps.

    rocky mountains

    Bow Lake

    Crowfoot Glacier has lost one of its three toes and is still shrinking, but continues to impress as it reigns over the valley. There are more than 100 glaciers along the route, but this lakeside setting and its proximity to the road makes Crowfoot one of the most impressive.

    About halfway along the route, Banff National Park ends and Jasper National Park begins. The two parks are UNESCO World Heritage sites, totalling more than 17,000sq km and drawing literally millions of visitors each year.

    Straddling the parks’ border is the Columbia Icefield, a massive shelf of ice covering more than 300sq km, feeding six glaciers and bordered by some of Canada’s highest mountains. The icefields, supplied by 7m of snow each year, feed rivers that run into the Pacific, Indian and Arctic oceans, and is one of only two such features in the world. The retreat of these glaciers is a concern for those who rely on that meltwater, but for casual visitors, they simply amaze.


    On the glacier

    To get a closer look, we pull in to the Icefield Centre, 130km from Lake Louise. It is a seasonal attraction offering the chance to walk on the Athabasca Glacier, Canada’s most visited glacier. The icefield buses ferry passengers on to the moraine, an area of rocky debris left behind as the glacier retreats. There, especially built transports capable of negotiating 20 degree slopes – the dirt road down on to the glacier is 18 degrees – make the journey up on to the ice. We’re lucky, and the wind blows just long enough to give us a taste of the icy breath more usually sweeping down from the ice sheet before abating, allowing us to enjoy a sunny 30-minute stroll on the cleared surface where blue ice sits beneath a frosting of snow.

    In the interpretive centre, paintings show how the glacier has retreated since the first arrival of Europeans armed with easels. Currently, the Athabasca Glacier is up to 300m deep and about 6km long, but is 1.5km shorter than it was about 125 years ago.

    Fuelled by coffee from the cafeteria, we drive on and find that, even in late October, when the glacier and snow-melt fed waterways are ebbing in the approach to winter, waterfalls at sites such as Tangle Creek and Bridal Veil are still worth pulling over for. At Tangle Creek, where a section of the falls are within easy walking distance of the road, the water’s edge is rimed with ice and icicles hang from the cliff.

    About the 150km mark, the avalanche warning signs are given added import by a massive rock slide at Jonas Creek. A scar runs through the forest, and a wide tumble of jagged boulders as large as motorcycles covers the ground beside the highway.

    A stop opposite Mt Kerkeslin is nicknamed Goats and Glaciers for its clifftop vantage over the Athabasca River and frequent sightings of mountain goats. Sadly, the goats are coy during our visit, and even at Jasper, where a herd has made its home, we see none. Elk and deer are plentiful, however, with a small herd of elk grazing alongside the road at the Jasper Park Lodge when we arrive. Caribou warning signs alongside the road and bear-proof bins point to other wildlife we aren’t lucky enough to spot.

    athabasca falls

    Athabasca Falls

    Athabasca Falls, about 200km from our starting point, is the ideal place to stretch our legs. The river has cut its way through the rock to make a long, thin gorge, chiselling amazing shapes and holes in the cliffs made accessible by an array of paths and stairways. On the rocky beach where the river discharges once more into a lake, visitors have made numerous inukshuks: monuments of piled stones first erected by indigenous tribes to mark trails and hunting grounds. The symbol is common in the tourist shops as a symbol of safe travel and memorable locations.

    The falls mark a junction; we turn off to follow 93A, a dual carriageway running on the western side and closer to the river. Our hopes of seeing goats or other wildlife on this quieter stretch of road are dashed, but the scenery remains impressive as the road twists alongside the river.

    We reach Jasper in time to take in the sunset from the Old Fort Hill – the steep walk is worth it. We pause for elk crossing the road, then head on to the Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge, which boasts a picturesque lakeside site and one of Canada’s most highly regarded golf courses.

    Our cabin view room is furnished in standard hotel fashion, but housed inside a long log cabin-style wing with common front veranda and private rear balcony. Water birds, including Canada geese, patrol the lawns.

    The site dates back to 1915, and numerous mounted trophy heads and rough wood furniture reflects the resort’s early history in that era of expansion. The food, however, is thoroughly modern and sourced as locally as possible. Dinner includes salmon and pavlova.

    The next day, we extend our parkways definition to include the 30km drive out to Maligne Lake, a postcard site where the canoes have been beached for the winter – one left right way up has its floor half-filled with ice despite the warm day. The speed limit has been reduced to 30kmh due to concerns for the safety of wildlife; it’s a relaxing drive out and back along the snaking road, broken by scenic strolls at Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake.

    And then it’s time to return, back along Route 93, pausing for a lunch of gourmet hot dogs at Saskatchewan Crossing and revisiting many of the sites encountered on the previous day. Still no goats, but no less entrancing the second time around, and truly sublime.

    icefields parkway

    Parkway driving

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    (C) 2011

    GenreCon for Sydney in November

    Posted in fantasy, gothic, horror, travel, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by jason nahrung

    From the Queensland Writers Centre bulletin, a great event for genre writers:

    The Australian Writer’s Marketplace is proud to announce GenreCon!

    Rydges Paramatta, November 2-4th 2012

    GenreCon is a three-day convention for Australian fans and professionals working within the fields of romance, mystery, science fiction, crime, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and more. One part party, one part celebration, one part professional development: GenreCon is the place to be if you’re an aspiring or established writer with a penchant for the types of fiction that get relegated to their own corner of the bookstore. Featuring international guests Joe Abercrombie (Writer, The First Law Trilogy, Best Served Cold, The Heroes), Sarah Wendell (co-founder, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), and Ginger Clark (Literary Agent, Curtis Brown).

    For more information, visit Early bird rates available to the first 50 registrations.

    The event looks to have a strong industry and networking focus, and the ticketing system includes mention of pitching opportunities.

    Observations from Adelaide Writers Week

    Posted in musings, travel, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2012 by jason nahrung

    adelaide writers week

    The Adelaide Writers Week, parcelled within the Adelaide Festival (and how the city’s hotels must have been gleeful), last week was much fun, mainly because it provided a wonderful opportunity to catch up with good friends from four states.

    The festival set-up promoted conviviality. It was centred on two marquees in a park in a relatively quiet area of the city: jet flypasts for the Clipsal street race added some aerial interest and background noise occasionally during the opening weekend, and presumably the Fringe festival’s open-air gigs up the hill were the source of occasional summer beats laying down a groove in the background, but generally speaking, sirens notwithstanding, quiet.

    With only two streams of programming, skiving off to see people didn’t require a great sacrifice of panels, and a book store tent close at hand and plenty of shady trees outside the (somewhat expensive — kranski sausage in a slice of bread, $8) refreshments tent made chilling out with those people quite easy. Plus the city’s cafes were only a short walk up the hill, so finding affordable lunches and snacks and after-festival dinners was very easy indeed.

    Social pictures by Cat Sparks

    The weather was kind, overcast and relatively cool in the main, only on the last two days really beaming down some sunshine to give a hint of how languorous and sweaty it might’ve been. With the greenery and the marquees and the heat, it reminded me a lot of early Brisbane Writers Festivals down on the river at South Bank, before it went corporate.

    The panels at Adelaide were diverse but weighted towards the literary. US noir writer Megan Abbott was a find. Boori Monty Pryor was engaging and fun with a very real message. Garry Disher was sharp. Jenny Erpenbeck gave an East Berliner’s view of life in reunited Germany, as told through the medium of a summer house from her childhood. A chance meeting with Favel Parrett at the airport revealed she was also a Sisters of Mercy fan. Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link were delightful, flying the fantasy flag. There was also a touch of SF with Ian Mond and Rob Shearman providing a commentary to Rob’s episode of Dr Who, one of the few paid events at AWW and quite fun; we missed Garth Nix’s appearance on the last day, but an earlier encounter revealed a forthcoming (Australia: next month!) YA space opera title, A Confusion of Princes, that sounds truly awesome.

    adelaide writers week megan abbott interview

    Megan Abbot (centre) discussion with Susanna Moore, with Auslan interpreter in background.

    One of the things that struck me was the impact to be had of reading out a section of one’s work. This isn’t something that necessarily fits well in the format of genre conventions, where panels address topics with the authors treated as learned sources. But at Adelaide, where the focus was very much on the authors and their latest work, reading a small passage to illuminate a point did fit, and more than once hearing the authors’ words from the page cast their work in a totally different, and more alluring, light. Case in point was the personable Michael Crummey, whose Galore hadn’t been given much of a talking up, really, until he read the opening pars, in which a man is pulled from the belly of a whale on a Newfoundland beach. We now have a copy sitting on the to-be-read pile.

    Listening to Lanagan and Crummey talk to each other, without a moderator, was a highlight of the festival: two interested and interesting authors, who had read each other’s work, who had established a rapport before the panel, exploring the themes and methods each employed.

    The welcome party on the Sunday night also revealed the emphasis carried by social media, with festival director Laura Kroetsch commenting that the event had been ‘trending’ on Twitter, and the hashtag being part of the housekeeping before every panel.

    The panels ensured time for audience questions, but the use of a single, central microphone hampered accessibility for those unwilling to scramble across their fellow audience members.

    AWW was largely free, totally relaxed and extremely welcoming, with a little bit of most things to cater to all tastes. With the right couple of drawcards on the guest list and the promise of good friends on the ground, AWW will be an attractive addition to our annual event list.

    Out and about in Auckland

    Posted in photograph, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2012 by jason nahrung

    The combination of ridiculously cheap airfares to New Zealand and a gig by bucket list rockers Sisters of Mercy, then not having announced sideshows to their Soundwave appearance, resulted in a three-night stay in Auckland last month.

    Waitomo caves

    The weather was forecast to be rainy for the duration, so our first outing was to Waitomo to take in some of the caves there — at least we’d have a roof over our heads.

    The caves were a picturesque 90 minutes’ drive or so to the south, the road narrowing from two lanes to one and twisting in part alongside a river. Cicadas interrupted the drive with bursts of chittering as we passed clumps of vegetation. There were, surprisingly, more dairy cattle than sheep. A brunch stop was more than pleasant and the coffee of uniformly good quality across our stay. Big tick, NZ!

    waitomo glow worm cave stalactites

    Waitomo stalactites

    Waitomo Glowworm Cave was the first stop. The building is an impressive piece of timber architecture set in hilly farmland with walking tracks all around. One led through a swatch of rainforest, a very pleasant stretch of the legs before going underground.

    The caves have been well set up with smooth floors and atmospheric lighting. The highlight is at the river level, where we bundled onto a tinnie and floated out, our guide using overhead ropes to control our direction, into darkness. As our eyes adjusted, more and more glow worms appeared overhead, their starry glimmer reflecting in the still water.

    The next cave, a short drive away, was Aranui. The entrance was in a forested hillside, and it was a lot drier than the glowworm cave, but possibly featured more spectacular formations, with many melted-wax style formations and plentiful variations of stalactites and stalagmites, and a monstrous cathedral.

    More cave pictures

    Then it was back into Waitomo to catch a bus to Ruakuri cave. The entrance was an SF spectacle, a spiralling ramp some 40m deep with a stone formation under dripping water at its base. The ritual for entering and leaving was to at least wet one’s hands, purifying on entering, washing away any spirits on exiting. Part of the cave is sacred to the local Maori and off-limits — hence this spectacular piece of engineering.

    Down in the dripping cave, the sound of rushing water never far away due to the underground river that carved out this complex, the lighting is set on timers to follow the visitors so as to minimise impact in this dark environment. Duckboards keep our feet out of the puddles and there are some spectacular formations and rock falls. At one point, it’s lights out, hands on shoulders single-file into the dark, to take in the beauty of glow worms close up. Seeing the incredible sticky tendrils the worms use to trap their prey was most impressive.

    auckland from rangitoto island

    Rainy Auckland skyline dominated by SkyCity needle behind island, seen from Rangitoto Island

    Rangitoto Island

    On our second full day in Auckland, under threat of clouds, we embarked on a catamaran for a 45-minute voyage to Rangitoto Island. The island is a dormant volcanic cone, an intriguing environment of tossed black stone and rainforest vegatation. At the dock, the narrow, rather rough beach is dotted with holiday cabins called bachs — some have been removed, their location marked with plaques.

    We tromped up the uneven black soil and stone path that winds up the slope to the crater rim, completely forested over. There’s a duckboarded platform at the crest where a former military observation post and wireless room still stand watch over the waterways, Auckland’s skyline hazy on the horizon. Also of interest are some lava tubes, small and cramped, and a duckboard area in the mangroves.

    More Rangitoto Island pictures

    The strata of vegetation, from the sparse seaside flats to the forested slopes, make a fascinating ecology seemingly ruled by birdlife.

    The island has been linked to another by a bridge, but we didn’t have time to check that out. One day is simply not enough to appreciate the Rangitoto landscape.

    rangitoto island walking path

    Rangitoto Island

    Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Adventure

    This Auckland landmark was a good place to kill a few hours between hotel checkout and airline check-in, but it’s showing its age. I got totally saturated in the rainy sprint from the car to the entrance, but the line-up — there’s a single ticket booth handling both prepaid and on-the-day tickets — took so long to run in that I had stopped dripping once we got inside.

    There, observation windows in the entrance hall reveal two species of penguins; there’s a mock-up of Scott’s Antarctic hut with heaps of period artefacts and documentation about the explorer; and there’s an extensive children’s educational play area.

    Penguins are otherwise viewed from a ‘snow mobile’ people mover that jolts around the enclosure at a fast walking pace while recorded information plays through the speakers. We’d aimed to be there for penguin feeding but been foiled by the long line-up, but we went on the snow mobile several times to get our fill, and were rewarded with three penguin chicks looking cute and fluffy at their parents’ feet.

    Elsewhere, a limited cafeteria with even more limited space serves the worst coffee we had, but hey, when you’re drenched, you’ll take it.

    There’s a pool in which some massive rays are fed — very cool — and a walk-through glass exhibit showing off numerous fish types. Another walk-through reveals several species of shark — you can scuba with them, or simply stand in a cage with a snorkel. Another series of aquariums houses numerous types of sea life, including star fish, an octopus and moray eels, and many more fish. A special section houses a series of seahorse tanks.

    There’s a bit of a mixed message in the shark area — info boards exhort an end to fin farming (and rightly so) and educate about how sharks aren’t the fearsome critters we’ve been led to believe, and yet, it’s the danger of diving with the sharks that’s emphasised in the brochures, and the Jaws soundtrack plays in the area.

    Still, getting up close with marine life is a delight and the complex is a remarkable example of retooling — the original structure was a sewage works — made somewhat poignant by the life story of Tarlton himself, who comes across as a bit of a Harry Butler or Steve Irwin of the seafaring world. Sadly, he died only months after the complex opened.


    It’s worth noting that Auckland has superb food. We splurged on the revolving restaurant, Orbit at SkyCity, and found that it wasn’t that big a splurge at all. It was very neat knocking back the three-course special while watching the city lights slide past. The value was enhanced by having the observation deck included in the price, normally $28 a head.

    We also ate at Princes Wharf, a yuppie area being gentrified by the look, with an array of cafes and restaurants offering a range of menu prices roughly indicated by not only the dress code of the patrons but the quality of the table cloths. The highlight was a superb seafood basket at Y-Not, and a full-bodied pinot noir to wash it down.

    All in all, a most enjoyable sojourn, so close to home but yet so delightfully different.

    The Melbourne Museum: now with added Tut

    Posted in things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2011 by jason nahrung

    tutankhamun exhibition

    So we succumbed, and despite having seen it in San Francisco already, we hit the Tutankhamun exhibit at the Melbourne Museum. And I’m glad we did, because my sieve-like memory had forgotten much of the awesome and remembered only the vague disappointment about there not being that much Tut there (in particular, sarcophagai or the famous death mask), and the information being fairly thin when it came to the details of this slice of Ancient Egyptian history.

    The bas relief of Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the Aten is damn cool, as is the bust of the infamous monotheist, but it’s the quirky bits I’d somehow let slip that excited me once again: a wee ‘animated’ ankh holding Tut’s staff while he’s out hunting ostrich, and the amazingly different animal art (Bes, apparently, but rendered in ways I just haven’t seen before) on the chair of Sitamun, so fresh you could sit in it today (sadly, I can’t find a decent pic of the animorphs in question). There’s also a delicious statue of Sekhmet, though her eyes have had a rough time of it.

    As usual, the colour and the detail of Egyptian art leaves me astounded. To think of the people who lavished so much effort on these works, to have them in such good order thousands of years later…

    The Tut ticket gave us entry into the other areas of the museum, which we explored after a tasty lunch at the Middle Eastern-themed Tcheft Restaurant. The museum, and we didn’t have time to see all of it, is astoundingly good. The dinosaur and animal area is chock full of fun and informative interactive displays and is attractively presented, although the stuffed animals filling floor-to-ceiling ledges in one room did make me feel a little like an extra on a weird adaptation of The Birds. My only hope is that young’uns will see the poor glass-eyed critters and resolve to not let them go the way of the thylacine, of which there is a preserved specimen.

    A walk-through forest section includes live animals — turtles, lizards, bower birds, tawny frogmouths and finches — and elsewhere there are more live fish and spiders and lots of stick insects.

    And yes, race horse Phar Lap is on show, and it’s an awesome taxidermy job.

    Also of note is the display outside the Tut exhibit of a replica of his mummy and the efforts made to finally solve the puzzle of his death at age 19 — nope — and, nearby, on a totally unrelated topic, CSIRAC, Australia’s first computer: about as big as your lounge room.

    Tips: Tut is open only till December 4. The early bird parking is a good deal: $14 if you’re in before 9.30am and out after 2.30pm. Filling the time at the museum is not a problem, and the Garden View Cafe has great coffee if you want to while away the half hour till the museum opens at 10am. Or the Carlton Gardens are right there for a slow wander — I still am surprised to see massive Moreton Bay figs this far south. Don’t ask me why.

    Remembrance Day at Fort Nepean

    Posted in photograph, travel with tags , , , , , , , on November 14, 2011 by jason nahrung

    Despair is too strong a word. It’s not as if I’ve been confined to a sailing shop in the ravaging grip of typhus, or stationed in a hovel with kerosene water to drink and nothing to fight but mosquitoes and each other. Still, after a day of too much sun and not enough coffee, the sight of my car vanishing behind us as the last transport of the day trundles out of the Point Nepean National Park is morale destroying. The thought of trudging 2km from the next stop to collect the vehicle is not high on my list of favourite things to do. Fortunately, a gentleman in our transporter cab overhears my plight and offers a lift from the information centre to collect my wheels: only a thermos could’ve been greeted with more effusiveness. For future reference: when the tractor stops at the road gate at Gunners Cottage, dismount and look lively about it.

    Friday was Remembrance Day, and by fortunate happenstance I was at the Point Nepean National Park where war and sacrifice are enshrined in concrete. Despite our end-of-day setback with the transporter stop, the park is well worth the visit. No more than 90 minutes drive from Melbourne, there are several areas of historical interest inside the park, which occupies the toe of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. A self-guided tour is available and the mp3 audio tour is highly recommended — the historical broadcasts and first-person recollections more than outweigh the very occasional naffness.

    quarantine station, point nepean

    Quarantine station

    Quarantine Station

    About 50 buildings are set out around the former quarantine station, also used as a military training camp and, most recently, home to Kosovar refugees. Many of the buildings are closed to the public, but a couple have been turned into interpretative displays. The most striking is the fumigation building, where belongings were treated on arrival in massive steam boilers. Many of the buildings have been re-purposed over the years, but this one retains its original fittings, right down to the tram tracks that ferried the goods in. The quarantine area brings to life tales of disease and yellow flag ships, burials and resumptions, leprosy and typhus.

    point nepean cemetery

    Point Nepean Cemetery

    Gunners Cottage

    The cottage itself is devoted to ecology and junior ranger programs, but a short walk through the striking Moonah woodlands is the old livestock jetty and a view of Port Phillip Bay, and farther west, the cemetery, where some 300 lay interred, most without headstones. Those monuments that remain include several from the tragic diseased ship Ticonderoga. Gunners Cottage is the farthermost point to which you can drive; after this, you’re on Shanks pony to the other points of interest (or, you can hire a bicycle or buy a ticket for the people-moving tractor-pulled transporter). The Coles Track cuts through the scrub to Cheviot Hill.

    cheviot hill fortifications

    Cheviot Hill

    Cheviot Hill

    The hill is the highest point in the park and retains several gunnery posts looking out to sea. Two searchlight shelters are located closer to the beach. The beach was the site of the wreck of the Cheviot, and also the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt. One look at the rocks and waves and it’s no surprise that someone could drown there.

    echidna at fort pearce

    Echidna on patrol

    Fort Pearce

    Serious entrenchments here for naval guns, and a barracks on the landward side reduced to foundations. A highlight was an echidna nosing around the walls, apparently feasting on the black ants.

    cannons at fort nepean

    Fort Nepean cannons

    Fort Nepean

    The centrepiece of the area’s fortifications, from which Australia’s first shots of both World War I and II were fired, to stop vessels from leaving after the declaration of war. This is an amazing set of buildings, wonderfully lit and illustrated with placards and recorded information including sound effects. The first we heard on our visit was a person whistling from somewhere in the depths …

    The buildings reach down several floors inside the earth. It’s hard to imagine the tension in there as men worked to lift munitions from the depths to the cannons above. There remains the workings of a ‘disappearing gun’ and two of the long range six-inchers. The engineering shed still smells of diesel.

    Alongside the road at one point is a rifle range, but it’s just one of several. Signs still warn of unexploded bombs in the scrub due to the army days. The other ranges, and also the Monash Light, a shipping beacon named after the Australian general, can be accessed via a walking track.

    The buildings are stark, sombre reminders of not only Australia’s military history, but its foreign affairs and social evolution, with fortifications marking the fears of the populace and attitudes to the world wars. Information about the basic living conditions for servicemen and women also gives pause for thought.

    Drinking fountains are placed only at Gunners Cottage and the quarantine station, and there are no food outlets inside the park. Toilets are available at Fort Nepean, Gunners Cottage and the quarantine station. Tractor tickets can be bought only at the information centre – one-way or returns. We spent from 10.30am till 4.30pm at the park and didn’t quite see everything; those entering by foot or bicycle can stay after the road gates are closed. The transporter makes its last run from Fort Nepean at 4.30pm.

    More pictures

    Observatory Point, Point Nepean national park

    Observatory Point


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