Australia

Perth on your RTW



It’s cheaper to get to than the rest of Australia: OK not by much, but flights to Perth tend to be £50 to £100 cheaper than flights to other Australian cities. Also you can now fly direct.

The beaches: Think Sydney’s the only Aussie city with good beaches? Well think again. Perth is pressed up against the Indian Ocean, and a line of gorgeous sandy beaches stretches up the west of the city. Scarborough and Cottesloe are the most popular, but there’s not exactly a shortage.

Fremantle: It’s very hard not to like Fremantle, which is technically a separate city surrounded by Perth, but to all intents and purposes it’s a coastal suburb. It’s one with tremendous charm, dotted with colonial-era buildings, seemingly endless strips of cafés and far more than its fair share of microbrewers. 
If you can do just one thing while there, make it a tour of the Old Fremantle Prison, which offers up gory tales of prison life and a heart-stopping moment at the gallows where murderers were once hanged.

Rottnest Island: A short ferry ride offshore from Fremantle, Rotto is justifiable Perth’s favourite day out. An island of little beaches, old World War II forts and blissful cycling/ walking tracks, it’s a marvellous place to spend a sunny day. It’s also the best place in the world to see quokkas, the extraordinarily cute little marsupials who hop around the island trying to snaffle picnics.

King’s Park: The gargantuan green space that sprawls to the west of Perth city centre is one the finest urban parks in the world. King’s Park offers tremendous views out over the city and the Swan River, while the salmon-tinged gum trees lining the main road into it have an unimpeachable majesty. Whether you want to stroll in forest, sunbathe on the grass or visit the Botanic Gardens, there are few finer spots in Australia.

Cuddle a wombat: The Caversham Wildlife Park in Perth’s north-eastern suburbs is home to Big Bubs, a portly wombat who’s happy to sit there with her handler while tourists come up and make a fuss over her. Try doing it without declaring you want a wombat to take home as a pet. It’s impossible.

Wine and boats: Perth is built around the Swan River, and you’d have to be a warped individual not to enjoy a boat ride up and down it. The best cruises head upriver to the Swan Valley, which is handily lined with wineries. So you sit on a boat, go to a few vineyards for sampling, then come back on the boat with a ruddy-cheeked smile on your face. As days out go, that’s not too bad…

You can get Perth included as a stopover on your RTW here

 

An Australian menu: Decoded

 

After eating well in Australia, David Whitley has nobly decided to help you do so as well…

In terms of gap between perception and reality, few countries are more misjudged for their food than Australia. In fact, there’s a strong argument to say that Australia has the best food scene in the world – particularly when it comes down to sheer variety of what’s available. But to the uninitiated, Australian menus can throw up a few curiosities. Here are a few things to look out for…

Burger/ sandwich

These basically act as burgers or sandwiches do pretty much anywhere, apart from one key ingredient, which is often slipped on matter-of-factly despite not being mentioned in the menu description. This ingredient is the beetroot slice and it’s guaranteed to ruin the taste of whatever you’re eating with such totality that the addition of it is technically illegal under the Geneva Convention.

Meat pie

Australian pies, when compared to their grotesque British chip shop counterparts, are usually of pretty good quality. They’re a national source of pride, but the occasional duffer slips in. The secret to picking a good one is to look at how specific the description is. If specifies the meat, it’ll probably be lovely. If it just says “meat”, stay well away – you probably don’t want to know what’s in there.

Barramundi

It’s a big, meaty fish from the north of the country and it is almost uniformly excellent. Tick VG, just do it OK.

Sourdough

Australia operates a couple of years behind the rest of the world when it comes to trends, but once it spots one, it embraces it with such desperately pathetic enthusiasm that nothing else gets a look-in. Currently, therefore, absolutely everything comes “on sourdough”. Any café displaying an item not “on sourdough” is immediately shut down by the ultra-needy food fashion police.

 

 

“Smashed”

These same menus seem to be written by the Incredible Hulk. Everything in your breakfast, it seems, has to be “smashed”. That’s smashed eggs, smashed avocado, smashed potatoes, even “smashed browns”. Ask what it means, and you’ll be met with a sheepish shrug that basically means: “Something we’ve just broken up a bit.” Expect this to escalate in the coming years to “bludgeoned”, “hammered to fuck” and “annihilated”.

Golden Gaytime

Any Australian who claims not to love these biscuit-covered ice creams is probably an impostor. The name might elicit a double take, but no day with a Golden Gaytime consumed has been a bad day.

Sharing plates

Perhaps the most annoying over-embraced obsession is the complete takeover of “sharing plates”. To all intents and purposes, this means tapas but slightly bigger. The issue is that how much bigger is never really stated.

It can sometimes mean that a dish is half the size of a normal main course (but two-thirds the price) or it’s two-thirds the size of a main course (and exactly the same price as a main). So if you don’t actually want to share, you either end up getting the right amount of food (and paying one third more for it) or 50% more food than you really want at double the price.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept (apart from you end up paying more), but the utter domination of menus is incredibly tiresome. Sometimes you’ll have to go past five or six restaurants to find one that will give you what you want – one thing, done well, at a fair price.

 

by David Whitley

  

  

 

You can get the Australia included as a stopover on a Navigator round the world

 

Image credit 1 2

Australia's Clubs

 

 

If you want a beer in regional Australia, you may have no choice but to (temporarily) join our club writes David Whitley

Once you step out of the centre of Australia’s big cities, with their cosmopolitan elites and food that’s occasionally not fried, you enter the dark, often bleak world of the club. It may be a Leagues Club. It may be an RSL Club. It may be a Bowls Club. It may be a Greek or Serbian Club. But it really doesn’t matter – they’re all pretty much the same. 

These clubs theoretically exist for the benefit of their members – although in reality they are often self-sustaining juggernauts. Those linked to sports teams, in particular, can be utterly gargantuan. Yet, irrespective of size, they all have a remarkably similar feel. They’ll have a number of different bars, yet all will be open plan and depressingly utilitarian. There will be a food outlet that serves burgers, pizzas and chicken schnitzels – they’ll give you a buzzer and you go and collect it when it’s ready. In some instances there will be a secondary, marginally more upmarket food outlet upstairs, where bangers and mash or half-hearted lamb shanks are brought to your table. The room for this restaurant will look pretty much the same as the one for the bar, albeit with someone having gone round with the Mr Sheen.

The real driving force behind these clubs, however, is the partially sealed off room with neverending banks of pokie machines. For those who’ve not come across the pokies, they’re skill-free slot machines that involve  the old, the lonely, the desperate, the poor and the downright stupid just sitting there, feeding them with money. Imagine the atmosphere of a bookie’s shop, combined with the moral fibre of someone who stands in car parks offering to ‘protect’ your car for a fee. Forget the food or the drink, it’s these pokies that – more often than not – fund the club. People just joylessly pour all they’ve got into them. 

In suburbia and regional Australia, these clubs dominate the drinking landscape. This is partly due to stinginess in handing out liquor licences – small operations don’t stand a chance when the big boys can essentially block them out. It’s also partially down to tax. The clubs are theoretically for members only (although anyone can sign in as a temporary member and drink there), and they get a whole raft of tax exemptions as a result of it.

Thus, they’re almost always the cheapest place to drink in town – although don’t expect any craft beers, cocktails or interesting wines. Size and economies of scale mean they only buy in from the big producers. 

There’s nothing wrong with this per se. The clubs serve a purpose for those who want cheap drink in zero atmosphere. The problem comes when their presence is so overwhelming that there’s nowhere else to have a drink for miles around. Any small bar that wants to try something different simply isn’t going to be able to compete – even if it gets a licence in the first place.

Thus, across Australia, there’s a dominance of these cheerless barns. There are over 6,500 of them in the country, and you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference between them. They act as a surprisingly major political lobby group too, and hype up their community/ charity status as a way of any action being taken against them. Any sane Australian would love to see the pokies ripped out. But it’ll not happen as the clubs need them to survive. 

Yet, surely, if the drinking scene is dominated by places that make their money from gambling rather than drinking, something is wrong?

Handily, you can get Australia included as a stopover on a Navigator RTW

by David Whitley

 

Swimming pools - and why Australia has a much better version

 

 

In Newcastle, NSW, David Whitley goes all gooey for Australia’s magnificent ocean baths

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Hunter Valley wine tourism tips for self-drivers

 

David Whitley looks at how to do a day out wine tasting without going over the drink drive limit

The appeal of going to a major international wine region and going round all day sampling wines is fairly obvious, and few places do the wine tourism thing better than the Hunter Valley.

This is partly due to its proximity to Sydney – it’s two to two-and-a-half hours’ drive out of the big city, which ensures a steady stream of people on short breaks and the infrastructure to cater for them. 

The major problem, however, is that the Hunter is not well served by public transport – both in terms of getting there and getting around the sprawling vineyard area. And this means that, without military style planning, you’re probably going to have to go there by car.

There’s an obvious flaw to this – if you want to go round tasting wine, then you’re very quickly going to be over the drink driving limit. 

The easy way to deal with this problem is to take the car, park it up and go out tasting on a tour. There are numerous tours available, and the general rule is that the bigger the bus, the more bog standard the wineries you’ll go to. Going for smaller local operators who have relationships with the wineries is more rewarding. The Hunter Valley YHA does its own tours for from $55 – usually with small groups, visiting the smaller wineries.

Splashing out a bit more (think $400 per couple), Aussie Wine Tours will take you round in a private car, tailoring the wineries visited to your tastes. 

But if going it alone, it’s that selectiveness that is key. One of the Hunter’s great selling points is that there’s very little wine snobbery. The wineries know that the whole gamut will walk in through their doors – from serious wine buyers to people who basically know it’s made out of grapes and nothing else. The people at the cellar doors will happily guide you through the best ways to taste, and point you in the direction of the sorts of wines that’ll suit your palate.

As a general rule, you’ll get to taste five (roughly) 20ml samples at each winery. That comes out at approximately one standard drink. So for drivers, a rule of thumb is that men can get away with two full tastings, and women one. Add an extra one if you spread it over a few hours and eat in between. 

So you can’t go OTT, but you can still do a few tastings while driving yourself round.

The key is in picking the right wineries. I dropped into the tourist information centre on the way in and asked which wineries do the big, gutsy reds I prefer and which do unusual varietals – such as Zinfandel and Viognier. The woman recommended Piggs Peake, Ivanhoe and Peterson’s – which proved to be spot-on choices. 

 

 

It’s worth asking similar questions at the wineries themselves. Most cellar door workers will happily make suggestions for the best of the rest.

The other, and probably rather obvious tactic, is to extend the day by limiting the number of wines you sample at each winery. 

Three wines at five wineries will give you a better sample (and day out) than five wines at three wineries. Narrow it down to the ones you’re most likely to buy or enjoy – if you’re not a white wine drinker, just stick to the reds for expediency’s sake. Similarly, there’s no point trying ones that are out of your price range if you’re narrowing down which to buy. It’s also worth asking the person serving them which three in particular they’d recommend trying.

And, if you want to extend beyond the drink driving limit, check which wineries are within walking distance of your accommodation. Tackle them last, after you’ve visited wineries further afield and parked the car up, on foot. 

 

Handily, you can get Australia included as a stopover on a Navigator RTW

We also sell breaks in the Hunter Valley

by David Whitley