Australia

Tasmania


It is one of the fundamental rules of abseiling that your harness should be a good snug fit. I wrenched the blue nylon cords as tight as possible. And then gave them another determined tug. It's not the done thing in the macho world of extreme abseiling to ask for a hug before you 'go over the edge'...but that's exactly what I needed. Tasmania's Gordon Dam is the site of the world's highest commercial abseil. To put it in perspective, stepping over the safety barrier on top of this 140 metre-high concrete wall is like climbing out of a window in the middle floor of the Empire State Building.


 

David Whitley faces the ghosts of the convict – and tragically more recent – past at Port Arthur in Tasmania.

 

 

At a certain point in time, the name ‘Port Arthur’ would be enough to strike fear into many a heart. If Tasmania was a convict settlement, then Port Arthur was the spot where those who the system hadn’t worked for got sent. In other words, it was the place where the bad boys who continued to be bad boys were kept. Nowadays, this isolated Tasmanian outpost is the perfect spot to get a chilling insight into the whole transportation system and Australia’s European-era history.


 


 

David Whitley swings from the treetops near Launceston.

 

The tree is shaking almost as much as I am. The towering eucalypt can blame the wind – every gust sends it lurching from side to side. For me, it’s just cowardly nerves. I’m stood on a ‘cloud station’, 23m above the ground. It’s essentially a circular metal brace around the tree, complete with a trampoline-like platform for the trussed-up victims to wobble about on as they prepare for the death swoop.

 


 


 

 

David Whitley raises a glass to the unwilling pioneers who first settled in Australia back in 1788.

 

Captain Cook wasn’t, as many people believe, the first person to discover Australia. The Aboriginal people who’d been on the continent for 50,000 years might have something to say about that, but Dutch and Portuguese explorers had been here way before Cook arrived in 1770.


 


 

 

David Whitley raises a glass to the unwilling pioneers who first settled in Australia back in 1788.

 

Captain Cook wasn’t, as many people believe, the first person to discover Australia. The Aboriginal people who’d been on the continent for 50,000 years might have something to say about that, but Dutch and Portuguese explorers had been here way before Cook arrived in 1770.

 

Spirits of the West: A Whisky Tour of Perth

 

 

I get the feeling the World of Whisky tour is popular with blokes. There are twelve of us on the tour tonight, standing in the broad plaza outside Perth’s former General Post Office. Presumably women enjoy whisky too, but they’re somewhere else on this Wednesday evening.

No matter, we’re men with a mission – to learn more about the many and varied varieties of whisky. This doubles up as a bar tour, courtesy of the thriving small bar scene in the Western Australian capital. Over the next three hours we’ll be visiting three bars on foot, each with its own speciality spirits.

The first bar our red-shirted guide Rusty leads us to is Varnish, within one of the attractive old buildings on King Street. It’s sporting a classic interior with wood panelling and dim lighting.

This is no pub crawl, we realise, as we’re handed over to barman Yan for an educational session on the history of alcoholic beverages. Leading us from the first fermented mead to the development of distillation, Yan reaches the era of moonshine and bourbon. As he says, it’s a simple calculation: “Moonshine + barrel + time = whisky.”

And American-style whisky is what we’re here for, as we sample three in turn: a bourbon, a Tennessee whisky and a rye. As we sip, Yan shares the intricacies of each type – including the curious fact that rye whiskies always include a green stripe on their labels.

The good thing about the structure of this visit is that we’re not knocking back the spirits, but taking the time to understand and enjoy them. There’s something appealing about tapping into the expertise of professionals as we go, adding a dash of science to our beverage preferences.

Leaving Varnish, we walk through Perth’s Central Business District (CBD for short), ending up on St George’s Terrace. This high-rise office zone used to be dead after dark, but in recent years new bars and restaurants have been added, lending it a livelier vibe.

Rusty shows off some of the new nightlife as we go, taking us through the Brookfield Place development with its numerous places to eat and drink. Then we head down an alleyway off Howard Street, to reach our second stop: Helvetica.

 



Upstairs in a candlelit lounge, we settle into sofas and learn that the bar is indeed named after the ubiquitous typeface. Helvetica specialises in single malts, and has 300 whiskies in stock from around the world.

As we sip four samples, a barman with a fine Irish accent explains the single malt distillation process. Here we’re tasting Australian whiskies produced in Western Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania, each of which have distinctive flavours.

Our final stop of the evening is Canton, an upstairs bar which used to be a Chinese restaurant of the same name. It’s kept the décor of those days, with red lanterns and Chinese-themed artwork.

Given the Asian vibe, it seems apt that we’re going to taste Japanese whisky. As a preliminary, barman Steve takes us through the history of Japanese beverages, including sake. He then explains how the secrets of whisky-making were carried east a century ago by a Japanese man who learned the craft in Scotland.

Then we sample three interesting Japanese whiskies, between bites of prawn crackers and other snacks on the tables.

We’re in a cheerful mood, and tasting these relatively exotic spirits adds a mellow note to the end of the tour. It’s been a good night out… and an education.

 

 

The World of Whisky Tour is offered monthly by tour company Two Feet and a Heartbeat. Fee A$100. For bookings, visit twofeet.com.au

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail.

You can get Perth included as a stopover on a Navigator round the world or on our Discoverer round the world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat Streets, Art Streets: Adelaide Food and Art Tour

 

 

Huge, colourful images of geishas line a brick wall off Adelaide’s Rundle Street, and they’re far more glamorous than the alley they overlook.

A fine example of the street art to be found scattered through the city’s Central Business District (CBD), they’re attached to the wall of a nightclub called Sugar.

Which seems appropriate, as the next stop on the Adelaide Feast tour is a chocolate shop. Or more elegantly, a chocolatier. Steven ter Horst is several cuts above the average sweets shop, turning out handcrafted chocolates in a stark modern interior of exposed concrete and timber benches.

I try two chocs with intriguing fillings: salted caramel; and lemon, ginger and tamarind. They’re accompanied by the Aztec Chilli hot chocolate, which contains traces of birdseye and jalapeno chillies, cloves, cinnamon and star anise.

And this is just one stop on the tour, which unusually takes in both food and street art, the latter creating breaks during which to digest the plentiful snacks.

We began with kibbeh and falafel at a small Lebanese eatery on East Terrace, then paused to admire a bright green painting of a boy and a dog on a nearby door.

Then we headed through the narrow laneways that were created when Adelaide’s original fruit and vegetable market was decommissioned. In its place is a jumble of apartments, shops and cafes, many along the attractive lane known as Ebenezer Place. It’s here we pass a sculpture of cauliflowers and crates, a reminder of the market era.

My guide today, Caitlin Harvey, is knowledgeable about the streets we’re passing along, pointing out art and relating some of the South Australian capital’s more entertaining history.

 

 

She’s also a conjuror of foodstuffs, as we weave down laneways and side streets in pursuit of interesting edibles. Next on the list is the frozen custard served by a burger joint which evolved from a food truck. It’s delicious on this hot day, but I’m already starting to feel full and we’ve three more stops.

We pass a huge swirling mural on the side of another nightclub (this seems to be an Adelaide thing), then stroll through the beautiful Adelaide Arcade. Built in 1885, it has three resident ghosts, according to Caitlin, who relates their stories as we pass through. I’m most moved by poor Sydney Byron, aged three, who haunts an adjacent laneway.

Our next food stop is Regent Arcade, where we find the sushi train of Michiru. It’s tasty colourful food that also provides theatre, as the staff bustle behind the counter to keep the train loaded.

I clearly made a mistake eating breakfast today, for there are two stops still to go. Next is an informal modern Vietnamese place decorated with bicycle wheels. People are crammed along narrow tables here, eating banh mi, steam buns and pho. I opt for a “coconut crushie” drink instead.

The last piece of street art is a dynamic mural by the Toy Soldiers crew, featuring futuristic warriors bursting through a brick wall.

They’re far more energetic than me. I’m happy to slip into a comfy chair at the final food stop, a cupcake cafe in the attractive neo-Gothic Epworth Building.

Eating a pumpkin and spice mini-cupcake, I feel satisfied with the results of this three-hour exploration. Adelaide has surrendered its secrets: both artistic and culinary.

You can get Adelaide included as a stopover on a Navigator round the world or on our Discoverer round the world

 

 

Tour: The Adelaide Feast tour costs A$25 (tour only) or A$69 (food included); book via Feast on Foot at (feastonfoot.com).

Accommodation: Housed within Adelaide’s historic, centrally-located Grosvenor Hotel are the Mercure and the Ibis Styles

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail and Accor.

 

 

Sydney’s Martian Embassy


 

It’s startling to step from Redfern Street into the Martian Embassy.

Outside, the architecture is 19th and 20th century shopfronts, the standard look of a shopping strip in inner-city Sydney. Inside, however, it’s… different.

As the name suggests, it feels as if you’ve stepped into a different world, of sinuous alien curves rather than old-fashioned right angles. It’s as though the interior of the shop has been grown from the ground up, decorated with a series of curved wooden panels painted a livid green.

In a cosy seating area at the front, visitors sit around a huge globe of Mars, while browsing such handy books as The Intergalactic Traveller’s Guide to Saturn. Nearby stands a large silver telescope which claims to provide views of street life on the red Planet – if you use your imagination.

On the shelves farther in, past a statue of a Martian emperor,  is a mish-mash of quirky exhibits along with products created specifically for the shop.

Novelties for sale to the discerning space traveller include cans claiming to contain “bite-size” oxygen; melted ice from the Martian polar caps; a reflective Martian cape; gravity created in a factory on Pluto; and emergency space food. There are also T-shirts bearing such timeless messages as “Take me to your leader”.

There is method to this madness, as it turns out. The Martian Embassy is actually a front for the Sydney Story Factory, a non-profit writing centre.

“Our focus is on marginalised young people, with about 25% Aboriginal kids coming in,” says Craig New, one of the organisation’s managers. “Everything we do is focused on creative writing. The kids not only create short stories, poetry and scripts, but also short films and podcasts.

“The products we sell are fun, quirky stuff the kids enjoy as well. We’ve got Martian capes, ‘puny humans’ that Martians might want to eat, spaceship repair kits. My favourite thing in the shop is the tin of gravity. We have long arguments with the kids as to whether there is actually gravity inside it.

“We also use the stuff in the shop as prompts, especially if they’re struggling for what to write about in a workshop: ‘What would happen if my character had a black hole in a tin?’”

 

 

 

 

For the traveller, the Martian Embassy is not only a novel place to shop, but a way to help out – all profits from sales go straight to funding the reading programs. On sale alongside the novelties are books by the kids themselves, with titles like I Met a Martian.

When you’ve finished your extra-terrestrial shopping, Redfern is worth exploring. There’s good coffee and food to be had along the street at Barn Doors (108 Redfern St) and Baffi & Mo (94 Redfern St).

And though Redfern is off the standard tourist trail, its streets are lined by interesting emporia.

“The antiques shop across the road is a bizarre place, it often has a cockatoo sitting in a big wheel out the front,” says Craig. “There’s a place further up selling flowers and antiques, which is full of taxidermied animals. There’s a tradition of weird shops in Redfern already, so we slot into that nicely.”

 

The Martian Embassy is located at 176 Redfern St, Redfern, an easy walk from Redfern train station. Open 10am-5pm Monday to Thursday, 11am-3pm Saturday & Sunday.

 

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Destination NSW and TFE Hotels.

 

 

You can get Sydney included as a stopover on a Navigator round the world or on our Discoverer round the world