Sparky Travels

October 25, 2010

Halls Gap

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On the evening of the 22nd of October, Fuss, Susie, Helen and I finished our respective Fridays at work with an extra spring in our steps. We jumped in Fuss and Susie’s new car and hit the road. We were heading to Hall’s Gap a couple of hours drive away just over the Pyrenees, West of Melbourne, for the weekend. We drove through driving rain to our log cabin on the edge of the Grampians National Park with the car packed with booze and food. Our cabin was a very comfortable two bedroom affair with a spa bath and log fire.
A few drinks and some homemade pizzas were the main activity for that evening. The next day, with the weather having cleared considerably, we trekked up into the Grampians, bookended by a couple of stops at picturesque lookouts. The path up towards the Pinnacle went through Grand Canyon, a small ( in comparison to its namesake) crevice of volcanic rock which managed to be impressive despite the handrails and concrete steps added to help the chronically unfit tourists who ply this popular route.
A feast of steaks, potato salad and sweetcorn for dinner was inevitably followed by wine and beer accompanied by cards, charades and drinking bingo.
Our short but sweet weekend concluded with a much anticipated game of Adventure Golf. Susie showed her skills with a relatively commanding win on probably the best adventure golf course in Australia. To finish off we hit bustling Ballarat on the way home for dinner. T’was a great fun and embarrasingly cheap weekend which we would surely have replicated if my time in Australia wasn’t coming to an end.

October 18, 2010

Tas-Mania

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No sooner had we arrived in Launceston than we were in the a big gang of drinking Tasmanians. After an hour long flight from Melbourne we’d dumped our bags and hire car in the rather twee guest house in the centre of town and headed out for a quick drink before dinner.Almost instantly we got chatting to a bunch of fishermen and as the Tassie beer flowed, dinner was forgotten about. An ‘Irish’ band started up and the Friday night punters filled the Royal Oak Hotel. As soon as one group disappeared another would strike up conversation with an increasingly drunk Helen and I and we’d made many new friends by the end of the night.

We managed to get up in time for check out and cleared our heads with a walk to nearby Cataract Gorge. The jewel in Launceston’s crown, Cataract Gorge is situated a short walk from the town centre but feels like a different world. The steep sides of the gorge lead into what feels like a a mountain forest crossed with a botanic gardens.

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It had walking tracks, a suspension bridge, cafes lining the river and bold peacocks which run the place. In a cafe there we had some of the greatest pies we’d tasted in Australia along with some of the most luminous milkshakes ever created.IMG_4338

After lunch we hit the road to begin seeing the sights of the east coast of Tasmania, t’was a long and winding road reminiscent of the highlands. The first stop was the Bay of Fires, famed as one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the world. It didn’t quite live up to the billing, partly due to the weather, but the sand was supremely white and the rocks a shocking orange colour (apparently the name “bay of fires” was due to the rows of Aboriginal campfires that were seen when the bay was first ‘discovered).

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That evening we reached Bicheno, a seaside village famous for its colony of blue penguins. We went on a tour at dusk and got to see them hopping up the rugged shore towards their nests. We also got to look inside some nesting boxes and see the furry beggars sitting on their eggs and tending their chicks. They were very cute and even the adult ones were tiny. Dinner in Bicheno was some of the tastiest fish I’ve had in a long time.

On Sunday morning we continued down the coast towards Freycinet National Park, stopping off at a blow hole and meeting a wallaby with joey in the car park. The main drawcard of Freycinet is Wineglass bay, another beach reputed to be the most beautiful in the world. The steep trek down to the bay was worth it but again it wasn’t the greatest beach I’ve ever seen (I guess the weather has a large effect. A beach without sun is always missing an important element).

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That evening we arrived in the capital of Tasmania, Hobart.Our Quality Inn there was top quality as were the oysters we had in a harbourside bar. Dinner was fish and chips as we continued our seafood culinary adventure. We didn’t have much time to enjoy Hobart as we wanted to see Port Arthur on Monday, our last day in Tasmania.

On the way to Port Arthur we stopped off at a number of interesting sights including the tessellated pavement (slabs that have been moulded by the sea), the Devils Kitchen an arch and blowhole.

Port Arthur is the home of the famous convict prison during the 1800s. Now a museum, it is also the site of a horrific massacre when a lone gunman went on a rampage in 1996, killing 35 tourists and staff. As a visitor attraction I found it to be quite expensive with not quite enough to see. The boat trip around the Port was good but it was a bit off having to pay extra to see the two most interesting parts (we didn’t).

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It was interesting to hear about the lives of convicts there but it pales into comparison compared to the genocide of the entire aboriginal population of Tasmania by the immigrants.We raced back towards Hobart and got to the airport just in time to find our flight was delayed. Finally we got home to Melbourne but could have happily spent another week exploring beautiful Tassie.

October 10, 2010

Spring has sprung

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As the weather turned and blossom began to appear in Melbourne, we ventured along Brighton Beach, and St Kilda Beach on sunny days. We also went out for drinks in Prahran, including a few days with Helen’s brother Padraig, visiting from New Zealand. The housmates, including english lad Fred and Peruvian Marco (3rd Mark/Marco in the house), kept ourselves busy with Tuesday bowling and a house cake baking competition. My chocolate orange cake was hard to beat.

Our September trip was to Sydney, partly to visit Helen’s sister and partly to reacquaint ourselves with the sun.It was weird to return to the city after months away. Its certainly better to be there with some money in my pocket rather than scrimping and saving every penny. I guess that’s the same anywhere though. A particular highlight, other than Helen’s niece’s repertoire of Irish curses, was Balmoral beach near Mossman. Quieter than the other more famous Sydney suburban beaches, it has a little island just offshore that is accessible by a stone bridge and a peaceful vibe. We met the recently engaged Chris and Amanda for lunch there too which was a nice bonus.

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On the 2nd of October, the weekend after our Sydney trip, we had a house outing to Parklife music festival. Held over 1 day in parkland in the centre of Melbourne, it boasted a few quality headline acts and a raft of unknown (to us at least) Aussie favourites. It just happened to be the first really warm and sunny day of spring which was perfect. With breakfast beers consumed while waiting for the Brazilians to get ready and a couple of bottles for the journey, Helen, Marco, Tuts, Andre and I hopped on the tram with the other hordes of party-goers.

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The first act we saw were The Swiss, who’d been recommended by a workmate. They were a funky electronic band who fitted perfectly with the sunny occasion. We cruised the four stages picking acts we’d heard rumours and murmurs about (Busy P,Effie) or old favourites such as Soulwax & The Dandy Warhols. As the Dandy Warhols finished their usual high quality gig, complete with mesmerising hoolahoopers, I started to suffer a splitting headache which meant I missed final acts 2ManyDjs and Groove Armada. Even so, it was great fun and well staged.

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The next weekend was a quieter affair. A new pair of sunglasses from Victoria Markets and the slightly disappointing Tim Burton exhibition on Saturday were followed by St Kilda Beach on the Sunday and the first lazy afternoon BBQ of the season. Lovely.

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