Australia and New Zealand

Madness Reigns in the Outback

It’s 10am and I spy Jock slyly splashing vodka into his morning cuppa. We are standing in his spacious yet cluttered underground home waiting to be shown around his mine museum. He’s talking ten to the dozen and I find it difficult to follow. All I am hearing is a lot of repetition and the spiel sounds well rehearsed or long worn, probably both.

It seems that all roads lead to Jock’s Place! Three locals ask us, “Have you been to Jock’s Place yet?” So here we are visiting the local legend. His mine, once, perhaps a long time ago, long before he drank vodka for breakfast, was where he fossicked for his fortune. Now it’s a labyrinth of nooks and crannies, a resting place for dusty relics from a past era. He said the place is still recovering from the dust storm that passed through on its way to the eastern seaboard a few weeks earlier.

There are more than 50,000 abandoned diggings in White Cliffs. It’s flat, arid and dusty. The pockmarks left from old diggings create a lunar landscape that makes it even more surreal. A lonely pub sits opposite the corner store, which represents the only signs of life outside the two underground accommodation establishments.

We stayed at the Underground Motel last night, which is a rabbit warren of narrow hallways connecting rooms and communal living areas. The motel is actually a dugout. Like most properties in town, it’s dug into rock, which enables the place to maintain an even 22 degrees throughout the year. An absolute necessity as daytime temperatures can soar to 50 degrees in summer.

Out of interest I ask the woman at the National Parks Office where she buys her groceries. Apparently every two weeks a truck travels to White Cliffs to sell fresh fruit and veg, and other items. But its best in best dressed, and it’s easy to miss out on the fresh produce as there are a few people vying for it.

Otherwise it’s a three-hour drive to Broken Hill for supplies. You might be lucky to find a couple of basic bits and pieces at the corner store. However I think most of their trade comes from burgers and fries rather than groceries by the look of the three shelves holding an odd assortment of household items.

On the roof of our hotel, where last night we watched a colourful endless sunset and a full moon rise out of the dark solitude, I ponder this forgotten post. A collection of eccentric souls whose hunger for riches have brought them to this inhospitable land, but with few making their fortunes, have somehow found themselves stuck, unable to leave.

When our taste of underground living is complete we take our leave. Jock is already showing another couple through to his mine. I have to chuckle as I hear that same old rehearsed speech for the second time.

White Cliffs (NSW), Australia: October, 2009


Far From the Madding Crowd

The Cape Borda Lighthouse office on Kangaroo Island’s (KI) northwestern coast is bright and sunny, offering no hint to the olfactory senses of what it once was. I ask Lee, our guide, about ghosts. With a cheeky expression he says, “he doesn’t believe in the supernatural,” but tells me a story nonetheless.

Captain G Woodward, the first lighthouse keeper, took up residence in 1858. After falling down the lighthouse steps and piercing his eye, he died a slow agonising death from the infection. His grave can be found at the lighthouse cemetery at Harvey’s Return, one of sixteen headstones.

I am enthralled, not because I am an avid ghost hunter, but my other half unwillingly sees them. We were here at the stables last night to watch the sun slip into the ocean. It was eerily quiet and I sensed my partner’s unease. Later he recounts his brush with the keeper that Lee is now describing to me. I refrain from informing Lee that the ghost is an unhappy one and my partner is relieved that we are camping a few kilometres down the road.

In daylight there is nothing paranormal about the place. The stables now house a museum exhibiting some fascinating stories and photos depicting the isolation, joys and sorrows that the keepers and families endured. There is a reading room, a shop selling souvenirs, and plunger coffee available for those in need of a caffeine fix.

The one-hour tour incorporates the interior of the lighthouse and the museum. Lee is a wealth of information and is quick to answer all questions thrown at him about shipwrecks, navigation, and the history of the island. We are a tour too early to see the cannon fired but revel in the peace and quiet.

Surprisingly the solitude continues for the duration of our stay on KI. I am warned to book the car ferry and expect campsites to be busy. It is peak season after all. But it is – wonderfully quiet.

Andrew from Kangaroo Island Marine Tours picks us up at the jetty in Emu Bay for the three-hour dolphin swim tour. A small international group, we climb aboard the yellow inflatable boat, taking our pews saddle style. I end up meeting a British family who live around the corner from me in Sydney and laugh at the possibilities of passing each other at IGA.

Andrew apologises for the few minutes delay, “it’s a little bit busy at the boat ramp today”. Observing only one other craft, I try to find humour in his tone, but he is serious. We tear past, waving at the cause of Andrew’s angst at 30 knots.

Travelling west along the north coast Andrew points out a multi-million dollar abalone farm, a sea eagles nest sitting precariously on the cliff top and a few New Zealand fur seals frolicking in the shallows. It doesn’t take long before we spot the pod of dolphins straight ahead, about twenty to thirty of them. Assured of a twenty-two degree water temperature, I still wear a wetsuit. It’s fresh. I can almost hear the icebergs in Antarctica melting.

The crystalline waters are perfect for snorkelling and offers great viewing potential. I am not sure they want us here, as they aren’t particularly playful and swim away as soon as we hit the waters. Maybe they aren’t in the mood for socialising with the human race today?

I have a lucky encounter. Before realising what is happening, I am in the eye of a dolphin storm. I feel no fear having snorkelled and dived with sea life far larger and more dangerous. They are so close I can almost touch them. If only I could understand what they are saying. They are loud and frantic, screaming at each other, swimming faster and faster until they leave me in a pool of sandy water. Ahh!  We scream, literally, our way back to Emu Bay as Andrew tests out the ‘adventure’ capabilities of the boat.

My partner’s patience is admiral, as we beach hop our way north to south, east to west. The untouched beauty of Bay D’Estrees wins my affections. The blinding white sand and aquamarine seas are so clean and clear that you wonder why all the fuss about tropical islands? Drive to Wreckers and Wheaton Beaches, and check out the historic threshing place and the rock formation that looks like a giant tadpole along the way.

However I have come to see the beach voted best in Australia, Vivonne Bay. Stunning it is but it’s a difficult choice when every beach is as picturesque as the previous. They are practically empty so it’s easy to claim your own piece of paradise. Just be mindful, the Southern Ocean is chilly and treacherous. You can’t but help notice the numerous signage warning -‘rips’.

We reluctantly tear ourselves away from the beaches to count eighteen koalas on the Koala Walk at Hanson Bay Sanctuary and watch fat satiated Australian seals bake along the shoreline in Seal Bay. It’s Christmas Day when we explore Flinders Chase National Park and are glad to see that the park is recovering from the bushfires that ravaged it in 2007. Sometimes I forget I am in Australia as we encounter mainly foreign tourists. Under steely grey skies, we look down to Remarkable Rocks and from this distance it looks like Stonehenge meets Dartmoor.

Passing Weir Cove we spot myriads of New Zealand fur seals around at Cape Du Couedic, claiming the astounding Admirals Arch as their own. Mesmerised by the surging seas around the Casuarina Islets, we once again are left pondering about the lonely life of a lighthouse keeper. My partner breathes easy and it seems that there is only the wind and the seals to keep us company this afternoon.

Kangaroo Island, South Australia – Christmas: 2009


A Bohemian Cream Tea

The village of Puhoi, 50km north of Auckland New Zealand is known as a Bohemian settlement. I chuckle at the hide of a bunch of impoverished artists, actors, writers, and musicians laying claim to their own town and placing it on the tourist map.

But it is not until I do my own research that I realise the Bohemians of Puhoi are not of the Moulin Rouge persuasion, but a group of eighty-two migrants who left their European homeland in Bohemia which is now a province of the Czech Republic back in 1863.

Within three years, a couple more batches of migrants arrived swelling the population to a peak a century ago at five hundred. Only one of two ethnic settlements in New Zealand, the French settlement of Akaroa near Christchurch being the other, Puhoi still retains its European charm.

The quaint village sits just off busy Highway 1 and although you can hear the cars zooming past in the distance, Puhoi is a world away. The sprawling historic pub dominates along with a few churches, and the Bohemian museum documents the early European settlement. There’s also a landing stone by the river to commemorate the arrival of the early pioneers by Maori canoes.

I stumble upon this little gem purely by chance, noticing the sign for Devonshire Teas before the historic town part registers. ‘Historic’ makes the stop enticing, but what grabs me is the possibility for a Devonshire Cream Tea.

Puhoi Cottage a few minutes north of the village is over a hundred years old and has been churning out Cream Teas for over forty years, making it the oldest Tearoom in New Zealand. It’s an exquisite spot with the pretty garden dotted with picnic tables and umbrellas. I sit with the friendly resident cat enjoying the smell of freshly cut grass and the feel of the sun after so many wet days, relishing the lush green valley views.

All scones and cakes are baked at the cottage with the same recipes that have been handed down from owner to owner. There are a good variety of teas including herbal teas, the jam is rich and fruity and though the cream is not quite the Cornish clotted cream, it is nonetheless thick and creamy. The star, no doubt, is the scone itself. One rather large fresh warm scone is served which more than suffices for one.

Devonshire Teas are few and far north of Auckland, so to find a wonderful location and quality experience is fortunate. Thanks to those early pioneers who when faced with adversity upon their arrival, preserved to clear the dense bush and build a community so that we can enjoy the Puhoi of today.

Puhoi, New Zealand: Christmas, 2010


High Tea Eccentrics Do Redfern

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The other day a friend called up to let me know that he had stumbled upon a little tucked away place serving scones and High Teas. So as a self-confessed Devonshire Tea connoisseur of this British tradition, I high tailed it to this place to do some investigations of my own.

You would be hard pressed to find ‘Tea Parlour’ as it sits unimposing in a bland row of shop fronts near the corner of Elizabeth and Cleveland streets in Redfern, Sydney. Don’t expect a kitschy Laura Ashley teahouse filled with seniors. Instead be surprised by an eccentric medley of Rococo style furnishings and tunes to the like of Edith Piaf humming in the background.

The tiny space is crammed with what looks to be the contents of several op shops with a selection of literature lining the shelves. A deer’s head hangs from a wall while a proud peacock captured in all his glory presides over the room.

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The menu is sweet and simple, presented within the pages of a classic hard cover novel. The tea selection is huge and expect more than mainstream offerings. I am here for the Devonshire Tea, although you can choose a plate of cucumber sandwiches or a tiered plate of High Tea treats.

All goodies are homemade that morning from recipes our host has borrowed from her grandmother. I have a quince green tea, served in a rather large silver teapot (that can be topped up) that I sip out of a delicate china teacup. My two large delectable scones are accompanied by a generous serving of what tastes like homemade raspberry jam, and cream whipped just right for the occasion.

Amongst the quirkiness, it’s a lovely place to kick back, and with old-fashioned prices you can’t go wrong.

Sydney, Australia: March, 2011


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