May
29
2009

Girls weekend – Margaret River (WA)

By Australia / Western Australia /

For those looking for a short getaway, this five-day experience has to be experienced first hand to be believed. After some to-ing and fro-ing between several destinations for our escape from the daily grind, Margaret River ticked all the boxes: beautiful scenery, some premier Australian wineries and great food for five long-standing friends to catch up, recharge and reconnect. […]

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May
25
2009
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Driving Holidays – Alice Springs to Tennant Creek (NT)

By Alice Springs / Australia / Northern Territory /


The journey

What a drive this was! A total of 531km in 47-degree heat and and the air-conditioning wasn’t working. Worse still, we had it quoted in Alice Springs to fix for a whopping $3100! Fortunately, we got it fixed for $434 in Broome.

While in Alice Springs, dinner at the Outlander Steak House is a must. They have 2kg steaks and I finished mine in 42 minutes, which was a mighty achievement. It is very funny watching people try to do it, so just make sure you eat dinner first as it can be quite off-putting.  The old Jail is home to the Women’s First Gallery, which highlights all women who were first in their field and makes for some very interesting reading. The old Jail is also haunted so go for a stroll through the cells if you dare. Keen hikers should take in Stanley Chasm, absolutely spectacular. A huge lizard ran in front of me and scared the life of me, but it was all worth it and there’s some great photo opportunities. There is so much to see and do in Alice that you could easily spend a few weeks here. A prayer for Peter Falconio along the way and then we stopped in at the Barrow Creek Hotel, where they are more than happy to talk about all the different scenarios surrounding his disappearance and, believe me, they seem to know a heck of a lot more than the media ever published about it. My wife Sheree was there for almost two hours! His disappearance site isn’t marked, as requested by his family, however people have left many tributes on the roadside nearby, which is 1.3km north of the pub.

Now don’t be fooled – the Devil’s Marbles (top right) aren’t in Tennant Creek; they are 126km south. You will spend hours here marveling about just how they have come to be.
Then driving into Tennant Creek is a thrill – the oasis in the desert – with its lush greenery and water in abundance. It’s quite amazing at how different it is to Alice. It was built on gold mining money and has great museums and the
Battery Hill. It’s definitely worth a few days here.

PETER “SPIDA” EVERITT

May
21
2009
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Driving holidays – Darwin to Timber Creek (Northern Territory)

By Australia / Darwin / Northern Territory /

The journey

Warning: when doing this 564-kilometre drive, make sure you fill up at every single petrol station – even if it’s for only $10! We were caught out and ran out of diesel. Mind you, it wasn’t entirely my fault as the last petrol station we had stopped at had no diesel, but if I had topped up at the previous one, I would have been OK. Thank God for road trains! One kind chap stopped and syphoned me out a few good litres of diesel. It was 46 degrees outside and I couldn’t work out how to get the air-con going using the gas bottles … another lesson: one should learn everything about their rig before they set out.

Wild experiences

All that aside, it was a fantastic drive. While in Darwin, make sure you visit the Cyclone Tracy Museum (its free) and also the War Museum, the actual site of the Army barracks and check out the remains of bombs. It’s hands down the best war relics site I have ever seen.  And if you want a fill of adrenalin, try your luck at Crocosaurus Cove and go swimming with the Crocs in the Cage of Death (pictured)!

 

After leaving Darwin, we headed back down to Katherine before taking an abrupt right-hand turn to head out towards the coast. While going through Katherine just be mindful of people sitting on the medium strip down the main street. An elderly Aboriginal man was killed while we were there after being hit by a truck.  If you get the chance, definitely stop and experience the awe-inspiring Katherine Gorge. It’s 45 minutes’ drive north of Katherine. Boat trips are about $55 and definitely a once-in-a -lifetime opportunity.  It’s a nice drive, long, but easy on the eyes. The roads are fine, but just be careful of the road trains.

Once you arrive at Timber Creek, be prepared for the real Outback. All the food is frozen as deliveries only come through every couple of weeks. There is a pub, a small grocery store, petrol station and the caravan park – all in one!  The caravan park is nestled on the banks of a croc invested river… but don’t worry, they are freshies and they don’t bite (or so they kept telling me!). But it is very safe and the owners confirmed they have never had a croc come out of the river – a couple of idiot tourists go in, but never any crocs climbing out. They have a bridge where you can stand and feed the crocs, which is really exciting. Timber Creek is a neighbour to one of Australia’s biggest airforce bases, even though you wouldn’t know it, as it’s very well hidden. But at 2am each morning, you can hear the cowboys playing in their fighter jets … some people get all the great jobs!  There is an excellent little Lookout you can drive up to and at night you will see the most magnificent sunsets.  There isn’t any phone reception at Timber Creek, pay phone yes, but funnily enough we could access great wireless Internet reception – must have something to do with the airforce base.  The local Aboriginal children are very talented too, with some great souvenirs to be snapped up.  Just watch out for the local mark-up on DVDs. Jean Claude Van Damme movies were going for $46 each! And Mad Max was $65!

PETER “SPIDA” EVERITT

Great Australian Doorstep appears on the How To Channel, Foxtel. Check guides for screening times.

 

May
18
2009
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Driving holidays – Hobart, Richmond, Port Arthur (Tasmania)

By Australia / Hobart / Tasmania /

Competition is running hot with the budget airlines in Australia, so keep a close eye on Jetstar, Virgin Blue and Tiger by signing up for their e-newsletters – there are hot deals being bandied around almost every week and you will generally find a beauty somewhere among them for Tasmanian destinations.

My wife and I snapped up return flights from Melbourne to Hobart for around the $150 mark – extraordinary value. Even better, we also discovered a ridiculously good rate with DriveNow for a 4 berth camper. From there it was a breeze. A quick one-hour flight to Hobart, we then grabbed our camper and hit the Tasman Highway, onto Richmond Rd and within half an hour we arrived at our favourite destination in Australia, the quaint village of Richmond and all its cobblestone, cottage and old world charm. This gorgeous township has some delightful treats: serene atmosphere around historic Richmond Bridge (pictured); go back in time at Grannie Rhodes’ Cottage; and explore Richmond Maze and Richmond Gaol.

After staying two lovely days and nights in Richmond we ventured south east along the Tasman and Arthur highways, glorious little drive mind you, to Port Arthur for an eerie-yet-fascinating day at the historic penal settlement exploring ruins, and later in the evening a spooky guided ghost tour. Chilling, thrilling stuff.

From there we headed back to Hobart for a bit of shopping and set up camp at Discovery Holiday Park, which we couldn’t recommend highly enough. Wonderful service, great location and plenty to see and do nearby.

AUSTIN BONHAM

May
18
2009

Driving holidays – the Outback (Queensland)

By Australia / Queensland /

STRANGE LIGHTS AND DINOSAURS

As winter approaches, my thoughts don’t turn to snow-capped mountains and log fires, but rather red dirt plains and wide blue skies. The cooler months are the ideal time to explore Queensland’s outback, and hitting its dusty roads is the only way to get to fully appreciate the scale, complexity and beauty of this rugged, wild and bizarre landscape.

After flying into Mount Isa, we pick up our four-wheel drive camper and despite the kids’ pleas to don hard helmets and mining suits and venture underground (my idea of hell!) we press on, keen to embark on the first 300 kilometres of our journey. Signs stating “G’day” and “Welcome to the Min Min Byway” announce the theme of our journey; ahead lies a long flat stretch of tar, disappearing into infinity with nothing but scrub and red dirt on either side.qld4

This is hauntingly beautiful country; massive outcrops loom from nowhere, red boulders stacked randomly as if by aliens; mesas reminiscent of thed Arizona desert catch the afternoon light, turning spectacular shades of red, russet and indigo; while wedge-tailed eagles hover in the thermals above, reading to swoop on roadkill.

The town of Boulia appears quietly, unassumingly, 300km south of Mt Isa. There’s not much to see in this sleepy outpost – a cobweb-covered collection of old farm machinery and dinosaur bones serve as a labour-of-love museum, there’s only one pub, and once a year a couple of camels plod around a dusty racetrack.

But what Boulia does have is a mystery – and a great one at that. The town is home to the legend of the Min Min Lights – inexplicable glowing balls of light that, over the past 150 years or so, have terrorised locals and passers-by. So widespread is the interest in this phenomenon that Boulia has created its own theatrical attraction, the Min Min Encounter, a $2 extravaganza incorporating animatronics and fibre optics that pays tribute to the art of Outback bullshit. Up to 200 people a day visit this museum – not bad considering there really is no other reason to come to Boulia!

To further explore the legend of the Min Min Lights, drive a further 73km east on the road to Winton to the site of the original Min Min Hotel, a ruin consisting of a couple of decrepit graves and a bottle dump.

Legend has it that this was once a roaring shanty, a den of iniquity so notorious for its murders and rapes that it was burnt to the ground in retribution. It was not long after this act of vengeance in 1918 that the strange lights began to mysteriously appear, chasing unsuspecting passers-by who chanced upon the ruins.

While this makes a fascinating stop-off on the way to Winton, we don’t have time to stick around to see if the lights make an appearance. Winton is still another four hours’ drive away; though stop-offs at Cawnpore Lookout (fabulous views across the rugged countryside) and Middleton Hotel make the journey pass quickly.

Winton is home best known as the home of Waltzing Matilda – it was here that Banjo Patterson wrote the famous song we all know and love. A museum dedicated to the song is a must-see attraction in Winton, as is the Qantas Museum, where you can learn all about the history of our national airline and even tour inside jumbo jets. Make sure you do the Wing Walk tour – it’s a fantastic experience and one your kids willqld10remember for years.

The final highlight of our outback drive is a visit to Lark Quarry, the site of the world’s only known dinosaur stampede. The kids’ eyes light up as they hear the tale of the chicken-like coelurosaurs, who, as they were drinking at a lake, were chased by a hungry theropod, leaving a chaotic mess of footprints in the mud which have been preserved by time.

As well as being able to see the whole drama played out in the fossilised footprints, we also get the chance to hold real dino-bones and rocks bearing the imprints of the prehistoric creatures.

Lark Quarry is 110 km southwest of Winton – a day trip in itself. While you can do the trip by two-wheel drive, it’s pretty rough going on mostly dirt roads, but the journey is worthwhile to see a fascinating and under-appreciated part of Australia’s long history.

ANGELA DE LEON