Postcard from Bordeaux

Easyjet has been selling tickets at ridiculously low prices, tempting me to book a few days away in Bordeaux, where we spent a couple of glorious days last summer. Leaving Wednesday morning and arriving at midday enabled us to spend some time that afternoon in Bordeaux. Sadly the weather was most inclement but being British means we never go anywhere without a raincoat and brolly.  Even so, we were glad to pop into one of the city’s major hotels for a late lunch and sanctuary from the rain.

Thursday we drove to Saint Emilion which we’d not had time to visit last summer. The clouds were still emptying their contents on us below and the sky looked positively menacing. However, the inclement conditions couldn’t hide Saint Emilion’s many charms. A small, well-preserved, medieval, honey-hued town, famous for its prestigious red wine, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

saint emilion map, tourism map st emilion france

Located on a limestone plateau, the medieval city has lots of small winding, steep streets called « Tertres », cobbled squares and ramparts. Unsurprisingly the streets are lined with restaurants and shops selling Saint Emilion wines and other local gastronomic specialties.

Saint Emilion was built around a cave dug by a monk of the same name. The cave still retains the Saint’s furniture carved into the rock. Along with a source of water, which Emilion would have used as a baptismal font and which still flows today.

Undergrounds tour and visit in Saint Emilion, France

The town’s flagship building is its monolithic church, the largest underground church in Europe which was dug into one single block of stone at the end of 11th century by the Benedictines.

Monolithic Church Saint Emilion France

Nearby, the Holy Trinity Chapel, built in 3th century, is also a designated historical monument. Inside, the building is decorated with particularly well-preserved frescoes and medieval paintings. Reshaped at different times, the chapel shows and represents the evolution of Gothic construction techniques.

Trinity Chapel Saint Emilion France

There’s also the imposing Collegiate church, largely Gothic, which was built in the early 12th century. It has some splendid murals from different periods and a remarkable organ. It’s also the town’s parish church.

Collegiate church saint emilion

Surrounded by those famous Bordeaux vineyards, Saint Emilion possesses all the ideal conditions for wine production. The omnipresent limestone offers exceptional soil for Saint Emilion’s vines plus its terroirs offer a great geological diversity and a microclimate perfectly adapted to viticulture.

Wineries close to Saint Emilion, vineyard saint emilion, visit saint emilion, map saint emilion wineries, map saint emilion vineyard

After a potter around the town, we nipped into one of its many delightful restaurants for a restorative, warming cup of coffee and discussed Brexit with the bemused owner. I imagine he’s had many such discussions with the large number of British living and holidaying in the area. Thereafter we headed to our lunch date at another restaurant, a scant 50 metres away.

My beloved much approved of my choice and we opted to place ourselves in the capable hands of the Head Chef who, knowing my dietary constraints, blew us away. Frankly, none of our plates needed to the services of a dishwasher, they’d been licked (not literally) clean. This was a chef who much merited his two Michelin stars, along with a capable and delightful front of house staff. We were most reluctant to leave and, as it’s attached to a hotel, it could feature on future visits.

The plan for Friday was to return to the restaurant Lalique which, since our visit last year, has recently garnered a Michelin star. Yesterday’s chef was a Breton, this one hails from Strasbourg, both areas with strong culinary traditions reflected in their stunning menus.

Unfortunately as Friday morning dawned my beloved said he felt unwell, too unwell to go out! Though not too unwell he couldn’t eat breakfast. I reluctantly cancelled lunch, left him with several bottles of mineral water and caught the tram into a very sunny Bordeaux to better explore its splendours.

Aside from wandering around the shops, I visited the Musée Beaux Arts and Musee des Arts Decoratifs both of which were relatively quiet. Neither was particularly large, the first one was just behind the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), with two small wings arranged around a lovely garden. While the second was built around a courtyard containing a restaurant which was the perfect spot for lunch.

I arrived back at our hotel late afternoon to discover my beloved was much recovered and looking forward to dinner! We ate at a small Italian restaurant recommended by the hotel which was extremely good. Saturday morning we rose ridiculously early to catch our flight back home. Trip over all too soon, but we’ll be back.

(Another) Postcard from Paris

After a few days in London visiting my hygienist and sister, we caught the Eurostar for a few days in Paris, exploring mainly parts of the 10th, 18th, 20th and 11th arrondissements. As you know we love nothing better than a spot of pavement pounding in Paris. Having extensively trained in Australia, we had no problem walking over 50km (31 miles) in three and a half days. Of course, all that walking just helped us work up a healthy appetite.

Given that I handle all the logistics of any trip and choose where we eat, I allow my beloved to decide what we’ll visit. This time he’d elected to visited Atelier des Lumières again but to see the Van Gogh exhibition. You may recall, we’d previously seen the Klimt one which we’d much enjoyed. Enlarging his works allowed us to more greatly appreciate the finer details. This time we admired Van Gogh’s finely executed brush-strokes.

As we were in 11th arrondissement, it was only right we dined at one of their institutions in rue Paul Bert which is dominated by restaurants owned by two well-known French chefs: Cyril Lignac and Bertrand Auboyneau. The latter has four addresses and we chose his eponymous Bistrot Paul Bert, a tried-and-true classic French bistro serving traditional French cuisine. It more than lived up to its reputation. I also booked Lignac’s nearby Le Chardenoux for Sunday lunch.

Replete, my beloved decided we should walk off lunch around the cemetary Père Lachaise which proved unexpectedly delightful and will be the subject of a further post, not to mention popping up in subsequent Thursday’s Door posts. We made our way back to our hotel for cocktails and nibbles, weary of foot and made plans for the following day.

On Saturday we headed to Montmatre, an area my beloved has never visited and where I first ventured aged 15 and then again probably around 10 years later. We combined it with a visit to the Fêtes des Vendages purely by coincidence since it was set out all around the Sacre Cœur. This annual five-day fête celebrates the grape harvest in Paris’s only remaining and working vineyard, Clos Montmartre. The event is like one big street party, featuring local and artisan producers offering a wide range of French alcoholic beverages and gastronomic treats – lunch sorted!

Having tarried longer than anticipated in Montmartre we slowly wend our way back to our hotel wandering through nearby Batignolles (17th) and Pigalle (9th) stopping only for a restorative cuppa before enjoying cocktails back at the hotel.

On Sunday we strolled in the warm sunshine back to Cyril Lignac’s recently re-opened restaurant Le Chardenoux close by where we’d lunched on Friday. This petite bistro and classified historic monument has a gorgeous hand-painted green foliage ceiling festooned with golden chandeliers. More importantly, the food is fantastic.

After lunch we popped across the road to Lignac’s La Chocolaterie where I treated my beloved to some sublime chocolate and he bought me another cookery book. Thereafter we’d wandered (finally) through the Marais – well-trodden territory – back to our hotel.

Monday morning we decided to investigate the area around the nearby Canal Saint Martin which still has a series of locks with bridges that rise or swing, bringing road traffic to a stand still as barges make their way up to the Canal de l’Ourcq or down to the Seine.

Once an industrial hub, the area is now trendy and dynamic, with creative restaurants, fun fashion, and bars bursting with boisterous crowds. A stroll along the canal from Stalingrad to Richard Lenoir metro stations is a promise of near picture-perfect Paris, complete with picnickers, swans, pétanque players, and even the occasional accordionist.

You might be wondering why we walked so far on our trip. It took Eliud Kipchoge under two hours to run 42.2km a distance which took us just three days to walk around Paris. To be fair though, we weren’t wearing souped up running shoes, nor did we have an army of pacers or had our optimal trajectory outlined by laser. Instead, we’d wandered around according to the dictates of my beloved’s google maps app the veracity of which is doubtful. I’m not calling out Mr Google you understand just the man holding the iPhone who often confuses his left from his right. This tends to matter much when you’re trying to navigate your way around town.

I prefer paper maps and I try to memorise the major roads bisecting the various arrondissements. For example on Sunday, after lunch, my beloved was taking me to the Marais but anyone with any sense (apart from him) knows that once you stray into the 19th or even 20th that you’re most definitely going in the wrong direction! Suffice to say I ended up walking around parts of Paris I’ve never before seen or, frankly, wish to see again.

As is our habitual want, we ate lunch at Le Train Bleu before catching the four o’clock train back home. As always, it was a fun trip and I’m looking forward to our next one.

Postcard from Milan

I recently joined my beloved on a business meeting in Milan thereby enabling me to reacquaint myself with some of the city’s many charms. I had first visited Milan in the early 1980s when working as an internal auditor for an American bank and fell in love with it. Most days, after work, I would spend hours walking around its labyrinth of streets, particularly those in the Old Quarter.

Over the years, my beloved and I have visited the city on a regular basis though infrequently in the past five years. I was about to remedy that oversight. As you know, I love nothing more than a spot of pavement pounding in clement weather.

Our hotel was in the newly redeveloped Porta Nuova business district, close to my beloved’s client. In the 1990s, the former heavy-industrial powerhouse of Milan had stacks of industrial wastelands and unused railroad tracks crying out for transformation. This area’s redevelopment project kicked off in 1997 on a large tract of central Milan affected by decades of urban decay and failed projects. The entire mixed development area and its marque towers are is now owned by one of the Gulf States’ wealth funds.

Fortunately, Porta Nuova is adjacent to one of my favourite areas, Brera, located within Milan’s historical core. To discover the neighbourhood’s most authentic atmosphere I find it best to wander along the cobbled pedestrian streets that branch off from the main thoroughfares. More or less in the centre of town, between the castle (Castello Sforzesco) and the cathedral (the Duomo – header photo), Brera is one of the most charming and relaxing neighbourhoods in the city. Within its magical enclave are little, shy streets lined with art galleries and elegant shops, quiet lanes housing cosy inns, and restaurants serving delicious homemade meals.

At Brera’s heart lies the gallery Pinacoteca di Brera and the art school which, since 1800, has attracted and formed generations of painters and other artists. All around, quaint streets are filled with craft shops and coffee bars, some of which have become legendary for the writers and intellectuals who hung out there in the ‘30s. The city’s better-known intellectuals and artists still have their studios here.

The history of this neighbourhood – which lies between Via dell’Orso and Largo Treves, and between Via Mercato and Via Borgonuovo – can be traced back to 13th century when some members of the Umiliati, a Lombard brotherhood, began to build cloisters on meadowlands and orchards (or braida , from which the name Brera is derived). Today three churches survive from medieval times on three squares not too distant from one another. They still stand silent and peaceful, their old, red Roman bricks glowing against the sun, while the city has grown up around them over the years.

Via Brera, the neighbourhood’s main street, is filled mostly with art galleries and interesting one-off shops. The residential buildings are in the typical style of the area, a mixture of austerity and elegance, with facades in faded yellow, ochre or brownish red, with grey shutters which house apartments with steep prices.

In truth, the real essence of Brera is hidden, off the main streets. It’s in the flavour of little yards, little craft shops and old restaurants, an ancient world full of memories and nostalgia. But one has to look in order to find the secret spots.

The more commercial, newer Brera lies along Via Solferino, on which some of the older shops still remain. Via San Marco, in the Brera district, is located at the intersection with Via Ancona and Via Montebello, exactly where once stood the San Marco dock, a small port of the Martesana canal just before the circle of Navigli, which were covered over in 1930 and where the San Marco market is held on Mondays and Thursdays. On the last Sunday of the month, there’s a famous Antiques Market in Ripa Ticinese, near the former Naviglio Grande – a lovely way to while away a Sunday.

You might be wandering about the afore-mentioned “Naviglio,” these were artificial canals constructed between 1179 (Naviglio Grande) and 16th century (Naviglio Martesana) to make Milan more accessible. The Navigli were not only to get merchandise in and out of Milan but were also used to transport Candoglia marble used in the construction of  Milan’s Cathedral and, in more recent times,  transporting the rolls of paper used by the typewriters of Corriere della Sera.

I mentioned they’ve been covered over but it’s still possible to admire the innovative system of dams conceived by Leonardo da Vinci at the end of 15th Century. As soon as he arrived in Milan, Ludovico il Moro asked him to devise a way to navigate from Lake Como to Milan. Leonardo, who’d already designed the system of the dams to solve the problem of height differences, made further sketches that are today preserved in the Navigli Museum. Competition from the railways saw the navigli fall out of favour and they were eventually covered over – such a shame!

Shoulda, coulda, woulda

In my recent post Postcard from the Blue Mountains, I mentioned that we should’ve travelled there by helicopter from Sydney rather than driving. Let me explain why.

I had planned to arrive in Wolgan Valley well before dusk (which is when you have to watch out for wildlife on the roads). I was thwarted by my beloved scheduling a meeting with a leading orthodontist based south of Sydney, which meant we set off several hours later than I’d anticipated.

We had with us our trusty satnav, purchased several years ago, which inexplicably decided to give up the ghost as we left the orthodontist’s practice. So we wasted further time trying to find our way onto the correct route. At this rate I thought we’d be lucky to arrive in time for dinner!

Finally we were heading in the right direction, following the directions provided by the resort. I now have to hold my hands up and admit that I misread said instructions and for reasons known only to Orange  – possibly lack of coverage – our mobile phones wouldn’t work, meaning we couldn’t access Google Maps, ring or text the hotel. As per map above, we should’ve taken the right-hander to Newnes, instead we drove almost as far as Mudgee.

As light started to fall, we spotted a tourist rest stop and asked the janitor if he knew where to find Wolgan Valley. He had no idea, not a good sign, but I spotted a map which showed we’d overshot the turn off by some way (British understatement). There was a public telephone at the stop so we contacted the hotel for directions.

Finally, we were headed in the correct direction and easily spotted the turn off to the Valley (at the petrol station). An hour later we slowed to turn into the resort, what should’ve been a three hour journey had taken close to seven! Of course, it was now well past dusk and my beloved had already dodged a few kangaroos on the road. He was fortunately at a standstill when one decided to use the front of our hire-car as a launch pad.

The roo was fortunately unhurt, the same could not be said for our hire car (later repaired in Brisbane for a very reasonable AUD$385). However, we were just relieved to have finally arrived at our destination. We dropped off our luggage in our accommodation and went straight into dinner.

As the resort is fairly remote, it offers an all-inclusive package, including a wide range of alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) beverages. To celebrate our safe arrival, I suggested that we had a nice glass of red wine at dinner which wasn’t part of the package.

As is his want, my beloved spent ages perusing the wine list, pretty useless since he can see very little without his glasses! There was a Pinot Noir he’d wanted to try for a while and by chance the sommelier knew both the wine and the vintner’s family well, I chose a Penfolds Shiraz without really glancing at the price. I have to say it was rather delicious.

My beloved had a second glass of Pinot Noir but I passed on a further glass of the Shiraz. During dinner, the sommelier was incredibly attentive and happily told us all about the respective wines. The resort has a high staff to guest ratio (100:80) giving the former plenty of opportunity to engage with the latter.

After dinner, I signed the bill but even my eagle eyes couldn’t read the grand total in the flickering half light. But how expensive could it be? I discovered the answer the following evening when I managed to get my mitts on the wine list first.

My beloved’s Pinot Noir was AUD$41 per glass, he had two glasses so that was AUD$82. A mere bagatelle by comparison with the price of mine (AUD$333), thank heavens I’d only had the one glass! I’ve since seen a bottle of the same wine for sale in a very upmarket off-licence in Brisbane for over AUD$ 2,000 a bottle!

I suspect that’ll go down as the most expensive glass of wine I’ll ever drink! Was it worth it? Well, let’s just say I’ll be dining off this tale for quite sometime. Now, perhaps you’ll understand why I said we should’ve taken the chopper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Another) Postcard from Sydney II

Our last night in Australia was, for convenience, spent at a hotel in the International Terminal of Sydney Airport. This afforded my beloved a catch up with his Australian distributor while I enjoyed a final day in Sydney in Hyde Park and at the NSW Art Gallery.

I took the train from the airport to St James station and enjoyed the short stroll in the sunshine across Hyde Park. As I neared the gallery I noticed hoards – and I do mean hoards – of school children heading in the same direction. Luckily, they were split into smaller (and quieter) groups and escorted round the gallery by guides.

On entering the gallery I headed for the lower floors displaying Aboriginal Art making my way back up to ground level. The gallery is set on a hill overlooking where we stayed when we first arrived in Sydney all those weeks ago.

I was particularly interested to see the winners and main participants in the Archbald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes for contemporary living artists. Of course, I also had a pit stop in the cafe and bookshop!

On emerging from the gallery, I confess I did stray into the main shopping area for a spot of window shopping, and further refreshments, before heading back for dinner with my beloved.

We later boarded our overnight flight to Dubai. On red-eyes I tend to follow a similar routine. A glass of champagne, followed by sleep. I cover my eyes with my own sleep mask, plug in some soothing music, wrap myself in my cashmere shawl and affix my “DO NOT DISTURB” sign to my seat. Nine hours of blissful sleep later and I’m ready for a stroll around and a spot of breakfast before landing.

Hard to believe we’d shortly be back home. Like all holidays, this one passed in a flash. Our next trip to Australia, scheduled for 2021-22 will be much longer.

 

 

 

Potterin’ in Port Douglas

Our final port of call in Queensland was Port Douglas, some five hours up the road from Townsville. The last stretch from Cairns is an hour’s drive along one of Australia’s most scenic coastal roads with the rainforest on one side and the Great Barrier Reef on the other – truly magnificent. I can say that as someone who’s driven along the Great Oceant Road (Melbourne to Adelaide) in both directions.

We arrived at our billet for the next three days, late afternoon, having eaten lunch en route in Innisfail. Actually, I just had a glass of water as the cafe where we stopped couldn’t really cope with a vegan, our first (and only) dining fail.

The town has a large retail centre with plenty of small specialty shops, many housed in a large and diverse range of Art Deco buildings. The CBD was largely rebuilt in this style following a cyclone in 1918 which destroyed much of the town. It sits on the Warrina Lakes, a 50 hectare recreational park with kilometres of walkways through open parkland, lakes, wooded areas and rainforest trails. We learned that in 2017 the town broke the record for the World’s Longest Banana Split!

Having stretched our legs and taken a few photos, we resumed our journey and were delighted as we approached our hotel, overlooking the beach. It was another one-bedroomed apartment, with yet another spa bath, great in-house dining and spectacular views.

Given that Port Douglas is the gateway to the World Heritage wonders of Tropical North Queensland, the closest mainland port to the Great Barrier Reef, and only a short drive into the heart of the Wet Tropics rainforest at Daintree and Cape Tribulation, you might be expecting we enjoyed a busy couple of days exploring. But no, we were rain-forested out and spent the time relaxing on the beach, cycling round town investigating its lovely shops and dining options. We basically chilled for our last few days in the Tropics.

Named in honour of a former Premier of Queensland, John Douglas, the peninsula was the traditional home of the Yirrganydji people until European settlement turned it into a remote port and fishing village. Port Douglas really developed in the 1980s, thanks largely to the late (now disgraced) entrepeneur Christopher Skase, becoming a sophisticated and upmarket resort town in contrast to Cairns’ tourist scene. Largely because it’s better connected: the outer Great Barrier Reef is less than an hour offshore, the Dickson Inlet and estuary is packed with fish and crocodiles – steered well clear of these – and sunset sailing from the marina is too good to pass up.

We really liked the town, it’s an intimate and relaxed place where food, wine, arts and culture are much appreciated. It also has a fabulous long sandy beach, some spectacular property porn, a large and lively Saturday market and some lovely walks around town and the headland. After three restfull days (and nights) we flew back for an overnighter in Sydney. We’d much enjoyed Port Douglas, it’s yet another place we’d be very happy to revisit.

 

Trottin’ round Townsville

There are so many lovely places in Queensland, it’s often hard to decide where to stop and for how long. Usually our destination determines where we stay along the way, othertimes it’s the most logical place to take a break. An overnight means we have relatively little time to explore, two nights gives us a whole day to look around.

Just over three hours from Airlie Beach is Townsville, another major gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and Magnetic Island. The name may ring a bell as earlier this year the town received its entire annual total rainfall in a week! There was over a metre (4 feet) of rain, eclipsing records set in 1998 during a flood known as the “Night of Noah.”

To make matters worse for the terrified Townsville residents fleeing their homes, there were numerous sightings of crocodiles and snakes being swept along with the floodwaters. I’m pleased to report that I had no such sightings while I was there, but I did steer clear of storm drains – just in case!
On arrival we checked into our hotel where I scored another upgrade (and another spa bath!) and having dropped off our bags we headed out for lunch. Fortunately, we didn’t have to travel far as the hotel is situated on a road positively stacked with a great selection of restaurants. We headed to the busiest and were not disappointed!
After lunch we strolled around town looking for inspiration as to how we might spend the following day. My beloved said he’d love to go snorkeling again – sold. That meant I could have a day of peace and quiet further exploring this town.
After an early night, the following day my beloved headed out before sunrise for his day in a wetsuit (pictures here).He was fortunate to find himself on a large boat with a documentary crew, a marine biologist and another lady who kindly took the photos. He had a fabulous day out – result!
I had a much more leisurely start with my usual smashed avocado on toast and coffee while I planned how to spend my day. The weather was so lovely I settled for a walk along The Strand, which  learned had to be redeveloped after being heavily damaged by the afore-mentioned “Night of Noah”.
The Strand has plenty of facilities, plus loads of those colonial buildings I adore which indicate the town has some history. Indeed it’s Australia’s largest garrison town with Australian Defence Force bases and a fascinating military history.

Townsville – named after Robert Towns –  was founded in 1864 as a port for the fledgling pastoral industry in North Queensland. Following the discovery of gold in the immediate hinterland at Ravenswood and then Charters Towers, the town developed into the principal centre and de facto capital of North Queensland.

Given the town’s strategic location and importance it was logical to make it a military base. On commencement of WWI in 1914, the town’s Kennedy Regiment was sent to Thursday Island to protect it from attack by German forces in the Pacific.

Post-war, expansion continued particularly once further minerals were discovered nearby. Its first airport opened in 1939 and the Garbutt airfield became a Royal Australian Air Force base.

Between 1942 and 1945 Townsville played an important part in the War in the Pacific, becoming a major military base, accommodating up to 90,000 Australian, American and other allied service personnel. It was bombed on three occassions by the Japanese, and was used as a major offensive launching base during the battle of the Coral Sea.

Post-WWII, the town continued to serve as a strategic military post with the opening of the Jezzine Barracks (now transformed into an Aboriginal and military commemorative heritage site) at Kissing Point in 1964 and the establishment of the Lavarack Barracks for the transfer of the Australian 3rd Task Force in 1967. This occurred alongside the town’s commercial and educational expansion. 2016 saw the town celebrate its 150th anniversary.

It’s fair to say, Townsville exceeded our expectations but all too soon we were heading for our final stop in Queensland, Port Douglas. After re-fuelling at breakfast, we resumed our place on the Bruce Highway pointing the bonnet of our hire car northwards.

 

Airborne in Airlie Beach

Facing a long drive to our next stop in Airlie Beach, we left early and breakfasted en route. As we drove away from Rockhampton, we saw fewer cattle but more and more tropical crops. There wasn’t much traffic on the road and we made good time, arriving in Airlie just after lunch at our home for the next four nights, a resort perched on a steep hill overlooking the beach. Again, we had a spacious one-bedroomed apartment, with balcony, spa bath – what is it with Aussies and spa baths? – and a well-equipped kitchen.

We dumped our luggage and headed out for a fishy lunch – what else? Airlie itself isn’t particularly large but it has a lively esplanade with plenty of shops and restaurants and an onshore beach and swimming pool. But we weren’t in Airlie to enjoy its beach, we were here because it’s an ideal jumping off point to experience the Whitsundays, discovered by Captain Cook on Whit Sunday (the seventh Sunday after Easter) in 1770, the 74 Whitsunday Islands lie between the mainland and the Great Barrier Reef and offer a sailing paradise.  Yes, Airlie Beach is also just one of many departure points for the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s highly likely that the town was named after the parish of the same name in Scotland. Throughout our drive from Sydney, there were many Scottish place names showing the influence of Scottish immigrants.

We planned our three full days in Airlie Beach with the assistance of the resort manager and opted for a flight over the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef on the Sunday with a day-long boat trip to the Whitsundays, specifically Whitehaven Beach, and snorkeling on the reef, on Tuesday. This left us with Monday to thoroughly explore the area, particularly its lovely boardwalk to Coral Beach. I’m now going to let my photos do the talking!

Sunday’s Flight

Yes, that’s me in the (fashionable) leopard skin trousers near the steps of the plane.
And, we have take-off!

The flight takes just over an hour and everyone spent that time with their noses (and cameras) pressed to the nearest window while our (female) pilot explained what we were viewing.

Some of the islands had only recently re-opened, after being laid waste in a cyclone two years ago. A large number are uninhabited, others have wonderful luxury resorts and holiday homes.

It was a truly magical experience and one I’d happily recommend.

Monday’s Meander along the Boardwalk

Tuesday’s Boat Trip

There are lots of companies with different types of boats which offer this trip. We chose a sturdy boat with facilities manned by locals which left promptly from Coral Beach with the supplies for our lunchtime BBQ, including my veggie burger! We had a short cruise out to Whitsunday island and an easy stroll up to the infamous Hill Inlet lookout to see the signature swirling sandbars of Whitehaven Beach from above (header photo).

Back in the boat it was refreshment time before we then disembarked on Whitehaven Beach using the small inflatable motor boat. This was where I famously had to dip my toes into the water to wade ashore. We had several hours here to explore, soak up the sun or swim before a very generous BBQ lunch which attracted the interest of a few locals, clearly after my veggie burger!

The sand was the softest and whitest I’ve ever walked on. It’s 98 per cent pure silica and has a texture similar to flour. It’s so fine you could polish your jewellery with it  – I didn’t try – and it squeaks as you walk on it.

Finally and reluctantly we climbed back on board for a short trip out to Mantaray Bay to snorkel the clear waters and come face to face with colourful fish. My husband much enjoyed this but, without a wetsuit, you could really only spend 30 minutes in the water. You’ll be unsurprised to learn I remained on board. After we’d met all the local underwater residents, it was time to head back bouyed by further refreshments. We’d enjoyed another fabulous day out.

As the sun set on our short stay in Airlie Beach, we reflected that it had been truly magical.

 

Rustlin’ in Rockhampton

Our next scheduled stop was in Rockhampton, some six hours up the Pacific Highway and past a couple of towns I’d have liked to investigate further, which is often the way.

Childers

Childers is famous for its old-world charm and a stroll – or in our case a drive – through the National Trust Town is a throwback to Queensland’s colonial past. The town boasts more than 25 beautiful heritage-listed buildings, many with wrought-iron gingerbread trims and balconies. Its surrounding countryside, with rich, red dirt and rolling hills produces avocados, macadamia nuts and sugar cane, plus some award-winning wines.

Bundaberg

This town is home to Bundaberg rum  – gotta do something other than sugar with all that cane – and family-owned Bundaberg Brewed Drinks to whose excellence we can attest. The region produces 25% of Australia’s fresh produce. It’s also home to the largest nesting population of loggerhead turtles in the Southern Hemisphere and each year thousands return home to lay their eggs.

Gladstone

The town is situated between the Calliope and Boyne rivers and is home to Queensland’s largest multi-commodity shipping port. The town was named after British Prime Minister William Gladstone , a Liberal politician whose career lasted over 60 years. He served for 12 years as PM, spread over four terms beginning in 1868 and ending in 1894.

Like Childers above, its CBD has plenty of colonial buildings but it’s largely used as the jumping off point to the tropical islands off its coastline.

Finally, Rockhampton

Rockhampton (or Rocky as I understand it’s affectionately called), is the Beef Capital of Australia for good reason – home to almost 120,000 people and oh, around 3.5 million heads of cattle. Hooves definitely outnumber humans! Our first clue was a mighty Brahman located on the Bruce Highway’s Yeppen roundabout, the largest of six bull statues dotted around the city to represent the main breeds of the area. The header above features the Santa Gertrudis in Frank Forde Park.

To be honest, we arrived just as the sun was going down so were too late to appreciate the town’s charms. If we’d arrived earlier, I would’ve visited its 144 year-old, heritage-listed Botanical Gardens with walkways of gorgeous rainforest, particularlyr banyan fig trees. Then I’d have strolled down its historical Quay Street which runs beside the mighty Fitzroy River. Quay Street is lined with Rocky’s majestic heritage listed buildings, including Customs House and the supposedly haunted Criterion Hotel!

Rockhampton is the heart of the Fitzroy Basin, Australia’s second largest river system, bordered by the brooding Berserker Ranges which we saw as we drove away before breakfast early the following day as we were facing another long drive to our next destination.

Nosin’ round Noosa

We drove round to Noosa on the beach road passing by the delightful Coolum, Peregian and Sunrise Beaches. The name Noosa comes from the Aboriginal word meaning “shade” or “shadows”, probably a reference to the respite from the sun offered by the tall forests in the area. The Aboriginal Kabi tribe had been visiting Noosa for 40,000 years before Europeans first arrived in the 1800s.

The first visitor was an escaped convict, David Bracefell who habitually escaped his bondage at Moreton Bay to trek north to Noosa.  Later, Andrew Petrie and Henry Russell came in search of timber and sheep grazing country. Afterwards in 19th century, the prospect of finding gold at nearby Gympie attracted many new settlers and Noosa started to find its feet as a holiday destination.

Arguably Noosa’s most valuable natural asset, Noosa National Park, had its beginnings in 1879 when the untouched green tract of forest on the Headland was declared the Town Reserve. In 1930 the preserved land was gazetted as a National Park, ensuring its protection into the future.

Today Noosa is a humming little cosmopolitan coastal town with innumerable places to stay, things to do and plenty of lovely shops and restaurants which we wandered around at our leisure, along with the beach and Park.

But there’s so much more to Noosa than just fabulous beaches. It’s Queensland’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. More than 35% of the region is protected, providing a safe haven for 44% of Australia’s birds and over 700 species of native animals. This includes the Noosa Everglades, one of only two Everglades systems in the world, and (allegedly) the only one you can swim in!

My beloved had drunk a craft beer from nearby Eumundi at lunchtime prompting a quick diversion there on the way back to Mooloolaba. It’s about 15km (10 miles) inland from Noosa on the Bruce Highway and is well-known for its artisan markets largely because it’s such a vibrant cultural hub.

I confess this is one area where we’d both have loved to spend more time – next time!