Day 7: The odyssey

So, kangaroos were a pretty common sight now. They lounged all over the villa’s grounds in the mornings when we awoke, gnawing on grass, just like the sheep. Roos + sheep: it was confirmed, we were most definitely in Australia.

We started our day at a nearby beach, watching the waves crash into the western shore and taking a bit of a stroll. We very definitely saw a whale that day, breaching and blowing just off the shore, on a common migration route back to cooler waters.

We drove into the town of Yallingup itself for coffee and some bacon sandwiches. There we again saw waves crashing, and saw several people riding them — Yallingup being very much a surfing town. But surfing, whales and bacon be damned, today was about wine!

We visited eight wineries (!) in total:

  • Swings & Roundabouts, where they were very nice but we didn’t buy anything
  • Clairault, which looked stuffy but wasn’t (but we still didn’t end up buying anything)
  • Laurance, for which we had such high hopes after our Cab Sauv two nights previous but which was, in the end, terribly poncy and not very good at all in the wine department
  • Knee Deep, a very pleasant, friendly and proficient winery where we purchased a wonderful Cab Sauv and would have eaten lunch if we could have
  • Woodlands, which he happened into completely by accident but which ended up being maybe the find of the trip replete with charm, friendliness and a happy dog, and from which we took a spectacular Pinot Noir
  • The Growers, actually a consortium of several small producers which offered lots of wine at incredibly reasonable prices, though nothing quite remarkable enough to take home
  • Deep Woods, in which we met a lovely Belgian gentleman who spoke BBC-perfect English and who, quite generously, offered us a nearly-full bottle of Cab Sauv to take home for dinner
  • Swooping Magpie, our final (thank goodness!) stop of the day, where we had our favourite Shiraz of the trip to date, taking a bottle with us

In between cellar doors we stopped at Bootleg Brewery for an excellent sampler of beer, and returned to Swings & Roundabouts for a lunch of wood-fired pizzas on their outdoor patio. This, incidentally, was the first time during our first week in Australia that we had warm, sunny weather.

Earlier in the afternoon we’d decided to have a simple dinner back in the cottage, and so we picked up lots of meat, cheese, bread, pate and produce to go with all the wine we now needed to drink rather than carry it back on the plane.

You can’t see the many bottles of wine but trust me, they’re there.

Day 6: Lake Cave, two sheds, Stella Bella, warm breads

Before we began the day’s wine tastings we decided to expore another of the area’s features: caves. We drove to the southern end (more or less) of the region and booked in at Lake Cave. We had a little time to kill before getting started so we tried zooming down the road to Eagle Vale, but they weren’t open.

The cave itself was better than I expected. It wasn’t cheesy and, as the name suggests, featured a small lake on the floor of the cave. We had an interesting tour, saw some beautiful underground sights, even spent a few moments in complete darkness. It was a worthwhile visit, even though we had to climb some 300+ steps on the way out.

Our first winery of the day wound up being Redgate, which was okay. They were sold out of the Cab Franc that we’d wanted to try, but we picked up a very nice Chenin.

By this time our rummies were tumbling, so we stopped in the actual town of Margaret River for lunch at Must. It was very good — the brother claimed his burger was one of the best he’d ever had — but it took a long time. Not that we were on a tight timeline or anything, though, so we didn’t particularly care.

We hit four wineries in quick succession after lunch:

  • Watershed, which had a beautiful building and where we picked up a very decent Zinfandel
  • Howard Park, which had a serious reputation but which I found extremely haughty and disappointing (even so Nellie picked up a Moscato)
  • Hayshed, which was a hundred times friendlier and tastier and where we picked up a superb K+B Cabernet Sauvignon which is on the ‘take-back-to-Canada’ list
  • Stella Bella, a favourite of the brother’s and, now, of ours. We ended up ordering a case from them, six for the brother and six for us: two Cab Sauv, two Sauv Blanc and two sweet dessert wines. I don’t know what we’ll do with them all, but at least two of them are coming back to Canada with us. Here’s Nellie’s scoring system from the tasting sheet. No, we couldn’t understand it either.

It was late afternoon by this point, and we decided we needed more of that fresh bread. We returned to the bakery and saw people literally hugging their bread as they walked to their car. One gentleman was so hungry he began biting chunks off the bread cradled in his arms while walking to his car. After we picked up our loaves, Nellie took a page from his book and ripped into the white bread just as he had done. The bread would not be denied.

We were a little too tired for a giant meal, and the first place we called was booked up anyway, so we visited a nearby wine bar and had tapas. Decent food, and blessedly small. The weather turned foul on the way home — lightning and heavy rain — so there was naught to do but hunker down and plan the next day’s visits.

Day 5: To the wine!

We returned to Tart, the previous night’s restaurant, for a coffee to fuel our drive south, toward the Margaret River. Within a few minutes of leaving Perth, the view turned far more countryside-y than anything we’d seen so far. We even saw kangaroos in the distance, though not nearly close enough for Nellie’s liking. We stopped off in Bunbury to see their beach and pick up supplies, and in Busselton to see their beach and ginormous jetty.

After leaving Busselton we drove up to the Eagle Bay Brewing Company, where we enjoyed great food, tremendous beer and amazing views.

Our first winery stop of the day was Wise Vineyards, just down the road from our lunch spot. It too featured incredible views, and was hosting a couple of weddings. We picked up a bottle of Verdelho, which was quite decent, and debated as to whether we’d seen a whale breaching in the distant Indian Ocean.

We then arrived at our heretofore-secret accommodations: the Wildwood Valley Villa. We had a nice 3-bedroom cabin to ourselves with a proper kitchen, grill, deck, etc. tucked into the rolling hills just outside Yallingup: a perfect base from which to launch our excursions.

Our host gave us the lay of the land, suggested restaurants for dinners and — perhaps most importantly — told us about a local bakery adored by locals and which would be producing bread fresh from their ovens in just twenty minutes. Fresh hot bread? Allons-y! We jumped in the car and headed that way with all speed, slowing only when we got a close-up of some roos hopping alongside the car.

The bakery was hard to find, but was swarmed by cars of people coming to get the bread. We took a sourdough loaf for later and a fruit loaf for breakfast and drove home to nap and strategize before dinner.

Our dinner that evening was at Studio Bistro. Because of the large lunch, constant snacking and tired bones none of us felt quite up to the gastronomic (read: tasting) menu, though it looked fantastic. Still, all our meals were excellent, and the red I randomly selected from the list — a Cab Sauv from Laurance — earned the winery a spot on our must-visit list over the next two days.

That was enough excitement for one day, so we drove home and crashed hard.

Day 4: Our new nicknames are Floaty & Tart

Ultra-touristy or no, we decided that we had to see the Sydney Aquarium. So we shlepped downtown again, paid our gazillion dollars, steeled our nerves for the onslaught of screaming children and ventured in. Afore-mentioned screaming children and rude tourists aside, I was actually quite happy with what I saw. There were lots of crazy fish and crabs (especially spider crabs…I would not want to see one of those suckers coming at me), but the best part was where you went underwater to see the sharks and huge rays and dugong and sea turtles. Speaking of sea turtles, one of them was named Floaty. She was cute. Also cute: little kids freaking out every time they saw a fish that looked like Nemo or Dory.

We were getting hungry (and, yes, thirsty) by this point so we walked a few minutes to the Redoak boutique beer cafe, and once again were not disappointed. Their wheat beer was one of the best I’ve ever had, and the bock and porter were nice as well. It all went well with the sausage and mash (as did Nellie’s three — Oktoberfest, wheat and organic lager — with her roast beef sandwich) and we left full, once again. We decided to end the day’s adventures there; it was time to head home and get ready for our flight to Perth.

We made it to the airport with plenty of time, except that a) a corkscrew had accidentally been packed in my bag (which security was not cool with) and b) they boarded the flight much earlier than most Virgin Blue flights, so we ended up being among the last passengers to board. No matter; we got on, and we were on our way following a seat change due to Nellie’s malfunctioning TV screen. And by ‘malfunctioning’ I mean that it literally fell out of the seat back in front of her when she touched the screen. And so: off to the west coast of Australia, and the delicious wine therein!

Once we arrived we picked up our rental car and drove to our hotel, having decided to spend the night in Perth rather than drive to the Margaret River in the dark. There was some minor trouble with the law, and I’ll save my comments about the hotel for Tripadvisor, but we did have a very nice meal next door at a place called Tart. So that helped improve the evening somewhat.

Day 1: Boots on the ground!

All in all, the 15-hour flight wasn’t bad. Premium economy really was a godsend…big seats, more recline, decent food, excellent in-seat entertainment, top-notch service…I can’t imagine making that trip in economy. I even managed to steal a few hours of sleep, as did Nellie, so when we arrived we weren’t zombies. It took a little while to clear customs and collect our bags, but then lo and behold — Australia!

My brother met us at the airport, stuffed all our bags into his little VW convertible and drove us to his place, not far from the airport. We dropped our stuff and jumped back in the car, eager to take advantage of our energy while we still had it. He drove us through the CBD (central business district, aka “downtown”) and across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Kirribilli where we got some great views looking south across the harbour.

We did a walk around the Cremorne Reserve where we got more great views, and saw three kookaburras (which aparently is quite a big deal). I also nearly walked face first into a spider web, complete with large spider. Happily, I stopped just short; it would not have done to have begun screaming like a little girl just a few hours in to the visit.

We drove back across the bridge, parked in The Rocks (which is a neighbourhood and not, as Nellie had hoped, a pile of rocks on which to climb) and had lunch & a couple of beers at the Lord Nelson, thus beginning our effort to sample all the best beer places in Sydney. We also discovered that using the term “pot” of beer (which means a half-pint) doesn’t mean anything in NSW the way it does in Queensland, and combined with my Canadian accent, ordering one just gets you a full pint. So you go with it.

We drove back to my brother’s place where, despite my best efforts, I had a bit of a nap. I woke up long enough to shake off the woozy, eat some tasty salmon for dinner, and then crash hard. In Australia. W00t!

Day 0: Allons-y!

It’s finally time. Later today we’ll begin the long, long journey to Australia.

We’re ready. We are so ready. Our plans are made. Our bags are packed. We have outfitted ourselves for 15 hours on a plane as best one can without a fifth of whisky. Work is sorted. The cats will be well looked-after. Our papers are in order. We’re ready.

And as if we needed an extra nudge out the door, this morning in Toronto it’s grey, windy and a chilly 8 degrees.

Here we go.

Where women glow and men plunder

Right now my brother Tim and his wife are on a plane, flying halfway around the world to begin a new adventure. As he announced on his blog last month he’s moving to Australia.

On the downside this means I probably won’t see them for a couple of years, and also that we no longer have a home base in the UK. On the other hand, I can now look forward not only to reading about said adventure on his blog, but also to visiting them in Oz. Nellie and I have already decided to visit in 2011 (already too many commitments in 2010). Clearly the good outweighs the bad in this situation.

As someone who occasionally feels an urge to sell everything move to a new city, I’m both envious and proud of them. Congratulations guys, and godspeed.