Monday, November 21, 2011

A Tale Of Two Fishies

On my previous visit to Palm Cove in  2007 I'd visited Nu Nu, widely regarded as the best restaurant in Palm Cove, on Jason's recommendation. I'd not been disappointed, and in fact liked it so much that I went back there again during my 4-day stay.  I hoped it was still serving up the same high quality 4 years later...

We started with an octopus salad and a butter poached reef bug, both of which were fantastic. "Yup, still on form", I thought to myself. For main Nicola had the reef fish of the day, whilst I went for the baby barramundi. This was cooked with turmeric sauce, mussels and a mint salad, the whole creation stacked up like so:

Once again, beautifully presented and absolutely delicious.

We were tempted by the puddings, but as the gold-leaf-coated chocolate bomb of yesteryear no longer features on the menu, we declined, as we were pretty well stuffed by that point. Nu Nu's reputation is intact - still the best restaurant in Palm Cove, and one of the best in Australia.

The following night, we went to Beach Almond - an altogether different experience, this bills itself as a modern Asian establishment. Nicola went for the set menu - Thai green curry - whereas I went for the fish of the day...hey, guess what? Baby barramundi again! This time done with a Vietnamese ginger sauce, and served with rice. The fish was well-cooked, but didn't really need the extra portion of rice pushed on us by the waitress. This was an altogether different kettle of fish to the previous night.

Well, what do you expect, with one being a top-class restaurant and the other being more of a beach hut? I mean, the one in the top-class restaurant probably cost twice that of the one in the beach hut, no?

No. It was $6 more.

Nu Nu 1, Beach Almond 0. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Frankland Islands

The bus was late as Dave, our driver, had woken up in the morning to find that his watch had stopped, and the alarm hadn’t gone off. We were a bit behind schedule and when we arrived at Cairns to transfer to another bus, it was full of people who’d been sitting around waiting for half an hour. We stopped along the way to make a couple more pick-ups in Cairns, then headed out to the landing stage where the boat would take us out to the Frankland Islands.

The Frankland Islands tour is unusual, in that it starts from a river, then heads out to sea – most of the Great Barrier Reef tours depart directly from Cairns. So, as we set out, our tour guides told us about the crocodiles in the river. “You won’t see any crocs, because they’re swimming along under the boat waiting for someone to fall in.”

The weather was a bit miserable as we chugged down the river, with drizzly rain and cloud covering the sky. But wait, what was that in the distance? Was it more cloud, or a patch of blue sky?

As we approached our destination, we could see much more blue sky overhead, and by the time we landed we were in bright sunshine.  We collected our snorkelling gear then headed out to the reef, guided by Dave, who knew exactly where he was taking us and what we should see there. This included giant clams, clown fish, angel fish, sea trout, and loads of other types of fish, as well as describing the various forms of corals that were visible below. We spent a good hour snorkelling, then returned to the shore for a trip in the glass-bottomed boat. On this trip we went round to another side of the island, there to see more fish and corals.

There are fish in here...honest!

Afterwards we sat down to lunch in the shade, eating a prawn and chicken salad provided by the tour. After lunch we took the “round the island” walk with Dave, as he pointed out various interesting things on the way. He encouraged us to look for interesting and unusual things on the beach, so we came up with a collection various shells and other artefacts; Dave explained what each one was and how the animals lived, including the death of a shellfish by a boring snail – no, it doesn’t go on and on about what it did in the holidays (!), it drills its way through the shell of its prey, and eats it. The shell we found had a characteristic hole through it, evidence of how it had met its end.

We also saw a pair of rare beach curlews,

And circling high in the sky, sea eagles of the type that we’d seen a few days earlier in Brisbane at the Koala sanctuary. Sadly my wildlife photography skills ended up with me having a lot of shots of blank sky where a sea eagle had just been. They were fishing near a tern colony so as well as trying to catch fish, they were being mobbed by the terns if they came too close to their nests, and also robbed by the terns who tried to get them to drop their catch. It’s a tough life, being an eagle.

Also on the walk around we saw some turtles, and this time my photography was a little better:

All too soon it was time for the return trip, which was a lot calmer and sunnier than on the way out. We went out onto deck when we were back on the river, trying to spot crocs, but with no luck. Still, the trees were interesting.

Crocodiles are masters of disguise

Thursday, November 17, 2011

White Water

Palm Cove is known, amongst other things, for its spas and therapy centres. We developed a cunning plan: to go white-water rafting in the morning, and then have a well-deserved (and probably needed) pampering session in the afternoon.

Alas, it was not to be, as the white-water rafters were only available in the afternoon on Friday. Well, what the hell, we went and booked ourselves into the spa in the morning anyway.  I had a massage, and Nicola went for a mud wrap. Mine was really good, and I’m assured that Nicola’s was also well worth it.

We had a fortifying lunch at one of the bars on the beach before heading back to our digs to be picked up at 2:00pm, dressed for action, and driven to the top of the rapids on the Barron River. On the way we were given a rather alarming disclaimer to fill in, complete with emergency contact information, for insurance and liability purposes. 

We arrived at the top of the river and were advised to leave behind anything that was not strapped on and that we didn’t want to lose – including glasses in my case – and also told to ditch any footwear that wasn’t firmly strapped in place. So it was away with the jandals (thongs/flipflops to all you furriners), and we were issued with a  pair of plastic boat shoes instead. We were also strapped into life jackets and yellow crash helmets.

The instructors divided us up into teams of six or seven each, keeping groups and couples together as much as possible. We were then allocated a guide, and a boat. Our guide was called Bill, and he was originally from California but had settled in Australia seven years ago. He arranged us around the boat, and we lifted it onto our heads and carried it down to the river. He arranged us in the boat, with me and another bloke taking the front two positions, presumably because he wanted a bit of power up front. Bill then instructed us in the art of white-water rafting, including how to paddle, the commands that he would give, and what to do if we fell out of the boat. The rapids are caused by the daily outflow of water from the invisible hydro-electric power station in the Barron Gorge further upstream.

And then we were off! It was a short while before we reached our first drop, and Bill ran us through some drills before we got to it so that everyone was working together and getting their timing right (at least I assume they were – I was looking out in front, not seeing what was going on behind me).

We got through the first rapids OK, then reached a fairly startling drop. On this one my oppo fell out of the boat, and Bill was up like a shot from his position at the back of the boat to haul him back in. “Blimey!” I thought – all this talk about falling out of the boat was no joke. At the next big drop, it was my turn – I could feel the boat turning and there was no way I could stay inside, and slipped gently out over the edge. Bill came charging to the rescue again, but I lost a shoe en route.

We went down some fairly tricky falls after that, but seemed to have got the hang of staying in by then, and we didn’t lose anyone else overboard. When we got down to a calmer stretch we recovered my shoe, which had floated on ahead of us.

This river is known as a grade 3. This is as high as a novice would tackle with a guide – after that you get onto grades where all the crew should be experienced. So it was no cake-walk, and I think we’ll stick to rivers of this difficulty for the time being.

At the bottom of the river we had a final row across the calm section of the lake, before disembarking and carrying our boat back to the road. We posed for a group photo – which I will post once I’ve received it from the company, in about 2 weeks’ time – and there will be photos from around the course as well. You’ll be able to spot me – I’m the one in the yellow helmet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Green Island

Up with the lark this morning to be picked up at 7:00am and transported to Cairns, where we were loaded onto a catamaran along with about 100 other people, and ended up on Green Island.

Green Island, surprisingly, is so-called after Captain Cook’s astronomer Charles Green on the Endeavour, and not because it is an island that is covered in (green) rainforest. It’s part of the Great Barrier Reef national park. The island has a hotel and various amenities. We took a walk around the island first (it’s not very big), trying to take pictures of the elusive quails and egrets in the forest. The beach is very picturesque – white sand, blue sea, blue sky, yada yada yada:

As we walked along the beach, we could see turtles just a few yards away. Our efforts at turtle photography, however, were not brilliant.

There are two turtles in this picture. Can you spot them? 

After going all the way round the island and stopping for some refreshment, we got hold of some masks, snorkels and fins and went out swimming. Reef fish are abundant around the island, and we saw parrot fish and various other kinds – fortunately none of the jelly variety, although we had taken the precaution of wearing stinger suits, as it is the season for them. Nicola found Nemo. We also saw a ray burying itself in the sand.

We went back to the centre of the island and found that the quails and egrets weren’t quite as elusive as we’d first thought – in fact they were hanging around trying to get scraps of food. The first quail we met I named “Quaily”, and the second one “Dan”. The egrets also weren't shy:

There's no egrets...oh wait, there's one.

After lunch we sat around lollygagging in the warm sunshine before boarding our boat to take us back.

In the evening we went out to dinner at Palm Cove's best restaurant. More on this later.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Psycho Killer

The trap was set. Killer watched as his prey hovered uncertainly, and then settled down on a blank surface. He approached, silently, stealthily. His black, reptilian eyes took in everything as he stalked his victim, watching his every move. Finally, he was in position to make his strike.

But wait…something had spooked his target. He took off rapidly, and Killer rushed in to try and grab him. He managed to snatch at a leg, but was unable to stop his victim from fleeing the scene. Slowly, he chewed on the leg that he’d captured, but there was a growing sense of disappointment that such a juicy prize had evaded him. Still, the night was young, and there were plenty more prospects buzzing around in the restaurant that Killer called home.

“Killer” was the name that I’d assigned to the second of the geckoes that had climbed down the pillar next to our table in the Greek restaurant where we’d decided to dine. The first, “Gecky”, had been deemed too obvious by Nicola. (She had earlier poured scorn on my names of Lizzie the lizard, and Cassie the cassowary.) The geckoes were involved in life and death struggles with the flies and mozzies that congregated around the light on the pillar, and we were encouraging them to eat all the mozzies they could find…life for the geckoes, death for the insects.

Earlier in the day, we’d hopped on the scenic railway up to Kuranda. This is a tourist railway that used to be one of the main routes over the mountains in Northern Queensland. They tried to interest us in the history and engineering but frankly, we were more interested in the scenery. We stopped at Barrons Gorge to snap the waterfall – now in very slow mode, as most of the water is dammed up for use by an invisible hydro-electric power station.

Kuranda is now just a tourist town, whose sole purpose is to be at the end of the railway and Skyrail. We got a quick lunch there and explored the tourist shops, coming away with the inevitable “been there” t-shirts.

The next stage of the journey is the more interesting one: Skyrail – a 7.5km cable car that runs over the canopy of the rainforest on the way back down to the terminal by the Captain Cook Highway. There are two stops on the way – the first at Barrons Gorge (from the other side) where we got out and walked around. There’s a boardwalk to walk around, and near a path we saw a cassowary – feared denizen of the rainforest! We took photos, very carefully.

Cassie the cassowary 

At the next stop down, Red Peak, there was another boardwalk tour, this time accompanied by a park ranger who told us about some of the plants of the rainforest, including, inevitably, how poisonous they are. (This is Australia, after all. Everything is poisonous.)

The final leg took us down a steep incline to sea level. From there we were bussed back to our hotel. In the evening we took it into our heads to go out for a Greek dinner.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Koala Sprint

On Sunday we drove out to Lone Pine, which, despite sounding like a retirement home, is Australia’s oldest and largest koala sanctuary. We saw many koalas,

Give me your hand, Mr. Frodo!

…and listened to a talk about Eric the python…

…before entering the kangaroo enclosure, where you could get up close and personal with emus and kangaroos.

There were also aviaries containing various aves, and some aves that were just there hopping around, wondering why they didn’t get a cage and fed as well. The same could be said of the lizards, some of whom were in cages, including the lacy monitor, Australia’s largest lizard, which grows up to 2m in length; and some rather brave (or foolhardy) ones that had infiltrated the crocodile enclosure.

We also attended a rather good talk and demonstration on birds of prey, which included a kestrel, barn and barking owls, a very impressive sea eagle, and a wedge-tailed eagle.

After spending some time in the reptile house and seeing a sleeping wombat and a distinctly un-satanic Tasmanian devil, we’d seen pretty well all they had to offer, so we went to lunch at the café at the summit of Mount Coot-Tha. This is what pases for a mountain in Queensland but at a mere 287m above sea level barely qualifies as a hill, really. Nevertheless it has good views of Brisbane from the top.

We drove the long way back down the mountain in order to take in the views on the way, then returned home for an evening’s lollygagging.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Brisbane - Day 2

We walked down to Regatta pier on Saturday morning, ignoring several large lizards on the way (we are *so* over lizards), to catch the CityCat into town. We got off at QUT, and then crossed back over the river to spend the morning in the Maritime Museum.

The centrepiece of the museum is the River class frigate HMAS Diamantina, which was built during WWII and saw service in the Pacific theatre in 1945, and was also involved in the Japanese surrender. The ship is open apart from the lower engine room deck, so we clambered all over from the bridge and wheelhouse to the guns, which we were able to rotate and elevate, and down through the captain’s, officers’, and ratings quarters. There were also displays about the construction and history of the ship, and a good sense of how crowded life was aboard a ship like this in wartime.

Also in the museum is the Ella’s Pink Lady, a pink yacht sailed around the world by a teenage girl, Jessica Watson.

Inside the museum building itself are various models of sailing and steamships of significance to Queensland, and the usual collection of nautical artefacts.

Afterwards we re-crossed the river on the Goodwill bridge, and set off for the Eagle Street Pier to find somewhere to have a spot of lunch. I had identified this area as a good place for lunch from the leaflet emporium of yesterday, but when we got there, we ended up in a restaurant not listed in any of the publications I’d collected. We surmised that this was due to it having only just opened, clearly replacing one of the incumbents. It was called the Kingsley Steak and Crabhouse, and a quick glance down the menu told us why. I had a craving for some crab and as it was lunchtime we stuck to a simple menu of king crab, bresaola with truffle oil, chips and spring beans, washed down with a couple of glasses of wine. Followed by some extremely decadent desserts...and very nice it was too.

Vanilla, strawberry, white chocolate cheesecake

That was about the extent of our adventure in Brisbane for the day. We came back on the CityCat and idled about, before going out once more in the evening to the local Chinese restaurant for dinner. We ate Chinese food.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brisbane - Day 1

We took the bus from Castlemaine to the airport, and arrived in Brisbane late in the afternoon, where it was warm and sunny. We met Ian at the airport, as he’d been flying in from elsewhere in Queensland on important government business. We are staying with Ian for four days in Brisbane before heading further North to Palm Cove near Cairns.

On Friday, we headed into central Brisbane on foot, armed with a map book and a vague plan of where to go. Brisbane is built around the Brisbane River, and we are staying in an apartment overlooking the river on the North bank. We walked along the river, crossing at the Go Between bridge (named, apparently, after The Go-Betweens, a Brisbane band) before continuing our journey along the South Bank, through what is known as the Cultural Centre. No laughing at the back here, please.

Along the way we spotted a large lizard basking by the shore, and ibises stalking through the grass. At this stage we found this to be quite new and exciting.

Whatchew lookin' at?

We took in the Queensland Art Gallery and walked through the South Bank parklands, which are also home to the Street beach – a purpose-built swimming area by the side of the river with plenty of water features for the young at heart to run through, over, under and between.

An ibis appreciating modern art

We had a mini-adventure caused by finding a wallet lying about on a bench, so then had to locate a police station to hand it in so that it could find its way back to its owner. After that detour we continued along the South Bank, before re-crossing the river on the Goodwill bridge; then heading into the Botanic Gardens, which are enclosed by one of many sharp bends of the Brisbane river as it winds its way to the sea. The gardens contain a marker which showed how high the river has flooded over past years, most recently in January this year.

By this time we were feeling a bit peckish, but with no real guide to eating in the city we headed for the nearest halfway-decent looking place for lunch, where I was served a chilli pasta which was entirely bereft of chilli. Nicola had a melt which was accompanied by a “leaf” salad – an instruction the chef appeared to have taken literally.

In the afternoon, Nicola had an appointment in town, so after a quick trip to the tourist information centre in the middle of town, I went and explored the Eagle Street Pier and Riverside areas, whilst Nicola went to chat to talk to financial specialists about the problems of retirement savings. For more information on this, see elsewhere. I, meanwhile, consumed some of James Squire’s The Chancer golden ale at Groove Train.

When Nicola had finished we met up at the Pig and Whistle – someone’s idea of a “traditional English pub” which seemed to be a cross between a Wetherspoon’s and a country inn, but more the former. Why anyone would want to imitate this is a matter beyond my ken.

We got on a CityCat back home, which whisked us down the river in a manner reminiscent of the Thames Clippers we used to catch in London. Thus ended day one of our Brisbane adventure.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


On Wednesday we decided to explore Castlemaine more thoroughly. We went up Lyttelton Street to the Burke and Wills Memorial, known by several other names like Burke and Hare (me) and Birkenstock (Jason). Burke and Wills were two explorers who went from Melbourne in the South to the Gulf of Carpenteria in the North of Australia, and were the first white people to do so. How they managed is a mystery as they are generally acknowledged to be amongst the most bungling and incompetent of explorers and it’s a wonder they didn’t end up dead on the way, a fate which met many of their fellow expeditioners. Both died on the return journey, and only one of the original party made it back alive.

There’s a memorial in Castlemaine because John O’Hara Burke had been Police Commissioner of the town for the preceding two years.

Afterwards we made our way back down, passing Castlemaine’s most famous geographical feature, the anticlinal fold:

Those of you knowledgeable about geography will be able to explain this to the rest of us. Or just follow the link.

We then headed up to the Castlemaine art gallery, which has works by Australian artists as well as a museum of Castlemaine in days of yore.

We went to lunch at the Public Inn, where we had a very reasonable two-course set lunch with wine, consisting of tuna carpaccio and pork belly (me) and shoulder of lamb croquette and salmon pasta (Nicola).

After lunch we walked up to the Botanical Gardens, and explored the Significant Trees of Victoria, of which there are two examples in the gardens.

A Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) - a significant tree of Victoria
We’d pretty well worn ourselves out with all that walking around, so we then went back to the house for a cup of tea and a rest.


On Monday, we were due to take the hire car back to the airport, so popped down to the café for some raisin toast before making an early start down the Calder Highway. We made good time, handed back the car, and then took a taxi into central Melbourne.

We dropped off our bags at the hotel, which was on Little Bourke Street next door to the Punch Lane wine bar, an old haunt from Jason’s Melbourne days. First port of call in Melbourne was the art gallery, where we were searching for a picture that Nicola had seen once, long ago (and possibly in a far-off galaxy). Our search was unsuccessful, so we then set out on a more realistic search, for some lunch. We walked along the length of the South Bank, seeing the sights along the way, then went to a restaurant of Jason’s choosing on the river, Pure South, which provided us with an excellent meal.

After a spot of shopping in the CBD, we reassembled in the Punch Lane Wine Bar for a glass or two of wine and some canapés, before heading out to the main event of the evening – dinner at Movida. This is a tapas restaurant that has grown from a small place (last time I visited Melbourne in 2007) to a three-outlet empire with a large venue on Little Bourke Street. We had a good selection of starter and main course tapas, all brought with a decent time interval between them so that we could drink and enjoy the setting fully. Hero of he meal must have been the braised ox cheeks – beautifully tender and succulent.

Afterwards we walked home amongst the partying revellers of Melbourne, many of whom were in fancy dress – it was, after all, 31st October.

Next day we went for breakfast at The European, just around the corner from our hotel on Spring Street, opposite the state parliament. There were many behatted people about as it was Melbourne Cup day, and the good citizenry of Melbourne get all dressed up to go to the races.

After checking out of the hotel, we decided to head out of town and down to St Kilda beach, catching a tram down to the main street, and then walking along, taking photos of the local wildlife…

…and the obligatory picture outside the entrance to Luna Park, the amusement park that’s been there for decades.

We looked into a number of shops along Acland Street before lunching at Cicciolina, an old-established Italian named after the famous Italian politician.

Our best-laid plans to return to Castlemaine went slightly aglay as the train we intended to catch turned out not to be running, as it was a bank holiday and so the Saturday timetable was in force. We got back to Castlemaine just in time to pick up Nellie from the café and go home for a quiet night in, after the hecticness of the past two days.