Friday, November 23, 2018

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Last year, we went to see The Play That Goes Wrong. We enjoyed it immensely, so when it was announced that Peter Pan Goes Wrong would be coming to Wellington, we booked it straight away. A play which often involves people flying about the stage on wires? What could possibly go wrong with that?

First, dinner, and I’ve been pestered by various websites to which I subscribe, to try the new restaurant, Spring Kitchen, in Wellington’s new Hilton hotel. This is on a landmark site, in what used to be known as the Harcourts building or T&G building. This building has been quite troublesome for the owner, as it’s a heritage building so couldn’t be bulldozed, as he wanted. Following the Seddon earthquake of 2013, the building was assessed for earthquake safety and found wanting. It was abandoned by its former tenants – various government agencies – and stood empty for a long while, until the agreement with Hilton which included strengthening and refurbishment. The restaurant, Spring Kitchen, is a modern Indian fusion restaurant, of the style championed by Chetan Pangam at 180° restaurant in the Copthorne on Oriental Parade for many years now. I had a chilli tandoori salmon followed by a steak with masala kale and mash; while Nicola had the mushroom cappuccino followed by tandoori chicken cannelloni. You get the idea. It was good, but if we hadn’t been on a special offer I don’t think I’d have paid those prices.

Down the road, then, to the Opera House, and we took our seats for the performance. We were taking bets on what would be the first thing to go wrong…this turned out to be an electrical explosion when the narrator was exiting the stage after the introduction. The play follows a fairly predictable format: things start to go wrong with the set almost immediately, and the cast start to improvise to get around the problems. SPOILER ALERT: Peter Darling attempts to hang his jacket on a coat hook on the door, only to find that it’s not real, but painted on. The electrical set which revolves, and the fireworks used for special effects, are particularly problematical, as are the props, sound effects and recordings used during the performance…the spoon causes particular issues.


As the play progresses, things get worse: one of the actors, the daughter of the director, is chronically stage-shy, but is forced on anyway. She ends up with a broken leg after a piece of scenery falls on her, but returns from hospital in the second act with a cast on, only to suffer further calamities, eventually finishing the play in a wheelchair. With hilarious consequences! When Tinkerbell is accidentally electrocuted, the cast immediately look for the first-aider, who, it turns out, is…Tinkerbell. With the set falling apart around them, and the revelation of off-stage shenanigans between the principal actors, the script gets shoved aside as various scores are settled. The speed setting on the revolving set breaks down, and the actors are whirled around at increasing speed, jumping from set to set to try and stay on stage.

Eventually, the set stops revolving and a conclusion is reached. There’s a full-cast rousing all-singing  dance number at the end, and it’s all over. We laughed so much our faces ached! Looking forward to next year’s offering – a brief shufti at their website would appear to indicate that The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is the next cab off the rank.

Friday, November 16, 2018

David Byrne

David Byrne, erstwhile singer and songwriter of Talking Heads, is touring the world with his new album American Utopia. Unlike some bands I could mention*, his world tour includes Australia and New Zealand. Not only that, by New Zealand he means “other cities as well as Auckland”! Yes, he’s playing Wellington. It would be churlish not to go and see him.

First up was support act, Kimbra. I’m not really aware of Kimbra other than as a name, but she is apparently quite successful, in a modern way with the young folks. She played eight songs, including some from her new album. I’m not rushing out to buy it on the strength of this performance.

Now, I know some Talking Heads songs from way back in the 80s, but since they dissolved in 1991, I haven’t really been following what David Byrne has been up to. But, as you’d expect, he’s been busy. Not just musically, but also in film, writing, collaborating (notably with Brian Eno), and musicals. American Utopia is, however, his first solo release in nigh on 14 years.

I’ve never been to a Talking Heads/David Byrne show before, so I don’t know if what he did was normal. I was expecting him to sing songs and have a band. And he did, it was just the way that he did it that was different. You see, in a “normal” gig, the members of the band play their instruments, usually tied to one spot by a guitar lead or other electrical connection – especially the drummer, who you expect to sit behind a set of drums. This was manifestly not the case here. All the musicians were mobile. There wasn’t a lead in sight, all the instruments were connected wirelessly. And they sang, and danced, whilst playing their instruments, in a highly choreographed way.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “How did the drummer manage to dance around, with a huge drum kit?” Well, they’d come up with a solution to that. Instead of one drummer, there were five (and sometimes six – one of the band was a multi-instrumentalist), and they each had one, sometimes two, items of percussion to strike. Between them, they made up a drum kit, and were able to march and dance around to their heart’s content.

Which is what they did. As I mentioned, this was a very choreographed show, and as well as Byrne himself, there were two backing singers/dancers, a keyboard player, bass, guitar, and one general purpose musician, who swapped instruments as needed – sometimes additional guitar, sometimes additional percussion. Naturally, this set-up freed them up to do all kinds of exciting things.

Did I mention what they were wearing? They were all kitted out in matching grey suits. And all barefoot, as there was a lot of dancing to be done. The lighting, too, broke with traditional ideas of what lighting at a gig is – for the first six or so songs they played under bright white lights only, before introducing any kind of colour into the mix. The set list was a mixture of old and new – some Talking Heads in there, but not necessarily ones that I recognised, until we reached the culmination of the show, when they strung together Blind, Burning Down The House, and Road To Nowhere. A lot of the set was from the new album, which I have now ordered and am awaiting arrival.
So that was David Byrne. Probably the best gig I’ve been to for a number of years. It’s well worth checking out if you get the chance!

* Yes, Duran Duran, I’m talking about YOU.


 Our first day in Sydney, and the weather forecast was for rain. Undaunted, we set out under cloudy skies, in search of breakfast…and found it fairly quickly down the road at a café on Clarence St. Duly sated, we set out to explore the indoor options for the day.

We started at the Australian National Maritime Museum, which was showing a film made by James Cameron about his voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, Exploring The Deep. We had a quick mosey about the museum first as the next showing wasn’t for half an hour. After that, it started to rain, so we ran out to The Endeavour. This is a replica of the ship sailed by Captain Cook in the 18th century, built by Alan Bond. The ship regularly sails with crews who pay for the privilege. But it was in port at the moment, so we joined a guided tour of the vessel, where various guides gave us information, mostly about his Australian adventures, and also the conditions for the crew and officers on board.

Ahoy, matey!
We’d spent quite a bit of time on board, and it was still raining, so we crossed the Darling Harbour bridge to get some lunch at The Port, snaffling their lunch burger special. We then walked up the harbour to visit the Sydney Aquarium. I’ve been there before, but they’ve now opened up the penguin enclosure more so you can see them properly, taking a short boat ride to their enclosure. They also have fish, and sharks in a tank that you can walk under and through.

In the evening, we went for dinner at a Greek restaurant that we’d located nearby, Medusa. They were serving Greek food in a more modern way and setting. It was pretty good, but there was a load of it. Afterwards, feeling a bit knackered, we headed back to our hotel for an early night.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


We’d just about exhausted all the possibilities of Noosa. On our final day, we drove down to Maleny to go to the Botanic Gardens and Bird World. After buying tickets to the next tour in half an hour, the first order of business was to get covered in birds!

Covered in birds!
These birds are tame, and an experienced handler decorates you with them. Once on, they stay pretty much where they’re put. Many of them are recovery birds so not able to be released into the wild, or even integrated into the general population in the aviary.

Inside the aviary, our guide told us what birds he had and how to behave around them. In particular, make sure you look where you’re going so you don’t step on one on the ground! The first house contained smaller birds – finches, some varieties of pigeon, and others. The next cage was the parrots, cockatoo, macaws etc – many of whom would land on you, sometimes without warning. One of them was very interested in my backpack and travelled around with me for a while.


After that we wandered around the botanic gardens for a bit before spurning the rather basic offerings of the café to find something more suiting to our needs in the town of Maleny. This we found in an Italian restaurant who were able to supply us with caesar salads. We carried on down to the airport, dropped off the car and awaited our flight. We’d needed something substantial for lunch as our flight times and arrangements left us with little dining time when we arrived in Sydney. As it was, the flight was delayed a further hour, so by the time we arrived we just wanted to get to the hotel and go to bed.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island, or K’gari as it is now known, forms the northern part of the Great Sandy National Park, named with typical Aussie literalness. This stretches from Noosa to Rainbow Beach, then on to Fraser Island, which is the world’s largest sand island, and features rain forests, creeks, and freshwater lakes. Due to the nature of the sand, it retains water like a sponge, and is said to be able to survive a 20-year drought. Many of the lakes on the island are “mirror lakes” caused by the surrounding sand being below the level of the water table, so water simply seeps to the surface.

It’s a bit of a trip from Noosa, so we were picked up at the ungodly hour of 6:05, and again took a tour of the various accommodations of Noosa to collect other passengers. This took longer than usual due to detours and road closures in place for the triathlon. Nevertheless, we finally hit the road and set forth to Boreen Point again, to board a purpose-built battlewagon four-wheel drive transport. This then drove us up to a petrol station, where they let some of the air out of the tyres (all the better to drive on sand), then onto the ferry to cross over to Fraser Island.

Finally on the island, we stopped for morning tea before continuing along the beach, then into the interior. Our destination was Lake McKenzie, the largest of the freshwater lakes on the island and a popular tourist venue. It took us a couple of hours to get there, as the track was an extremely bumpy and pitted sand track, which made me feel a bit seasick at times. We were exhorted to look out for dingoes, as Fraser Island is one of the few places which still have pure-bred dingoes in Australia. We were given instructions on how to behave in the event of seeing a dingo (don’t run, don’t feed them (instant $400 fine), don’t show fear, be assertive). We didn’t see any.

On arrival at Lake McKenzie we went for a swim in the lake and photographed the picturesqueness, before having a lunch of a chicken and salad roll. Beer and soft drinks were available to buy for cash, but as we were on a completely cashless trip, these were unavailable to us. After lunch we went for a 2km walk through the rainforest where we again saw no wildlife other than a goanna.

The rest of the trip was the reverse of our journey out – bumpy ride, ferry, put air back into the tyres, drive back to Boreen Point. At Boreen Point we had a short stop – just long enough to get some pictures of the kangaroos, but not long enough to get a beer – before reboarding the bus and getting back to our hotel, this time managing to be the second-to-last drop-off.

In summary then: a 12 hour bus ride to swim in a lake, have a chicken roll, go for a walk, not see any of the famed dingoes. The rest of the time spent in a bus. Won’t be doing this trip again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


 On Saturday, Noosa was full of people involved in the triathlon and other related events, so we got the hell out of Dodge. We planned a drive into the hinterland to take us away from the crowds.

Our first stop was the town of Cooroy, home of the Noosa Botanic Gardens. We took a walk around there, on the lookout for bird life, and immediately spotted some moorhens on the lake, as well as what was once known as the purple swamp hen, which now goes by the more dignified name of Australasian swamp hen. Here in New Zealand we know it as pukeko.

Australasian swamp hen - aka pukeko
We also spotted some insect life.

And a catbird, which sounds like a cat.

We then drove on to our second stop, Kenilworth, where we stopped for lunch at the Kenilworth Dairies. They make cheese, and offer cheese tastings to the passing punters in small cubes which you stab with a cocktail stick to taste. As I was posing for a picture of me with cheese, a kookaburra, who had clearly planned this, swooped in and nicked the cheese right off my stick in front of me! He then sat on the wall and ate it, looking smug. This is what he does every day, I guess.

We had a platter of cheeses and meats, and then decided to round it all off with freshly made gelato.

Next on the agenda was two parks with waterfalls. The first was the Mapleton Falls National Park, where we took the Wompoo walk around the forest, spotting a yellow robin along the way.

The final stop was a bit more arduous, as we went to Kondalilla National Park. This involves a long downhill to the waterfalls and waterhole – a journey which most people seemed to be making in swimming gear, we noted. We’d left ours in the car. D’oh! We got to the bottom where people were disporting themselves in the substantial waterhole at the foot of the falls.

Of course, walking downhill has a downside…you have to walk back uphill. We climbed and climbed and climbed, taking a shortcut back to the carpark so we didn’t have to walks so far. Even so, our phones (which track our daily steps) were inordinately pleased with us that day!

We drove home along the Bruce Highway, washed the dust from our feet, then made it to Maisie’s Seafood & Steakhouse for a well-deserved steak dinner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Noosa Everglades

 What is an everglade? According to, it’s a tract of low, swampy land, especially in Southern Florida. Noosa Everglades claims to be “one of only two everglades systems in the world”. (Guess where the other one is!)

We’d booked a day trip to go cruising and canoeing in the Noosa Everglades. We were picked up outside our hotel at eight o’clock, and then toured the accommodations of Noosa to pick up all the other passengers, before setting off for Boreen Point on Lake Cootharaba, about 20 km north of Noosa. After stopping for a short while there, we then boarded our boat. Fortunately we were all in shorts, as the boarding process involves wading out to the boat! Even so, I had to roll mine up a bit. The water is distinctly brown, due to the tannins leached into the water from the tea tree plants which surround the lake.

We set out on the lake, passing some pelicans on the way, as our guide gave us some historical and nature notes along the way. We saw a water dragon, and a goanna when we stopped for morning tea (he hangs around the site expecting scraps – an unfortunate example of behaviour modification which is now discouraged), but not much in the way of exotic bird life.

Goanna, or lace monitor

Sleepy pelicans

Mirror lake

More mirror-y water

Water dragon

At this point, half of our party boarded canoes to paddle up the river (there’s no real current as such, so going upriver is about as energetic as going downriver), whilst we set off up river to Harry’s Hut – built by a chap called Harry, whose family had lived on the land before it was a National Park. He took the Queensland government to court when it first designated the area a park, won, and used the money from the settlement to ensure public access to the river and park remained.

The canoers eventually caught up with us, and we switched over to canoe downstream. Nicola and I hadn’t originally been put down for canoeing due to some oversight, but we wanted to go, so we were split up and put with other boats. I had the pleasure of the company of Eva and Peter from Munster in Germany, who were doing the whole Australia and New Zealand tour. We canoed very efficiently downstream, and saw two raptors flying overhead – but on the advice of our guide, hadn’t brought our cameras, as a boating accident wouldn’t do them much good.

After returning to shore, we then sailed back to Boreen Point the way we’d come, and again waded ashore. Lunch was served at the camp ground here – roast pork and veggies, an odd choice in the warm sunshine. There is a microbrewery on site, which boasts that it is the only brewery in a national park. Still, they made beer competently enough, so I had a pint to wash down my lunch with. We then had a short period to try and capture some wildlife shots around the place, where we saw more bird life than we had on the boat trip! We also looked out for kangaroos but failed to spot any – apparently we wandered off in the wrong direction.

We were delivered back to our hotel, and had a quick spa and swim to wash away the river water. In the evening we headed into Noosaville for dinner at the Boathouse on Gympie Terrace.


We had an early morning flight to Noosa, our destination for the next seven days, so we’d booked a hotel at the airport in order to be able to make a quick start. We’d handed in the car the night before, and took the hotel shuttle to the airport, as Quest Melbourne Airport, despite its name, isn’t actually at Melbourne Airport. A short flight later we were arriving in Noosa, where I felt ridiculously overdressed in long trousers.

We first headed for our hotel, the South Pacific Resort & Spa, but it was too early to check into the room, so instead we decided to explore Noosa by means of the hotel’s shuttle bus, as we were advised by reception that parking was extremely limited due to the events taking place at the weekend. These are the Noosa Triathlon and related events. The Noosa Triathlon claims to be the biggest in the world, and a lot of the car parking had been covered in seats for spectators, changeover areas for the athletes, and the finish line. So bus it was.

The first order of business was to get an early lunch. The “breakfast” supplied by Quest was a pre-packed selection of foods which were largely unappetising, apart from the cereal, so that’s all we’d had to eat – and that at six in the morning. We’d gained an hour flying to Queensland (they don’t do summer time there) so although it was late morning to them, it was lunchtime to us. We zipped into Café 63 and got lunched; then found our way around Hastings Street, noting the location of Bistro C and booking a table there for the evening.

At 2:30 we met the shuttle bus again and went back to check in to our room. It was spacious and clean, and had a pool just outside. Not bad. After unpacking we headed round to the nearby Aldi to stock up on supplies. In retrospect this was a bad idea, as Aldi’s range of goods is eccentric, to say the least. If I’d known that Woolworths was just around the corner I’d have gone there instead, but the hotel, for some reason (money?) directs people to Aldi. Among the items they failed to supply us with was tomato juice, and coffee in reasonably-sized packets. We had to head to Woolworths anyway to find a bottle shop in the same retail park. So I’m really down on Aldi.

Nicola, meanwhile, had located leaflets by the dozen, so we happily spent some time perusing these before selecting which trips we were going on. It’s the end of the whale-watching season so the chances of seeing a humpback were diminishing by the day, and I didn’t fancy it after my last experience with whale-watching, so we booked trips to the Everglades and Fraser Island instead.

In the evening we went out to Bistro C for cocktails and dinner. On the advice of the maitre d’ when we booked, we’d reserved one serving of the daily special, and decided to fight over who would have it when we got here. When we spoke to the waiter, however, she told us it was a pretty substantial dish – whole snapper – and we could easily share it. Which we duly did. It was delicious.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Hanging Rock

It was time to leave Castlemaine. We went down to Tog’s for a last breakfast, then packed up our stuff, said our goodbyes, and hit the road. Our destination? Hanging Rock.

You’ve probably heard of Hanging Rock because of the book, and film, Picnic At Hanging Rock. It’s the story of a girl’s school expedition to Hanging Rock, with a packed lunch. Spoiler alert: some of them are never seen again.

Hanging Rock is a real place – a volcanic rock formation; the story, however, is fictional. Nevertheless, it is treated as real by many people, who resolutely refuse to believe that it’s not based in fact – a myth that the writer has done nothing to dispel. It’s a popular tourist destination, and has facilities to host music events and, yes, picnics. The main feature is the volcanic pillars formed from cooling magma, which can be ascended on foot. The whole area is a conservation area, so we looked around for signs of wildlife, and spotted several SBBs (small brown birds), as well as a more distinctive crimson rosella.

A small brown bird

Crimson rosella
We climbed to the top of the rock, passing the actual “hanging rock” itself, which is about halfway up – a rock suspended between two others. Close to the top is an inscription “T SCOTT 1866”, an early example of tagging.

By Nick carson at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The way down was a lot quicker, and we then had a quick lunch in the café before heading in to Melbourne. We explored the National Gallery of Victoria for a bit, before heading to Gazi for a cocktail, and Tonka for dinner.

Happy Birthday

Sunday was Jason’s birthday. A few friends and family were coming round for lunch. Elissa sent us out of the kitchen so she could prepare lunch, so we went for a walk up to the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens to see what we could see.

On the pond there were ducks, and in the trees there was a kookaburra.

We also went up to Gwen’s to look at the gardens, where we saw a little blue bird on the lawn.

We’d seen these on our trip to the Pyrenees yesterday, but had been unable to capture a pic of one – they move around like nobody’s business! It’s called the Superb Fairy Wren, which just makes all the other fairy wrens feel inadequate.

On the way back we stopped in again at the Shedshaker for a cooling beer – I tried four of the ones that I hadn’t had on the previous visit, including one called Breakfast Lager, and a chocolate stout. Then we returned for lunch. Folk were arriving as we turned up, and lunch got underway.

Black Forest gateau

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Pyrenees Wine

On Saturday, Elissa had a wedding to cater so was out of action all day. Jason, Nicola and I took ourselves off to the Pyrenees region to sample some wines from an area which I’ve never been to before, and Jason hasn’t seen for nigh on twenty years. It’s a bit of a drive from Castlemaine, but as most wineries don’t open up much before eleven o’clock, we were still able to have a leisurely breakfast at home before setting out just before ten.

It was a good job we did set out early, however, as we got lost on the way! Relying on satellite directions from “Satty” on the mobile phone only works as long as you have a mobile connection, and out in the wopwops of Victoria it isn’t the most reliable, once you get between towns. Fortunately we were able to correct our mistake fairly quickly, and headed up to the first winery, Redbank. There we tasted various wines, whites, reds and rosés. Unfortunately they’d chilled all their wines to within an inch of their lives, including the reds, so tasting was a trial as I tried to warm them up sufficiently in my hands and swirling the glass. I’m sure they make good wines but you’d never know from this tasting.

At the next vineyard, Dalwhinnie, we again tasted but didn’t buy as we were travelling, and we’d have to carry it around with us. Dalwhinnie have a very good reputation for their reds and Jason bought a bottle of their premium shiraz to lay away and ignore for 15 years or so.

Equus at Moonambel is a relative newcomer, opened about four years ago. You wouldn’t know it from the state of their organisation, though – you’d think they’d opened yesterday! We managed to get a tasting, and decided to buy some wine for consumption at Jason’s birthday party tomorrow. They hadn’t got around to it labelling yet, so the owner happily went and got some bottles and stuck the labels on in front of us which is frankly an unprofessional, and somewhat dubious, practice. He was selling it at $14 a bottle though.

Our final stop of the day was our lunch venue, Blue Pyrenees winery. We’d booked for one o’clock and arrived just in time, so decided to take lunch first and taste afterwards. Lunch was a platter of meats, cheeses, pickles etc, which we washed down with the local beer in a leisurely fashion.

Our tastebuds were pretty exhausted by then so we did a quick tasting and were on our way back to Castlemaine.


Next time I’m not leaving my laptop behind when I go on holiday. I get so behind on my blogging!

Two weeks ago we got up at some ungodly hour (well before sparrow fart), flew out to Melbourne, picked up a car at the airport, and drove the short distance to Castlemaine, arriving in time for a second breakfast at Tog’s Café. This somewhat surprised Jason, as I’d told him we’d be arriving around lunchtime. What can I say? We made better than expected time both on the plane, car rental place, and drive.

After breakfast we dumped our stuff at Jason’s then went for a walk around Castlemaine’s wild side – Kalimna Park, to be exact – with the intention of capturing some bird life on camera. In this I was relatively successful, as we saw lorikeets, long-billed corellas, rosellas, a grey fantail and a spotted pardalote.

Rainbow lorikeet 

Long-billed corellas

Grey fantail

Spotted pardalote

We walked back via the Burke & Wills memorial and Castlemaine anticline, which appears to have grown since we last saw it; then went up to the other end of town where there is a brewery. No, not XXXX, but a proper one. It’s called Shedshaker, and after a fairly energetic day’s walking in the hot hot sun, a selection of beers in a tasting paddle was the very thing. So rested we, by the tum-tum tree.

There's much more anticline to be seen these days