Blue Mountains, Spectacular Festivities and Hellbent in the Wine Country

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January 20th 2012
Published: January 20th 2012
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Strewth! We are painfully aware that we've taken a rather long artistic pause since last sharing our adventures in the amazing land Down Under with you dear friends. Fear not, neither have we left you out in the cold nor have we completely indulged in idleness, latter only on a part-time basis. We have done a couple of short expeditions that we are about to tell you, have had some major festivities to celebrate and left Sydney behind us and got a new home on wheels.

After ten highly enjoyable days of worldly pleasures in Sydney, it's time to take our first walk on the wild side and head to the bush. The bush, the hinterland, in the broadest Aussie sense is anywhere beyond one's backyard, more strictly speaking, anywhere outside of a town. At some unspecified point the bush becomes the outback, the rough country. The exact boundary between them is seemingly ungraspable for a non-native. In a nutshell, starting off from any given coast, you will first enter the bush, then the outback, keep on pushing, you will be back to the bush before reaching the coast on the other side. Sounds simple enough?

Our bushwalking adventure failed to start straight behind our backyard though, 20 meter in the bush and our feet were covered with ferocious leeches, aii! We admitted our defeat and turned back and enjoyed yet another lazy afternoon by the pool. The second attempt was more successful, we went to the Blue Mountains National Park, north-west of Sydney. They are called mountains, but they are not particularly high as a range. But the scenery is beautiful and we saw immediately where the name comes from. The mountains are covered by a deep rain forest which keeps a thin fog over the trees, the two colors come together and giving the mountains a blue appearance. Although not very high, elevation under 1000m, the Blue mountains stood as an obstacle for the first Europeans when they tried to go inland, giving the aboriginal people some more time of tranquility. Now this place, especially the town called Katoomba is highly popular with all kind of tourists. Luckily, we had decided to start our tour around the mountains from the northern edge and we missed all the crowds in the first day. The place we came is called Blackheath, a somber for a name , but the village turned out to be quite friendly with a knowledgeable visitors center and a deli cafe serving healthy breakfasts. What else would we need ! Our first nigh we met in the middle of the forest with a breathtaking view over one of many cliffs of the Blue Mountains. It was the first night we put into use our new tent , a.k.a. hotel Hilton that we thought we would visit frequently during our Oz stay. Living in a warm house for so long, we somehow forgot that it might be cold in the bush, it was cold and our night was short. This year, the summer in Australia is particularly rainy and cool. Well, we had more time for walks. The one we chose goes along the Grand Canyon, the American had not claimed yet their patent for that name, it seems. For two hours we enjoyed almost Avatar's landscapes among small waterfalls and bright green trees. Another story was the famous Three Sisters rock. It is well known and very well organized with even a railway and a couple of cable cars to see the Sisters better. The cute legend and sound infrastructure attract so many people that it almost ruins the notion of nature park, we made this part short. Blue Mountains are beautiful, at their northern part, deep inside the blue forest, whereto you have to see some effort to get.

We return to Sydney just in time to celebrate the New Year in style. Sydney Harbour is the place to be and be seen for the new year, as it is one of the first major locations where champagne bottles pop to mark the beginning of a new year. For 9 hours, we live happily 2012, while Europe is still stuck in the past. And what glorious hours they are, we witness the shock and awe doctrine applied on the night sky with overwhelmingly spectacular fireworks, simultaneously set off from half a dozen locations. The entire Harbor Bridge is turned into one gargantuan sparkler. This is a country that isn't shamed to show off its prosperity.

Life is too short to drink bad wine, hence our next destination is the Hunter Valley, one of the oldest wine regions in Australia, a picturesque valley full of vineyards and olive groves, paradise on earth for wine-aficionados. With Nastya volunteering to be the designated driver, my face lits up with impish glee by the prospects of having two blissful days of visiting wineries, getting elegantly inebriated on prodigious quantities of top quality wines while enjoying the local produce and and marvelous landscapes. Being never too fussy about mixing the grain and the grape, upon our arrival to the valley, we set forth with a visit to Blue Tongue brewery where we are introduced to alcoholic ginger beer, a pleasant new acquaintance, which is especially to Nastya's liking. For the rest of the day, my palate is being caressed by sublime white wines and dark vibrant reds. From cool crispy Semillons with subtle stone fruit aromas to intense full-bodied Shiraz with the huge finish that seems to linger forever, I am thoroughly impressed by the consistency and the quality of the wines of the Valley. Compared to Europe, there's no plonk produced for the sake of cashing on the European Union agricultural subsidies. The tasting concept itself is great, you just pop in to a wine cellar of any of 140 odd winemakers in the valley, sample through their products while enjoying a good chat with the employees, proud of their products and if you find something you really like, you can buy directly off the producer at discounted price. To digest all the pleasures of the perfect day, we find a charming bed and breakfast place just next to an excellent vineyard. There is an aptly named guard dog Bacchus at our lodge, who shows great appreciation to our cheese cake. A professional connoisseur of all things tasty that dog is! To finish off the perfect day, we settle for a bottle of rosé and some pungent cheese while watching the sunset. This is definitely a place where a jaded traveller can nourish his body and spirit and replenish his mojo. The next day we continue with touring the vineyards. At McWilliams winery, we take a guided tour and go through the entire production process. A laid-back winemaker tells us that since in Australia, grapes are harvested primarily mechanically, there's an occasional frog or a snake ending up in the fermantation tanks. Talking of a truly organic product! I'll drink to that!

After three luxury weeks in Sydney, fully enjoying the summer in the city, it is time to hit the road again before we are too used starting our days with a dip in the swimming pool. We fly to Melbourne where we stay overnight at the old bohemian beach district of St Kilda. The next day we are introduced to our new home of next 20 days - a self contained camper van, love at first sight, especially since it has a proper beast of burden under it, 3l turbocharged 4WD Toyota Hilux. With the camper van designed for serious off-road action, we are ready to embrace the Outback, but first we will visit the most southern point of Australian continent! Provided we will survive the land of desolation, you will hear from us before the snow melts in Finland.

Bacchus we thank who gave us wine
Which warms the blood within our veins;
That nectar is itself divine.
The man who drinks not, yet attains
By godly grace to human rank
Would be an angel if he drank.
Pierre Motin

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