Notes from Pumphouse Point, Lake St Clair, Tasmania

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We were very privileged to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in January of this year (2015). In spite of all the jokes about how I’d have been out in 7 years for murder, it’s been a fantastic journey.

We decided to celebrate with something special. But what? Well, in June of 2014 we did one of our many ventures up into Pine Valley at the Southern end of the Cradle Mtn – Lake St Clair National Park in Tasmania. Three days in the wilderness (stunning) and then out by ferry across Lake St Clair to our waiting cars.

When we boarded the ferry, the ferryman informed us that because we had some tourists onboard, we wouldn’t be heading immediately back to Cynthia Bay, but would be taking a circuitous route. (This is why you never pay the Ferryman until he gets you to the other side).

Bugger, we thought, flush toilets and hot water were within our grasp and had now been snatched from under our noses (well, the women thought that…). But it was a beautiful, sunny, calm day – the sort that only Tassie can deliver in the midst of Winter. What the heck, let’s just enjoy the tour – and we did.

Part of the tour included a very slow drift past the (being) refurbished Pumphouse Point that Simon Currant was developing into a luxury resort for (what we thought) the rich and the famous. Not for the likes of us, grubby bushwalkers!!

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(Photo: Peter Grant)

However as the explanations and descriptions unfurled, I started to have devious thoughts. Then, one of our fellow bushwalkers, Lynne Grant, started talking about celebrating her 60th her with friends here (yes, we are all that old).

Hmm, I thought, that gives me an idea too!! I’m bringing back Cheryl to celebrate our 40th. So, the plan was set in motion.

But immediately, my thoughts turned to January when our anniversary would be celebrated. Did we REALLY want to come here and pay top end prices when the sun would be beckoning us outdoors???

So, there hatched another cunning plan. We could delay our trip until, say, May when we might have a chance of crap weather and be forced to stay indoors in our 5 star accommodation and drink wine and eat chocolate.

Now, the only flaw in our plan was the Tasmanian weather. Tasmania has an amazing ability to snow and sleet in Summer and deliver stunning, still, clear days in late Autumn and Winter. What to do? Would the Weather Gods smile?

We picked May as this was usually the awfulest month, June is often good. A booking was made, requests were made to the Pumphouse Point staff and offerings were made to the Weather Gods.

The weekend before our intended departure dawned sunny and calm. Sav/Blancs were consumed in the Indian Summer days, BBQs were fired up and depression began its insidious march upon our expectations.

But behold!!! The Met Bureau was consulted and typhoons were anticipated, gale force winds were expected, snowfalls to toe level predicted and ‘batten down the hatches’ instructions were issued. Woohoo!!! We were in luck!

The day of departure dawned cold, wet, miserable, snowy and….. perfect. BUT, alerts were issued for road closures, two schools were closed!! The Mountain (Wellington) had disappeared under clouds of mist and snow. Police, RACT, Tasmanian Storm Chasers, ABC all said – ‘Don’t go!!! Stay home, preferably in your cellar!!’

Would we get through? Were we wise to go? Well, bravely we went. After all, what could possibly go wrong???

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Go we did, and it was fantastic. We drove though fallen and falling snow to arrive at a picture postcard destination. Welcomed with a complimentary bottle of bubbles to celebrate our anniversary, we watched in awe as we sat and sipped smugly from the cosy warmth and comfort of our stunning vantage point, INSIDE not OUTSIDE the Pumphouse, as snow fell heavily into the lake at our very feet.

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We took the gamble and decided to eat at the Lakehouse with other guests that evening. It is promoted as a chance to mingle with strangers and share experiences. Sounded just like eating in a bushwalking hut to me – and it was.

The evening began with a very brisk stroll along the 250 metre flume from the Pumphouse in darkness and heavily falling snow. Well, not complete darkness as there are lamp poles spaced along the flume.

These were cones of light illuminating the eddies of falling flakes, then you were plunged into darkness briefly until you reached the next pole.

In the Lakehouse were three long tables at which 30+ people arranged themselves. The experienced and/or canny guests had already bagged the prime seats as soon as they’d entered the dining room. Well, they were mistaken, for as we newbies searched for a seat we discovered a table in a separate area where the lighting was muted and the ambience more intimate. Perfect for the exalted group to which we obviously belonged.

And it was just like being in a bushwalking hut!! A long table, people from all over the globe, varying occupations and life stories and the evening filled with great conversations.

The meal was good, the company was excellent, the wine very drinkable. The breadth and depth of discussion was wide-ranging, also reflecting that which I’ve experienced in many huts on the Overland Track.

The only things missing were Trangia stoves with rehydrated stews gently bubbling away and the roaring hiss of MSR Whisperlites. Oh, and the usual fug of varying smells was also absent  (wet boots, damp socks, clothes that had been worn for more days than they should have and unwashed bodies),  .

Our first morning dawned bleak and cold. Perfect. A leisurely start, a hot shower, coffee then the invigorating walk on the flume again as we headed for our communal breakfast.

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Familiar faces from the night before greeted us, ‘good mornings’ exchanged. ‘How did you sleep?’ ‘Were you warm?’ ‘Did the wind wake you?’ discussions ensued.

It is a ‘help yourself’ breakfast, so we carefully watched the experienced guests and followed their lead. The sign said seven minutes for a soft boiled egg. But advice flowed from the ‘once bitten’ and we were all adding a minute or two to the recommended times.

Conversation flowed as new friends were made and it soon morphed into a delicate balancing act; working out the etiquette between leaving the table for more supplies but not breaking the flow of discussion .

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Breakfast finally concluded at about 10:00, a long and potentially exciting day beckoned. We thought we’d walk to Cynthia Bay from the Pumphouse, then down to Watersmeet. A doddle we estimated.

When the knowledgeable staff informed us it was approximately 1 & 1/2 hours each way to Cynthia Bay, that plan evaporated more quickly than an English batsman’s hopes of holding out against a rampant Australian quick.

Oh well, nothing for it but to drive to the Visitor Centre, then walk to Watersmeet.

But of course, by then it was nearly 11:00, time for coffee, catch up on earth shattering news on Facebook, delete the 9,000 advertising emails that had arrived overnight and continue to be fascinated with the Fifty Shades of Grey outside our windows.

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Hooley Dooley, it’s 1:00 – where did the morning disappear to?? Steady sheets of rain had set in and were sweeping horizontally past our windows. We decided to rough it, so we raided the wonderfully stocked larder for picnic provisions.

A Huon Gourmet Pâté, Huon Wood Roasted Salmon, an Antipasto Platter and Abel’s Tempest Sparkling adorned our small table right in front of a large window. Sometimes creature comforts have to be sacrificed in order to gain a full appreciation of nature’s beauty and untamed extravagance.

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We sat there grazing satisfactorily as nature hurled itself across Lake St Clair right before our very eyes. We almost FELT cold. By then it was time for a nap.

I awoke refreshed about 3:30 and, having been berated on Facebook by some friends questioning my qualifications as a Rugged Mountain Man, I thought we should venture out.

‘But,’ says Cheryl, ‘Do you realise it will be dark in an hour? Then we will no longer be able to sit in here and look out at this magnificent vista.’ Oh well, better open another bottle of wine and pull out the chocolate.

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Before long it was Dinner time again, new companions were met and good food and wine were consumed.

Before we knew it the night was over, dawn had broken, another breakfast consumed (eggs perfect) and we felt that we were about to be evicted from the Garden of Eden. Bugger..

A last chance to steal some time doing this:

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And then back to ‘civilisation’.

So, Would we return? In a heartbeat.

 

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Notes from the South-West

For any of you out there planning a walk in Tasmania’s wild and rugged South-West, I have a word of advice – don’t!! You will see photos such as the one above and think ‘How magnificent!’. Don’t believe a word of it!

The return flight to Melaleuca is $400 – do you know how far you can get in a northerly direction from Hobart for a $400 return flight??? I’ll tell you – somewhere warmer and drier!!!

Below is an example of what it is really like.

Rain blankets the surrounding hills

It was my recent displeasure to embark on a 6 day walk heading into one of Tasmania’s more rugged and remote areas. Given that for many people such a description would mean a walk in Hobart’s Northern suburbs, I should explain.

This trip had its Genesis in May last year whilst my wife & I were relaxing on sunny Santorini in the Greek Islands. I received an email from Fi, a fellow walking companion, suggesting a walk into the South-West along with some other friends to explore towards South-West Cape.

Like the mother who goes back for another pregnancy, forgetting the earlier pain and angst, I thought to myself ‘What could possibly go wrong?’

This is despite numerous forays into this World’s End where it has ALWAYS ended in tears, pouring rain and incipient hypothermia.

Interestingly, and with great foresight, Fi pulled out of the trip with only days to go.

Our walk was to commence at Melaleuca, a place reached only by walking (7 days in!!), by boat or by plane. Our party of 5 (Peter, Lynne, Liz, Tim et moi) had decided to fly. In trepidation I had agreed to this leg of the trip as motion sickness has afflicted me in days gone by.

By the time the day of the trip had dawned, the previously balmy weather had also decided to go on a holiday. I awoke at 4:45, very nervous (I’d heard the gales howling outside my Kingston home all night), but determined. The forecast was not promising.

At 5:30am I received a call from Peter informing me that it was too rough for the planes and they would reassess the situation around midday. Back to bed. All flights were cancelled for the whole day; we were to try again at 9:00 the next morning.

A slightly later rise the next day and another call from Peter – no planes again, with a reassessment about midday.

We decided to meet at Pete ‘n Lynne’s place to look at alternatives. Both Tim & I were convinced the prognosis was not worth it and we scoured various weather sites in search of proof to support our opinions.

Meanwhile Peter analysed the same sites and was convinced it would be like a week on the Gold Coast!! He did acknowledge that the Bureau of Meteorology used words like ‘possible hail’, ‘possible thunder storms’, ‘showers’ and ‘drizzle’. However he failed to agree with us that it might end up being ‘a bit wet’.

Alternative plans were made with a trip to the Walls of Jerusalem floated as a backup – we even went as far as pencil booking accommodation at Deloraine for that night. The dreary forecast was, however, State-wide and it would be wet wherever we went.

Dreams of a comfortable night in a hotel were quickly dashed when Par-Avion called around 11:30 and said, ‘Quick, we have a window, come now.’ Too late for second thoughts, motion sickness pills were popped and the nerves went in to overdrive.

We arrived at the airport and to my horror a plane that no self-respecting kamikaze pilot would fly stood on the tarmac. My ashen faced look prompted a reassuring laugh from Peter who pointed out the MUCH bigger plane we would fly in.

I should add that ‘much bigger’ is a relative term. At least it had 2 engines.

Waiting for take-off

I had the opportunity of sitting up front with the pilot. This brought with it several advantages:

  • I was able to see the mass array of switches and instruments that no one individual could possibly keep a track of. This led me to the reasonable conclusion that most of them are just there for show to impress people like me.
  • Secondly, it meant that I would be able to share the privilege with the pilot of being the 1st to be impaled on a tall and proud Eucalyptus Regnans as our vehicle of mechanised death dove head-first into pristine rainforest.

The only instruction I received from the pilot was ‘Don’t press the red button in front of you.’ (I did notice the word ‘ejection’ in tiny print.)

Now if there is such a title as ‘Hoon of the Sky’, our pilot has the award in his grasp, hands down. Had we been travelling in a car, he’d have had his vehicle impounded and been banned from the streets for life.

We lurched, looped, swooped and shuddered our way aerobatically towards Melaleuca. I have a suspicion that our pilot had been with the Airforce Red Roulettes team in a past life. However, as we came into the blustery and wind swept landing strip at Melaleuca, he deposited our plane with all the finesse of a ballet dancer.

Huddled in the rain were several groups of drenched walkers who had all been marooned for quite a few days, awaiting flights to resume. The twitches and looks of pinched horror on the faces should have warned me and I should never have de-planed. Just stayed locked in my seat belt and gone back on the return flight.

Ah hindsight, you unforgiving temptress.

As we unloaded our gear a couple of single engine, 4 seater planes approached. The wings on the 1st one were wobbling back and forth so violently as it approached I was sure one would touch and that would be it.

Sure enough, it hit the runway, spewed through a large puddle, bounced, flipped upside down and careered along the gravel track. The plane burst open and its human cargo was strewn in a bloodied mess, leaving a crimson stain across the crisp, white gravel track.

Well, it could have happened. However the skill of the pilot was amazing, he rode the plane like a bucking bronco, and brought it safely to a stop.

The 4 young occupants alighted with inane grins on their faces as if they’d just been on a particularly thrilling ride in a theme park.

After that all that was left was to tighten our waterproofs, heft our packs and trudge off through the pouring rain into the South-West.

Five minutes later the trip was nearly over. I stepped onto the start of some boardwalk, my foot went from under me and I went face first onto the track. It’s amazing how much the addition of 24 kilos on your back can make you fall so much faster and with such an additional impact.

Although, it seemed to start in slow motion. I remember thinking ‘Bugger, I’m falling..’ then BANG I hit the boards. It’s also amazing how much it can hurt.

I lay there, stunned; convinced I had a depressed fracture of the cheek, several teeth floating around in my mouth and an eye socket fracture.

My friends helped me to my feet and inspected the damage. Can you believe that not one of the women had brought a mirror with them??? How was I meant to check my war wounds??

They assured me that despite a reasonable amount of blood from a cut above my right eye, everything else looked okay. I confirmed that my cheek was still intact as were all my teeth.

Knowing the propensity of the human body to shout at you with immediate, if not necessarily life-threatening pain, whilst your heart has been pierced by a broken rib, I did a more thorough check. Everything seemed to be present and accounted for.

A Band-Aid was applied (I know, sounds a bit pathetic really), the pain receded and we started again. I later realised that I had let the perfect opportunity to hop back on the plane and fly out slip by me without a thought. No-one would have thought the worse of me and I could have celebrated as the walking wounded – one who SO much wanted to continue, but the war wounds prevented it…

The Wounded Warrior

The track notes we were relying on said that Melaleuca to New Harbour should take 2 – 4 hours and the track would have muddy sections. Based on past experience and being ever the optimist I was sure that meant we could make it in at least 3 hours and the track wouldn’t be too bad.

Whilst we didn’t need snorkels to traverse some of the muddier sections, their presence would have made us feel more secure as we gritted our teeth and stepped blindly into many of the bog holes.

As we neared our destination, the earlier suggested ‘possible hail’ arrived with a vengeance. We started walking at 3:00pm – a time I normally like to arrive at camp. Plenty of time to set up the tent, start cooking at 4:30ish, all over, eaten & cleaned up by 5:30 – 6:00 and then you sit around telling jokes and drinking wine until bedtime.

It took FOUR HOURS!!!! Aaarrgghh. We arrived at camp at 7:05pm!! Then we had to set up our tents, get into warm & dry clothes, cook our evening meals then crawl exhausted into bed. I didn’t get to bed until 9:30!!! Unheard of!!

I should also report that due to recent Festive Season excesses, I had decided to bring no wine. Enough said…

I woke in the night to the sound of more rain bucketing down on my tent and resolved then and there that the next day I was packing up, walking back to Melaleuca and would try to catch the next plane out. If need be, I’d stay in the hut until the others came back, 5 days later.

A new day dawned bright with sunshine and full of promise. I bit my tongue on my resolve and decided to listen to what the others were thinking. But two things intruded:

1:         I discovered that my ribs had taken a hammering in yesterday’s fall and were now clamouring for attention, and

2:         the others kept coming up, looking at my right eye and saying things like ‘Ooohh, you’ve got a beauty there!!’

Due the absence of any mirrors, Tim O used his fancy new camera to take some close-ups and then showed me the result. It was one of the best ‘shiners’ I’d seen. For the rest of the trip we took a daily ‘iPhoto’. An example is attached below:

At about this time my ‘friends’ started calling me ‘Cap’n Face Plant’ – somewhat unsympathetically I thought.

After a long, drawn-out breakfast in quite good weather we agreed to walk on and started breaking camp about 11:00ish. Not to be ignored, the bloody South-West decided to start pouring again.

An additional hour wasted sitting in the tents waiting for it to stop. This resulted in a 1:30 departure – another late start.

New Harbour Campsite

Our aim was to head towards Hidden Bay, then over to Ketchem Bay where we would camp. The notes again suggested a 2 – 4 hour walk. I didn’t hold any hope of anything less than 4 hours.

Hidden Bay was supposed to take 1½ – 2½ hours. It took us 2½ hours. This taking the upper suggested times was unusual for us, however my ribs had taken more punishment than I had realised and I found it a real struggle. Lynne was also finding it hard going.

We reached Hidden Bay at 4:00, knowing we still had at least another 1 – 1½ hours to go to the campsite for that night. I was extremely reluctant to pull the plug, but couldn’t see me getting into camp at 5:30ish and then setting up camp all over again. Lynne agreed.

So, after a pathetic day’s walking of only 2½ hours we called a halt. The upside was some nicely protected tent sites and a beautiful little bay that looked straight out to Maatsuyker Island. Of course, there was more rain.

The next day we decided on a day walk over to Ketchem Bay and forget about pushing on to Wilson Bight. It was a magnificent walk (just a day pack!!!) and the views from the bluff between Hidden & Ketchem Bays were superb.

I think my favourite part was looking down into Ketchem Bay from the overlooking bluff. A long golden sanded beach bisected by a meandering stream that was stained as black as pitch by the tannin in the water.

Ketchem Bay

Of course it rained.

Did I mention the leeches and mosquitoes?? That day, Tim & Liz had a competition to see who could end up with the most leeches. Liz won with 29, Tim a close 2nd with 28.

Our return journey over 2 days was the same in reverse with our new best friend, the rain, keping us company. Arriving back at Melaleuca with the promise of a night in a dry hut and not having to erect my wet tent again was like heaven.

An ABC crew were there filming something about the orange bellied parrot, so included us in some of their shots for ‘local colour’. Keep an eye out for us starring in a future show.

Sunday was the day to fly out and this was the day on which the long range forecast had predicted sunny and balmy weather, around 20 degrees. It rained.

You take what shelter you can get

The flight back was brilliant. The cloud cover was so low, the pilot had to fly above it! Perfect sunshine and stability!!

We dropped below the cloud somewhere around Dover and I was able to see our house in Kingston as we flew right over the top!!

As I write this, my ribs are still hurting a lot. In fact , if anything, they are worse now than on the walk. I remember cracking a rib when heading to Federation Peak once and the week after the walk was the most painful time of all.

This is happening again – seems ribs just like to remind you that you’ve been abusing them.

Now, would I ever venture into the South-West again? Nope, never. And if I ever make such noises, please shoot me in advance.

From now on, it’s the Central Highlands, preferably on walks where there are nice dry huts with a fire at the end of each day’s walk.

By the Way, here’s a link to Peter’s blog about the same trip. CONTENT WARNING: This author viewed the trip through rose tinted glasses and his report may bear no relation to actual events and lead you to the reasonable conclusion that we are talking about separate trips!!Of course others on the trip may comment that I was wearing ‘jaundice tinted glasses.’ As if…

Regardless, Pete writes a great blog.

http://auntyscuttle.blogspot.com

 

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Travel Tips from Jim & Cheryl

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G’day, here is the long awaited last post relating to our Marvelous Adventures. It is a number of tips we have learned during those travels or from experienced travelers before and during our time overseas. We hope you find them helpful. I plan to add a number of photos during the blog. These photos have no bearing whatsoever to the tips. I just like them.

As you will have gathered from my blogs, we are now world experts on travel. Some of you have taken many more trips than us and are still struggling to reach this level of expertise.

But first an anecdote from our trip. Whilst in Prague a tour guide told us how they have statues to famous musicians and composers in the city. In WW2 when the Nazis occupied the city they decided there shouldn’t be a statue of a Jewish person (Mendelssohn), so they decided to tear it down.

Slight problem, they didn’t know which one it was or what he looked like. In their wisdom they decided he would be the ugliest person with the biggest nose. They dutifully destroyed that statue. However, the one they destroyed was a statue of Wagner! Their hero!

Isn’t that great?

Whilst the tips are numbered, they are not in any particular priority order apart from number 1:

1: Take toilet paper.

2: You don’t realise how dependant on toilets you are until you travel.

3: DON’T drive in Europe unless you have a death wish.

If you do have a death wish, take a dedicated GPS with you. NOT an application on your mobile phone (eg iPhone).

Trust your GPS

I found it helpful when driving in France to wear my watch on my right hand as a reminder that I had to drive on the right side. Of course, if you normally do this anyway, that tip is useless for you!

4: In Europe, people walk on the right, just like they drive on the right (the wrong side). Practice this for several weeks, if not months, before you leave. Otherwise you will have head ons with angry Europeans. This is especially important on the escalators in the French Metro. Traveling on them you will frequently hear ‘Tenez votre droit’ (Keep on the right)

5: There are very strict rules for parking. However the use of hazard lights automatically override any laws. They are like a ‘Get out of jail card for free’. This is particularly so in Greece. Need a park and none available? Just stop wherever you like, even double park, put on your hazard lights and walk to the restaurant you want.

6: If traveling in Germany, don’t mention the war.

7: Don’t rely on having regular or reliable access to the Internet. Most hotels these days have wifi and connection is usually easy, although it can be patchy. We found MacDonalds to be the only reliable wifi access point outside our hotels.

I had lots of apps that should have been helpful, however without wifi they were useless. Even the ‘find free wifi hotspots’ were useless as you needed Internet access to access the app!

We found the best approach was to buy a sim card in the country in which you are. However, that only worked in the UK, it was too difficult in Europe.

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8: Don’t rely on Tourist Information Offices. Very few countries we visited have the good network we have in Oz. If they do have an office it is usually in a back street somewhere and is not signposted.

Hotels usually have good maps of the city area. However, if you are staying in self contained accommodation, you won’t have access to that resource.

We only took one guide book with us, planning to rely on our apps on the phone and the Internet. For the reasons listed above, that was a miserable failure. What you can do is photocopy relevant pages out of guide books, take them with you and discard them once finished with.

9: Take a small kettle. Hotels in Europe rarely have one.

10: A thermos and a couple of cups is another wise move. Otherwise you will spend a fortune on hot drinks.

11: Predominantly we stayed in hotels & B&B’s. We shunned self contained accommodation as it was much more expensive. Next time (we hope there will be one) we’ll change that when we are staying more than a couple of nights in the one place. When you factor in the cost of meals, self contained accom works out no more expensive necessarily and you have much more freedom and room, especially if you have dietary restrictions.

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12: If you have pre-arranged transport picking you up at, say, 10:15, be there at 10:00 – especially if you are in Greece!

13: Resign yourself to the fact that you WILL put on weight.

14: Work out a budget for your trip, then double it.

15: If using a Eurail Pass (a good idea) make sure your Travel Agent also books the actual seat for you in advance. The pass gets you on the train, the seat booking gets you a seat. We have a horror story from another traveller we met.

16: For most things, it’s actually cheaper to book and pay in advance from Australia.

17: Don’t let your wife have access to the camera:

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18: Take lightweight, quick dry clothes

19: Take a computer, but the more compact the better. The iPad was excellent. Opens up lots of conversation opportunities as well!

20: If you are going away for a longish period then it is imperative you factor in some ‘down time’. Somewhere you can go for 4 days or more and just hang about.

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21: Take a supply of Wet Ones and a bottle or 2 of handwash.

22: Pack light but still take a large suitcase – you WILL buy souvenirs (and shoes and handags and manbags and shoes and….)

23: If you travel to England in Summer, take very dark sunglasses. For some strange reason the men in England have been infected with a disease that causes them to take off their shirts whenever the sun shines! All that white flesh steadily turning to roast pork colour is not a pleasant sight.

24: When traveling to the Greek Islands, take a strong stomach. If you put anything larger than a postage stamp down the toilet you have significant problems. So you have to put your used toilet paper in the conveniently placed rubbish bin next to the toilet.

25: Did I mention not to let your wife have access to the camera?

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Another anecdote from our trip. In the town of Vernazza in Cinque Terre I saw my first thong bikini, in the flesh as it were. It was blindingly obvious that when the lady’s husband had answered the crucial question ‘does my bum look fat in this?’, he opted for safety rather than truth.

It is not an image that is easy to dismiss.

That’s all, thank you for sharing our journey with us. Like in all good travel sessions, I will finish with a sunset:

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Notes from Santorini – an Addendum

Our last full day on Santorini ended up being much more eventful than expected. We had been booked to do a tour on a boat owned by a friend of Axileas, husband of John’s cousin Elena. The tour would take us over to the volcano, around it, pull into a nice little bay (no sand, only cold lava), a swim and then back to Santorini.

We were both somewhat nervous about the trip as we had a picture in mind of the boat we would be traveling in. C in particular was worried. In her words ‘I like big boats, not little boats!’ and was convinced we would be traveling in a small, open, old, wooden runabout with an old Greek guy holding the tiller at the rear.

So C did not sleep well the night before. However, below is a photo of the boat we were on, moored in the little bay where I had another swim! The small boat is what C had pictured, however we were actually on the larger one with the 2 life rings tied on the rails:

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As soon as C saw the boat, she relaxed (as did I) and we had a great time. The swim (1 of 3 that day – gloating? Possibly) was magnificent.

When dropped back at the port we had 3 choices as to the means by which we could regain the heights of Santorini. Elena, Axilaeus & I had come down via the cable car – brilliant. C, John & Dennyse had descended via a VERY steep walkway with numerous switchbacks.

As we had reached the bottom long before them, I started to walk up the track to meet them. However, this is also the donkey path. Actually, they are mules, but why fight with popular opinion? I started walking up, past about 20 mules, turned the 1st corner and there it was – a mule traffic jam! I reckon there were about 50 mules in front of me totally blocking the path.

Now, those who know me well, know I am scared stiff of horse type animals. They are large, they kick, they bite, they look at you with an evil eye, pound for pound they are the most powerful animal on earth and they take a great delight in scaring the you know what out of you.

So, I quickly turned around to walk back down and what did I find, a whole heap of donkeys with foolish people on them coming up behind me, heading straight for me with an obvious determination to trample me into the cobblestones!

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See! Just look at them, you can see the glint in their eye! So I did the only thing possible and jumped a nearby fence, hugged the wall in terror and tried to hide my distress from the calm young ladies riding past.

Meanwhile the crazy trio who had walked down had had to negotiate about 3,742 mules on the way down. C who is really confident around these beasts says I am exaggerating. However as she knows a lot about them, the thought of having to squeeze past their rear ends where flinty hooves fly out, or their mouths where crocodile like teeth flash at you had made even her nervous.

As it turned out the worst that happened was the difficulty in dodging the stuff that I have complained about in earlier blogs. At least this time it wasn’t dogs!

So, in what part of the universe was my brain holidaying when I agreed to ride a mule up the hill with C and John????

I hoped for a small, kind mule who would take me very gently up the hill, very slowly. Instead they gave me something that could be mistaken for a Melbourne Cup steed, slapped him on the rump and said something in Greek. I was last out of the stalls, but my warhorse decided he should be first, so off he went.

I now know that the translation from the mule owners went something like this: ‘Hey Black Lightning, you’ve got a scared Gringo on board. Show him what you’re made of. Scare the x@@&xx out of him!’

He did.

I kept trying to get him to slow down and yelling ‘Whoa’ along with another word that starts with sh.. Later on I found out that the way to make them go faster is to call out something that sounds like ‘Whoosh’ – you can now see the error of my ways.

Here’s C and John, unaware that I’m about to streak past them like a flash of lightning:

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The rest of the day was spent recovering by the pool with several restorative ales plus a few gin and tonics.

Here’s a photo from the day, with Axileas dancing to Zorba the Greek on the boat with Elena and John in the background:

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Then Athens. We are so over travel, we left our hotel, looked briefly at some ruins (they have plenty) then went shopping and eating! Then up to the rooftop terrace. Now that was good. Looked straight up at the Pantheon and the Acropolis.

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What those Greeks could do with steel framing is staggering and I’m sure I also caught a glimpse of a 2nd Century BC crane hiding up there as well.

I tell you, the Greeks are after the Brits to return the Elgin Marbles plus other antiquities. If I was the Brits I’d be saying ‘Hang on. Let’s see how well you’ve cared for other antiquities over there, eh?’ Game, set and match.

We sat on the roof, sipped cold white wine and looked at the view. Not bad. Then the sun set and we headed off to our room. Packed a bit to be ready to leave the next mng, cup of tea and got ready for bed. Suddenly C says, ‘Hang on a minute.’ and goes to the window.

You’ve heard of houses for sale that have a ‘water glimpse’? Well our room had a Parthenon glimpse. You had to open the window, stick your head out as far as you could and there you had a glimpse of the Acropolis.

So, C did, and said, ‘Look at this.’ I did and realised the whole hill was lit up- and we nearly missed it. Changed out of pajamas and headed back up again to see this:

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I bet that keeps a lot of electricians employed.

Oh, by the way, I met some relatives of those nice men from the Congo in Athens as well. And they too were selling genuine Prada bags. I thought to myself that this was a sign and rushed up to finally grab a man bag. Guess what? They’d just sold the last one! They offered me some cheap takeoff of another brand I’d never heard of, but I only wanted the genuine stuff. So missed out.

I’m actually starting to think they’ve got some sort of a franchise thing going here. In Venice they were standing outside the Prada shop offering their bags at much better prices. Overheads sure add a lot to a product.

A final appropriate photo from our last day on Santorini:

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I have reached the end of my travel stories. All that is left is a final blog on Jim’s top travel tips.

Ya sas

Demetri Wilsonopoulous

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Notes from Santorini

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Here I am, back in the office, hard at work behind my desk, producing another literary masterpiece. It’s a tough life, but I’m prepared to do the hard yards and stick with it. Accolades are not necessary but warmly appreciated.

I also have some good news for you. We now have approx 2307 photos saved onto the iPad! Imagine the fun ‘slide’ nights we’ll be able to have when we return! I just can’t wait. Make sure you keep your diaries free for the next few months.

Santorini has been all we hoped for and more. The beauty and majesty of this island is stunning. It is take your breath away stuff. Cheryl keeps pinching me to make sure she’s not in a dream. She believes that if I yelp, then it must be true. As always, I am glad to be of assistance.

The arrival was somewhat anxious though. We disembarked to be greeted by my personal agent holding up the now familiar ‘Mr Wilson’ sign – I just love it! Our Agent’s name is Efe and pronounced just like the famous Greek Australian we all know, Effie! What’s more, Efe knows of the Aussie Effie and loves her.

Our original plan was to stay at Dana Villas, looked magnificent on the web. They were booked out. Then found Belvedere Suites which looked equally sumptuous. It ticked all the boxes – pool, Caldera View, facing West (for the sunsets) and every room has a balcony.

Having made the booking, I was checking Trip Advisor and found some complaints from former guests who said that NOT every room has a balcony! Aarrgghh! So, emailed them to ensure my wishes would be granted. Did they answer! Nein!

So, I arrived somewhat concerned and anxious. What did Efe greet us with? Belvedere Suites had doubled booked and we’d been moved to another establishment! Aaarrgghh again. She assured me that the new one was just as good, in fact right next door and we would be very happy. Yeah, right.

So, the whole amazing trip up from the port was a blur for me as I conjured up thoughts of the hovel to which we were being driven. Every turn that took us to a back street confirmed my pessimistic view.

Meanwhile C was not at all fazed by this and not worried. Quite happy with Efe’s assurances and thoroughly enjoyed the fantastic and picturesque trip to our accommodation.

Well, you can see from the photos that we have done well. In fact, this place is better than the Belvedere (and they do have rooms with no balconies!) and a rung up the scale! You should check their website, it’s called Homeric Poems: http://www.homericpoems.gr/en/home.html

On our 1st full day we did a tour of the Southern part of the island. It included visiting the highest point, 3 small towns, lunch and then a swim at the ‘Black Beach’ followed by a visit to the island’s wine producer. Hard to take!

The black beach is called that because it is. The sand is black and VERY hot. So hot, you can’t walk on it with bare feet. But the water was great. So were the wines:

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Yesterday we visited Oia, pronounced Eya, like Enya but without the ‘n’. It’s a tiny town on the northern tip of the island and all the tourists flock there. Well, they did yesterday – 5 humungous cruise ships sailed in and every passenger arrived in Oia at the same time as us. Dratted tourists! It’s so much better when they aren’t around.

Oia is where most of the island’s tourists flock to of an evening to watch the magnificent sunsets. When I say ‘most’ I mean all the suckers who don’t have fantastic accommodation like ours with a balcony that faces west. We just sit here with a glass of wine, enjoy the sunset and look at the poor souls further north trying to get a glimpse of it over the shoulder of some tall American who is sensitively blocking their view.

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Quite watchable really.

John has a friend staying here for 4 months and this is her 12th visit to Santorini. So, she acted as our guide yesterday and we ended up seeing sights and eating and drinking at various establishments we would have missed without her help. It was fantastic.

A friend of ours was planning to visit Santorini (she shall remand nameless to protect her reputation). When asked what it was she really wanted to see, she said it was the church with the blue roof. On arrival, she found there are 400 churches, 393 of them have a blue roof! Here’s an example:

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On the way back from Oia we had another Greek bus treat. C and Dennyse decided to stay on for some shopping. John & Heather ran for the bus & hopped on. I had to throw money to C and then run for it as the bus was leaving. I managed to catch the driver’s eye and he opened the rear door for me. Well, it was so packed I had to stand in the foot well.

Then he stopped at several more stops and more people crushed on. It was a cosy trip. Made quite a few new, close friends by the time we’d reached our destination!

Last night we went to a birthday celebration for John’s cousin who lives here and just turned 80. The guests turned out to be a variety of expatriates plus some native Greeks. Had a great time. None of them had heard any of my jokes before! Brilliant to have a fresh audience. When I told them the one about Stavrou the Greek, they all roared and wanted to know how come I knew Greek people so well. Might move here, everyone loves my jokes. They reckon I should be on TV!

Also discovered my Greek name is Demetri! C wants to call me Dim for short. A little unkind of her I think.

Tomorrow off on a boat trip around the volcano on a small, local boat. Not sure whether to be excited or concerned.

A warning: Cheryl is planning to write a blog. I suspect you will find it quite boring and undoubtedly will be defamatory of me. You are welcome to ignore it when/if it comes. She claims to have already written it out (the old fashioned way), but now has to type it. That could take some time!

This may be the last overseas blog (stop cheering), unless something spectacular happens between here and Athens. We fly out on Tues for the long leg home. Arrive back to a Tasmanian winter after this! So better end with a swimming photo:

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I am planning a last blog when home detailing Jim’s top tips for travellers. I know you will be waiting with bated breath.

Ya sas

Jim

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Preliminary notes from Santorini

Yes, the stories and pictures you see are true, it really is that beautiful. Today’s notes are really just a photo essay. Our first evening on our balcony with John & Dennyse Overton:

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That’s all. Internet connection very, very slow. Full notes in a few days.

Ya sas

Jim

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Notes from Naxos

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Ya sas (pronounced Yasooss, it means G’day),

Is the photo above an iconic Greek Island look or what? I took it in a back alley of the main town of Naxos, in the Old Market area. Enticing alleyways that lead to a labyrinth of traditional Greek homes and shops. Speaking of Labyrinth, the following photo is for the Rugged Mountain Men who work in National Parks. We need this sort of entrepreneurism in our parks. I’d certainly be heading to Pine Valley more often:

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I’ve had several swims, including one in the sea at Agios Prokopios beach. We’ve drunk far too many 1/2 litre carafes of wine by the pool and are feeling extremely relaxed.

Ah, but today (Wednesday 1st June) was a highlight. We decided to visit the small mountain town of Apiranthos. Normally we’d check in for some sort of day tour but, thanks to advice from Matt & Lou, we took the local bus. It not only saved us about $100 we had a wow of a time observing Greek public transport and the culture that surrounds it. Oh, and we enjoyed the village as well.

Following is a description of some of the things we observed, interspersed with the occasional interpretative photo. But first, you need to understand that we stumbled onto the set and cast for the sequel to ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’. Subtitled, ‘A Trip Back Home’.

We were introduced to most of the cast. There was Nick, Nick, Nick, Nicko, Nick, Nicola, Nicholas, Nick and Nicki. There was still plenty of room on the bus for a few tourists as well (these are coaches, not suburban buses) and they came.

The bus driver always has an offsider whom we suspect to be his dad. The duties of the offsider are to hop off the bus at every stop and to loudly inform potential travelers the destination. Then take their ticket and rip it in half.

Here is a photo of today’s driver:

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And yes, that is a cigarette in his mouth. If you have good eyesight you will notice a sign above his head that says ‘Defense de Fumer. Ne pas Parler au Chauffeur’. Those of you who can speak French may interpret it to read ‘No smoking on the bus. Don’t talk to the driver’. However, you would be wrong. What it actually says is ‘No smoking on the bus unless you are the driver (chauffeur)’. Obvious isn’t it?

Some of you may also be under the mistaken belief that a bus is wider than a Mini Minor – not so. We know this to be true as we saw our bus barrel down streets so narrow a Mini would not fit, but the bus did. We acknowledge that there may be magic involved.

We also saw streets where you would swear there would not even be room for a pram let alone a pram and a bus. But yes, we saw our bus share the road with a mother and child in a pram where logically speaking a Mini by itself should not have been able to squeeze through.

Now, there is a formula to be followed when passengers board. It involves the driver’s helper doing his bit, then as the newcomers board they are welcomed by all and sundry and various conversations at full pitch will break out. It’s much more like a family get together than strangers heading vaguely in the same direction.

Either all the passengers getting on are related to those already on the bus or this is some sort of movable dating service.

At one stop there was a man waiting to get on with about 4 bags of groceries. He appeared to be a bit simple and had several conversations with the driver before being prepared to board the bus. In a gesture that showed great kindness and courtesy the driver hopped off and helped him on board with his groceries, no fuss.

Then as he made his way down the aisle he was assisted by other passengers. I noticed also that at one stage he stood to leave the bus at one of the stops and other passengers quickly assured him that it was not his stop and let him know when we came to the right one.

Getting off the bus has a similar feel. As we would approach a small town or stop the driver would call out the name of the place. Loud conversations would then ensue as passengers checked with each other as to whether anyone was getting off. An answer would then be called out to the driver.

Sitting directly opposite us was an old man with a handful of rosary beads that he continually ran through his fingers as we travelled. Perhaps he knew something about the driver we didn’t!

This is a very Catholic country and there are ‘churches’ of all sizes dotted all over the place – some as small as a letter box, others very large. It’s almost as if you can have your own, just pick a size.

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The one above we saw on a hillside on the journey. By this stage, the driver’s offsider had decided to adopt us (they love Aussies over here) and he sat in the seat behind us uttering incomprehensible Greek to us describing what we were seeing. We were looking at the intricate terraces on the very steep mountain and he leant forward and said what I thought was ‘zzteps’. Which, when you think about it, is another description for terraces.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘we call them terraces.’ I said this with a warm glowing feeling that I was making an extra effort to help him learn some English. Later we looked at the map and discovered he was telling us the name of the mountain was Zeus! Well, I now know how to say Zeus in Greek and he knows how to say it in English – terraces.

By the way, they love Aussies because most of their relatives live over there. Conversation goes like this: ‘Where you from?’ ‘Australia’ ‘Ah, Australia. I have a cousin/nephew/niece/brother/sister/daughter/son.. living there. They live in Melbourne (where else). They have a small corner supermarket. (or) They have a fish and chip shop.’

To say the journey was different to a bus trip in the land of Oz is an understatement. The ‘highway’ which only just fitted 2 cars side by side had numerous places for the bus to stop – predominantly in the middle. The bus would stop, traffic in either direction would wait patiently until passengers had either hopped on or off and then the traffic flow would recommence.

In one small town I counted 9 cars (including a police car) pulled over to the side waiting for the bus and I also saw the nose of another bus appear around the corner up ahead. He stopped and reversed. When we drove around the corner, there he was waiting for us to pass. Here’s an example.

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In Apiranthos we watched the local delivery man on his quad bike complete with luggage box deliver loaves of bread to the cafe at which we were eating. We know he wasn’t the baker but the delivery man because we’d just seen him delivering toilet rolls to another address.

The trip home was just as fascinating. The driver’s helper decided he’d done enough and hopped off at one of the small towns and a young woman came on board and replaced him. She sat up front with the driver on a sort of collapsible ‘dinky’ seat. The fact that no-one could get on or off with her there was irrelevant. She just acted as the pseudo driver’s helper, hopping on and off with passengers. Or, if their discussion was intense, she’d just let them squeeze past. (She hadn’t read the ‘Ne pas Parler au Chauffeur’ bit).

It soon became apparent she was his niece, Nicki, and they had a stack of family news to catch up on – mainly imparted by him. On this narrow, windy and steep road he hardly took a breath. At one stage we came around a blind corner to be confronted by another bus. How they missed each other I don’t know.

A quick response from the driver and then back into the conversation with barely a break. He even resumed the sentence from where he’d left off.

On Greek buses you can’t buy the tickets. You must get them from the Bus Office or small roadside stalls. In between buses they sell tobacco and refreshments. Twice on our trip ignorant tourists (not us!) hopped on with no tickets.

Lots of gesturing and loud Greek words would follow and then the driver waited patiently while they hopped off, went to the shop, purchased their tickets and then hopped back on again and off we went. All very good humoured and very unlike the land of Oz.

I was feeling weary and hot after so many words, so I’ve just been off and had another swim and carafe of wine. Here’s proof of the swim:

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Tomorrow morning we head off for 5 days on Santorini and meeting up with John & Dennyse Overton. Really looking forward to it. Will be traveling Business Class again on the ferry and REALLY hoping to meet up with my fat Greek friend. Can’t wait to waltz into the lounge past him….

Ya sas

Jim

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