Saturday, March 28, 2015

Australia - Tasmania / Melbourne - Day 8 (Part 2 - To do/see, to stay, to eat)

To do:
Tamar Ridge Winery

We are the first visitors to the site and are given the full attention by the staff. He explain to us about how this site is now part of Brown Brothers and given us a very detailed explanation of the different types of wine and its history. Making us appreciate our wine tasting more. Though i can't say how much i remembered from it. It is definitely a very comfortable experience.

Some of the wine we tasted and like are:
2013 TamarRidge Sauvignon Blanc (must swirl and smell)
2012 Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir (kept for 12 months at 12 degrees celcius or even longer at Tasmanian temperatures)
2012 Tamar Ridge Botrytis Riesling (super sweet riesling)
Tamar Ridge

There's also another sister company in tasmania - Devil's corner near bicheno. After my enjoyable experience here, i will definitely recommend this place.

Josef Chromy Winery

The grounds of the Winery is very well landscaped and comfortable for al fresco dining experience.
Unlike Tamar Ridge, wine tasting is $5/ pax with no limitations. The cellar door is pretty crowded, hence, less attention given to guests having their wine tasting. Some of the wine is pretty nice though we did not make any purchases here.

Tip: For those interested in wine tasting in Launceston, search for information on Tamar Valley wine route and there will be suggestions in the brochures.

J Boaq and Son Winery

The beer here is so good that SO literally finished the mug we ordered to share. I'm left with the bare minimum to drink. You can also purchase some beer memorabilia here. i.e beer mats and mugs.
J Boaq and Son Winery

We missed the tour of the brewery which is about 90 minutes. Tour times is 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm daily about $25- 30 AUD per pax. This brand of beer has a very long history here and the beer here is strongly recommended.

QVMAG Queen Victoria Muesum and Art Gallery
2 Wellington street, Lauceston TAS 7250, Australia

This is an accidental find when we went to QVMAG for lunch. I feel this is a worth to visit particularly for those with kids. There are various sections in the museum to play the science corner, fossils, taxidermy, antique cars and bicycles. I personally like the natural science which showcase Tasmanian animals taxidermy.

To Eat:
Sweet Brew - 4.5 stars, budget
93 George St, Launceston TAS 7250, Australia

A total thumbs up for this place. I love the lemon meringue and raspberry brioche. Its super duper tasty.

Sweet Brew

Though the almond croissant is also highly recommended i will still opt for the brioche anytime. The lady owner is on the rush to leave the cafe still spend time patiently to recommend the food (raspberry brioche, lemon tart and almond croissant) to us upon hearing that its our first time here. Such good and friendly service. We ordered all that she recommended and we did not regret it. I think we will regret it if we never try it. :D

QVMAG: Railway cafe - 3.5 stars, budget

Serving is huge and totally value for money. We reached this place about 2.30 pm and they are already preparing to close for the day. Gasped! I asked if we can still order, luckily they obliged but we can only order a few limited choices as the kitchen is technically closed already.

QVMAG Railway cafe

The cafe itself is a section of passenger train car converted to an area for dining. Its pretty unique and interesting. But it does get pretty warm in the middle of the afternoon.  Food is acceptable for its price plus the fact this place is actually technically closing.

 Korean Home Style food and BBQ bar - 2.9 stars, budget

I initially thought that i will be served authentic korean food as the person serving us seemed korean. The soft tofu stew i ordered is nothing like what i expected and totally bland.

This place is one of the few places still serving dinner at 8.40 pm so we are just grateful for something to fill our stomachs.

To Stay:

Pensione Melbourne
16 Spencer Street CBD Melbourne, 3000 Victoria
The toilets are a little small and tight with only room for one person to stand either at the basin or bath.

The room itself is clean, modern and comfortable. It pretty spacious too with plenty of room to dance around as if to compensate the size of the toilet. I also love the tall windows in the room overlooking the sidewalk where i can people watch during rush hour.

Entryway cum reception is decorated in mid century modern. There is also a small cafe on this level. What i love is that we can have free wife access across all our devices. Yar i know 2 person travelling with 4 devices. :D

Location is prime CBD within 15 minutes walking distance to the meet up point for my Grayline department point at Federation Square East in early morning.

Free shuttle service starts after rush hour so walking or taking other bus services is the other option but i persuaded SO to walk.

One downside is due to its close proximity to the central bus station (the drop off point for SKYBUS), there are no connecting buses to the hotel. You need to lug your luggage through the roads to your hotel for 2 blocks at least.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Australia - Tasmania / Melbourne - Day 7 (Part 2 - To do/see, to stay, to eat)

To do:
Gordon River Cruises
The Esplanade, Strahan, 7468, Tasmania, Australia.

The voyage: After leaving Strahan, you'll cross Macquarie Harbour to explore Hell's Gates, where the harbour meets the ocean. A lonely lighhouse guards the channel. As Lady Jan Franklin II glides back across the harbour to the mouth of the Gordon River, the cruising speed drops. The vessel is purpose built to create a low wake, so the riverside envionment remains pristine. Moving quietly upstream, you'll pass dense rainforest unchange for thousands of years. Ancient trees are perfectly mirrored in the Gordon River's dark waters, stained amber by button grass tannins, but pure and pristine to taste. 

From the jetty at Heritiage Landing, a boardwalk showing the largest tract of temperate rainforest with 2000 year old huon pines. Leaving the Gordon river, enjoy your lunch while cruising to the next stop, Sarah island. Here convicts were confined in harsh conditions in the 1820s before the establishment of Port Arthur. Then board again for the return trip to Strahan.
Gordon River Cruise

The above totally summarises what you can expect for the day. The cruise took us passed Hell's gates and salmon farms/ocean trouts but the highlight of the trip is the Gordon river. The mirror reflection of the calm waters of the clouds and hillsides is so unique and picturesque.

At Heritage landing, we disembark to visit the very old forest covered with algae/moss and tall old trees. Its nice to walk around after being on board for over an hour. Weather is nice not too cold nor warm with a nice thin jacket.

Lunch is unexpectedly delicious. I was expecting cold dishes only but we actually have quite a few warm dishes served for buffet. This is a definite plus. Though the 2nd round is less than the first serving but there is still plenty to eat from.

On hindsight, this might be a trip i may reconsider on my must do list. This place is rather out of the way. Its a 4 hours drive from cradle mountain and another 4 hours drive to Launceston. The 2 main attractions (at least to me) is the Gordon river cruise and the West Coast Wilderness Railway. Unfortunately, the railway is not open at Strahan Station while we are there. While the view is pretty, the time spent on travelling the really winding roads up the hills is quite taxing.

Tip: Gordon river cruise is booked through Sunlover holidays as it has a discount for the window aisle seats.

To Eat:
Stillwater - 4.0 stars, high end

Ritchie's Mill, Launceston, Tasmania, 7250 

This dinner place is recommended by the owner of Rosefield B&B (our first night stayover at Kettering). And boy i love this place! So quiet and serene that i spied a lady is enjoying her dinner and reading a book at this restaurant. All the waiters are very well dressed and super good looking. A real eye candy after a long drive. Its location near Kings Park totally suit the entire ambience and environment.

The market fish i ordered is delicious. Cooked to perfection. The Slow cooked Flinder's island wagyu beef is grass fed and has a good grade rating. However, its not very marbled so does not suit my SO taste very well. And he commented it to a very concerned waiter who tries to explain that its due to it being grass fed. This is a very good dinner almost comparable to our 5 star dining experiences in Singapore. And i totally enjoyed it though it will be a better experience if i am not so tired.

To stay:
Balmoral on York
19 York Street, Launceston City, Launceston, 7250 Tasmania, Australia

Free parking is available for guests which is generally the case for all the accomodations we stayed on our trip.

The hotel is very centrally located and accessible to town area and walking distance to our breakfast place, Sweet Brew. Pricing for the hotel is also very reasonable.

Though, the hotel is a little dated, its clean and tidy. This is a must for me. Clean Rooms!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Australia - Tasmania / Melbourne - Day 6 (Part 2 - To do/see, to stay, to eat)

To do:
Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair National Park

Tasmania's most recognisable landmark is the craggy profile of cradle mountain reflected in the waters of Dove Lake. There are many superb short walks from the park visitor centre in Cradle valley and from the Dove lake car park.

There are 3 sections for walks from visitor centre to snake hill and to ronny creek and to dove lake. Below is a map similar to the one used at the visitor centre. Alternatively, you can take a shuttle bus from the Cradle Mountain Transit Terminal aka Shuttle Bus Terminal for all 5 stops (Shuttle Bus Terminal, Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, Snake Hill, Ronny Creek, Dove Lake.
Cradle mountain map
On top of the glacier rock (Cradle Mountain)

We took a free shuttle bus from the base carpark (Cradle mountain transit terminal) and head up to our first pit stop - Dove lake loop track which is a great introductory walk. We have been forewarn that the dove lake loop walk is more than the 2 hours stated in the brochure. So we walked to the Glacier rock, aptly named as a testimony to the action of glaciers in this region during the past Ice Age, picnic on top of the rock and made our way to the boatshed.  The boat shed was built in 1940 by the first Ranger at Cradle Mountain, Lionell Connell. The shed was built largely of King Billy pine. Although some restoration work was completed in 1983, the shed remains substantially unaltered from its original form.

Cradle Mountain, Dove lake and the boat shed

So other walking options is from snake hill to ronny creek. From other visitors we heard that many wombats roam the area. At 3.30 pm we head back from dove lake room to the visitor centre but the exhibits are closed for the day so we took a very short walk to see the waterfall and make our way to Strahan.

We did not manage to do alot today as the we drive 3 - 4 hours from Bicheno to Cradle Mountain. From Cradle mountain to Strahan is another long drive 3 - 4 hours again.

I wished we had more time to spend at Cradle mountain for the Tasmanian Devil night tour. Too bad time and money is a limited resource.

Word of caution: The roads from the visitor centre are very very tight and you must be very good at maneuvering tight spaces if you don't wish to be driving off the ledge. The bus drivers communicate frequent via their speaker service to adapt to the driving conditions.

Other things to do: Visit the Devil's Cradle (3950 Cradle mountain Rd).

To Eat:
Blue Edge Bakery - 2.5 stars, budget

55 Burgess Street, Bicheno 7215
Blue Edge Bakery

We ordered sandwiches from this store. And seeing all the awards won, naturally my expectations for this place went up a notch. However, i am sorely dissappointed with the place. The bread that we ordered is merely ok. Maybe, we just ordered the wrong dish. The food we packed also is the much the same.

Risby Cove - 3.7 stars, mid-range

The Esplanade, Strahan, Tasmania, Australia

From Day 1 till today, this place has one of the better food we have tried. The beautiful sunset at the cove is a bonus.

Risby Cove

Beautiful sunset hues at Risby Cove
Risby Cove
 Oysters are fresh as usual but it i think the earlier ones we tried are better. Fish taste good as well. I a little dissappointed with the rack of lamb i ordered. I was expecting more flavourful and tasty lamb rack. Turns out the meat is a bit tough.

To stay:
Strahan Franklin Manor Bed and Breakfast
75 Esplanade, Strahan TAS 7468, Australia

Franklin Manor
This Manor previously named as Moona has a very long history. It was built by Edward T. Miles and was pre-cut in Hobart and shipped to its site in Strahan for assembly. Miles personally supervised every minute detail of construction, and imported rhododendrons from China to take pride of place in his garden, where they continue to thrive to this day.

In the B&B, photos of the house previous occupants are hung in the living room. The home is very nicely decorated and i really like the feel and ambience of the old home.

The current owner is very friendly and warm. Advising us of the nearby places to eat (its few) and the attractions we should explore before the sun go down. We have expecting a very tight schedule for next day again as we have Gordon River Cruises in the morning till about 2 pm and its another 4 hours drive to Launceston.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Australia - Tasmania / Melbourne - Day 5 (Part 2 - To do/see, to eat)

To do:

Freycinet National Park
The park is 2.5 hours to 3 hours from either Hobart or Launceston. From Bicheno, its 12 km.

Freycinet Peninsula is effectively 2 eroded blocks of granite joined by a sand isthmus. The imposing granite peaks and the many white sandy beaches that dot the penisula are among the highlights.

Freycinet has wonderful coastal and mountain walking, ranging from short walks to the overnight Peninsula Track. There's also also wildlife, wildflowers, sea kayaking, climbing, abseiling, offshore cruising to observe marine life and sea birds or just relaxing on the beach in the shade of she-oaks.

Highlight: Wineglass bay lookout. Outside magazine rates Wineglass bay as one of the world's ten best beaches.

Many stops was made during the tour at Freycinet National Park in the following order: Friendly beaches, Cape Tourville, Wineglass bay lookout, Lootitetermairrelehoiner.
Friendly Beaches

Friendly beaches - soft white sands and the ocean for company. You can walk for as far or as long as you wish. There is a section where the road is not paved and its just gravel. Be ready for a bumpy ride.
Cape Tourville

Cape Tourville

Cape Tourville - Stupendous coastal vies of the Freycinet National Park, its a 20 minute circuit and a very easy walk.

Wineglass bay lookout

Wineglass bay lookout

Wineglass bay lookout - The most challenging walk but the effort put in the steep uphill climb is totally worth it. Crystal clear waters and the white sandy beach of wineglass bay is a beautiful sight to behold.  Majority of the tourist will make the way back to the carpark from the wineglass bay lookout. For the more adventurous, proceed to the hazards beach circuit. Its a 11 km circuit and head down to the beach. It has a very steep uphill climb and rough path descent. This is a walk i find too challenging for me. 


Loontitetermairrelehoiner - Heart of swansea is a walk that offers stunning coastal scenery and passes throough a shearwater breeding area. The birds can be seen at dusk in the summer months.

DIY Penguin Tour
In front of the beach of Sealife Centre. The numbers of Fairy penguins are relatively lesser but you can wait and see for as long as you need. Do wear warm clothing as the weather can get really cold. A torch or a phone is really useful. 

Foreshore walkway
The foreshore walkway is made of huge boulders almost like the Bay of fires. Since, we are definitely not able to make it to the Bay of fires this will have to make do.
foreshore walkway

One of the features of the foreshore walkway is the huge blowhole. One of the 3 Bs in bicheno (Blowhole, Blue Edge Bakery, Sir Loin Breier Butcher). While we are there, the waves are quite mild so its relatively safe to go near the blowhole. But,being the timid mousey me, i strongly discouraged my SO to go anywhere near it.

To Eat:

Freycinet Marine Farm - 4 stars, budget
1784 Coles Bay Road, Coles Bay, TAS 7215

Freycinet Marine Farm

Fresh seafood harvested daily from farm. Eat in or take away. We had mussels, oysters and abalone. Very fresh seafood. For oysters, i very much prefer the ones we had at Get shucked! but this is good as well. Fresh and affordable.

Offered on the menu for oysters are au naturel and kilapatrick. We tried both and of course au naturel is the best. Others we eat are pan fried abalone with lemon butter, garlic scallops and mussels steamed with lemon. All is so yummy. The abalone is soft and tender.

The owner very nicely provided us with mussels to try when we told them we are uncertain and if they can give us one to try. They actually served us 2 mussels for FOC. Perfect customer service! And i most impressed with the Blue Tasmanian Mussels. Refreshing with a tinge of the sea, doubt will ever taste something like this ever.

Ugly Duckout - 3.5 stars, budget
2 Franklin Street, Swansea

This is also a random find at Swansea. Our timing is pretty odd, neither lunch nor tea. But my SO is in need of some caffeine. We are the only customers in the restaurant.

The owners welcome us and even cook us the finger food we ordered. And while we are there we casually asked what makes a latte the lady owner actually patiently explained the difference between a percolate, latte and cappuccino. Thumbs up for service. Lots of thought has been put in the decor of the place as well .

Though we did not have an actual meal there, i still decide to rate it well due to service accorded to us.

Sealife Centre- 3 stars, mid-range
1 Tasman Highway
Sealife Centre

Sea view facing sealife centre

Fish of the day VS Tasmanian salmon. Who wins? Fish of the day. Tasmanian seafood must also be paired with Tasmanian wine. Dinner is better than our expectations considering that this is not even on our list of place to dine. This is a random walk in. I like the sunset view. 

Tombolo Freycinet - unrated
6 Garnet Ave, Coles Bay TAS 7215

Pasini cafe - unrated
Shop 2 -70 Burgess Street, Bicheno, TAS 7215

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Australia - Tasmania / Melbourne - Day 4 (Part 2 - To do/see, to stay, to eat)

To do:
Port Arthur Historic Site
Port Arthur, Tasmania 7182, Australia
Opening hours: 0900 till dusk (closing times for buildings are much earlier)

There are more than 30 historic buildings and ruins plus beautiful gardens to explore. The harbour cruise which is included in all the passes passes the dockyard, point per boys' prison and the isle of the dead cemetery. Commentary provides captivating details of the Port Arthurs' history.

There is several passes to choose for entry to Port Arthur: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Initial plan for us is to get the Bronze pass so we can have more time to explore. However, a last minute change in planning and we end up buying the Silver pass instead. The silver pass includes a a full day on site and an optional tour to go to the Isle of the Dead or Point Puer Boys Prison tour, lunch and an audio device to explain the various points of interest on the site. It is quite a good decision as i really enjoyed the narration and a much better understanding of the place than i will ever find out on my own. At the ticketing counter, i requested for the lady to help to mark out the must see of the site. Thankfully we did that because its quite a huge place actually to explore for half day. I left Port Arthur eventually at 4 pm and its still a mad rush as we had a next tour booking at 8 pm at Bicheno. Time is especially tight as the GPS shows that its more than 3 hours drive from Port Arthur to Bicheno

Its is also rather unfortunate that the main building Penitentiary was under restoration when we visit. Hence, the entire building is cordoned off. I guess this definitely cannot be helped.

The most interesting building will be the prison. Particularly the room that imprisons the prisoners to solitary confinement in pitch darkness. The room is really isolated and quiet. You can literally hear the pin drop.

Highlights: Port Arthur after the Dark. This tour is not for the faint hearted. I was very keen on this but my SO disagree to visit. So i can only highlight this tour to you. It includes a 2 course dinner at Felon's Bistro and the ghost tour.

If time permits, visit the coal mine historic site. This is the 2 of 11 historic sites that together form the Australian Convicts Sites World Heritage Property.

Bicheno Penguin Tours

The tour pick us up at our hotel and after us they continued picking up several more guests. Its a full bus load this night. The penguin tour is a 45 min tour of the private beach premises. There are plenty of penguins to see on the tour. But the penguins do not come up really close to us. So, we can only see it from maybe a feet away. Weather while penguin watching is cold and wet. Its was raining on and off through out and very cold at night.

The location of the beach is adjacent to diamond resort. Hence if you don't wish to pay for the tour, book a night at the Diamond resort. Do note that dining at the resort for outsiders are not permitted. How do i know? Because i tried. :(

To Eat:
Port cafe - 2.5 stars, budget
On the premises of Port Arthur

There are two selection for mains. I personnally feel that the pizza is the better option. Dessert has more choices and taste good. In general, the food is acceptable.

Delmare Caffe and Bar - unrated, mid-range
On the premises of Best Western Beachfront Bicheno

Due to time constraints, we only are able to order french fries for dinner. But the menu of the restaurant is quite varied.

To stay:
Best Western Beachfront Bicheno
Tasman Highway, Bicheno, Tas 7215

The room is HUGE. It is big enough to have the entire family. The room that i booked has 2 single beds and a queen size bed. Its also comfortable to sleep and easy access to the swimming pool.

Breakfast is served daily to your room with you specifying the timing of delivery. Order needs to be made by a certain time in the evening.

Its one of the most value for money rooms that we had on this trip.