Strahan, Tasmania – Australia – Part One

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Along the main road from Devonport and onto Strahan, there’ll be the odd opportunity to take a photo from the roadway. Generally, I found if there was a superb view coming up in the distance, the ability to pull over was a little further ahead. Slow right down as most of us from country regions know that loose gravel and speed is treacherous. There shouldn’t be any need to be hasty as the road is really quite winding and concentration while driving is paramount – not to mention it can be tiring.

I was relieved to find Marsden Court Apartments were at the first crossroads into Strahan, so easy for me to find my accommodation after a long drive.


Before settling into my accommodation for the night, owner Pam advised to head down to Ocean Beach for the evening’s magical curtain call. She wasn’t wrong! How terrific is this sunset and it’s not too far from Marsden Court Apartments – just a block or so down the road, then turn right and follow the signs. Obviously you won’t be disappointed! No retouching on this photo …

Loved the story Pam told me later on as to how she was visiting the east coast at Swansea some years ago to see the sun rise, and then drove home to the west coast after about six hours to watch it set at Ocean Beach on the same day.


Take a snack and drink to revel in the changing light show. Over the years I’d heard how beautiful Strahan is, but you should check it out for yourself and truly appreciate how fabulous its beauty and clean, fresh air really is.  I understand if you flew ‘by the crow’  westwards, the first country you’d reach would be the southern tip of Argentina.


Happy to say, Marsden Court’s self-contained, spacious two-bedroom or studio accommodation apartments are fully equipped with all conveniences such as microwaves and hotplates to prepare your meals. Additionally, they have air conditioning and private balconies. Home away from home …


Marsden Court offers spacious, modern studios and two-bedroom apartments with kitchenettes which have all the facilities of home. Large flat-screen TV and DVD players are available along with wifi in each room. They also have provision for those who are less mobile and are green accredited.

For bookings see www.marsdencourt.com.au


The two-bedroom apartments of Sharonlee Strahan Villas (just across the road from Marsden Court) are great for families with full sized ovens, microwaves, a large fridge and spacious lounge and dining areas.

My recommendation is to stay in Strahan at least four to five nights as there’s so much to see and enjoy in the region. And, when you feel the comfort of home like this property after a long drive, then you can be assured of feeling relaxed and on holiday. Free parking alongside your accommodation too – so no need to worry about your vehicle and you can unpack your goodies with ease.

For bookings check www.sharonleestrahanvillas.com.au


And just up the hill a couple of blocks away in Strahan there’s the local IGA and bakery for all your supplies. No need to eat out every night as you can just ‘chill out’ in your PJs and cook up a storm.

Both properties can also be booked through the TasVillas group check out: http://tasvillas.com/our-properties/the-west-north-west-and-cradle-valley/


Both properties are either side of Andrew Street and run by Pam and Mark who are incredibly helpful and full of the local area’s information and have a tour desk on site.

However, it was interesting to note the old original railway turntable had been here on the Sharonlee property and they donated it to the West Coast Wilderness Railway at Regatta Point in Strahan. Now it’s a lovely rose garden within their premises for all guests to admire.


So here it is – next morning everyone has the chance to see the old turntable still in use here at Regatta Point in Strahan.


Today’s outing is with the West Coast Wilderness Railway and the feeling in the air is that everyone’s very excited about being a passenger on a full-day excursion to Queenstown and return on a  steam locomotive – and is still being used as an historically important part of Tasmania’s livelihood. Standing proudley is one of the original Dubs & Co Abt steam locomotives; she may be small but has a big heart in what’s about to be tackled up ahead of her today.

So, Good Morning to you majestic little lady – now being steamed up and prepared for all to enjoy. We’re going to be hauled along to some magnificent heights during the day as the steepest gradient on the rack section is 1 in 15 (6.67%).


To start off the morning whilst the locomotive is being readied for its outing, the passengers can enjoy a morning pastry with tea/coffee before boarding. Tickets and seating is given when checking in at the office.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a reconstruction of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company in Tasmania between Queenstown and Regatta Point. If you’re visiting Strahan this is a definite to have on your to-do list and a huge favourite with families.


Way to go! With a toot of the locomotive’s driver, we’re on our way.


When you see the terrain of what the railway workers constructed overland and through the forestation back in the late 1800s, it’s incredibly hard to believe that it was ever made possible. The railway utilised the Abt rack and pinion system for steep sections and can be seen in the centre of the track here. Because of the gradients, tonnages used in the past to transport copper was always limited on the railway line as the gauge is 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm).


Iron bridges over massive gorges are numerous.


The views across the escarpments are second to none and again we can see the rack and pinion system with its ‘teeth’ assisting the locomotive to make our day a reality.


Pete giving the petite loco a drink as it’s thirsty work and we’ve yet to tackle the more steeper areas along the way to Queenstown and then back again.


Ready to go and with another toot we all know it’s time to board and push onwards.


In the township of Queenstown, the discovery of gold and copper deposits at the Iron Blow in the 1880s led to the opening of the vast operations of the Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Co. Lovely area to visit and steeped in history – even for a day trip.


Additionally the station here caters with the Tracks Café offering delicious meals at an affordable price and the staff are really friendly. The new terminus in Queenstown is on the site of the original station yard.

You may wish to book a package which includes lunch within your ticket price.


Mining started in the 1880s with the Queen River being used for waste water disposal from the Mt Lyell copper mine. Between 1922 and 1995 low grade ore was concentrated on site and the tailings (ore-washing residue) dumped in the river also.


Having a hand at gold panning when we stopped for afternoon tea.


Magnificent views homeward bound with the fresh smell of eucalyptus trees while we chug along.


And at the end of the day, I think Pete’s put in a good hard day’s work at the ‘office’, but geez he looks like he’s enjoyed going to work each and every day.

The West Coast Wilderness Rail returns to Strahan around 5:00 pm and scheduled services only operate till the early days of April due to poor light towards the colder months. However, check their website for half-day outings.

For bookings see http://www.wcwr.com.au/bookings/

Launceston, Tasmania – Australia


Now heading off from Coles Bay and back inland towards Campbell Town was my pick on the day for the drive to Launceston. As you travel on the Lake Leake Road, the views are sensational from the ridges above looking back toward the Hazards and the peninsula.


Excellent opportunities to stop and take a few photos of the peaceful scenery.


Typical farming landscape makes it feel very much like my own home town with very friendly people to have a chat with and a well-earned coffee break at Campbell Town.


Now I’m feeling tempted … Some fabulous buys with antiques calling my name to go inside and make my acquaintance – and take them home.


Continuing onto Devonport from Coles Bay may be a bit longer in terms of driving times, but considering it was a better road with some interesting sights to stop and visit, it seemed to be a better choice on the day.


So if you’ve been to Launceston before this water mill is not new to you as it’s one of the most recognised landmarks. My car is parked right under it for free being a guest at the Leisure Inn Penny Royal! For bookings see www.tasvillas.com as this property is also part of the TasVillas Group.


The Leisure Inn Penny Royal Hotel and Apartments offer various categories of accommodation and facilities. It caters well for families and has self-contained apartments too – not everyone wants to eat out every night and it’s a big save when travelling with children.
Additionally for further information and bookings see http://www.leisureinnpennyroyal.com.au/


Queen-size bedroom with kitchenette – spacious and comfortable with fast wifi. Free parking as a guest and is perfect for couples on the go who want to stay in and enjoy feeling like they’re at home.


Rooms at the hotel are comfy and spacious with a rustic framework which feels very much in the era they were built. Warm and cosy with a great restaurant and bar within the complex makes it easy to access with no driving involved if having a couple of bevvies. It’s one of the most popular hotels to catch up with friends with a lively atmosphere and vibe.


Just a short walk up the road is the Penny Royal Adventures Theme Park and Attractions‎. If you’re staying at the hotel and apartments like me, it’s the perfect location to just soak up some sun while people watching and enjoying a cuppa with a friend.


After two years in development the run-down Penny Royal location was transformed to a modern welcoming tourist complex officially opened in 2016. It offers rides, cellar door, dining and boat rides for the young ones. A favourite of many local families who had grown up with the park in their youth – and it seems everyone’s really pleased with the outcome.


Oh, did I say zip lining is here as well?


And again just a little further up and over the bridge is Cataract Gorge and a must see.


Walk along the pathway which overlooks the South Esk River and it’ll take you to the Gorge Restaurant as well as the lake area which is really worth the walk.


There was plenty of seating to relax and enjoy the views. If you wanted to, bring your lunch as well and soak up some warm sunshine – it’s just a perfect day out.


The First Basin on the southern side features a swimming pool, two cafés, a funicular railway and an open area surrounded by bushland. The chairlift was built in 1972 and it’s total span is 457 metres – which is the longest single-span chairlift in the world.


A walk over the Alexandra Suspension Bridge will take you over to the opposite side which is a steeper walk back to the main entrance.


Undoubtedly this fella has seen a few changes over the years …


Afterwards, keep meandering along towards the city and you’ll find the most frequented park. Officially named Royal Park in 1912, it’s originally the site of a military barracks which was developed as parkland in the late 1800s. It’s also where Launceston’s Cenotaph can be located.


And if you’ve walked all that way during the day, might as well keep going and make way to the mall whereby you’ll see some of the best early Australian architecture. Oh yeah shopping too …


Incidentally, I’ve not really needed my car today at all as the location of my hotel has made it an easy day out with everything being within walking distance. So might as well buy some Tassie apples to take with me for my next day’s drive to chomp away on – crisp, sweet and simply delicious.


Local street art near the Tourism office in Devonport – think this is where to have some lunch on my way to Strahan. Parking is metered here and no free spots anywhere central.


The Spirit of Tasmania is docked here also and passengers with cars from Melbourne have opted to drive around the state with their own vehicles. Good idea to compare prices against hiring a car – in particular if you’re an Aussie.

Next stop Strahan, west side of Tasmania.

North-east Coast and Wineglass Bay, Tasmania – Australia


Heading out to the north-east coastline of Tasmania offers some of the most amazing forestation you will witness along the way with the refreshing smell of Eucalyptus trees.

And, if you’d ever read the novel ‘Eucalyptus’ you’d think it had been written here. It tells the story of Ellen Holland, a young woman whose “speckled beauty” and unattainability become legend; the man who could correctly name all the species on her father’s property would win her hand in marriage. Tough job as there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus and most are native to Australia being the main staple for koalas.


There’s no shortage of old sand-stone churches along the way either, with old gravesites within the yard making it just a little eerie.


Raspin’s Beach Conservation Reserve is worthy of a stop and admire the view.


Sand shoes hanging tied to the fence just in case you miss the entrance of the Gumleaves Bush Holidays property.


This one’s a little more obvious and just as much fun to look at.


Clean air and clear views all the way. Road heading north on the Great Eastern Drive is quite good and no issues with driving.


Meandering along and a stop at Devil’s Corner allows you a tasting of some of Tassie’s fine wines. A number of Cellar Doors will attest to great local produce and especially cheeses.


Being a cool climate, Pinot Noir is in great demand with vineyards packed with some of that delicious red liquid we all love on occasion. Some of the best grapes are found along the route between Swansea and Bicheno.


Tassie is a photographer’s dream … You’ll see so many opportunities like this one.


After an overnight stay in Bicheno, I’m ready for my Wineglass Bay Cruise and it’s 8:00 am in the morning and one of the most glorious days anyone could ask for.


And as I’m heading out on an organised cruise, this is good advice to anyone contemplating going out on their own. As always, I prefer to be with a company who provides all the necessities and a bit of luxury to enjoy the day out.


Heading out of Coles Bay with Wineglass Bay Cruises, we can see some of the best views of Freycinet National Park of which you might not if travelling by road.


Not too long before we’re making the most of our four-hour trip to Honeymoon Bay.


We were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins and they were racing us for at least 15 minutes! Sidling up to the boat they seemed to be having the best time – not to mention the passengers  who were all ecstatic – including me!


Many of the rock faces have been chiselled by howling winds over the centuries.


It may look cold but once we stopped for lunch it was down to t-shirts and sun glasses. A lot of feldspar or red granite can be seen in the centuries old rock formations.


Pure serenity along the pristine beach areas.


Bird life is prevalent along the coastline with plenty of fish for their own needs.


After relaxing for a number of hours, our day out cruising seemed to fly. Love to go back …


Looking back at Coles Bay you can see the rugged coastline and how fantastic a day out with a cruise could be when exploring all these nooks and crannies. Especially given the commentary and history of the region onboard makes it much more rewarding. Considering there was a Dutch and French influence going back historically to the Freycinet region (hence the name), makes a truly interesting day out.

For enquiries see http://www.wineglassbaycruises.com/

Next stop Launceston.

Hobart and Richmond, Tasmania – Australia


Flying into Australia’s Tasmanian main gateway city and capital Hobart after an absence of 27 years wasn’t something I’d planned. However this had been my last driving holiday as well. In fact, Australia is the only country (well maybe NZ) I will drive in.

I’ve been asked in the past why I’ve not written much about my own country, but I assume like others I’ll do more of it as I age … Anyway, I won’t be leaving it so long again to visit as Tasmania has ‘grown up’ substantially since my last time here. In terms of great wine and food trails,  tourist sites and many little hidden and unknown gems, it’s real drawcard is the wilderness and the wildlife which live in it.  Anyway, I’m going to start at the bottom of Australia and work my way up!

To give you an indication of the size, Tasmania is 68,332 square kilometres (26,383 square miles) in area. The distance from north to south is about 364 kilometres (226 miles) and from east to west about 306 kilometres (190 miles). It’s about the same size as Ireland, Switzerland or the state of West Virginia in the USA.


Upon arrival at Hobart Airport, you will have flown in with either Qantas, Jetstar or Virgin airlines from one of the three main gateways off the mainland of eastern Australia being Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. The stringent quarantine regulations are not just imposed on international passenger arrivals, but that of mainland Australian residents as well. No fruit, vegetables, fish/meat etc cannot be brought in as the cute-looking dog walking on the conveyor belt will no doubt pick it out. See the website below for further information.

You can easily pick up a car or campervan to travel around Tassie from the airport or city locations if you are considering driving around our smallest state. I cannot stress enough the importance of slowing down as the native wildlife is abundant here and the roads which have been built through their backyard takes its toll on these creatures as evidenced along the way.

If you are not wanting to pick up a car immediately, you can catch the Airporter bus service into Hobart for a cost of A$19.00 per adult one way to your city hotel. On today’s exchange rate A$1.00 = USD0.76 cents.

Bus services between cities and tourist attractions is almost non-existent and I would encourage you to hire a vehicle for ease and convenience. And, like most island nations we drive on the left side of the road … The correct way I say!

http://www.aera.asn.au/tq12/docs/tq12_quarrantine.pdf


Staying at the Fountainside Hotel is  not only close to everything along the foreshore and harbour side, it’s practically the first hotel you’ll drive into from the airport to the city centre. This saves time trying to figure out the one-way streets when you’ve not been here before and making it easier to find a suitable hotel which is handy to all that you need.

Late afternoon view of the park with plenty of lovely natural light streaming in. Parking is available on site which is a treat as it’s free with your stay whilst here. You’ll be given a slip to place on your dashboard or risk being towed away.

 http://tasvillas.com/properties/hobart-south-west-properties/fountainside-hotel-2/ 


Large and spacious rooms make it a comfortable place to relax before doing a quick run-around of the close city sights.  TasVillas Group have locally based staff who can assist with all itinerary planning, checking availability at multiple properties and locations and offer a fast reliable booking service for anyone contemplating their Tasmanian trip. See www.tasvillas.com 


Oh really – Mint Icecream on the menu at Fountainside? So good I had it both nights … Staff here are incredibly friendly and will make your stay a memorable one.


Walk along the foreshore –  this is close to where the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race finishes after navigating some of the most unforgiving waters across Bass Strait which separates Tassie from the mainland. This happens towards the end of each year and if you’re a die hard fan, book in early as there’s always a massive influx of revellers, doesn’t matter if you own a yacht or not.


Plenty of vessels to go out on the harbour for you to enjoy – doesn’t matter what time of the year. Summer in Australia is the peak season for Tasmania with everything open, up and running, so from December to end of February it’s quite busy but the shoulder seasons can be as well. My advice is to steer clear of school holidays if you can.

The Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum is  situated in Hobart, ‘The  Gateway to Antarctica’, on the city’s beautiful waterfront and just 50 metres from Constitution Dock and Mawson’s Place.


The building was opened on Monday 2nd December 2013 which was the 102nd anniversary of the departure from Hobart of the Australasian Antarctic expedition 1911-14 which Douglas Mawson led. Just outside the front door is where they departed.


Phonogram anyone, let’s dance? Some wonderful artefacts still exist.


Afterwards you can go out to the ferry terminal for MONA – The Museum of Old and New Art. Book early as it fills up.


Salamanca is the place to visit as it has fantastic retail shops with all kinds of crafts, food and artistic feasts for the eyes.


Arty crafty and bit of fun around Salamanca.

Gillie and Marc have worked side by side for 25 years. The husband and wife team are New York and Sydney-based contemporary artists who collaborate to create art as one.

Gillie and Marc first met on a film shoot in Hong Kong. On paper, their differences should have been incompatibilities, but their hearts said something else. Seven days later, they were married in the foothills of Mount Everest. This intrepid pair are best known for their iconic hybrid characters Dogman and Rabbitgirl who tell the autobiographical tale of two opposites coming together to become best friends and soul mates – proving everything is possible through love.


Wombats, how could you not love this face? Here at Bonorong it’s a sanctuary for disbanded or injured wildlife run by a passionate team of like-minded people. The wombat is the largest burrowing mammal and an accomplished burrower that early settlers called it a ‘badger’. However, its closest relative is in fact the koala. With its short tail and legs, characteristic waddle and ‘cuddly’ appearance the wombat is one of the most endearing of Australia’s native animals.


Tasmanian Devils are a rarity and these ones have been culled due to a cancerous growth on their little faces and won’t be released into the wild again.  The rescue centre offers up-close viewings of endangered native wildlife and guided educational tours.


Koalas are very cuddly and although I’ve lived all my life in Australia, this is the first time I’ve been so ‘up close and personal’ with one.


Surroundings of the bush at Bonorong are beautifully kept and a day trip out with Grayline is definitely worth the visit. See www.grayline.com.au to book as it will include a day trip to Richmond.


Historic town of Richmond after the sanctuary is a step back in time with great little coffee shops, antique stores and early Australiana architecture. The town’s most photographed landmark is the Richmond Bridge. Built by convicts in the 1820s, it’s the oldest bridge in Australia and offers a perfect picnic spot on the grassy banks of the Coal River.


St Lukes The Physician Church. There are only a few older churches in Tasmania and most of those erected earlier have either been rebuilt or altered to such an extent that very little of the original building is left.  In Richmond there are more than 50 Georgian buildings, many beautifully restored and now operating as restaurants, galleries and accommodation.


The Richmond Gaol is also the oldest gaol in Australia. Standing inside the stone cells gives an eerie insight into the hardships and brutality of convict life in early Van Diemen’s Land.


In 1812 the convict ship Indefatigable was the first ship to bring convicts direct from England to the shores of Van Diemen’s Land. This continued until 1853 when transportation ceased. Over a period of some 41 years more than 74,000 convicts were transported to Tasmania.


Up early for Salamanca Markets on a Saturday and street vendors hard at work selling fresh produce. Love the old scales, brings back memories of how to calculate without a device …


If you don’t have breakfast included in your room rate, then this is the place to come and have some well-earned brunch, especially after visiting all the stalls and listening to buskers belting out some great old tunes. Hard to decide which eatery has the best-tasting as it all smells so inviting. Best to stay for lunch as well.

Next stop north-east coast and Wineglass Bay.

Montevideo to Madrid, Spain


Flying from Montevideo to Santiago, Chile over the Andes Mountains which stretch along South America’s western side, is among the world’s longest mountain ranges. Its varied terrain encompasses glaciers, volcanoes, grassland, desert, lakes and forestation. The mountains shelter pre-Columbian archaeological sites and wildlife including chinchillas and condors. From Venezuela in the north, the range passes through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. So much more to see of South America and one destination on my ‘return list’. LANTAM have an extensive network right across South America and destinations such as Spain is well serviced.


Australian passport holders do not require a visa to enter Chile. You will receive entry for up to 90 days with multiple entries.

Australian tourists entering Chile through Santiago International Airport are required to pay a ‘reciprocity fee’ and at the time of writing this blog – USD117.00 per adult. The fee can only be paid by cash or credit card upon arrival before clearing immigration. Transit passengers (like myself here) are not required to pay.

Contact the  Embassy or Consulate of Chile in Australia for updated information.


The LANTAM Lounge in Santiago offers a place to relax with fast wifi and facilities for a shower before heading off onto a long-haul flight with LANTAM being part of the Oneworld Alliance. Flying on a Boeing 789 from Santiago, Chile to Madrid is approximately 13 hours and being able to unwind beforehand is worth being a member of the group. On a commercial ticket just think of all those points you’ll accumulate!

Delicious canapés and drinks are available for passengers who qualify for entry.


Arrival at Madrid Airport is quite efficient despite its size, with a Visitor’s Desk nearby to the baggage carousel, they are happy to advise your options of ground transport and city attractions.


The Metro in Madrid is one of the best and fastest ways to make your way around a city whereby its population exceeds 3.3 million. For less than 20 Euro you can purchase a three-day Metro Pass or around 26 Euro a five-day Pass.

As a travel agent, I’m off to check out some of the best hotels Spain has to offer – Melia Hotels are superior and quite unique in their own right, not just in its own country, but they’ve been expanding further afield for sometime now. Let’s take a sample of what’s here in Madrid.


For starters, hotel of choice is Melia Princesa which is 50 metres from the Ventura Rodriguez subway – phew no taxis required!   It’s truly an affordable luxury hotel with a polished entrance (which I might say from the street is a little deceiving). The smart interior design shows off some striking ornaments in the foyer with staff gushing to take all your stresses away after a very long flight from South America.


The Level rooms are exclusive – located on the 12th Floor and allow entry to the Member’s Lounge on the ground floor. One interesting aspect of the hotel was the delightful staff member Sandra who asked me to choose a scent for my room. She chose the right person to ask as exquisite fragrances are one of my passions – lovely bouquets and the aroma filled the room after I’d returned from a relaxing time in the Lounge area.


Magnificent panoramic views over the city; felt very comfortable here with a nice desk to catch up on some work.


Breakfast was more than sufficient with an interesting drink cart to choose a wake-up brew and the coffee was one of the best. Trust me, us Aussies are fussy about their caffeine. Alternatively, the Lounge was also available for qualifying guests.


Moving onto Plaza Santa Ana there’s a vibe worthy of a visit and shopping in Madrid has some of the best brands, eateries and bargains. So kick your heels up and make your way over there! Not a place to be missed and loved by locals.

The ME Madrid Reina Victoria Hotel right at the Plaza offers a welcome drink of sparkling wine or water which certainly adds to the feeling of satisfaction you’ve chosen a great hotel. Staff were extremely pleasant and enjoy a bit of a chat too. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to speak English again …


This Hotel radiates chic and an urban culture and, oh so stylish at the same time. Very modern with my ‘Mode’ room which looked straight out over the Plaza along with its ceiling to floor length windows and the abundant natural light into the room made it feel like home. Just how we like it in Australia!


At night a visit to the hotel’s ‘The Roof’ Bar looks right out over the very busy Plaza, allowing you to relax without feeling you need to be a part of the buzz at street level. Just kick back, admire the view of the lights and sip those yummy cocktails. The sound/video equipment is cutting-edge technology and a drawcard for anyone who considers they’re a ‘cool cat’ at night.


The ME is also located perfectly at the pulse of Madrid’s major theatres, nightclubs and museums. It’s a destination of its own – no need to go too far away for anything else really.


If you feel you’re wanting a luxury five-star retreat in the heart of Madrid, the Gran Melia Palacio de los Duques is the one – look no further than this magnificent palatial building which is virtually at the epicentre of the Royal Palace’s location and surrounds.

And indeed,  the hotel was a 19th century palace itself and still maintains an air of royalty with the staff doing their utmost to make you feel warm and welcomed. And staff member Hector deserve a special mention for his willingness in giving me an insight of the hotel’s historic beginnings and in particular the art work which is embedded as part of the interior design, in particular Velázquez’s Meninas.

The roof top view can’t go unnoticed.


A contemporary swimming pool is a relief (with an infinity outlook over the Royal Palace) after a big day out visiting the sights such as the Teatro Real, the Almudena Cathedral and the Sabatini Gardens. Serious shopping is a short walk up the hill, not only top brands, but interesting labels which Madrid is well known for having new and emerging designers. By the way, there’s also a Jacuzzi on the top floor for those aching muscles from all your day’s walking; no need for a vehicle as it’s all here.


What I’ve enjoyed so far with the Melia Hotel group is that they are all unique and not the normal ‘copy cat’ style of say other leading hotel chains. This hotel The Gran Melia, is not just at the top of the echelon, but it exudes a rare style and elegance which is synonymous with its own décor and surrounds.


My room had a spa bath and Clarins amenities (love ’em) to make it even more enriching. The bed was two metres long and fitted me perfectly as I’m 183 cm tall (6′) and the pillows were so, so soft. Fast wifi is a must for me and no problems there. Good size safe and easy to use.


So, if you’re looking for an experience where you know everything will be taken care of, then this hotel is not to be missed. And, I do have to mention, it has one of the finest breakfasts I’ve enjoyed – reading a paper (in English) whilst the staff make you feel like royalty …


And yes, a quick two-minute walk down the road and you’re at the Royal Palace and Sabatini Gardens!

Grounds of the Royal Palace nearby.


Well it’s bye to Madrid for this year – a city which never disappoints – architecturally, its culinary delish and culture cannot be missed.

I know where to direct my clientele in future should they wish to experience intimate details of an amazing city with its centrally located hotels.

Punte Del Este and Montevideo, Uruguay with Norwegian Sun.


Leaving Brazil and onto Uruguay is definitely one of the highlights of a South American cruise and being onboard NCL’s Norwegian Sun. If you enjoy being on the port side of the ship (left-hand side of a vessel when looking forward), then you will see some of the most amazing sunsets.


While at sea there was a myriad of ‘what’s happening today’ – not just ‘sea days’ but the whole cruise. I’m up to day six and still haven’t covered off many of the activities. Trivia was high on my list of must do items and the gym would have to wait.


One of the best presentations onboard was the ‘How to Run a Floating Hotel’, which was hosted by one of the staff members who introduced us to the head of various departments. They spoke about their responsibilities such as ordering, catering and waste management along with budgets and keeping the passenger happy.


Art auctions were on for two days whilst at sea and so many bargains to be had with renown artist’s work going for a fraction of what you’d pay in an art gallery.


One really great aspect of the cruise, early each evening there was a solo traveller’s meet up in The Library which offered the chance for other like-minded travellers to say hi and have dinner together if they so wished. I spoke to Ron who is less mobile than many of us and asked about his cruising history. Without doubt he’s an avid cruiser and he said his first priority was to look for an itinerary which he considered plausible. We are with the lovely Abigail who is from Argentina and looked after us all at dinner time. Meals were ‘freestyle’ which gave everyone the freedom to eat when they chose to do so and not be bound to a set time and table each night.


Our first port of call in Uruguay – Punta Del Este and it’s definitely a tourist hot spot without doubt for the rich and famous. Numerous yachts  and sea vessels moored close to the maze of eateries along the harbour. There’s an abundance of fashionistas to be seen even early in the day for a light salad – I assume.


Lovely to walk around and see the wonderful architecture at Punte Del Este. Glorious weather and a typical summer day.


Homes are simply delightful with a European feel. There were many differing styles of buildings too which made it so much more interesting to walk around and take photos.

No shortage of seafood here and fresh as …


Entering Montevideo Port after an overnight sail was really a highlight being on my list of places to visit and the chance to catch up with a long-time friend. In the distance we can see Palacio Salvo which is central in the city and many were ‘chomping at the bit’ to go ashore and experience Montevideo’s offerings.


Markets are straight across the road from where the Norwegian Sun has docked and no tenders needed here. Countless yummy markets, shops and tempting eateries all along the way into the Ciudad Vieja (Old City).


Thought-provoking street art to keep you amused and it doesn’t matter which street you walk in. This capital city is home to some of the most innovative and daring stencil art and graffiti on the continent.


Think I already said previously I just love taking photos of old doors. Bet they’d like to tell a few secrets if they could …


Spectacular architecture and this is what we could see in part as we docked early in the morning. Fascinating to see the magnificient Palacio Salvo up close. The building was originally intended to be a hotel, but this plan didn’t work out and it has since been occupied by a mixture of offices and private residences.


There’s so much more to see and do in Montevideo, I would recommend at least a three-day stay here on another visit just to soak up the atmosphere and friendliness of the people.


Walk around the harbour foreshore is a pleasure and quite peaceful. Though I might not say that at the end of a working day as I’d imagine many locals would be out and about enjoying it too.


Did someone say ‘meet up’? Well the smoke, which takes hold of the Port Market and its surroundings at midday is clear evidence of what happens inside the venue. Even day workers were here to enjoy a hearty lunch before the weekend’s tourists hit town.

The best samples of Uruguayan cuisine; from chivito al plato (a steak with ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise) or a la canadiense (the same steak in a sandwich version) up to the best and most simple meat cuts, achuras (offal), asado (grilled meat), chicken, matambres (stuffed meat rolls), chotos (plaited intestines), pamplonas (grilled stuffed-meat) and other delicacies are popular in this corner of the world.


Landscape is similar to Australia and I felt very much at home in Uruguay due to the weather and scenery being similar to many country locations; especially central NSW in Australia. Uruguay and Argentina are almost the same latitudes as Sydney , so if you’re thinking of travelling to South America around September through to December you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Historically I’ve found flights from Australia are usually cheaper for the month of November.


But best of all, catching up with my long-time friend Dinorah at Bacacay Restaurant in Montevideo for a Christmas drink and canapés was the ultimate treat before heading off again. We’d met on a Moroccan tour many years ago and luckily for us the advent of the internet and email has kept us in touch.

Salute and the malbec was a pleasure too … just wish they’d grow more of it at home.

Cruising with NCL from Rio De Janiero to Ihle Grande, Brazil


On this ten-day South American itinerary from Rio De Janeiro to Buenos Aires, Argentina, one night is spent in the Port of Rio which I really appreciated as it gives a little more time to explore this really groovy area. It’s fast become a hub for cafes, museums and street artists.

As always ports, railway stations and airports are a drawcard for unsavoury mortals, who unfortunately are attracted to unwitting tourists. Always take just the bare essentials when going out, such as enough cash for a taxi to return to your hotel/ship and eateries. Leave all other valuables in your safe. Also take a business card with the address of where you are staying so the driver will know where to drop you off. Additionally, take your room key out of the little pocket folder with your room number on it, just in case you lose it allowing undesirables access to your accommodation.


Heading out of the port was a bit wild with the horn blowing and saying bye to RIO – but hey when you’re inside enjoying a wine and some delectable goodies no one seems too worried …


And this is just the entrée in the A La Carte La Cucina – yum! There are some dining options which do have a cover charge, but you have to treat yourself every now and again.


Our first stop – Buzios is a simple fishing village until the early 1960s when it was ‘discovered’ by Brigitte Bardot and her Brazilian boyfriend.


It’s now one of Brazil’s most upscale and animated seaside resorts littered with boutiques, fine restaurants and posh posaudas.


Having the tenders shuttle back and forth made an easy day because once you’ve had your coffee and shopped around, you could then go back and enjoy the activities onboard.


Next day the same process and a visit to Ihle Grande in Brazil allowed us to visit places along the coastline I might not have done so on a road trip.


Hard decisions need to be made each day!


I can take a hint, but it’s a little too early for me.


Really lovely place to visit with tourists coming from all over the globe. Ihle Grande remains largely undeveloped and for almost a century it was closed by the Brazilian government to free movement or settlement because it first housed a leper colony and then a top-security prison.


And now for our first city port whereby tenders are not needed here in the port of Santos (Sao Paulo). The Brazilian city is also home to the Coffee Museum where coffee prices were once negotiated. There is also a football memorial dedicated to the city’s greatest players which includes Pelé, who played for Santos Futebol Clube.


I’d recommend take a shore excursion from Norwegian Sun’s tour desk for an informative day as there’s quite a few sites to visit here. Otherwise taxis are about $10.00 USD one way into the central city area.


Lots of street art abound, there are buses which run into the main bus and rail Terminal and costs about $1.00 USD for a one-way ticket.


Here we are at the Coffee Museum in Santos, the architectural style and splendour houses the history and importance of coffee in the golden years of the coffee trade in Brazil and locally.


Many of the exhibits are beautifully restored and visitors can appreciate what does goes into making a great coffee – past and present. There’s also an Auction Room where it was the setting of the daily price for bags of coffee until the 1950s.


The Museu Do Café at the entrance of the building is a must if you’re a coffee aficionado and wanting to admire the collection of stained glass along with a number of paintings by Benedicto Calixto.


A walk around the city reveals a lively vibrant atmosphere with small markets in the centre.


Many buildings have been kept in their original state with no evidence of modernising it by developers.


When you’re a little tired of walking, take the historic tram ride around the perimeter of the city and enjoy the local sites.


Next port – Punta Del Este, Uruguay after two days at sea with Norwegian Sun.


I know at the Captain’s Cocktail Party everyone wants a photo with the Captain, but on this occasion Claudia who is in charge of Customer Services is also a very important staff member to my way of thinking. Considering all guest’s needs are taken care of and issues dealt with on an immediate basis, it makes the difference between having a great cruise or a mediocre one.


And at the end of the day, you’ll be greeted by one of these funny little animals which have taken up residence on your bed while you were out!

Cuba to Rio De Janeiro – NCL Norwegian Sun’s Cruise


Leaving Cuba wasn’t easy but I’ve no doubt I’ll be returning to a different country in the future.


Arriving and leaving Havana with LATAM was seamless and onto Lima for great connections to other destinations within South America. I’m off to Rio De Janeiro for a few days before taking a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line down the east coast to Argentina.

LATAM has been my airline of choice every time I’ve visited South America, not just because they are part of the Oneworld Alliance, but they have a great network and numerous destinations to choose from. The service onboard is exceptional with all meals and drinks being included. The experienced crew were extremely helpful and English spoken perfectly. I really like their uniforms as well which are stylish and look quite professional.


Heading into Christmas in RIO is very much what it’s like at home in Australia – hot, hot and hot. Taking a walk along Copacabana beach allows you to enjoy some of the most incredible sand sculptures, and then when you feel thirsty, try some of the agua de coco straight from the coconut.


I love Copacabana Beach, it’s one of the best and most famous – not just for Brazil but it’s world renown.


Great for people watching too, especially with the mix of bike riders, dancers and games being played on the sand.The view to the left of Copacabana beach is the towering Sugar Loaf Mountain and while the beach runs for 2.2 miles (4 km) in an east west direction running from Postos Dois to Posto Seis there’s plenty of other sights to see. Stop by one of the several beach bars and enjoy a gold cup of chopp (draft beer) and refeicao (herbed meat and fried onions).


Or you might just stumble across the commemorated song/music writer Jobim. He was a primary force behind the creation of the bossa nova jazz style and one of the most memorable songs ever written – Garota de Ipanema. In English ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was a worldwide hit in the mid-1960s and won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965. It was written in 1962, with music by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes.


Think this sculpture may have had his head and toes rubbed a few times.


From the beach and on the right is Copacabana Fort which dates back to 1914. It houses the Army Historical Museum and worthy of a visit with plenty of cafes and restaurants looking back over to the waves pounding the beach and swimmers alike.


Football is the most popular sport in the country, it’s well respected and defended by the adoring locals. Just don’t mention Argentina … In fact, some employees are even given time off to watch important World Cup matches when Brazil is playing.


And if you can’t make it to the Mardi Gras held in February each year, don’t panic, there’s festivities going on most weekends in Rio De Janeiro along the beach. Music, dancing and performers showcasing in their best frocks – doesn’t matter it’s over 30 degrees Celsius here early in December – just a great vibe all round.


Now it’s time to head to the port and I’m taking the light rail VLT which is easy enough and slices through the traffic. VLT do Rio de Janeiro or VLT Carioca, is a 30 km (18.6-mile) light rail system linking the region to the subway, ferries and bus stations. The project covers seven neighbourhoods spread out over five million square meters (1.9 million square miles): Centro, Santo Cristo, Boa Saúde, Gamboa, São Cristóvão, Cidade Nova and Caju.

Buy your card for about BSL3.00 and then top it up. One sector is about BSL3.70 regardless if it’s bus, train or light rail. The port for ships to dock is one of the last stops and you just walk over to the check in area.

Please note: Australian passport holders require a visa to enter Brazil and also must pay a Reciprocity Fee online to enter Argentina prior to boarding.


There’s my ship! Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun which has one of those itineraries I’ve wanted to experience for a very long time. I’m heading onto this passenger cruise ship which carries just under 2,000 passengers and wondering what I’m in for over the next ten nights. Yes, I know I’ve been selling cruises for many years but this is my first cruise on this size ship. Nervous excitement? Yes definitely now that I’m looking at her and wondering about my upcoming journey.


Balcony cabin is perfect with space in the centre which is what I like personally; even with hotel rooms. Ok, I know I’ve had a nana nap and the staff in the evening tidy up the cabin which is really lovely with all those funny towel impersonations of different animals. So far, so good.


A lovely gesture from the Captain and a most welcomed treat … Lots more blogging coming up from this cruise. Stay tuned as we sail down the coastline towards Buzios and Ilha Grande in Brazil in my next blog post.

Havana to Varadera via the Eastern Beaches, Cuba


Ready for a beach experience in Cuba? My very willing model Stephen is all for enjoying the outskirts of Havana – and as much as he loves the city, the beaches are in close proximity and it’s about having the best of both worlds.

Photo courtesy Stephen Catchpole, Canada


Ready to leave Havana, take a Chevy as a taxi and negotiate the price? No problem at all.


As mentioned, Havana doesn’t have a beach and just to the east are some of the best anywhere. Heading to Santa Maria and it’s under half an hour by bus or cab. If you negotiate with a cabbie you might pick up a ride from $15-20 CUC one way.


Cuba’s eastern beaches from Havana to Varadero can only be described as a juxtaposition to the abundance of Australia’s heavenly stretches of sand … All along the coastline the beaches are ablaze with a hot sun, cool refreshing waves and a smattering of beach chairs coupled with a charitable number of colourful umbrellas.


The eastern beaches are much quieter if that’s what you’re seeking in a holiday.


Like me you don’t have to be a ‘swimmer’ or a surfer – you can enjoy standing in amongst the tame pull of the waves and feel quite safe. Splashing around and dog paddling are just as much fun here.


If there was such a colour as ‘opalesque’, then this is it – beaut shades of blue which change with the depth of the sea. A good indicator of how far to go out if you’re not a confident swimmer, or have youngsters.


Many resorts have an all-inclusive rate which is something Aussies do love. Even on the beach side they sometimes have small bars set up to help out with thirsty guests.


Small markets along the shore front also make Cuba’s cigars accessible, even if you don’t smoke.


These little fellas are around and about and seem harmless. I think?


In Varadero, the number of properties available is tremendous. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed so many in one location, especially on the peninsula. You might not think you’re in Cuba when staying here, but hey it’s safe and families love it. Varadero is a two-hour one-way trip from Havana and perhaps one of the most touristy in Cuba.


And yes, Varadero is populous with resort style, all-inclusive accommodation. Because the high season starts to ‘heat’ up around early November onwards, my advice is to book early to avoid any disappointment. In Veradero you’ll find hotels which are high quality, very competitive and far more appealing then you’d expect.


Quite a number of small museums and parks, book and music shops like this one make it interesting to visit.


No shortage of classic cars here either …


Oh and look at that sunset. Just one of many.


And, when you’re done in Cuba, make sure you take home those memories with a 120 year-old box camera. And yes, I’ll be back, most likely to quite a different place. But at least the music and dancing will resume by then.

Photo courtesy Stephen Catchpole, Canada

To visit Cuba and further information, see my visa link tab on this website for entry requirements which are constantly updated for Australian travellers.

Havana, Cuba


In January 1959 Fidel Castro took control of Cuba and placed Guevara in charge of La Cabaña prison. He was later appointed president of the national bank and minister of industry and did much to assist in the country’s transformation into a communist state.

Countries such as the United States and those allied with it ceased trading with Cuba. Supplies were rationed. Questionable friendships were struck with members of the Soviet Bloc. The people suffered, as they always do.

Times are now changing for the tiny Caribbean Island nation Cuba with the United States restoring diplomatic relations on 20 July 2015, which had been severed in 1961 during the Cold War.


All signs are ready to go from Miami Airport to Cuba with instructions for Americans to complete their applications for entry and a ‘Ready Stamp’ at the desk.

For an update on visa requirements for Australians please see the tab Visalink on this website for updated entry requirements.


The currency in Cuba can be a little bit confusing because it has two currencies. The Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC$) – simply called convertibles – and Non-Convertible Pesos (CUP) / Moneda Nacional (MN$) simply – Cuban Pesos.

Non-Cubans use mostly convertibles. That’s what you exchange foreign currency for and that’s what you pay goods and services with. 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 is considered equivalent to $1.00 USD.

Personally, I exchanged Australian Dollars in Fort Worth, USA for USD before leaving the country – at a bank which I’ve found to give the best rates (in fact anywhere). It was worth the effort as my AUD was not accepted at the airport in Havana. The commission charged on a USD100.00 transaction was about 14% and you are very much a ‘captured tourist’ in that taxis weren’t permitted to take USD either. The major hotels such as the Melia for example, were somewhat better in its exchange rate.

Note: Canadian Dollars are widely accepted almost everywhere as Nationals do not need a visa to enter Cuba.

  • However, Australian travellers often experience problems accessing funds in Cuba. Credit cards, debit cards and travellers’ cheques are not accepted in Cuba if issued by US banks or Australian banks affiliated with US banks. This includes all American Express, Visa and MasterCard cards depending on the issuing bank and Westpac Bank cards. To avoid being caught without money in Cuba, ensure you have a variety of ways of accessing your money. Take an emergency supply of cash, enough to leave Cuba if your bank cards do not work. In the past, foreigners without access to funds have been detained and deported by local authorities.
  • Source: www.smarttraveller.gov.au


And, if you want to relay any emails about your travels to your mates, you’ll need one of these cards for wifi. Generally two CUC to purchase one with plenty of street vendors and hotels selling them. They are valid for one hour with the ability to sign off and use later. You must find a place such as a hotel or eatery which has wifi to connect to before using it.


News was out the day before I arrived, ‘Castro Dead’. Plagued for decades by revolutionary struggle, crippling poverty along with social and political isolation, Cuba is slowly beginning to open up again to trade and tourism. No dancing, partying or music allowed in the streets. Nor any drinking of alcohol for nine days. unless you’d already pre-booked an all-inclusive rate at your accommodation and only there is where you could have a ‘quiet one’.


So being an accidental witness to a time in Cuba’s history was a moment I wasn’t expecting. The line up was growing by the minute to view Castro’s memorial which was announced on the Monday morning. The crush which took place after me taking this photo, led to the military being called in on standby; once they made their presence nearby, everyone settled very quickly and orderly.


Ministry of Interior building in Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) where we inched past this iconic façade on our way up to the memorial.


Once inside the monument which hosted Castro’s memorial the line was kept moving and after two hours of waiting, I thought it was worth the wait considering this had been an historical occasion in Cuba’s diary.


See the guy in the green shirt? That’s who I was pushed up against in the crush to view the memorial. I’m not complaining or stalking, I was just wondering if he was going to line up again …


After standing in line for so long it was great to take a little yellow taxi back to the hotel. They’re everywhere and quite cheap.


However, one of the best ways of taking a quick look at Havana city and surrounds is by Hop On, Hop Off Bus and cost 10 CUC (at the time). The cemetery being one of the interesting places to visit even if you’re not a local. You can also bargain with an owner of one of the classic cars to take you around for an hour or so at a comparatively low rate if there’s a couple of you.


Walking around the streets and in many ways, Cuba hasn’t changed at all. It has stayed exactly the same, trapped in a time capsule dated 1959 I’m told. I believe it.


Beyond this point I might not have gone alone, but it’s great when you pick up three Canadian guys to walk around with … And have lunch with them too.


You’ll meet quite a lot of Canadians and happy to say here at lunch; myself, Stephen, John and David all did well with a delicious (rico) locally-made traditional pizza each. Include a drink – all four came under 10 CUC – bargain! Though I have to say, Cuba is not known for its culinary delights.


By passing the butchers, we decided not to go in for a closer inspection.


Stalls along the streets are plentiful with in-season fruit and vegies.


We were fortunate enough to be invited in to see an old cathedral being gutted and in the process of being restored. One place we’ll return to and check on what transpired from it all. The builders said in about a year it would be finished.


This is not the only construction being built or renovated at the foreshore in Havana. Hotels are gearing up at breakneck speeds to invest. Obviously money is coming in …


Cutesy coffee shops There are no smartphones to distract people from the human chatter which echoes from the buildings lining Old Havana’s potholed calles. A welcome relief in having the technology unavailable.


Did I tell you before old doors are my ‘new thing’ to photograph? No shortage here.


Cars are everywhere – Vintage American cars – Dodges, Oldsmobiles, Cadillacs and Fords, all still trundle along Havana’s crumbling streets as though they’re on their way to some collectors’ rally.


Plaza Vieja, Havana – ‘Hold My Fork While I Mount this Rooster’. Sure, seeing it’s the Chinese year of the Rooster, I’ve no doubt it’ll be the most photographed Rooster ever.


Have a seat? Maybe next time I visit.


I’m also wondering if this will look like Woolloomooloo Wharf in Sydney next time I return.


Ship in port and for passengers it’s walking distance to some sights. I’ve been reading many of the travel industry articles of late and there’s been a number of  approvals given to new entrants which will add to mass tourism undoubtedly.


Moro Fort across the water as seen from the Malecon is a must see. Great walk all around here with magnificent views of ships coming into the port.


Sunset – doesn’t come much better huh?


Café serving fresh fish and vegies, cake and a  glass of red 7.90 CUC (straight across the road from the sunset) with good-old fashioned service thrown in.


Near the Melia Hotel it’s one of the best walkways along the foreshore with locals as well as tourists soaking up the atmosphere. And, if you’re wanting a ride home, there’s a parade of old chevies and the like which are also taxis – way to go!

Next post more of Havana and onto Varadero via the eastern beaches.