Advent antics

Last year, I shared the escapades of a friend’s ‘Elf on the Shelf’, and while searching through my meagre collection of Christmas decorations, I found a little smiling face waiting patiently to come out and play. With no children in the household, I decided to have some fun surprising Michael each morning. Elf’s initial attempt to stowaway to a business breakfast meeting was met with much mirth and, in case there was a misunderstanding that this was an isolated incident, he appeared the next day in Michael’s cereal bowl.

He became trapped when the toilet lid came down on him unexpectedly and, on a particularly cold morning, tried to warm up on the toaster.

More strife in the bathroom as he messed about with the toilet roll, so he sought solace with KitKat in the pantry.

He just couldn’t stay away from the bathroom, though, finding dental floss doesn’t make a great yo-yo, and his exploits in the office didn’t end well (kids, don’t try this at home).

The kitchen enticed him back to help with the morning cuppa, and he found the dog biscuits to be a very tasty treat.

Venturing further afield, he got stuck in the chook food dispenser before returning to the safety of the lounge to watch an early soccer game.

Exhausted by his nocturnal shenanigans, Elf found a couple of options to take it easy and recuperate.

There was another failed bid to join the business breakfast meeting by hiding in the car, so he returned to the pantry to await the next days porridge.

He put all his strength into squeezing the toothpaste tube, and enjoyed some gymnastics on the towel rail.

Hoping to go for a walk with Michael & Poppy, he waited in the gumboots for the right moment. The dining room light was easier to get into than out of.

A rather uncomfortable night in the wardrobe, and back to the kitchen to, once again, help with breakfast.

It was almost time for Elf to leave again, but not before a few tunes on the cigar-box guitar. Finally, on Christmas Eve morning, he prematurely pulled a cracker to celebrate his time with us.

I hope you all enjoyed your silly season and wish you good times and good health in 2022. Hopefully, fun will replace fear in the not too distant future, perhaps it could be made mandatory?

Florence Falls

We had worked up an appetite with our morning explorations of Litchfield Park and found a secluded spot for a picnic lunch alongside Florence Creek.

The spring fed watercourse bubbles along, tumbling over a series of cascades until it reaches the escarpment at Florence Falls.

A stunning panorama from the viewing platform takes in the lush monsoon forest surrounding the falls.

The multi-tiered falls drop around 40 metres in total while the main cascade is around 20 metres.

There are 160 steps to the swimming hole at the base of the falls. Tempting though it was to cool off in the pristine water, the return climb would have been a step too far.

Natale Italiano

We haven’t really celebrated Christmas for quite a few years, not since our spontaneous sojourn to Cradle Mountain in 2016. To say our yuletide decorations at home are minimalist would be an understatement.

This year, we invited some new found friends to share lunch and, not being a fan of the traditional turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies, I chose an Italian menu instead. Preparation began on Christmas Eve with the creation of soft garlic breadsticks, fava bean & goats cheese dip and one of my favourites, Torta della Nonna.

The table was set and a few sprigs from our holly tree created a colourful adornment by the front door.

I had a few special tree ornaments, mostly handmade by a friend and my mum, that have been hidden in a box in the cupboard for millenia. Michael did a fine job of decorating the Japanese Black Pine by the pond,

a spectacle to be enjoyed from the dining table.

Glasses were charged with a superb G.H. Mumm champagne to accompany the antipasto platter featuring the usual suspects: prosciutto, chorizo salami, capocollo, pecorino pepato, gorgonzola, mozzarella and anchovy stuffed olives along with the aforementioned dip & breadsticks.

The opening of a bottle of Torresella Pinot Grigio heralded the serving of pumpkin & ricotta ravioli with brown butter sage sauce.

A stroll around the garden in the sunshine made room for main course of Prune & Olive Chicken, roasted onions, potatoes & carrots and a Wreath Caprese Salad, complemented by a bottle of Balliamo Pinot Grigio.

The Torta della Nonna was worth waiting for (if I do say so myself)

and, of course, there was still enough space in the ‘sweet stomach’ for chocolates and coffee. It’s not all about the food, this Christmas will be one of the most memorable thanks to the wonderful company and the weather gods delivering perfection.

Tamar Valley

I recently spent a couple of nights in Launceston, catching up with a special friend from W.A. who was travelling around Tasmania with another two friends. They had booked accommodation at Armalong Chalets and fortunately, there was room for me. I arrived on a very inclement afternoon and we wasted no time seeking a beverage at Stillwater Restaurant, overlooking the Tamar Basin. Across the water, four large grain silos from the 1960s are now Peppers Silo Hotel. Deserted for decades, the Kings Wharf grain silos were rescued and transformed into a stunning $25 million hotel with many of the facilities constructed inside the original barrels. (A weekend stay is still on the bucket list).

After a fabulous meal at The Grain of the Silos Restaurant and a good night’s sleep, I awoke to a glorious sunny day and the most spectacular view through the floor to ceiling windows.

The chalets are situated at Tamar Ridge Cellar Door, perched high in the trees overlooking vineyards and the ever changing Tamar River.

We set off for a day discovering the Tamar Valley and a short drive down the West Tamar Highway, stopped at Brady’s Lookout, once the hideout for bushranger Mathew Brady. A gentleman’s servant in England, he was convicted of stealing a basket with some butter, bacon, sugar and rice and received a seven-year sentence of transportation to Australia. Arriving in December 1820, he wasn’t the most exemplary prisoner and escaped with a group of fifteen in June 1824, spending the next two years on the run before being captured and hanged on 4th May 1826.

The Tamar River isn’t actually a river, it is a tidal estuary into which the North and South Esk Rivers empty, that stretches 70km from Launceston to Bass Strait.

After investigating a couple of wineries and the former gold mining town of Beaconsfield, we arrived at Beauty Point to enjoy a relaxing lunch by the water.

The first deep-water port on the Tamar River was established to service the nearby gold mine and then, after the gold rush, it became the centre for the export of apples. It is now home to the Australian Maritime College training ship, Stephen Brown, a permanently moored neighbour of the Tamar Yacht Club.

We wended our way back to Tamar Ridge where, not only is there a cellar door on site but also a gin distillery, Turner Stillhouse. Arriving within a few minutes of closing time, we were treated to a tasting session of the award-winning Three Cuts Gin with distiller, Brett Coulsen. The unusual name refers to the three cuts of Tasmanian rose that are added to the gin, including some grown near the distillery.

Returning to the chalet as the shadows lengthened, we settled on the deck with a beverage and platter to absorb the breathtaking vista over vineyards and river.

Sadly, the next morning we went our separate ways but not before another magnificent sunrise.

Mead’s Wall

Having returned to the base of Mount Ruapehu on Sky Waka, we followed the signs to explore Mead’s Wall, named for William Perrett Mead, the first to reconnoitre the Whakapapa valley and subsequently form the Ruapehu Ski Club in 1913. The wall didn’t look particularly impressive from a distance but the 25 metre high west face has eight rock climbing routes for those who wish to indulge.

We walked the easy trail to the side of the wall, wondering how (or why) anyone would climb it.

Looking back across the ski field, chalets dotted the barren landscape that becomes the beginners run, Happy Valley, when covered in snow.

The east face of the wall presents a sheer drop of 45 metres, a little more challenging for those thrill-seekers with ropes, helmets and jelly legs

We were more excited to be standing in the vicinity of memorable Mordor scenes from The Lord of the Rings. These volcanic rocks, cliffs and ash were the location of Emyn Muil, the mountainous area where Frodo and Sam become lost on their way to the Black Gates of Mordor and first meet Gollum.

Beyond Mead’s Wall, the river valley wends its way through the Whakapapa Gorge, toward the conical shape of Mount Doom, I mean Mount Ngauruhoe.

Back to reality, as we were leaving a solo rock climbing lesson was just beginning, I couldn’t bear to watch.