avian ablutions

We have had the most stupendous summer here in northwest Tasmania – long, hot, sunny days stretching into warm evenings with not a breath of breeze. It will all come to an end in the next few weeks and we will be stoking the fire and donning coat, scarf, hat and gloves to venture outside. There has been a preponderance of birdlife this season, perhaps due to the absence of our usual resident tiger snake. I could spend hours watching the antics of these wonderful creatures making good use of our many birdbaths. The Black-headed Honeyeater is endemic to Tasmania and is a very sociable sort. The youngsters have a brown head and bill, looks like this was a family outing.

An Eastern Spinebill arrives but, after observing the zealous activity, seems reluctant to take the plunge.

No such reticence from the House Sparrow, he just dives straight in.

When the splashing abates, a New Holland Honeyeater sneaks in for a quiet drink.

A lone swimmer enjoys the peaceful interlude before the next family arrive.

Swinging Gate

With more than thirty two vineyards along the Tamar Valley Wine Route to choose from, it was a difficult task to narrow down those to visit within our limited time frame. Looking for something a bit different, we headed to Swinging Gate at Sidmouth. The vines were originally planted in 1985 and, then known as Buchanan Vineyard, the fruit was sold to various Tasmanian wineries but never had an identity of its own. Fifteen years later, the plot was sold and abandoned until horticulturalist Doug Cox and his wife Corrie purchased the vineyard in 2014 and set about resurrecting it. The name is in reference to the gates swinging open again for the first time in many years.

The old machinery shed has been converted to a quirky cellar door and adjoining day spa.

Wine dog, Nellie, is happy to receive attention from visitors, although I think a little too much of the good life has ended her modelling career.

The rustic interior was instantly welcoming, with mismatched tables and chairs offering the perfect setting for an informal tasting experience.

As it was only 10.30am, we had Doug’s undivided attention as he led us through the myriad wines on offer while sharing the background of Swinging Gate. With a 30 year career in horticulture under his belt, after purchasing the vineyard Doug taught himself the winemaking process. The first year was spent rejuvenating the vines and in 2015, they produced 5,000 bottles to celebrate the 30th vintage of the vines. It appeared as though the adjoining barrel room was furnished for a tipple and quiet contemplation at the end of the day.

Swinging Gate is not just a winery. In 2019 the first geodesic dome appeared amongst the vines, and there are now three dotting the landscape.

Offering the ultimate glamping experience, each 6 metre dome is furnished with a king-size bed and, as well as private ensuites, two of the domes have outdoor bathtubs. I have just added an item to our bucket list.

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?

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.