After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Christmas in SW Australia (25th - 31st December 2011)

Liam enjoying a burger and a pint at Bootleg Brewery

Our Christmas day began with us loading up the van for the week before heading down to our local beach, Cottesloe, for a morning swim. There were lots of people in bikinis and Santa hats which was a sight to behold, and the outdoor gyms were heaving and lots of people embarking in their usual exercise routine (I know, exercise on CHRISTMAS DAY!). It was a hot, sunny day and the water was clear and inviting (still 'refreshing' as always!), the perfect way to start our first antipodean Christmas.  We then embarked on our journey down south. We make a most excellent driving couple. Liam gets car sick as a passenger so prefers to drive, Charlotte doesn't so was able to read for the whole 6 hours the journey took. Excellent! We stopped for a quick Christmas lunch of avocado salad sandwich in Bridgetown, and arrived at Peaceful Bay soon after 4pm. We cracked a couple of beers and opened our pressies, (a good haul, thanks everyone!) before driving around looking for phone signal so we could make a Christmas phone call home. Despite having two different sim cards (having spent $30 on a telstra sim card that said it covered this area) we could barely even get emergency signal and so screeched to a halt next to a phone box and made the call from there (before realising that there was a pay phone at the campsite, d'oh!).  Back at the campsite we got the stove fired up and enjoyed our Christmas dinner of marinated prawns followed by Porterhouse steak, tabbouleh, potato salad and a green salad, yum!  We walked to the beach and gazed at the amazing stars (no light pollution), and conceded that although it was strange not to be amongst family on Christmas day, we'd definitely made the best of it, and the weather had conspired to make it a very enjoyable day.

On Boxing day we just chilled out at Peaceful Bay at the campsite and the beach.  We had a lovely morning of snorkelling, swimming and making a sandman(!).  Late afternoon we headed out to the nearby Valley of The Giants National Park, to do the Treetop Walk.  It is a walkway amongst the forest suspended 40m in the air, enabling you to get up close with the huge 400 year old Tingle trees which give the National Park it's name. The walkway sways quite a lot in the breeze and really is quite an engineering feat. We also did a separate walk on terra firma where we could get a look at the bases of the trees close up, and walk through some trees which had a hollow bottom due to funhgi, parasites and fire. Pretty interesting stuff!

The 27th was Liam's birthday, so we had a fun-packed day. After the obligatory morning swim Liam opened his pressies and we packed up the van (not before a bacon butty feast). First stop was Bartholomew Meadery where we sample various types of traditional and fruity meads.  We bought a bottle of a sweet-yet-dry mead, with some beer-like qualities as it had been re-fermented in the bottle.  The bee hive was in the shop with a glass wall, so we got to see first hand the bees and thank them for their hard work!  The shop also made ice-cream, so it would be remiss of us not to try some lovely ginger ice-cream on a hot day like this. Liam chatted to the guy working there who was wearing a Rolo Tomassi t shirt, who are a band from Sheffield, small world!  We then moved on before hastily doing a u-turn after seeing a sign for a brewery, it was Liam's birthday after all!  Entering the Denmark Brew and Ales building from the front didn't really build up much expectation as it looked like a caravan park, but in fact it boasted a gorgeous veranda overlooking beautiful countryside, where we enjoyed a tasting paddle.  The beer was drinkable yet unremarkable, but the view on a hillside looking over the coastline was what this place was all about.  The day was hotting up and the locals remarked to us how it isn't often this hot down here (being on the south coast it is a lot cooler and wetter than where we live).  We moved onto Denmark for a quick pit-stop (or should that be pie-stop?) for a lunch of proper Aussie pies at an award winning bakery.  We decided that when people recommend Denmark as somewhere to visit, they mean the surrounding countryside (which admittedly is utterly, utterly stunning) rather than the town itself (nothing wrong with it but it is just a single street with a mixture of tourist shops and cafes).  We visited windswept Ocean Beach but retreated to the car to head to the next campsite at Emu Point in Albany. After a longer than intended walk around the point we wined and dined and stuck some birthday candles in some pieces of homemade peanut butter fudge, and drunk some tasty vintage barley wine we had bought a few months previously from Bootleg Brewery. Splendid!

We then treated ourselves to a lazy day where we sat reading the paper in the front of the van overlooking the ocean, and eating delicious salt and pepper squid from the Squid Shack (an Albany institution). Once it had cooled down a little we explored Albany Town Centre and enjoyed it's high street with many old buildings, as Albany was the first settlement in Western Australia.  It was quite an interesting and vibrant little town and possibly the first town we've genuinely liked (bar Freo, obviously!) in WA.  On the way back we drove up Mount Clarence to the war memorial and fantastic views over the unique landscape of various inlets and sounds.

Early next morning we packed up ready to head back to Peaceful Bay and had a glorious breakfast at Emu Point Cafe. Before getting back on the road west, we drove down a very long peninsular and to the inappropriately named Misery Beach. Oddly named, as after a long drive, followed by a hike down from the car park, the reaction stepping onto the beach is 'Oh, WOW'.  A truly beautiful beach and beautiful azure water, of course the photos just don't do it justice.  There was a huge cliff face at one end, making the scene even more impressive, and lots of huge waves crashing in making it a lot of fun to swim in!  Later in the afternoon the horse-flies came out, so we made a run for it and visited 'The Gap' and 'Natural Bridge', aptly named rock formations which date back to the last ice-age when Australia and Antartica were joined together.  Our last stop of the day was at Greens Pool, a shallow and sheltered, very pretty bay which attracts lots of families due to it being so much safer than many of the other beaches. We played with a new ball (a Waboba) we'd got for Christmas which at times was more like playing fetch, as Liam bounced the ball off the water so effectively it went for bloody miles. Thanks Mark! It was a fantastic day to mark a year to the day since we set off from home.  Thinking back to that chilly December morning when we waved our families goodbye at Chorley Railway station was strange because, in some ways, it feels like an incredibly long time ago, and in other ways it feels like time has just flown by.  We cracked opened a beer at 6.17pm to mark the occasion of our train leaving Chorley station at 10:17am British time exactly a year ago!

The following day, we awoke to damp and wet morning and tentatively tried to coax Eric into life to no avail. A German guy who was camping nearby came over, asked where we were heading, and said 'if I get your car started, can you give me a lift to Walpole?'.  All it needed was a little meths on the carburetter and we were away, and enjoyed chatting to Heigl before continuing on from Walpole to Pemberton.  Heigl had told us about some good climbing trees in Pemberton, and as it was on our way we checked one of them out, the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree in the Warren National Park . We'd read about it and had in our heads an idea of a huge tree with basically a rudimentary staircase leading up it.  Charlotte was indignant when Liam asked if she was going to climb it, and retorted that of course she was going to climb it, "I'm not a wuss". Well, it turned out to be an ENORMOUS tree with metal spokes sticking out of it to climb up and around it. Turns out Charlotte is a wuss, although Liam did make it to the halfway point about 40m up.  Scary stuff! We also enjoyed a refreshing walk through the National Park in the mentholly eucalyptus air.  We then carried on to our final destination, to campsite in Margaret River that we'd visited with Charlotte's family earlier in the year.  We visited Colonial Brewery in the afternoon for a scrumptious tasting paddle - more info on this to come in the next post - 'The 12 Beers of Christmas'!

For the final day of our holiday we walked along the river from the campsite into the town of Margaret River, and had coffee at a local cafe. We then headed to Cowramup Brewery for a tasting paddle, nothing like the taste of beer in morning!  We also visited Tassle Park Wines for a tasting (as Liam felt he couldn't visit the Margaret River region twice without visiting a single winery) before heading to the Bootleg Brewery for lunch.  It being New Year's Eve, Bootleg was heaving and we were almost turned away at the gate, but conceded we were only going in for a drink, but thankfully the floor staff found us a table so we could eat.  Liam had an awesome steak sandwich and Charlotte had a scrumptious Turkish platter.  Gorgeous lunch, gorgeous beers, gorgeous setting for a brewery, amongst the farmland and forest.  It had been a great holiday, with perfect weather, and the stunning scenery of the South West coast.

We then drove home, after a long drive for Charlotte and a hard day's beer and wine sampling for Liam, we were exhausted. By the time we had unpacked it was 9pm and we thought better of our idea to go into Fremantle or to the beach for midnight (Charlotte also had to be up for work before 6am).  We watched Four Lions and went to bed at 11.15pm as we were absolutely knackered.  We were woken up by fireworks at midnight and lay in bed watching a pretty elaborate display towards Perth from the window.

So, 2011, we bid you a fond farewell.  I guess all our blog posts will attest that 2011 has been pretty swell. Yep, swell :)

Christmas '11 - South Coast WA

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Monthly round-up - December 2011

Charlotte and Eric in Yalgorup National Park

December was a great month for us and summer has finally arrived, lots of beach days, bbqs and swimming; as well as, of course, working and usual home life.

We were lucky enough to receive some STA Travel Vouchers for our wedding and decided to use them to pay for an experience which we might otherwise be reluctant to fork out for. After exploring lots of options we decided that swimming with dolphins would be a rather fun thing to do! So one Saturday morning we got up at the crack of dawn and drove down to Rockingham to meet the boat. We were then given a briefing along the lines of  "these dolphins are wild, we don't feed them to attract them, so there's no guarantee that we'll find them but we're determined to spend hours looking if necessary!", zipped into our wetsuits and headed out to sea. Thankfully we found the first dolphins within about twenty minutes and jumped in. Basically we snorkelled while the dolphins swam and played around underneath us. One of the guides (Dolphin Girl as she was known) would zoom about under water using a diving scooter, mimicking the dolphins actions and playing around with them to keep them interested. We then watched them swimming about and dashing at each other playfully, before they got shy and swam off. Throughout the morning we swam with a few different groups of dolphins, but they were gradually becoming less interested. Instead we were treated to the spectacle of them catching a lift in the wake of the boat, jumping right out of the water and belly flopping back in. It was a pretty incredible experience – thank you to people who got us the vouchers!

We had decided to make a weekend of it, so once we were back on dry land we explored Rockingham (pleasant enough but not much to it apart from a beach and some nice restaurants and coffee shops) before heading down to Yalgorup National Park. We spent a little time on Preston Beach within the National Park before heading to our campsite for the night, Martin's Tank. National Park campsites are basic (long drop toilets and no running water) but very convenient to those on a budget wanting to get away from the confines of the cramped family campsites. It took about half an hour down an incredibly bumpy sand track to get there (doing wonders to Eric's suspension, I'm sure).  The National Park was fairly dense forest and bushland, and we saw quite a few spiders in the shrubs behind the van, including a beautiful Jewel spider with lots of colourful spikes on it's back. They aren't poisonous thankfully.  The next day we went down to Bunbury for a picnic on the beach, and a "gosh, I wonder why people have recommended this place" moment (no offence intended, the kind of place which would be fine if you lived there but not much point making a special trip), before making our way home via some thrombolites at Lake Clifton, in Yalgorup National Park. Thrombolites, 'living rocks', are the most common form of microbialites, which are rock-like structures built by micro-organisms. Thrombolites and stromatolites were the only known form of life on Earth some 3500 to 6500 million years ago. Microbes found in both thrombolite and stromatolite formations are believed to be responsible for oxygen production which allowed life to exist on the planet. So they're pretty important things – although it's hard to truly appreciate that as you gaze down at the grey blobs in front of you. As Bill Bryson so eloquently puts it; 'They are lusterless and grey and look ... like very large cow pats. But it is a curiously giddying moment to find yourself staring at living remnants of the Earth as it was 3.5 billion years ago.'

December also marked the seasonal opening of our local outdoor cinema. We went to see We Need to Talk About Kevin, which we thoroughly enjoyed, although Charlotte found it harder going than the book, and was slightly disturbed by Kevin being far too pretty. The cinema itself is very cute, and being set in a leafy walled garden, with a bar selling local beers and a wood-fired pizza oven, plus some live music on before the film. A lovely way to spend an evening.

Quick beer reference: we finally opened the bottle of Brewdog AB:04 that Liam bought Charlotte for her birthday. The AB range is a specialist and limited line of experimental beers from Brewdog, and this one an Imperial Stout brewed with cacao, coffee and chilli. Interesting to say the least! Charlotte noted that as it was dark and very rich it might be more suited to the climate of Perth, Scotland than Perth, Australia.

It was strange in the run up to Christmas as it isn't as much of a big deal over here, but we were baffled that everyone we asked seemed to be spending the day itself inside with the air con on roasting a turkey.  A few people had Christmas lights up, but we didn't see a single Christmas tree.  We enjoyed the usual December festivities – namely pub going with friends and colleagues. Liam had two (TWO!) Christmas work do's to attend, one where he had to sit on Father Christmas's knee to receive a gift of a kangaroo scrotum! Not in its original state obviously, but made into a little leather-style pouch.

We had an interesting experience one Sunday evening as we attended the Town of Cottesloe Christmas Carol Service. It was outdoors, of course, and we arrived to the service already having started and to pretty much nobody joining in with the carols, more interested in chatting and drinking wine, while the kids ran amok. We soon realised what kind of a carol service it was going to be after Charlotte commented "I've not even heard of some of these carols – listen to the lyrics to this one from 1973, 'So here's to you Merry Christmas, Everybody's having fun, look to the...' oh right, yeah now I know it". Determined to join in with the carols despite lack of effort from the rest of the crowd, we cracked open a bottle of wine and were soon joining in with a hip hop We Three Kings and other twists on traditional carols, and frantically waving our LED candle. The evening was interspersed with sketches to celebrate the Christmas service's hundredth anniversary. One of the sketches seemed to be heavily advertising the local tea house and included a young woman putting on a faux Indian accent in a questionably distasteful way. We ended the evening by getting trapped at the end of a car park trying to avoid the masses, and made our escape shimmying down from the car park via a tree, to the bemusement of the people throwing a cocktail party from their very swish apartment looking down on us. It wasn't quite Carols round the Clock Tower in Wheelton, but it sure was a great evening!

Stayed tuned for the the next post about our Christmas week holiday. In the meantime, here's a breakdown of Charlotte's reading:

The Whispers of Nemesis – Anne Zouroudi
An Amazon Kindle Daily Deal, purchased on the basis of good reviews from The Guardian and Alexander McCall Smith. Pretty crappy tale of a poet's body being exhumed in Greece and turning out to now have a pigs skull. The following investigation is rather boring and predictable, and none of the characters are remotely likeable.

The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville
Based on a true story, Kate Grenville writes another excellent book about life in Australia for early Western settlers, in this case about a lieutenant who befriends an Aboriginal girl. Sensitive and informative, an interesting read.

Breakfast at the Hotel Deja vu – Paul Torday
A novella based around the MP expenses scandal. If you like Paul Torday's other books, you'll like this. An intricately woven plot, narrated by someone in a coma with memory problems. There are some genius moments of genuine deja vu on the part of the reader, and the subject of the expenses scandal is very interesting as it explores the rationalisation of those who thought it was perfectly acceptable to rip off the tax-payer. Liam also read and enjoyed this book.

Do you Think You're Clever? - John Farndon
John Farndon answers questions which have been asked in Oxbridge entrance interviews, such as 'Do you think you're clever?',  'What is fate?', 'Does a Girl Scout have a political agenda?', 'How would you measure the weight of your own head?' etc. Fascinating insight into all sorts of topics, and really gets you thinking outside of the box. Brilliant book.

You Can't Say That: Memoirs – Ken Livingstone
I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing read about Ken Livingstone's career, so much so that I can forgive him for barely mentioning his home life and being terribly flippant about his decision to co-parent with someone who wasn't his partner.  He seems like a very intelligent, rational and caring bloke, one can only hope he will unseat Boris in the upcoming mayoral election.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Read because, well,  it was Christmas!  The first of a Dicken's book for me to read to the end, more of a reflection of it's short length than it's enjoyability.  Despite me not being a Dickens fan, it was good to finally read what is such a well known tale from the countless televised, film and theatre versions. 

Van Adventures
Fremantle & Perth, Australia

(New photos have been added to the end of these albums)