In the Land of Oz

To compensate for the 850-900 word limits on my published articles, I have decided to use my blog to provide supplementary information for every article I publish. So, instead of daily minutiae on what I eat, what I do, who I see, and my thoughts on topics I know little about, my blog will provide information on places and activities mentioned in each article and recommendations for other places to stay, dine and visit.

In most cases I will only mention places and activities that I have personally experienced. If I haven’t, I will say so. In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that many of the places cited have comped me or provided a significant discount. Whether they comped me or not, I will not include places or activities where my experiences have been less than satisfactory.

I usually don’t provide specific prices since prices change and special deals are often available, but I will make general comments (e.g., “pricey,” reasonable,” etc.) and provide links to websites where rates and prices are available.

I am initiating this feature to provide additional information to supplement my article on a recent trip to Australia in Vibrant Living Magazine ( and Active Over 50 (, both of which will be available on line in November.


Getting there
Qantas Airlines flies to Perth, the largest city in WA, via connections in Melbourne or Sydney. If you are planning on visiting more than one city or region in Australia (and given the distance, expense and time needed to get there, I strongly recommend that you do) consider an Aussie Airpass which includes international round trip flights from several US cities plus 2-3 internal flights (

Where to stay in Perth

You will fly in and out of Perth, one of the most remote cities in the world (the closest major city is Jakarta Indonesia, not Sydney or Melbourne). Perth is a graceful city beautifully situated on the Swan River, a short drive from the Indian Ocean and the historic port town of Freemantle. In Perth I stayed at the Pan Pacific (, a comfortable, conveniently located hotel overlooking the river. Monterey’s Restaurant in the hotel offers an excellent buffet featuring local seafood and produce.

What to do in Perth.
The Kings Park Indigenous Heritage Tour in the Botanic Gardens ( combines a pleasant stroll through the gardens on a ridge overlooking the city and river with stories about the original inhabitants of the area, the Nyoongar Aboriginal tribe. Greg Nannup, our guide and the owner of the company, did a great job of linking the natural history of the area with the cultural history of the local aboriginal people.

Getting to the Ningaloo Reef
Skywest Airlines has one flight a day between Perth and Learmouth/Exmouth, the closest airport to Ningaloo ( The flight takes about two hours.

Where to stay near the Ningaloo Reef
Sal Salis ( lives up to its marketing tag, “wild bush luxury.” In addition to its remote, private, natural setting and attractive, comfortable accommodations, the food was excellent. Over the two days I spent there we had Moroccan lamb and shrimp, Greek salad, tempura oysters with wasabi aioli and caviar; scallops in soy and lemongrass; goat cheese and pancetta soufflé, Black Angus w/ bacon and pancetta, garlic potatoes; and Red Emperor fish in a turmeric curry sauce, all accompanied by excellent wine from Western Australia.

Sunset at Sal Salis

A less expensive, less remote alternative with the amenities that go along with civilization is the Novotel Ningaloo Resort in the relatively nearby town of Exmouth (

To book a tour or transportation in the area, contact Exmouth Bus Charter and Tours (

The Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park ( and Yanchep National Park (www.dec.wa.govau/yanchep) are also worth a visit. Both are about a two hour drive from Perth. The Pinnacles Desert derives its name and fame from the calcified remnants of trees, long covered by sand then uncovered when the sand blew away. They look vaguely humanoid in a silent sentinel, sci-fi/horror movie kind of way. Thousands are scattered over a plain of red sand, with white sand dunes in the background and vivid blue sea and sky in the distance. The overall effect is very weird and very beautiful.

The Pinnacles

Yanchep National Park features walks around a pleasant lake and several koalas hanging out in the trees in a protected enclosure.
Contact Pinnacle Tours ( to arrange a tour if you decide to skip the hassles of driving on the wrong side of the road in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car.

The Pinnacles Edge Resort ( is a good place to stay in the area. The restaurant in the resort was a pleasant surprise. It didn’t look promising at first with a stern warning that members of motorcycle clubs should not wear their colors in the dining room – Hells Angels, Mongols, Devils Disciples were among the many that were listed — but the food was excellent. As far as I could tell, nobody wore their colors, if you don’t count my Philadelphia Eagles t-shirt (the bums!!!).


SYDNEY (although Sydney is not covered in the articles, you shouldn’t visit Australia without stopping for at least a couple of days in Sydney)

Where to stay
I stayed at the elegant, old world Observatory Hotel ( in the heart of the historic Rocks district, the happening restaurant/shopping/drinking/clubbing area of downtown Sydney within a short walk of the harbor. Pricey, but well worth a splurge for a night or two. Or perhaps you might choose to save your money for a splurge at the even pricier Wolgan Valley Resort in the Blue Mountains (see below).

What to do
A week before my trip a well-traveled colleague told me that Sydney was his favorite city in the world. It’s easy to see why. Besides being arguably the most beautiful city in the world (yes, even more beautiful than San Francisco and Vancouver), there are loads of things to do. In an occasionally frantic one and half days:

    • I climbed (more of an uphill walk than a climb) the famed Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was not as scary as I thought, and the views from the top were even more spectacular than I expected
    • I took a three hour cruise through the harbor for an equally spectacular sea level view of Sydney. For lunch we anchored in a scenic cove and ate fresh poached salmon and drank lots of wine (
    • In the evening I took the best night time photos I have ever taken — of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Sydney skyline – under the tutelage of Alfonso Calero of Sydney Photography Tour(
    • The next morning, I went on a backstage tour of the Sydney Opera House conducted by one of the funniest, most erudite tour guides I have ever met ( Unfortunately I forgot to write down his name. Just ask for the stand up comic/playwrite.
Sydney Harbour Bridge at Night
  • Later that morning I passed on the surfing lesson at the world famous Bondi Beach to take a stroll around the neighborhood. I’m sorry I did. One of the people on the trip with me was riding waves within the hour ( I was told that she looked very cool doing it.

Where to eat
Australians are serious foodies, and the number of quality restaurants in the city reflects that. The Waterfront Restaurant on the harbor is one of them ( As you might expect from a good seafood restaurant in one of the most desirable locations in the city, the Waterfront is pricey. Less expensive ethnic restaurants, especially SE Asian, can be found throughout the city.


Where to stay
As you can tell from the article, I was blown away by the Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa ( Luxury accommodations in private villas with swimming pools, set in a beautiful valley with lots of wildlife, plus excellent food and wine – what’s not to love? Prepare to pay big bucks, but you’ll enjoy every dollar you spend. If you have any money left, take the 50 minute helicopter ride back to Sydney.

Opera House from Helicopeter

What to do (besides hanging out in your villa, swimming in your own pool and looking at the ‘roos)
Tread Lightly Eco Tours ( offers interpretative ecological tours and bushwalks in the Blue Mountains World Heritage area. My guide, Tim Tranter, seemed to know almost everything about the flora, fauna, geology, indigenous culture and history, and what to do if bitten by one of the many highly venomous snakes in the area (wrap the bitten area tightly and stay calm – yeh, right!).

Where to eat while out and about.
The Conservation Hut in Wentworth Falls serves hearty, healthy and tasty food for breakfast, lunch, and snacks (


This area, just a few minutes to a couple of hours drive from Adelaide, the point of entry for South Australia, is the wine and food capital of Australia. The area looks very much like California with rolling green hills dotted with small lakes and charming towns. Lots of produce is grown in the Valley and the Hills, so it is a center for foodies. There are more restaurants per capita in this area than anywhere else in Australia.

The Barossa, in particular, is the Napa Valley of Australia without the traffic, tourists and development. The first vineyards were established over 160 years ago, and the wines from the region are world class. I did my best to confirm that in the one and half days I spent in the area.

Mary Anne Kennedy, who runs personalized wine and food tours in South Australia through her company A Taste of South Australia ( hosted my all too brief tour. She is a fount of knowledge about the wines of the region, knowledge that eventually exceeded my ability to comprehend as I sampled more and more of the local product.

Where to stay and eat
Unfortunately I had only one night in the area, but it was a memorable night indeed. I stayed at the Jacobs Creek Retreat at Moorooroo Park (, a decadently romantic and lush Italian rustic/French provincial/Australian colonial property in the heart of the Barossa Valley. The property was filled with Greek statues, fragrant gardens of lilac, honeysuckle and jasmine, chandeliers, fountains, courtyards, paths leading to hidden corners where you can sit and contemplate the wine and food you will have for dinner that night.

The owner, Wyndham House, is also the chef. His nine course meal with paired wines from his winery was the best meal of a trip that featured one excellent meal after another. Some of the more memorable courses included a shaved Italian style handmade air dried salami paired with Wyndham’s signature sparkling shiraz; king prawn in bisque paired with a 2009 Grenache rose; a beetroot salad with preserved lemon mayonnaise and crispy skin duck breast, julienne Beurre Bosc pear, baby basil and beetroot jelly paired with a 2006 organic Shiraz; Barossa Lamb cutlet with parsnip cream fresh peas and crab apple reduction paired with a 2007 Cabernet; and a local fillet of beef on pumpkin paste with celariac puree, wok seared onion and fennel and shiraz beef jus (can’t remember the wine)

Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop in the Valley ( offers picnic style meals you can create from a wide selection of pates, terrines, cheeses, olives, wood-fired bread and other delectables, and eat on an outside deck overlooking a pond.

In the Adelaide Hills, The Lane Vineyard ( offers wine, tasting plates of cheese, full lunches featuring local produce, and great views of the rolling hills and vineyards.

Things to do
The morning after my incredible meal at Jacobs Creek Retreat, Chef Wyndham took off his tocque and took me on a two hour walk in the hills ringing the valley to burn off the alcohol and calories consumed the night before. On the hike, which took us past vineyards and through fields of blue and yellow flowers, we saw only one car and no other hikers the whole time. It is what I imagine Napa and Sonoma were like 50 years ago. Wyndham leads these hikes as well as cycle trips via his tour company Ubercycle Adventures ( to showcase “the other side of the Barossa.”

Hills Ringing the Barossa Valley

At the Cleland Wildlife Park (, just 20 minutes from the Adelaide airport, you can wander freely among and hand feed kangaroos, wallabies, and emus. You can even get your picture taken holding a koala. This gentle, fuzzy creature personifies cute, and will melt the heart of even the most cynical person as he (she?) clutches your shoulder and gazes up at you with his (her?) soft brown eyes (sigh..).

The Author Gazing Fondly at his New, Fuzzy Friend


How to Get There
The fastest way, about 35 minutes, is by Regional Express Airlines ( You can also take a ferry, which is cheaper but also requires about a couple of hour drive from Adelaide (

Where to Stay and Eat
The Southern Ocean Lodge ( is quite expensive – about US$ 1000/night/person for the least expensive room – but well worth it if you can afford it (price includes all meals, drinks, transfers, and tours).

A less expensive alternative is the Seascape Lodge on Emu Bay ( The Seascape is a peaceful, attractive, and comfortable lodge with sweeping views of horseshoe-shaped Emu Bay. Mandy, the co-owner with her husband Paul, is a great cook and excellent company. One of the advantages of this more intimate place to stay became clear on my second night when the after dinner conversation was so lively and interesting that I went to bed at least an hour later than I intended.

Other Things to Do

 Mandy and Paul also run Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours ( For a day and a half I toured the island, seeing sea lions up close on the beach at Seal Bay, large inland sand dunes, Remarkable Rocks, large eroded rocks that live up to their name, and fur seals at Admirals Arch, a natural bridge that is all that remains of a cave broken up by crashing waves. The highlight was walking through a forest at sunset to see kangaroos up close.
Curious Kangaroo Checking out Strange Biped with Camera
Often I was only a few feet away. One mother had her baby (a “joey”) partially hanging out of her sack. Two pairs of eyes, mom and joey, peered at me as I approached, then bounded off before I could take their photo. Yet another ephemeral sighting of the totemic animal of the Land of Oz.