Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

The Wellthisiswhatithink crew had an uncharacteristically busy weekend, including visiting the glorious Yarra Valley for a day out wine tasting.

And we unearthed an absolute gem.




The other side of Yarra Glen from Melbourne, on the road to Yea, stand some of the most famous wineries of the region, including De Bortoli, (where the expensive but unique botrytis-affected Black Noble is required tasting),  Yarrawood, (a very pretty spot with affordable food, free music, and well-trained cellar door staff, and the pretty scene seen above), and Balgownie Estate, (where the tasting staff were especially welcoming and knowledgeable too).

The old days when the cellar door was literally that – the barn door to where the wines were maturing, complete with a rough-hewn bar and a couple of stools with a crusty old winemaker waxing lyrical about this year’s crop – have long gone, sadly. These places today are magnificently run tourism destinations with superb restaurants attached and sometimes luxury accommodation too. It’s all very nice, and seductive, but perhaps without quite the rustic, authentic charm that the area used to have.

Which is why we were thrilled, turning right on impulse when leaving Balgownie Estate, to find another tiny little vineyard tucked away at the end of the lane.




Acacia Ridge is like it all used to be. Sure, they do marquees on the lawn and can arrange flash catering for you and all of that good stuff, but on this glorious autumnal day there was just a bona fide miner’s cottage, with the front room packed to the gunwales with a hens’ party checking out all the wines, and a back room for everyone else to enjoy a tasting, presided over by an unshaven and somewhat bleary-eyed vigneron, who was suffering a shocking hangover from the conjunction of the release of his Cab Sav Reserve the day before and his 81st birthday.

But despite a thumping head, his child-like joy in sharing his wines was infectious, (we quickly bought a box of the Cab Sav Reserve about ten seconds after we tasted it), and sat down to hear his story, all the while trying to keep out of the way of his energetic (and we suspect long suffering) wife who was working much harder introducing the girls to their wines, eruditely, to our ears.

Gavan Oakley, checking vines for mites

Gavan Oakley, checking vines for mites. His first customers were his patients in his dental practice.

Gavan Oakley used to be a dentist in suburban Blackburn, where deep in the last millenium he was also a Labor candidate for Parliament for the seat of Deakin (drafted in and very narrowly missing out on winning, a prospect he viewed with some consternation), a local Councillor, and well-known local figure.

As he explained, his claim to fame was “saving” the Blackburn Lake from developers, by persuading the then Liberal Premier of Victoria to chuck in a bunch of funds to rejuvenate it, which monies he got matched by his friend and famous Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and the local Council.

Never let it be said one person cannot make a difference. Blackburn Lake today is one of the small but priceless jewels of Melbourne.

Anyhow, driven by the madness that leads anyone to grow grapes and make wine, and realising he was getting sick of staring inside people’s mouths, presumably, Gavan and his wife Tricia began the establishment of 4ha each of Pinot noir, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon in 1996. Halliday noted that most of the grapes are sold to other Yarra Valley winemakers, and when the Oakleys decided to have part of the production vinified for the Acacia Ridge label, they and some other small vignerons set up a marketing and grape-sharing co-operative known as Yarra Valley Micromasters. It is through this structure that the Oakleys obtain their Chardonnay, which complements the Cabernet Merlot and Shiraz made from their own plantings.

As their website explains: “The property was planted in 1997. The original plan was to sell fruit to the larger wineries. This is still going on, but because the fruit is of such a high standard, we decided to begin making our own wine. This was done under contract by specialist wine makers, local to the Valley.

The grapes are slow ripening, small bunch clones, ensuring intensity of color and flavour. Irrigation is used to a minimum, to assist us in achieving high quality fruit.  A full range of wines are available to taste, these including the popular Sauv Blanc, Chardonnary, Rose, Pinot, Cabernet Merlot, Shiraz and a few other surprises.”

At the Wellthisiswhatithink tasting desk, which is today feeling just the slightest bit over-trained ourselves, we strongly recommend dropping into Acacia Ridge if you’re anywhere nearby. And grab as much of the Cab Sav Reserve as you can afford. Which at just $25 a bottle, could be a fair bit.

It is drinking now a lot better than many more famous wines at twice or three times the price, (even when sourced at cellar doors), and a couple of years somewhere dark and temperate like your hall cupboard will undoubtedly release yet more complexity, if you can keep your hands off it. It’s already darkly plum-red, luscious in the mouth, and manages to magically combine rich fruit with a dry, grippy edge. Quaffable by all means, yet round and finished with an elegance that entirely defies it’s price. It tastes – and almost certainly is – a labour of love.

The type of love that saves lakes, in fact. In a word, superb. And the joy of finding a bit of the Yarra Valley like it used to be? Priceless.

Related reading:

tuni-MMAP-mdThe so-called “Arab Spring” was hailed at the time in the West as the beginning of a creeping democratisation of the Middle East, belatedly joining most of the rest of the world on the faltering path to democracy, separation of powers, and so on.

What is clear is those expectations were vastly overblown.

What happened in Egypt was one nasty dictatorship was replaced by an even nastier one when “democracy” elected a Government unacceptable to the military, to the capitalists, and to the West. In Libya the West got rid of Gadaffi but a lack of central leadership meant we replaced him with a series of vicious tribal warlords controlling their own little chunk of the country. We fomented an uprising against Assad in Syria and ended up with a brutal civil war and IS. In the deeply conservative Gulf States any change has been entirely negligible. If nothing else, the West has learned that involvement in the Middle East is always a matter of herding cats.

But there is one shining example of success. In the cradle of the revolutions that swept the Arabic-speaking world, the secular party Nidaa Tounes has now won the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary election, defeating its main rival, the Islamist party Ennahda, according to two analyses of results across the country. The Islamist party has apparently accepted the result with good grace. “We have accepted this result and congratulate the winner,” Lotfi Zitoun, an Ennahda party official, told Reuters. Zitoun said the party reiterated its call for a unity government, including Ennahda, in the interest of the country.

North Africa expert Michael Willis, a fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, said the decline in Ennahda’s electoral popularity reflected public discontent with their handling of the economy. “On the doorsteps, the economy was the main issue. Nidaa Tounes is seen as having the expertise to get the economy back on track.” Nidaa Tounes is 10 percentage points ahead of Ennahda. It has won 83 seats, with roughly 38 percent of the popular vote, to Ennahda’s 68 seats, representing about 31 percent of the vote, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported after tabulating its own count of 214 of the 217 parliamentary seats.

A parallel tabulation conducted by a Tunisian election observer organization, Mourakiboun, placed Nidaa Tounes at 37 percent and Ennahda at 28 percent. Those figures were based on a random sample of 1,001 polling centers across the country, with a margin of error of 2 percent and 1 percent on the respective totals.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new political process.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new democratic political process.

Officials from both parties said that although premature, the counts matched their information.

Official results have not yet been released, and parties are restrained by law from announcing their own count before the election commission does. Provisional results are expected on Monday, but final results will take at least 48 hours.

Early results also showed a surprise gain for the party of the Tunisian tycoon Slim Riahi, who ran a flashy campaign that included handouts and pop concerts. Some of the smaller political parties fared badly under a new voting system, in particular Ettakatol, a coalition partner in the former government.

Nidaa Tounes, led by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, 87, is an alliance of former government officials, liberals and secularists that was formed in 2012, largely in reaction to the post-revolutionary chaos under the Ennadha-led government. It was sharply critical of the Islamists’ performance and ran a campaign for a modern, secular society.

The results, if confirmed, would be a blow for Ennahda, which won a large popular vote and 89 seats in 2011 but struggled to manage rising insecurity and a sliding economy.

Tunisians filled polling stations on Sunday to elect a new Parliament, expressing a strong desire and some trepidation that, after months of political turmoil, the country would turn a corner nearly four years after a revolution.

Officials said the provisional turnout was nearly 62 percent, which election observers said demonstrated Tunisians’ support for democracy.

24The elections are the second in Tunisia since the popular uprising that overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and set off a wave of change that was later dubbed the Arab Spring. They will bring in a new Parliament and government for a five-year term. Presidential elections are scheduled for next month.

The immediate return for Tunisians in maintaining a lid on tension and achieving a peaceful transition will be, of course, yet more tourism dollars flooding into the country. The country has also maintained close relations with Europe, and with France and Italy in particular, with growing mutual trade.

colloseumAn island of sanity in troubled north Africa, it is also an exceptionally interesting and beautiful country, with a fascinating history of civilisation going back thousands of years, notably being the home of the Carthaginian Empire which was so dominant in the Mediterranean area in centuries before Christ, and it was later occupied by Rome which made good use of its vast fertile soils to produce huge amounts of cereals, plus olive oil, figs, and more. Various waves of conquerors including Ottoman, Arab and French have created a multi-layered and outward-facing culture.

The country lies within a couple of hours flight from the major population centres of Europe. No-one could begrudge them this “peace dividend” and let us hope they continue to provide a beacon for sanity for the whole Arab-speaking world. Indeed, the rest of the region can learn much from Tunisia beyond its peaceful transition of power – it also has a large number of women MPs, a highly progressive code of individual freedom for women, Islamic extremism is rare (although not non-existent), the country enjoys a relatively open low-tariff economy, and it is accepting of Christian and most significantly Jewish minorities.

Today, we salute the Tunisian people for their fortitude and commonsense. When we rail and wail at the inability of much of the region to behave intelligently, let us look to the example of Tunisia, and hope.

I would not want you to worry, Dear Reader, that your country-hopping correspondent had fallen foul of some mishap or tropical nasty, so I felt it appropriate to send you a small missive to assure you that all goes well with the Wellthisiswhatithink clan and to give you a brief and impressionistic report on Vietnam in 2014.

Not that, of course, one really has the faintest idea what the “real” Vietnam is like by swanning around from one five star resort to another, plunging into cool, soothing swimming pools and the occasional sweaty hour or two wandering from one bespoke tailor to the next to listen to their tales of woe about how if they reduce the price by just one more Dong for you Dear Sir then their twenty four children will not eat that night.

Nevertheless, your eagle-eyed reporter can share a few insights with you about this most recent Asian country to open up to the West and our holiday dollars.


They start young, and just seem to never stop.

They start young, and just seem to never stop.


It would be reprehensible if the first observation was not how exquisitely kindly and charming the Vietnamese are, and seemingly universally, too. They smile instantly your gaze alights on them, and the smiles are perfectly unforced and genuine. It hardly seems to matter whether one is begging for a free bottle of ice cold water (the tap stuff being somewhat dodgy by all accounts) or opening a conversation about buying their hotel for 10 bazillion trillion Dong or so. The smiles are immediate and delighted. Approximately 20% of the population is Buddhist, and to our eyes their karma is looking pretty good, right now.

Flying into Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, and still so, bizarrely, in its airport moniker of Sgn and in the masthead of the daily English language sheet The Saigon News) and thence into Da Nang on the east coast, a few glances out of the window reveal a nation rapidly becoming industrialised, but apparently not with the same levels of attendant smog, thank the Good Lord, as one finds everywhere in China.

Vast new manufacturing facilities sit cheek-by-jowl with fields of rice and other vegetables that look, presumably, much as they have for centuries. One delicious local crop is called “Morning Glory”, and is definitely an addition to next year’s veggie patch at home. Huge rivers snake lazily by, curiously absent the leisure craft that would fill them back home, and presumably will here in years to come, when the miracles of free market economics married to strict central government combine to create yet one more Asian tiger with the baying of its attendant and hungrily consumerist middle-class.

The newspaper proudly proclaims that a local satrap has reassured a visiting dignitary from Byelorussia or somesuch that Vietnam is now a totally free economy. This is instantly contradicted by the fact that the casino in our hotel is for the use of foreign passport holders only, but this seems a quibbling observation compared to the wild-east boom clearly going on down every street and around every corner. No pair of hands appear to lie idle, anywhere. Everyone is hammering, stitching, painting, building, driving, selling, hawking, writing, or phoning.


Walk. Don't walk. Er ... yes.

Walk. Don’t walk. Er … yes.


Crossing the road is a famously risky experience as one navigates an unbroken horde of scooters and mopeds hurtling towards you, seemingly unrestrained by anything resembling road rules, and all blowing their horns in a pneumatic symphony of breathtaking and ear-pounding proportions that seems to go on unbroken by night and day. There is simply no break in the traffic, so one has to consign oneself to staying permanently rooted and tooted to the spot on the tatty pavement outside the tiny cafe with the enchanting old couple and the wonderful iced coffee unless one is prepared to wager life and limb and simply start strolling slowly but with steely determination across the road, as the locals do. In the end, inspiration strikes, and one starts walking across about half a pace behind a pair of Vietnamese ladies burdened by their shopping and two children each. This is a stroke of genius, and one can now just see, from the centre of the road, how the onrushing traffic adjusts slightly if almost imperceptibly to flow around one like a stream around a rock. We reach the other side, accompanied by the giggles of our guides, and more smiles. It is, nevertheless, not a game for the faint of heart.


"Balancing baskets" are still seen everywhere in Vietnam. The effect is somewhat ruined, though, when the woman balacing the baskets comes up and asks "Happy photograph? Very cheap!"

“Balancing baskets” are still seen everywhere in Vietnam. The effect is somewhat ruined, though, when the woman balancing the baskets comes up and asks “Happy photograph? Very cheap!”


Many years ago, deep in the last Millennium, when first arriving in Australia to the then sleepy fishing village of Cairns, a newspaper article we penned described how, hopping onto a local skipper’s catamaran for a lazy sail around the islands, it was obvious that the brand new Hilton then being constructed on the waterfront was but the first harbinger of what was to come. The phrase we wrote then, “You cannot disguise a boom when it has decided to happen,” was a lament for the inevitable colonisation and commercialisation of beautiful places. The same crie de coeur could surely be applied to Vietnam today.

The first phase of resort building is done, and the local tourism industry is in about as full a swing as it would be possible to imagine a swinging thing to be. The drinks are becoming more expensive, and tiny, authentic local eateries are gradually being replaced by businesses priced to make the most of the many tourists. My favourite t-shirt thus far simply reads “Good morning, Vietnam!” accompanied by the ubiquitous yellow star, but when you see the same shirt on fifty or so pot-bellied Australian males the joke starts to pall and one feels a tinge of regret that the most popular shirt design sold to eager holidaymakers is a reflection of an American comedy drama and not something more authentically Viet. But such mutterings should not lead you to believe, Dear Reader, that holidaying in Vietnam is just Bognor Regis-by-the-China Sea. The place is still very affordable, the architecture is often unique and charming, (especially the homes and buildings that weren’t flattened by RPGs or B-52s, or which have been re-built in their original style), and we are yet to see the type of crass invasion of McDonald’s and Burger Kings and Starbucks and so on that now make other Asian cities look increasingly like nothing more than more humid versions of Chicago or Berlin.

Something has to pay for all those scooters, I guess. One can only hope the boom is managed a little more gracefully than elsewhere. If so, we will have much to thank what remains of Vietnamese communism for keeping matters held by some sort of rein.


Kham Thien street, in Hanoi, which was levelled at 10:45 pm on December 26 1972 in what became known as "the Christmas raids", otherwise known as Operation Linebacker.

Kham Thien street, in Hanoi, which was leveled at 10:45 pm on December 26 1972 in what became known as “the Christmas raids”, otherwise known as Operation Linebacker. In just one night, more than 2,000 homes were destroyed around Kham Thien, a busy shopping street. About 280 people were killed and at least as many again injured. At least 1600 North Vietnamese civilians died during this one campaign by the Americans.


I read somewhere that the Americans dropped more tonnage of bombs on Hanoi than the Allies and Axis forces managed to lob at each other in the whole of World War II. These uncomfortable factoids pop into one’s head when one notices that there are very few middle-aged people around. Some old people, plenty of young people, and surprisingly few in between.

The instinctive conviction that the West wiped out a generation of Vietnamese is hard to shake. For them now to greet us back with such obvious pleasure – sheer, unadulterated courtesy – is quite a miracle.


Victims of Operation Linebacker are tended to. Today, the faces you see in this photo are indistinguishable from those cheerily serving Mai Tais and Whiskey Sours to the very people who were dropping bombs on them within living memory. What were we thinking?

Victims of Operation Linebacker are tended to. Today, the faces you see in this photo are indistinguishable from those cheerily serving Mai Tais and Whiskey Sours to the very people who were dropping bombs on them within living memory. What were we thinking?


It starkly reveals what an insanity the anti-Communist (read, anti-nationalist) wars of the 50s, 60s and 70s really were, and Vietnam in particular. It is clear these people wanted nothing more nor less than the right to benefit from the wealth of their own land, and to be allowed to make their own decisions.

Once that was established, they have reintegrated with the family of nations at an astonishing rate, and with a good grace – sheer good-naturedness – that should put us to shame. They have embraced our way of doing things, and with a willpower and determination that needs to give us pause for thought. This is a people – a nation – that is busy making something, trying things, innovating and bargaining for all it is worth, and not just people rearranging the deck chairs on a ship of state that looks increasingly like the Titanic, which is what Western capitalism more and more resembles.


"You try spending all day up to your shoulders in muddy water for a while and see which job you'd prefer."

“You try spending all day up to your shoulders in muddy water for a while and see which job you’d prefer.”


We have seen just one massive, majestic water buffalo.

It was not pulling a plough in a paddy field: it was tethered outside a new 6-star gated community of villas, peacefully mowing the lawn while its owners sold river trips to passing visitors.

Somehow, it seemed the perfect symbol of Vietnam today. As we rattled past in our bus, I could have sworn it winked at me.

And smiled, of course.

Following on from the unlikely success of a post about how pretty sea slugs are, I thought I would post a few more pics from Australia.  Friends overseas are often saying “Oh, we’d love to come!” or “That’s on my bucket list!” but for some reason some people never actually get here.

Which is a great shame, because Oz really is exceptionally beautiful and utterly unique. You can find just about any micro-climate you can name – tropical jungle, desert, temperate forest, grasslands, snow-covered uplands, and you can even hop a sight-seeing tour to Antarctica if you want – and all parts of the country are jam-packed with amazing flora and fauna that you wont find anywhere else. Not to mention some of the most cosmopolitan and welcoming cities you could enjoy anywhere in the world. Oh, and did we mention nice beaches?

Anyway, it’s Friday afternoon, and politics is leaving me cold as a a stone at the moment, so enjoy some nice photos instead … 🙂

Brunswick River, NSW

Brunswick River, NSW

Clown Fish on the Barrier Reef

Clown Fish on the Barrier Reef

Estuary Beach, Nelson, Vic

Estuary Beach, Nelson, Vic

Whale at Hervey Bay, QLd

Whale at Hervey Bay, Qld

Lucky Bay, WA

Lucky Bay, WA

Koala - note, NOT Koala Bear

Koala – note, NOT Koala Bear

Natural luminescence, Jervis Bay, NSW

Natural luminescence, Jervis Bay, NSW

Tha Yarra River at dusk, Melbourne, Vic

Tha Yarra River at dusk, Melbourne, Vic

South West Rocks, NSW

South West Rocks, NSW

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Light show plays on the Sydney Opera House, NSW

Light show plays on the Sydney Opera House, NSW

Autumn colours in the Dandenong Ranges, Vic

Autumn colours in the Dandenong Ranges, Vic

Mountain Ash and tree ferns, Dandenong Ranges, Vic

Mountain Ash and tree ferns, Dandenong Ranges, Vic

Turtle, Queensland

Turtle, Queensland

A baby turtle heads for the sun and the cooling surf. Maybe you should, too?


“Look out for those Drop Bears, mate.”


I got a special request to republish this immortal series of questions posted, allegedly, by overseas tourists on the Tourism Australia website, and the wonderfully, hilariously laconic replies from the Australian staff.

One never knows if these things ae apocryphal, but I tell you what, they are drop-dead snort-coffee-through-the-nose-funny. And this is EXACTLY what Aussies are like, so they do have the ring of truth.

You have been warned! Put your coffee down first lol

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, so how do the plants grow? (UK)
A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.
Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (USA)
A: Depends how much you’ve been drinking.
Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney – can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A: Sure, it’s only three thousand miles, take lots of water…
Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay? (UK)
A: What did your last slave die of?
Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (USA)
A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe. Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not… oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked.
Q: Which direction is north in Australia? (USA)
A: Face south and then turn 90 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.
Q: Can I bring cutlery into Australia? (UK)
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.
Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (USA)
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is…oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.
Q: Do you have perfume in Australia? (France)
A: No, WE don’t stink.
Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in Australia? (USA)
A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.
Q: Can I wear high heels in Australia? (UK)
A: You are a British politician, right?
Q: Can you tell me the regions in Tasmania where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.
Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (France)
A: Only at Christmas.
Q: Are there killer bees in Australia? (Germany)
A: Not yet, but for you, we’ll import them.
Q: Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
A: No, we are a peaceful civilisation of vegan hunter gatherers. Milk is illegal.
Q: Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)
A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.
Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Australia, but I forget its name. It’s a kind of bear and lives in trees.(USA)
A: It’s called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of gum trees and eat the brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.
Q: I was in Australia in 1969 on R+R, and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Kings Cross. Can you help? (USA)
A: Yes, and you will still have to pay her by the hour.
Q: Will I be able to speek English most places I go? (USA)
A: Yes, but you’ll have to learn it first.