|January - Summer|
January is mid-summer in the in the Southern Hemisphere's temperate regions. There are fewer countries affected than in the northern areas, but southern Africa, South America and Australia still know how to make the most of summer.
Food & Travel is seen by people all around the globe, so let’s look first at what is happening ‘downunder’ - beaches, holidays in the sun, barbecues and outdoor festivals. Next week it’s the northerner’s turn with sparkling snow and skiiing and steaming foods.
Look at a map and you will see that many parts of New Zealand are even further south than Australia. This tiny country (total population 4.4million) has had its share of disasters in the past twelve months. Queenstown is one place that is serenely beautiful and a great drawcard in winter for its skiing and snowsports and the many ski lodges in town, along with the requisite restaurants, cafes and bars and shops selling possum and merino gloves and socks, heavy jumpers and fleece lined parkas, underline this.
However it is just as much a lure in the southern summer, which is right now!
Begun with a gold rush, today it’s the adrenaline rush which is keeping Queenstown alive. The town welcomes most tourists from December to January. To capitalise on this, savvy operators include action options ideal for sunny days, cleverly giving visitors an excuse to visit the place at least TWICE a year.
Risk-taking is the name of many of these activities. You can bungy jump into a river or plunge 47 metres from a ledge near the top of the gondola, a show-off cable system seen from all over town, which takes visitors to the peak and displays the town and lake 400 metres below in one wide-angle panorama.
Or how about river surfing, canyoning, extreme rafting, river boarding, parachuting, or a unique high-wire bungy? What will they think of next? By comparison jet boating through the narrow Shotover River canyons is almost demure, although the wealth of 360-degree turns and tight pirouettes in a wall of spray certainly delivers. The bright red flat-bottomed craft are stable and the mandatory life jackets and pre-trip briefing proves reassuring to the thousands who take this 25-minute ride each year.
Walk along the town waterfront and you will see boats with bright parasails above, and if you look upwards you will often see paragliders, their colourful sails bracketing the peak and its gondolas creeping up the slope. At the top, they zoom past the observation deck silently, arching out over the town and lake below.
But leisure is not forgotten either, and a lazy afternoon spent driving along the lakeside or hiking through the bush is a wonderful way to spend a summer day.
On the other side of what Australian's and New Zealanders laughingly call 'the ditch' (which in fact is the Tasman Sea) a favourite exploration area for Captain James Cook in 1770, is Sydney, the capital of New South Wales. This city, Australia's most populous, attracts many visitors each year and little wonder when it has so much to offer.
Apart from Sydney Harbour, there are many inlets, lagoons and waterways, making the area a yachties' delight. There are 70 harbour and ocean beaches. This is Pittwater, named for British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.
Added to this the various waterside suburbs offer the obvious additions to make a visit worthwhile - cafes, bars, restaurants, swimming facilities and watersports.
Palm Beach (where Home and Away is filmed) at the very tip of Barrenjoey peninsula, attracts many 'rich and famous' guests over the summer season. If celebrity-spotting is your thing then this is the place to come, although the sheer beauty of the area and all the other activities usually overrule before too long.
To celebrate summer, Sydney has a month-long festival each January featuring entertainment and activities for all age-groups, although many visitors simply prefer to explore the area for themselves.
Even the birds seem to enjoy summer relaxation in Sydney. This wild sulphur-crested cockatoo obviously likes catching up on the Sunday newspapers as much as the locals do!
If we are going further south, then let's begin at the most southerly state of Australia: Tasmania. Appropriately it leads of the year's festivities with a vibrant food festival over new year that also coincides with Australia's most hotly contested and often extremely dangerous boat race - the Sydney to Hobart race.
For much of the year, Constitution Wharf in Hobart, Tasmania's capital, is packed with fishing vessels and looks more like a northern European harbour. For a couple of weeks each year in mid-summer it is host to the tall yachts which have completed the arduous race, lending a St Tropez air to the waterfront.
Tasmania's seafood is legendary, both wild-caught from the chilly waters, or raised in fish farms around the island. Here at the Constitution Wharf, there are several 'fish punts', squarish shop-boats unique to Hobart, moored beside yachts and fishing craft in the marina, where you can buy the freshest fish, often cooked to order, to be eaten alongside that wonderful harbour view.
Tasmanian farmed salmon is known all around the world and it is worth locating Salamanca Square, a magnet for tourists especially at the weekend markets, and one of the oldest parts of Hobart. The Tassal centre's sign on the window says: ‘The Salmon Shop’. Young salmon, properly termed smolt, swim in a showcase-aquarium at the entrance. In the centre’s classy Smolt restaurant crusty house-made ciabatta is piled on the pass from the open kitchen while through another opening you can see an impressive range of wines. Next door, a providore sells cuts of fresh and smoked salmon and all sorts of fishy cookware, books and gadgets. At the rear there is a demonstration table for cooking classes where someone hands out tastes of a salmon dish.
The chilly local waters produce world-class crayfish, Petuna ocean trout and other seafood. Here, in the north of the island, carefully raised farmed salmon is hand-caught at 41 Degrees South.
With a 5400 kilometre coastline, of course Tasmania has many beaches, often remote and private, ideal for beach-combing, boating or swimming.
Coles Bay on the mid-eastern coast is a small community with a couple of major drawcards..........
Local dining on the freshest seafood - especially scallops and mussels..........
... and a loval oyster farm where you can buy a dozen to take home or eat there.
Not much further north, the tiny coastal community of Bicheno celebrates the local produce too. That is one of the many wonderful things about Tasmania. Living on an island, Tasmanians can afford to be unashamedly 'insular' and why wouldn't they be when there is so much to be proud of?
Then there are the eccentric touches that make taking the back roads a definite must. These life-sized critters stand guard over a gift shop and cafe absolutely packed with souvenirs and memorabilia.
If time permits, do a lap of the entire island (warning, it will take you longer than you think as there is so much to see and do.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway uses the reopened railway line to the mining town of Queenstown. The steam train with sparkling purpose-built reproduction carriages chug-a-lugs through rainforest and over tall bridges spanning fearsome gorges on the mountain miner’s line, stopping occasionally at sidings.
Sitting up there at the front of the train in ‘Premier Class’ with canapés and bubbly it’s all so scenic and – easy. But try to imagine how tough it would have been for the men employed to blast this route through the wilderness over a hundred years ago using explosives and hand tools? Someone has estimated the rubble alone amounted to 89,000 wheelbarrow-loads.
Nearby, Strahan’s heritage cottages on the waterfront have been restored, perky as a film set, and the town is the epicentre for many activities - even rainbows!
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT TASMANIA? ......read on
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