Monthly Archive for June, 2007

Bays at Leisure

for Australian Boating

Whether it’s sailing, fishing, cruising or just relaxing, New Zealand’s Bay of Islands takes some beating. Roderick Eime explores from the deck of Oceanic Discoverer.

The renaissance in small ship cruising has created renewed interest previously overlooked destinations in our region. Cruise itineraries were fast falling into the “same old” category with port visits to Fiji, Noumea and Vanuatu reappearing with monotonous regularity. Smaller, more versatile ships have allowed cruise lovers to explore and experience remote and shallow waterways previously the domain of private pleasurecraft. New Zealand’s glorious Bay of Islands is one boaties’ paradise now open to this new wave of pocket cruise ships.

Cairns-based Coral Princess Cruises, who have operated small ship cruises for nearly twenty five years, expanded their sphere of influence substantially with the 2005 introduction of Oceanic Discoverer. Originally launched to bolster their small fleet in the busy Kimberley region, she has since ventured as far afield as Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Tasmania. As part of her South Pacific ramblings, she will spend December through February amid the picturesque aquatic landscape of the Bay of Islands and the wider Northland region.

Of all her journeys and destinations, it is this one that perhaps holds the most appeal for fellow boat owners and enthusiasts. Although labelled, “Bay of Islands” the title only reveals one end of this much more comprehensive exploration of the waterways between Paihia and Auckland in the region known to locals as Northland. This whole stretch of coast is steeped in nautical history, is one of the most popular marine playgrounds in New Zealand, perhaps Australasia and is populated with the most diverse assortment of pleasure boats imaginable.

During the five nights spent aboard Oceanic Discoverer, we noted luxurious superyachts and cruisers in the multi-million dollar stratosphere right down to modest runabouts, sailing dinghies and yachts. Of particular note was Reg Grundy’s magnificent $90 million, 70 metre Boadicea; NZ’s fastest commercial sailing catamaran, On The Edge; the 18 metre, 45 knot Excitor fast tourist launch and the sublime tall ship, the 44 metre Soren Larsen.

It’s easy to understand why this is such a haven for boat lovers – especially once you’re here. Kilometre after kilometre of intricate coastline, little nooks, coves and crannies, thickly wooded islands and headlands all interwoven to create a convivial natural latticework perfect for smaller vessels. At 63m, Oceanic Discoverer is a behemoth amongst all but the most lavish superyachts and we cruise somewhat pompously into the little ports and islands and anchor in the bays surrounded by adoring sports cruisers and sailboats.

But it’s not all sea chanteys and ‘yo ho ho’, we make numerous landfalls at some of the delightful islands and parks throughout the region and there’s plenty of time for energetic strolls and even some shopping at the little towns like Russell, Paihia and tiny Port Fitzroy way out on Great Barrier Island.

We set off from the local capital of water sports and recreation, Paihia and fittingly the launch collects us from the jetty at nearby Waitangi, site of the signing of the treaty of the same name and the birthplace of modern New Zealand.

Across the harbour, you’d be forgiven for thinking little Russell town was an island, but it’s actually attached to the mainland by a sliver of land that culminates in Tapeka Point, which in turn forms an imposing promontory in the centre of the Bay of Islands. It’s hard to imagine this picture-postcard village with dainty shops and ornate architecture as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific” as it was described in the very early 19th Century. Then, instead of the cappuccino set and floral hatted tourists, it was host to deserters, ex-cons, drunken whalers, marauding Maori and bawdy ship girls all in a swill of wanton lawlessness and licentiousness – or so the missionaries would have us believe. Russell, as it was officially known from 1840, was actually the capital of New Zealand for nine months until it was decided to move the seat of government to Auckland.

Within view of Tapeka Point, about three kilometres WNW, is Motuarohia (or Roberton) Island. It is here that a plaque remembers Lieut. James Cook RN who set foot on the island in 1769 during his epic first voyage. The entire area was well populated by the Maori who had arrived from the east over six hundred years prior and set up many villages through the region.

Maori and Pakeha (white Europeans) co-existed in the bay with some degree of co-operation. The Maori were enthusiastic traders and were soon resupplying the whaling and cargo ships, but at the same time falling victim to the attendant evils like alcohol and disease.

Motuarohia gained its European name after one notable collapse of interracial relations in November 1841. Maketu Wharetotara, the 17-year-old son of the Nga Puhi chief Ruhe of Waimate went on a vicious killing spree, slaughtering five people, including a woman and three children with an axe. In a celebrated and precarious case, Maketu was the first legal hanging in New Zealand and the island adopted the name of the widow and mother he killed, Mrs Roberton.

The most northerly extent of our modest exploration was to Whangaroa, a journey of some 70 kilometres from our starting point of Paihia. Another idyllic harbour and anchorage guarded by Taupo Bay to the north and Tauranga Bay to the south, it was deemed strategic enough to place a naval gun inside a concrete bunker overlooking the bay during the Second World War. The gun is long since gone, instead the surrounds are now home to Kingfish Lodge, a very smart fishing lodge where you can even purchase your own luxury, waterfront villa for a cool NZ$1 million.

To continue with the blood-thirsty tales, Whangaroa is also the scene of the so-called “Boyd Massacre”. In this regrettable chapter of European history, the son of a Whangaroa chief, Te Ara, was aboard the ship Boyd as a working seaman. But, as legend goes, the young chief, being of noble blood, ignored his orders and was flogged for insubordination. When the Boyd returned to Whangaroa, Te Ara documented his mistreatment in vivid detail and pointed out Captain John Thompson for punishment. In a rush of blood lust, Te Ara’s tribe massacred most of the crew and passengers in retribution. A party of British seamen later returned to exact their own revenge and so the spiral went, with a great many lives lost on both sides.

Our journey ended with an exploration of the Hauraki Gulf, the scene of the ignominious defeat of Team New Zealand in the 2003 Americas Cup. Our southerly thrust was interrupted by a detour to Great Barrier Island and the miniscule Port Fitzroy. Like so many of the islands along the coast, Great Barrier Island was a rich source of valuable kauri timber. The hardy wood is ideal for boatbuilding and, predictably, the slow-growing native kauri was all but eliminated throughout New Zealand. Small stands are reappearing on the protected islands and one such stand exists on Great Barrier.

En route to our final destination of Auckland, a stop is made on both Tiritiri Matangi and Kawau Islands, both as unusual as they are different. Tiritiri is the site of an intensive volunteer wildlife conservation programme. Rid of its feral vermin, the island was painstakingly restocked with numerous rare and endangered bird species including the vibrant saddleback, the delicate North Island Robin, the ungainly Takahe and boisterous Kokako. Pois
ed with my camera hoping to capture a shot of one of these elusive creatures, I’m suddenly confronted with a determined Kokako on the hunt. I think he’s looking at me and I snap him, but he’s spied a little green morsel on a twig and a bug is deftly plucked from a branch barely a metre away – and he’s off!

At the top of the island’s only hill is the famous lighthouse where a family of flightless Takahe stroll unmolested in the garden of the keeper’s cottage. A visitor centre is also housed nearby.

Kawau Island, just fifteen minutes by ferry from Auckland, is a delightful location with the most magnificent home built in 1845 for the manager of the copper mine established nearby. It later became the abode of Sir George Grey; soldier, colonial administrator, Governor-General, political prophet and perhaps New Zealand’s most significant 19th Century figure. He bought the island in 1862, renovated the house and created lush gardens stocked with exotic plants and animals including wallabies and kookaburras, many of which survive to this day! A perfect layover and picnic spot popular with locals and visitors alike.

The stops we made aboard Oceanic Discoverer could just as easily be made with your own or a chartered vessel and we saw many folks doing just that. Couples, families, parties and even one or two soloists were cruising or paddling aboard an array of vessels and taking full advantage of secluded bays and the easy legs in between.

Perhaps this magnificent gulf will come alive again to the towering masts and billowing spinnakers of the America’s Cup if Team New Zealand’s revenge is complete. Either way, boats and boat lovers of all sizes will continue to frolic in these perfect waters.

Fact File

For comprehensive information about the Northland region, see: www.newzealand.com or www.northlandnz.com

The Oceanic Discoverer’s five night itinerary between Auckland and Paihia, the Bay of Islands explores the north coast of New Zealand and operates between 21 December 2007 and 8 March 2008. Priced from A$2990 per person twin share, the fare includes all meals and excursions. For further information, see: www.coralprincess.com.au

© Roderick Eime 2007 [1600 words] [pics available at http://rodeime.fotopic.net]

And the Winner is … Australia

I dip my hat to our worthy cousins across the Tasman. Heaven knows they punch way above their weight in almost everything, but to overhaul us in the world tourism stakes may be a bit much.

Even if just by sheer dint of our size, Australia packs a heavyweight’s slam when it comes diversity, international significance and outright size. The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, for example, has a block booking with Qantas (the world’s safest airline) to continue their long list of inscriptions in Australia. As it stands, Australia outnumbers New Zealand 16:3 in the World Heritage stakes, with two more slated for the next intake. Sounds like a rugby score, doesn’t it?

Now I’m not about to slight the Māori, those handsome and powerful Polynesians from all over the Pacific, but Australia’s indigenous people were here first – by a long shot. Māori arrived on the untouched lands of Aotearoa just 1500 years ago, whereas our Aborigines were here well over 40,000 years ago. Their incredibly long and mystical relationship with this equally ancient land makes for a saga of monumental proportions.

But let’s remove the emotion and get down to science. I’m not about to reignite that “bloody” debate, but Australia continually rates amongst the top in one of, if not the only, index that rates a nation’s brand name value: The Anholt Nations Brand Index (NBI).

NBI creator, Simon Anholt, says the quarterly poll highlights how each nation is viewed by the rest of the world, reflecting aspects of trade, tourism and immigration.

“One of the basic rules of branding in the commercial field is that for a company to build a successful and powerful brand, its employees need to believe in the brand too. The same is surely true for countries,” says Anholt when referring to Australia.

We regularly figure in all the NBI’s top rankings which include exports, people, governance, tourism, culture and heritage, immigration and investment. New Zealand, while I acknowledge the spirit, has yet to top us in any of these categories, save for government, but that hardly counts. Australia currently holds the top spot as a holiday destination “if money was no object”, is a regular “most friendly” and also ranks as the country richest in natural beauty, closely followed by (okay, okay) New Zealand.

In short the world sees Australia as THE “aspirational” destination. It’s vast and impressive and a long way from most everything else, save for New Zealand, and if the world had to choose, and sorry but the scores are in, it’s Australia.

The Blue Tarp Resort

Consider the portable canvas option for your next road trip.

After Mum and Dad told me their camping stories from the ‘50s, pitching a tent somewhere in the great Aussie outback was about the last thing I ever wanted to. But on a 4WD trip to Cape York recently, I rediscovered the primal joys of sleeping under canvas miles from the nearest streetlight or flush toilet.

As you flick through the pages of your favourite travel magazine (yes, this one!) gazing longingly at the golden, palm lined beaches and the lush forest destinations, you might be thinking these exotic locations are the exclusive realm of the rich and famous. Maybe, not! Camping has long been a favourite Australian pastime and an accepted means of visiting places a long way from home without running up exorbitant hotel and resort bills.

I’ll confess that on our tour to the “tip”, we mixed and matched our digs. From the glamour of swish Bloomfield Lodge, to a humpy on the beach at Munbah we truly experienced the extremes of accommodation options. Yet, it was the camping experience that defined our journey.

Sure, camping isn’t for everyone, but you might find it makes an enriching and cost effective alternative for that dreamed-of road trip across the country. By alternating tent, cabin, motel and resort, you can spoil yourself occasionally while keeping a lid on expenses.

My mum, now well into her seventies, rediscovered the joys of camping when she and a friend spent two years exploring the far corners of the continent in a station wagon packed with camping gear.

“Well, darling,” Mum recalls, “we really enjoyed ourselves. It was a relaxing, fun holiday. But we didn’t go without our comforts.”

In those two years, Mum covered the length and breadth of the country, ticking off favourite locations like Charters Towers, Alice Springs, Hughenden, Arkaroola and Kings Canyon.

“We only pitched the tents when we intended to stay more than a couple of nights. It’s a bit of a pest putting them up and down every day, so we’d get a cabin if we were just passing through.”

“Come on Mum,” I implored, “there must have been something you didn’t like.”

“Not really love. We were pretty well prepared and we chose our locations and weather very carefully.”

Knowing your destination and its climate is a key to enjoyable camping. Do your homework and visit locations during their most agreeable weather. For example, the Outback is gorgeous mid-year when the weather is mild and rainfall at its lowest.

Mum rattled off her list of camping must-haves and I compared it with mine.

Tent (one per person); fully-floored with insect netting. Blow-up mattresses. Doona, sheets and pillow (I took a sleeping bag and camp stretcher). Long extension cord, power board with appliances; Jug, toaster, electric skillet, hot plate (or gas primus), portable telly, fan heater. Other useful inclusions; Cut down occasional table for inside tent, hair dryer, reading lamp and/or torch.

Exterior accessories were kept to a minimum, but included folding chairs and table, kitchenware and washing up kit.

Take your pick with food. Alternate eating out at pubs and cafés with cooking yourself. Fresh meat, fish and vegetables where available and tins of soup and stew for the remote spots.

“What about, you know, ones and twos?” I delicately enquired.

“Well we had that sorted too. Let’s just say we had the modern equivalent of a chamber pot when I didn’t feel like going outside.”

Around the country there are serviced campgrounds (showers, electricity, pool, cabins etc) and caravan parks or, for the more adventurous, unserviced grounds deep within National Parks and Reserves with perhaps a “long drop” and a rainwater tank.

Some parks create an instant community, complete with social nights, sausage sizzles and happy hours while others are simply quiet retreats. Or choose somewhere on your own and enjoy the solace and seclusion of a night under the stars with just the sound of a breeze in the trees and birds as your alarm clock.

“After my experiences in the ‘50s, I never thought I’d camp again, but the gear is just so much better now and the caravan parks and campgrounds are almost like resorts now with restaurants, games rooms and activities,” says Mum, “Boy, we did it rough back then!”

A road trip doesn’t mean a remake of “The Long Long Trailer”, instead travel light and lean and consider the camping option to extend your trip and keep costs down.

Tourists in Trees

[for Get Up N Go]

Tourists in Trees

Shunning the popular mega ship experience, Roderick Eime disappears into the Alaskan wilderness for a taste of the true outdoors.

The two mighty V8 engines erupt into a loud angry growl and the little jet boat begins to spin wildly in the rough white water. Passengers are screaming, hanging on for dear life as the scenery of sheer jagged cliffs and enormous boulders whiz past bare metres away. Then suddenly, we lurch to a violent halt, followed by a deluge over the stern that completely inundates those clinging desperately to the railings.

“How’s that?!” yells Jim from the shelter of the tiny wheelhouse.

“Fantastic!” comes the exuberant reply from the saturated clients, still shaking the chilly mountain water from their hair and spray jackets. Skipper, Jim Leslie, is not a show-off, but after some gentle coaxing will execute a hair-raising ‘360’ for the sheer thrill of it.

Husband and wife team, Wilma and Jim Leslie, operate Alaska Waters, a tour company in the little town of Wrangell Alaska, tucked delicately into a sheltered bay on the island of the same name. Wilma, a proud first nation woman, and Jim a dedicated outdoorsman with tough military training, conduct personalised, small group tours from the quaint little fishing hamlet that is almost dormant between weekly visits from the huge cruise liners.

Now that logging and mining are winding down in the area, tourism is moving in, and Jim and Wilma have become de facto tourism ambassadors for the town, representing the community’s interests at government level.

When the big ships arrive, like the huge Norwegian Sun and her 2000 passengers, the town is transformed into a veritable fairground. Local traders are out in force toting their wares and the tiny tour companies whisk batches of tourists around the town to the museum and other local attractions like Chief Shakes House. I can’t help but feel these folk, while lavished with all the trappings of the giant cruise ship, are missing out on the genuine local touch.

Australians are travelling to Alaska in record numbers, the majority enjoying well-rehearsed and orchestrated experiences that expose travellers on brief itineraries to the substantial natural beauty of this abundant land. But those with a more independent bent can “jump ship” at any of the little ports and experience the true small town Alaska made famous in such television shows as “Men in Trees” and the earlier hit, “Northern Exposure”.

I believe this one-on-one experience delivers a totally different perspective on travel to this great wilderness area of North America. Australians, with their undeniable love of the outback and open air, will embrace this convivial and intimate alternative.


Served by traveloscopy.com

Served by traveloscopy.com


Wilma and Jim’s signature adventure tour is a two-night, white water wilderness expedition up the magnificent Stikine River into the largely uninhabited forests of British Columbia. Jim pilots the Chutine Warrior upstream for six hours [165 miles], through wide shallow flats bordered by sheer majestic peaks and dense wooded fringes. About halfway, Jim pulls up to a small island for a BBQ lunch. The island, which he calls Devil’s Elbow, is a handy refuge. Safely ashore, he can put down his heavy weapon, the last line of defence against inquisitive Grizzly or black bears, and cook some sausages. Giant paw prints decorate the narrow silt beach, interspersed with impressions from moose, bears and even a wolf, attesting to the abundance of big game roaming the neighbourhood.

The adventure culminates in a stay at the quaint Riversong Lodge way up the Stikine River in the forgotten backblocks of British Columbia where some local touring and spirited jetboat adventures take place.

Wrangell, as an example, is not driven by an all-consuming tourism agenda. Behind the dockside commercial centre is a quiet village surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery imaginable. A small wooded hill overlooking the town is carefully landscaped to include a walking trail and lookout while a delightful nine-hole golf course is also on offer.

For my mind, Wrangell is an authentic microcosm of small town Alaska. Quirky, quaint, rough-around-the-edges maybe, but with an infinitely wholesome down-to-earth appeal that left this writer feeling a warm satisfaction and a bonding affection with the townsfolk who welcomed me so heartily for a few scant days one July.

Fact File:

Where: Wrangell, Alaska

Local Sights and Attractions: Stikine River, Shakes Glacier, Telegraph Creek, LeConte Glacier, ancient petroglyphs and Anan Wildlife Observatory

Activities: Hiking, fishing, sightseeing, golfing, bicycling,

Accommodation: Stikine Inn, Zimovia B&B, GrandView Bnb, Rooney’s Roost B&B, Fennimore’s B&B, Thunderbird Hotel

How to Get There: Alaska Airlines flies daily to Wrangell from Seattle (AS65) or Juneau (AS64). The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system visits Wrangell four times a week in summer.

Contact: Australians can arrange travel to Wrangell with local Alaska specialist, Spectrum Holidays.

Spectrum Holidays,
511 Whitehorse Road,
Mitcham VIC 3132

Email: enquiries@spectrumholidays.com.au
Web: www.spectrumholidays.com.au

Tel: +61 3 8804 2420
Fax: +61 3 8804 2426

New Italian Mega Liner a Floating Pantheon


Passengers arriving aboard the brand new Costa Cruises flagship, Costa Serena, could be forgiven for thinking they’d walked into some Greco-Roman epic. Roderick Eime stows away for a glimpse of glamour cruising, Italian-style.

Costa SerenaLaunched amid great fanfare in Marseilles on May 19, the 114,000 tonne, 1500-berth leviathan is the latest in the frantic Costa build programme that will bring the fleet to 15 vessels by 2010. Following her slightly smaller sister, Costa Concordia, she will be followed by the similarly massive, Costa Luminosa in 2008.

Walking her twelve passenger decks, that make her as high as a 23-storey building, the overriding theme of classic mythology is overwhelmingly evident, over-the-top even. But chief designer, American Jo Farcus, makes no apologies.

“I used the characters of classical mythology to create the sense of fantasy and escapism,” asserts Farcus, “and each of the public spaces from the bars and restaurants to the casino and theatre bear the name of a famous Greek or Roman God.”

Jupiter, the god of light and skies, gives his name to the high-tech theatre; Apollo, the god of music and song adorns the main bar and dance floor; Venus, fittingly sponsors the beauty salon, while Giano, the Romans’ two-faced divinity presides ominously over the casino.

One of the significant points of difference in this latest Costa offering is the Samsara Spa and Wellness concept which includes premium cabins and staterooms, dining and spa access. The Samsara Spa itself is enormous, occupying over 2000 sqm, and acknowledging that the latest trends in land-based hospitality are extending offshore.

Besides the food, wine and therapies, guests can extend their menu of fantasies to include a stint in a state-of-art Grand Prix driving simulator that employs a full scale replica of a Formula One car coupled to the equivalent of a computer flight simulator.

Farcus is also unashamedly excited about the multi-million dollar expenditure on works of art, both original and reproductions, that adorn every corner of the public spaces.

“The is very little off-the-shelf in my designs,” he avows, “almost everything is custom-made from original Costa designs.”

During our preview cruise from Genoa to Venice, much ado was also made of the Michelin star chef, Ettore Bocchia, who will create the a la carte menu for the exclusive Club Bacco Restaurant named after, you guessed it, Bacchus the God of wine and good living.

Costa Serena embarks on her initial programme, sailing from her home port of Venice, on a series of Mediterranean cruises that will include the Greek Islands, Istanbul and the Adriatic Coast.

Facilities:

  • 4 Swimming pools (2 with retractable roofs)
  • 5 Jacuzzi hydromassage baths
  • Jogging Track
  • 2,100 sq.m. Spa and Wellness Centre
  • 5 Restaurants, including one a la carte

* Who for: Suit couples, honeymooners, families
* Itinerary: 7 nights inc Greece, Turkey and Croatia
* Lead in price: AU$3499.00 inc airfares
* Vessel: Costa Serena
* Star Rating: Not Yet Rated, but expect 4.5-5 star
* Tonnage: 114,500
* Max Passenger Capacity: 3780
* Entered Service: May 2007

The writer was a guest of eCruising.travel and Costa Cruises

High Calorie Adventure; the World of Swiss Chocolate


All Aboard the Chocolate Express

Think Switzerland and your shortlist should read watches, banks, Matterhorns, cheese and chocolate. Wrap all these in silver paper and put them in a fancy box and you have the Montreux-Bernese Oberland Railway, a privately-owned, beautifully restored Pullman Express.

It’s a crisp clear summer morning at Montreaux station and the three “Belle Epoque” carriages are waiting with the expectant chocophiles milling about chatting excitedly in anticipation of this classic Swiss big day out. Built around 1915, the original narrow-gauge carriages have undergone an extensive and expensive restoration to bring them to pristine condition.

“We had a lot of trouble getting the right wood, windows and fitting, because some of the original ones were broken,” says Niklaus, the tour guide with obvious pride. His perfectly tailored blue tunic and classic cap are in the same style and it’s clear he feels like the living part of the train.

The Chocolate Train, is a minor misnomer. Sure it terminates, at the famous Callier chocolate factory in Broc, but the entire 9am – 5pm journey is a dairy drenched gastronomic extravaganza.

With the modern electric locomotive at work up front, the journey is deceptively silent except for the muffled rush of metal-on-metal as the picture postcard Swiss scenery rolls past.

The train makes its first stop at the village of Gruyères, where the unsuspecting gastromes pile off for a demonstration of classic cheeesemaking at the Maison du Gruyères dairy. Even though this is a tourist factory, the master cheese-makers produce 48 round 355kg Gruyères cheeses every day. Try to resist the double cream meringues; you’ll need room for the chocolate!

Speaking of which, the piece d’resistance is the factory at Broc. Part of the Nestle empire, it’s still a great treat albeit a highly branded exercise. The new exhibition was opened in May 2006 and is the result of collaboration with French architect and designer Jean Nouvel and culminates, predicably enough, in a chocolate gorge-fest where every product is on display and there for the sampling. I told you to resist the meringues!

If the Broc experience is a little too “arm’s length” and multinational for you, there is the compact and intimate Alprose Chocolate Factory in Lugano-Caslano. Here you can follow the catwalk across the factory floor while diligent chocolatiers produce the famous blocks right before your eyes. Complete with tummy-rumbling aromas, you can observe the raw ingredients transformed into creamy packaged delights which you can later intercept in the factory store.

Closer to home, local Melbourne gourmet tour guide, Suzie Wharton, conducts two-hour chocoholic discoveries through the mysterious narrow lanes and back alleys of Melbourne. The walk will do you good as you explore the creamy underbelly of Melbourne’s secret chocolate society. Tastings included.

The Roots of Chocolate Spread to Switzerland
The word chocolate is probably derived from the ancient Mayan word “Xocolatl” which describes a potent brew the natives made from the beans which were then roasted, ground and mixed with water and spices to form a foamy liquid. The Aztecs, Incas and Toltecs also dabbled with cocoa recipes and, along with their gold and other resources, greatly interested the invading Spanish conquistadors.

Snatched back across the Atlantic, the new chocolate drink soon became a hit throughout the royal courts of Europe. But it wasn’t until the early 19th Century that the French began marketing the solid product in the familiar block form we see today.

Not to be outdone by their lowly neighbours, the Swiss knew they could improve on the rough mass produced stuff from the West. Names like Rudolph Lindt, François-Louis Cailler, Rudolf Sprüngli and Daniel Peter all developed special processes that refined and defined the Swiss product throughout the 19th Century into the world-renown delicacy it is today. Milk chocolate and melting chocolate were both invented by the Swiss.

At the very beginning of the 20th Century, such was the popularity that the Union of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers (now Chocosuisse) was formed to represent and protect the Swiss product around the world.

Chocolate Speak

Keep the conversation rolling at your next dinner party. Here are some impressive chocolate facts.

There are three distinct types of cocoa beans, Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario.

Criollo is the purest, most expensive type of bean native to Central America and the northern regions of South America.
Forastero is the robust, cultivated variety most commonly used in commercial plantations. Lacks some of the subtle flavours of the Crillo.
Trinitario, a natural hybrid of Criollo and Forastero, originating in Trinidad. Can exhibit a variety of flavours depending on region, hybrid mix and cultivation methods.

  • Couverture: a special smooth, glossy, easily melted chocolate used by chefs for coating things like strawberries. High in cocoa butter.
  • Conching: one finalisation process that determines the smoothness of the product. Metal beads in a “fountain” grind the cocoa and sugar into tiny, inseparable particles. The longer the better.
  • Tempering: is heat manipulation that is the very last process and determines the final crystal size of the product. Properly tempered chocolate is smooth, firm and glossy and snaps when broken. It also stores and travels best.

Half of the 150,000 tonnes of chocolate produced in Switzerland every year never escapes. The Swiss still account for 50% of their own production. Australia takes nearly 5% of the exported half. Most goes to the greedy Germans (20%).

Most cocoa comes from Ivory Coast in Africa.

The total Swiss chocolate industry turns over A$1.5 Billion annually.

The quick and dirty:

Cocoa pods are harvested, the beans removed and dried over three days. The beans are roasted and ground. Cocoa butter is separated from the chocolate mulch (or liquor) either by pressing or collecting drips. The residue is cocoa powder.

The liquor and butter is re-blended with other ingredients like sugar milk and vanilla to form the different varieties we see (Dark, milk and white).

Chocolate Montezuma

70 g plain chocolate
500 ml milk
2 tbsp of honey
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 small glass of rum
1/4 small glass of arrack
allspice, ginger

As exotic as the king of the Aztecs! Dissolve the chocolate in the milk over a low heat and leave to cool in the fridge. In a mixer or shaker, mix the honey, lemon zest, rum, arrack and 1/4 tsp each of allspice and ginger into the cold liquid. Pour into a tall, iced glass and garnish with mint.


If You Go

Cosmos Tours

Grand Tour of Switzerland

8 days from Zurich to Zurich (priced from $1,196 per person, twin share)

15 days from Zurich to Zurich including 7 nights in Interlaken (priced from $1,988 per person, twin share)

Departures from March to October 2007

Sightseeing: Visits to Appenzell, Liechtenstein, St. Moritz, Lugano, a chocolate factory at Caslano, Lake Maggiore, Täsch, Zermatt, Lausanne, Gruyère village, Berne, Interlaken, Lucerne; on tour 6025: Jungfraujoch excursion (value approximately $120)

Scenic highlights: Julier Pass, Engadine Valley, Swiss-Italian Lake District, Simplon Pass, Lake Geneva, the Bernese Oberland

Guides: Services of a professional Tour Director while touring

Transportation: Touring by private first-class air-conditioned motorcoach. The Bernina Express Train, Mountain Train Täsch-Zermatt

Details: Licensed travel agents or www.cosmostours.com.au

Can’t Get to Switzerland? Then try Suzie Wharton’s Chocoholic Tours in Melbourne. $30 for a two-hour walking tour that includes samples and tastings. See www.chocoholictours.com.au

Awaken Macau

After almost 400 years of blissful colonial slumber, the new Special Administrative Region of Macau is already rivalling the world’s major leisure capitals.

Macau Legend and History

The fierce driving rain lashed the tiny boat and the seas rose and threatened to swamp it completely. Then suddenly the girl who had boarded at the last moment in such a hurry, stepped forth and commanded the tempest to cease. She was not simply a girl, but a goddess with an appointment with heaven.

The crew gratefully put the girl, whose name was A-Ma, ashore in the port of Hoi Keang where she immediately strode to the top of a hill to keep her date with divinity. A temple was built in 1488 and is a focal point for tourists even today as the shrine of the Goddess of the Sea. Centuries later, when Portuguese sailors landed and asked the name of the place, the local inhabitants replied “A-Ma-Gao” (Bay of A-Ma). Thus, the peninsula was renamed. In modern usage, Amagao has shortened to simply Macau.

Even though Macau is best known for its rich Portuguese heritage and eclectic mix of European and Asian cultures, the town’s maritime and trading history dates back to the 5th century and earlier when coastal traders and fishermen used Hoi Keang for resupply. Many historians also believe the port was used by the enormous fleets of the Ming dynasty during 1421-23 as part of their theorised discovery of the world.

Well before the end of the 16th Century, the Chinese had withdrawn from their expansionist plans and the massive fleets disappeared. In 1513, the Portuguese merchant and explorer, Jorge Alvares, landed and almost immediately began a trading relationship with the local Cantonese (Guangzhou) who were quite probably craving for a resumption in international relations. The Europeans established various temporary outposts before reaching an arrangement with the mandarins in 1557 to settle the tiny peninsula at the mouth of the Pearl River estuary, now modern Macau.

Their monopoly of trade in silk, ceramics and spice with the Chinese quickly produced enormous wealth and in 1622, with much of the Portuguese empire crumbling elsewhere in the world, the Dutch invaded in overwhelming numbers. Seriously on the back foot, the local militia were fighting a desperate stand at the Citadel of Sao Paulo do Monte when a single lucky cannon shot struck the Dutch ammunition stores. The resulting explosion, fire and destruction bewildered the invaders and Portuguese control was not again challenged until the Second World War, and even then the Japanese notionally respected Portuguese sovereignty.

Most significantly, Macau reverted to a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China in 1999, ending 329 years of colonial Portuguese rule.

Macau Grand Prix: Asia’s Most Significant Motor Sport Event

First held in 1955, soon after the restoration of Formula One in Europe after its wartime hiatus, the Macau Grand Prix has evolved as arguably the most historic and significant Asian motor sport event.

Unlike its “twin” event in Monaco where the narrow and dangerous streets still play host to FIA Formula One, Macau has reverted to a more practical programme of motorcycles, touring cars and international Formula 3 (F3).

Formula One has since returned to Asia with events in both Malaysia and China. But unlike the comparatively tiny Macau race, the “big time” F1 World Championship rounds fail to generate the festive aura so evident in Macau.

The list of Macau Grand Prix champions and former competitors reads like a list of the who’s who of Formula One with such names as Ayrton Senna, Michael and Ralf Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and Damon Hill. Spectators at each event can theorise on the latest F1 champion from the field of talented young driver arrayed before them.

But Macau champions and stand-out performers have not been limited to international stars. Singapore’s Chan Lye-Choon won the 1958 Grand Prix in an Aston Martin DB 3S and Hong Kong’s Albert Poon followed in 1964.

The 54th Macau Grand Prix will be held from November 15th to 18th 2007.

UNESCO World Heritage Declared in 2005

Macau’s unique European cultural fusion has spawned a range of colourful cultural events including arts, music and fireworks festivals, a dragon boat regatta and a marathon foot race. Golf and the legendary Guia Motor Race and Grand Prix complete the international sporting calendar.

Furthermore, the United Nations, through UNESCO, have recognised the very special significance of the architectural heritage of Macau by listing the centre of the old city as a World Heritage site of cultural significance. Their description reads thus:

“With its historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the historic centre of Macao provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West. The site also contains a fortress and a lighthouse, which is the oldest in China. The site bears testimony to one of the earliest and longest-lasting encounters between China and the West based on the vibrancy of international trade.”

The historic and cultural “branding” of old colonial Macau is perhaps best portrayed by the preserved façade of the Cathedral of Saint Paul. Built during the last decade of the 16th Century by the Jesuits, the building was destroyed by fire in 1835 during a typhoon.

The proximity of the landmarks makes this expansive World Heritage site an engaging and vigorous self-guided walking tour that could easily occupy several days.

Gaming and Leisure a Hallmark of Macau

Apart from the cultural and historic significance if the port city, Macau is known worldwide for its gambling history which began with the Chinese workers and merchants who populated the growing city soon after the arrival of the Portuguese.

While the legitimacy and legality of gambling fluctuated on the Chinese mainland over the centuries, it has always been a staple of the Macanese economy.
“When Hong Kong opened its port to the outside world, Macao suffered a drastic decline in its gambling business. The Macao-Portuguese authorities announced the legalization of gambling in 1847 and began to rely upon gambling as its main economic pillar. The local government issued numerous gambling licenses to collect takings,” writes Lau Bun Leung, Member of the Economics Studies Group of Macao University.

Significantly, the 40-year gaming monopoly held by the highly influential, Forbes-listed Stanley Ho and his companies ended in 2002 after the new Chinese government opened the market for new operators to enter Macau.

These new arrivals include the Sands Macau, the largest casino in the world as measured by the number of gaming tables, in 2004 and Wynn Macau in 2006. Remarkably, Macau’s gambling revenues eclipsed those of Las Vegas Strip last year (each about $6 billion), making Macau the highest-volume gambling centre in the world. Other casinos and hotels opening before 2010 include: The Venetian Macao, Four Seasons, MGM Grand Macau, Ponte 16, Far East Consortium Complex, Grand Hyatt, Galaxy Cotai Megaresort, City of Dreams, Oceanus and Mandarin Oriental. The first Phase of Macau’s Cotai Strip will open this year and includes 19,000 guest rooms throughout seven resort hotels, with
the $1.8 billion Venetian Macao serving as the anchor. The head of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, plans to open Macau’s most expensive casino resort yet, a US$3 billion, 2.1 million sq. ft. casino and entertainment complex with three hotels on the Cotai Strip, right next door to the Venetian Macao Resort.

You could enjoy yourself in New Zealand, apparently.

I like New Zealand, I really do.

There’s a certain charm to ordering ‘Fush un Chupps’ and you have to admire a country that sells us back their gutted, skinned and transformed feral animals at a premium price for us to wrap around our necks.

But try as they might, our energetic cousins across the Tasman will only ever to aspire to what is on offer here in the big country.

Sure, they can knock out a pretty fair Pinot, turn on a spot of skiing occasionally and field a half-respectable team of Rugby players, but in the real world New Zealanders are little more than respected try-hards and cottage industry experts.

Now I can see steam building up behind the ears of some of our esteemed Kiwi cousins and they will be quick to remind us of that anomalous 1976 Olympic Hockey fluke (c’mon, hands up, who remembers?) and that perfectly legal one-day cricket win when brown trousers were still in style. But the true state of the world is quickly restored and one only has to look to the recent World Cup for a salient reminder.

But please, don’t be put off. As Sam Neill, Dame Kiri and Xena will want to tell you, New Zealand is a lot more than blockbuster mountain scenery and Oscar winning performances – even if the famous dubbed and defiant diva refuses to be showered in undies aimed at our own darling, Johnny Farnham.

I’m assured too that a singles bash in Dunedin, a B&S as we like to call them here, is not known as ‘blokes ‘n’ sheep’ on the South Island. That’s just a furphy. All the chaps I’ve met from there have perfectly normal relationships with their livestock.

But please take note and don’t make the mistake I did. When the tour brochure says, “experience an authentic Maori haka”, it is in fact not an outdoor cook-up. When I asked a big fellow who looked like a chef in a grass skirt, “how about some sausages then?”, he and his friends got very very angry and made nasty faces. I’ve since learned that Maori food is set fire to and buried.

Despite these unfamiliar customs, I’m reliably informed that people who like smelly cheese, desolate mountain ranges and jumping off bridges will have a perfectly fine time.

So, by all means, shun our parched and arid deserts, man-eating wildlife and well-ordered vehicular traffic and bugger off to New Zealand.

See if I care.