A world of choice awaits at Brussels’ Delirium Cafe, writes David Whitley.
The barman returns to the table looking rather disappointed. “We’ve not got any of the Angolan mango beer left,” he says, as if the news he has to break dishonours his entire family. “We’re waiting for our importer to deliver another batch.”
It’s OK though. It’s not as if we’re lacking an alternative. The beer menu at the Delirium Cafe in Brussels is a genuine epic, better measured in kilograms than number of beers listed. Even the bar’s owner, Joel Pecheur, admits that he doesn’t quite know how many beers are listed on the 240-page monster.
He estimates that the Delirium sells approximately 2000 beers from Belgium alone, and around 500 from overseas. Not all are in stock at any one time, but most are.
Indeed, the Delirium is recognised by Guinness World Records as having the largest selection of beers in the world – a total 2004 when they measured it. Of course, the mature thing to do in such circumstances would be to seek out the finest tipples and savour them. The immature thing would be to attempt to drink one beer from as many of the 78 countries represented as possible.
That’ll be one Breznak Pils from the Czech Republic and one Cubanero Fuerte from Cuba, please Mr Barman.
Some of the collection is instantly recognisable. You can have a Guinness from Ireland, a Singha from Thailand or an Asahi from Japan. You can also indulge in a truly pointless exercise by ordering a VB.
But it’s all the more exciting when you start plunging into the more obscure tipples. It’s unlikely that many visitors to Delirium have encountered Foraya Portari from the Faroe Islands, Akosombo from Ghana or Hinano from Tahiti before.
Of course, this is all a big gimmick. But it’s an excellent one that has proved exceedingly popular. The original bar opened in 2003, but the extended realm now takes over an entire alley.
There are now seven bars under the Delirium banner, each specialising in something different.
There’s a pirate-themed rum bar, a faux-Aztec tequileria, a vodka-toting “monastery” and an absinthe specialist. Each has hundreds of its chosen poison.
But beer is still the calling card, and the logistics of getting more than 2000 varieties in the same place are eye-popping. We sit down with Joel Pecheur, who is parked at a table in the alleyway, somewhat ironically sipping on a Coke.
He explains that getting the inventory in is a phenomenally difficult task – they’re reliant on several importers to bring in the obscure finds from around the world, and getting the numbers right is tricky.
Order big numbers and you’ve got to find somewhere to store them.
“We’ve got a warehouse on the outskirts of Brussels,” says Pecheur. “But we grew 40 per cent in the last year and need a new one.”
Sell-by and use-by dates are also an issue, but a small stock of one beer can end up wiped out in a session by a group developing a taste for it. Sourcing is also a big task – Delirium has 10 full-time employees devoted to finding beers, many of which come from tiny breweries.
“A new phenomenon is vintage beers – like wine, it’s the beer from a certain brewery in a certain year,” says Pecheur. “It’s very difficult to keep them the right way, but when the brewery stops producing them we try to keep some for the connoisseurs.
“There are also beers from breweries that have since disappeared. More than 50 per cent of the beers on our original list are no longer made.”
We’re given a behind-the-scenes tour. There are shelves and shelves of bottles, all divided by country and put in alphabetical order. The Belgian beers are slotted into categories and there’s a vast collection of specialist glasses.
Most breweries demand that their beers are served in a specific glass, and hundreds of these get “appropriated” as souvenirs each weekend.
The fields of crates and kegs show an almost industrial-scale operation.
Once the round-the-world challenge begins in earnest, we’re met with a few interesting novelties. The Taybeh from Palestine has an extremely distinctive spicy taste, while the Bolivar is a truly multinational effort. It’s made with rice from Thailand, quinoa from Bolivia and cane sugar from Costa Rica, but tastes heartily Belgian.
A few rounds in, the flagship Delirium Cafe gets sweatily, noisily busy, and we elect to head upstairs to Delirium’s latest baby.
The Hoppy Loft focuses on microbrewed keg beers from around the world. You could happily swat a pterodactyl with the catalogue-style menu.
Befuddled both by prior intake and choice, we end up telling the barman to just give us one from each country. The Scots, Americans, Dutch and Danes get their chance to impress, and the table fills with some dark, stormy-looking beverages.
My friend takes one look at the bottle of Rasputin from the Netherlands: “Uh-oh,” he says. “We’re on the 10-per-centers. This is not going to be pretty.”
It isn’t – and the likes of Mutzig from Cameroon and Chinggis from Mongolia are left untouched in favour of a spectacularly ill-advised jaunt through the absinthes, rums and vodkas in the other bars. As the evening goes on though, one thing becomes oddly clear. Delirium should be a paradise for knowledgeable connoisseurs, tasting their way through some of the finest Belgian Lambic and abbey beers.
But the crowd is all wrong. The later it gets, the more the alley looks like a youth club.
The local kids and the party-focused tour bus crowds are in for the famous booze theme park, and the place with the best selection of drink on the planet is filled with the people who are least likely to care what they’re drinking.
Alas, those Togolese tipples and Bolivian brews will have to remain in the backstage beer labyrinth for a little longer.
The writer was a guest of the Belgian Tourist Office.
Thai Airways is offering flights to Brussels from Sydney via Bangkok from $1708. Phone 1300 651 960; see thaiairways老域名.au.
The Delirium empire can be found in Impasse de la Fidelite, an alley off Rue des Bouchers in central Brussels. See deliriumcafe.be.
The Crowne Plaza at 3 Rue Gineste has historic charm and four-star rooms from €190.80 ($272) a night. See crowneplazabrussels.be.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 老域名.
Colonial influences: the Mandarin Oriental Hotel spa. Mandarin Oriental Hotel executive suite.
Dining on the terrace.
The spirits of literary greats permeate these halls, writes Catherine Marshall.
There’s an elephant in the room – and it’s made entirely of chocolate. It carries on its back a saddle wrought from confection, and inside the saddle is a load of exquisitely crafted chocolates. Propped against a miniature easel beside the elephant’s flank is an edible painting of Bangkok’s legendary Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
I bite into the painting; it is deliciously sweet, but leaves a vaguely subversive taste in my mouth, too, for I’m standing inside the very building that I have just – metaphorically – eaten. From my suite high up in the hotel’s River Wing extension I can see the Chao Phraya River snaking languorously past the hotel terrace and meandering back towards Bangkok’s northern outskirts; the sun is beginning to sink and its rays briefly glaze the coffee-brown waters of this city thoroughfare.
The riverboats churning through it can’t have changed much since 1887, when expatriates and local aristocrats gathered here to celebrate the opening of this establishment, built in place of the original Oriental Hotel.
Grand and neoclassical, it was seen as an appropriate addition to the city of Bangkok, which by then was the fast-growing capital of Siam, as Thailand was then known, the only country in south-east Asia spared colonial rule.
But colonial influences abounded then and still do today, in the golden teak bells that hang from the vaulted ceiling in the lobby, in the white wicker chairs and lazily whirring ceiling fans in the Authors’ Lounge, in the stationery that has been embossed with my name and placed on a writing bureau overlooking the river, and, of course, in the chocolate elephant that stands on the dresser and carries in its regal bearing the memory of a time long since past.
Sitting at my bureau with its leather and teak accents, its pens and gold-stamped paper, and all of Bangkok lying sprawled outside my window as inspiration, I can easily conjure that intellectual, jasmine-scented past. The new hotel attracted visiting writers from the West who would drink gin and tonics on the terrace and imagine into being the characters who would populate their novels.
John Le Carre completed The Honourable Schoolboy here, W. Somerset Maugham recovered from malaria in one of the cool, soothing suites, and Ernest Hemingway ever-faithfully propped up the bar.
For my own part, I took afternoon tea in the Authors’ Lounge, sitting amid the ghosts of all those legendary writers as I drank my specially formulated oriental brew and nibbled tiny quiches and croissants. I could picture Joseph Conrad sitting in the corner just over there, and Dame Barbara Cartland holding court across the room, a pot of creme brulee held between her jewelled fingers. The lounge had felt like the repository of an intriguing literary history, for it takes up much of the first floor of the original wing at whose opening all those expatriates and aristocrats could be seen rubbing shoulders back in 1887; today, the upper level has been commandeered by four heritage suites named for Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and James Michener.
Their books are squeezed among countless others on shelves in the library, which is tucked just off the lounge and doubles as a reading room for guests who wish to linger.
The hotel’s later additions, separated from the original building by richly scented tropical gardens, are also appointed with suites bearing the names of literary patrons: Gore Vidal, Jim Thompson, Wilbur Smith.
But this theme is not just a marketing gimmick, for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel pinned its literary colours to the mast in 1979 when it co-founded the South East Asian Writers’ Awards (also known as the SEA Write Award).
I had briefly browsed the library at afternoon tea, but decided that too much cerebral activity was sinful in a city so attuned to the importance of holistic well-being. So I caught a teak barge – used to shuttle guests – to the other side of the river, where an annex contains the hotel’s health centre, jogging track, Thai cooking school, the Sala Rim Naam restaurant and the serene, wood-panelled cocoon that is the Oriental Spa.
Here, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group’s spa wellness manager, Neelam Khatri, explained that the establishment sought to maximise their guests’ experience by combining traditional massage with Ayurvedic consultation, yoga and meditation. Khatri’s gentle voice, the scent of oils and steamy Thai fruit tea and the abiding silence were already inducements to a somniferous afternoon, but I believe I may have actually slumbered when my therapist gently delivered a signature aromatherapy massage.
Reawakened, I had returned to my suite. And now here I stand, high above Bangkok, observing a city transformed by darkness and the glitter of electric light.
The writer was a guest of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok and Qantas.
The Mandarin Oriental, 48 Oriental Avenue. Qantas flies to Bangkok from Sydney daily. Phone 131313, see qantas老域名.au.
Rates for a superior room start at $362 a night. See mandarinoriental老域名/bangkok.
Attentive yet unobtrusive staff; daily bowl of tropical fruit with a card explaining its origins; the personalised invitation to attend cocktails; welcoming treats such as that chocolate elephant.
Watching those expansive riverside windows being cleaned somewhat spoils the romance.
Dinner at the hotel’s five-star Sala Rim Naam restaurant. Set across the river from the main compound and housed in a beautiful Northern Thai-style pavilion, it delivers a rich sensory experience of Thai cuisine.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 老域名.
Sai Kung East Country Park.There’s more to Hong Kong than shopping in its steamy canyons, writes Natasha Dragun.
Hong Kong may be one of the world’s great cities – with towering skyscrapers and endless shopping malls – but beyond the bright lights a host of fresh-air activities await. Away from the congested cityscapes hugging Victoria Harbour, more than 70 per cent of Hong Kong, hard as it may be to believe, is given over to land and water nature reserves.
And because the city is so compact, many activities are within easy reach of hotels. Here’s a look at the best ways to get a taste of Hong Kong’s surprising great outdoors.
You don’t have to travel far to enjoy wilderness – in fact, some of the city’s top hiking trails are located on Hong Kong Island, easily accessible by public bus.
The Dragon’s Back is probably the best-known of these, the ridge sweeping down to a fishing village in Shek O Country Park. You’ll wander through groves of bamboo and woodland before emerging to open hillsides blanketed with wild azaleas and rose myrtle, offering unbroken views over Clear Water Bay, Stanley and Hong Kong’s eastern islands.
The walk ends at Shek O, where cheap-and-cheerful seafood stalls sell barbecued octopus and bottles of ice-cold beer. Dragon’s Back can be done independently, but guided hikes are also available with Walk Hong Kong. The group’s popular Deserted Beaches Hike takes you to some of the New Territories’ prettiest stretches of sand in remote Sai Kung.
Here, lush tropical vegetation and forested ridges give way to white sandy beaches, many of which you’ll have entirely to yourselves. To reach them you’ll hike through old Hakka villages, where local farmers once nurtured “feng shui woods” to preserve local flora and fauna.
In the same neighbourhood, the group’s Geopark Hiking Tour takes you along Sai Kung East Country Park, home to a volcanic column wall, one of the world’s largest examples of its kind.
Junks, ferries and container ships aren’t the only harbour traffic. A growing trend is to explore the city’s waterways by kayak.
Local outfit Kayak-and-Hike offers full-day packages to the Ung Kong archipelago, part of Hong Kong’s Global Geopark in the eastern New Territories. Trips launch from Sai Kung with a junk ride through coves and past forested hills to Sha Kiu Tau fishing village. There, you’re kitted with kayak, life vest and snorkelling gear before paddling out to explore caves, sea arches and eventually Bluff Island, to see some of Hong Kong’s coral and marine life.
Work up a sweat hiking to the island’s lookout before cooling off with a swim or snorkel – the visibility is typically great, and you’ll likely spot Chinese demoiselle, clown fish and racoon butterfly fish, among other species.
You can BYO picnic or join tour leaders for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant back at Sha Kiu Tau.
You don’t see many cyclists in congested Hong Kong city, but biking opportunities do exist.
Several organisations, including the Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association are dedicated to the development and upgrade of off-road tracks in the relatively untouched New Territories, as well as on far-flung islands.
Excellent maps and trail descriptions on the association website mean that you can tackle different trails on your own.
The organisation also offers skills sessions and, in collaboration with Crosscountry HK, guided half and full-day trips tailored to different skill levels.
Similarly, Mountain Biking Asia leads two-wheel tours of Hong Kong on sedate tracks through the New Territories. Over 35 kilometres you’ll cycle through historic villages before reaching the Nam Sheng Wai Peninsula, where thousands of migratory birds flock for the winter.
A fortifying dim sum lunch in the old market town of Yuen Long ends a half-day tour; those wishing to extend the trip can cycle on through wetlands surrounding Deep Bay, near the border with mainland China. The bird identification cards handed out en route are a nice touch.
It’s hard to believe that anything lives in Hong Kong’s heavily trafficked harbour, but the waters are home to a surprising collection of marine life, including wild dolphins – pink ones at that.
Officially known as the Chinese white dolphin (apparently constant blushing gives them a rosy glow), the cetaceans call the city’s Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park, in the western waters, home.
Hong Kong Dolphinwatch – an avid supporter of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and supporter of dolphin research – leads trips to the park with informative talks on the fragile marine ecosystem along the way.
Despite their dwindling numbers (some estimate that there are only a few hundred left), the dolphins are a resident species of Hong Kong and can be spotted year-round. But if you’re unlucky and don’t see a dolphin on the tour, you can simply join again for free on any other scheduled trip.
Avid twitchers descend on Hong Kong during the city’s cooler months, when migratory birds take refuge in the marshes and mudflats of the city’s wetlands and nature reserves – more than two million birds descend on Mai Po Nature Reserve in the New Territories alone.
The Hong Kong Birdwatching Society offers guided trips to the reserve, led by ornithologists who will regale you with an astounding amount of information about the 380 species of birds that inhabit the park, 35 of which are of global conservation concern, including the Saunders’ gull and the black-faced spoonbill.
Free monthly birdwatching activities, in conjunction with the tourism board, take you to Hong Kong Park, where you might spot the white-crested hornbill or racket-tailed treepie, and Kowloon Park, home to flamingos, ringed teal and tropical pigeons.
The writer travelled courtesy of Cathay Pacific and The Upper House.
Cathay Pacific operates daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne. Phone 131 747, cathaypacific老域名.
Designed by Andre Fu, the Upper House’s 117 rooms are all about pared-back luxury. Rooms start at $HK4500 ($619) and have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Victoria Harbour, free minibar snacks, Wi-Fi and satin amenity pouches. See upperhouse老域名.
SEE + DO
The Hong Kong Birdwatching Society offers free guided tours. See hkbws.org.hk.
Hong Kong Dolphinwatch’s four-hour trips run on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and cost $HK380 an adult. See hkdolphinwatch老域名.
Bikewise courses and guided mountain-biking trips with Crosscountry HK from $HK940 for the first rider, $HK560 for subsequent riders, bike included. See crosscountryhk老域名; hkmba.org.
Mountain Biking Asia’s guided tours include lunch and wetlands entry from $HK500. See mountainbikingasia老域名.
Kayak and Hike’s day tours run from 8.45am to 4pm and cost from $HK700 a person. See kayak-and-hike老域名.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 老域名.
visitors to The Gap watch the sunset at the platform on Albany’s south coast. Photo: Andrew Halsall Maitraya Luxury Retreat swimming pool.
Sunset at Middleton Beach Photo: Adam Halsall
the Sandalwood Factory at Mount Romance.
Albany Farmers’ Market.
1 ANZAC CENTENARY
Australia-wide Anzac centenary commemorations will kick off in Albany on November 1. That is the date the first Australian and New Zealand troop convoy left Albany for World War I. For many of the troops, it was the last time they saw Australia. Ships from the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal New Zealand Navy and possibly from other nations will be in Albany for the centenary, which will include troops marching in the main street, a commemorative service, a community concert with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, a harbour sound and light show, pop-up restaurants and the lowering of the Ensign during navy sunset ceremonies. Construction of a $9 million National Anzac Centre is also under way. It is due to open on November 1 in the Princess Royal Fortress on Mount Adelaide – a historical military museum precinct.
See anzacalbany老域名.au, albany.wa.gov.au/facilities/princess-royal-fortress/.
2 TO THE EDGE, AND BACK
The wind feels gale force and there’s an 80-metre cliff right in front of me, but I’m on my belly and determined to crawl to the very edge of Australia. Below, the powerful swell lines of the Southern Ocean crash into the rocks at West Cape Howe. This is the salt-kissed southernmost part of Western Australia, as wild as it gets.
Next to me is Western Australia’s best guide, David Bomba, who won the golden guide award at the state tourism awards and whose business, Out of Sight Tours, was voted the best eco tourism operation. To get here on this day trip from Albany has been an adventure along sandy and hilly 4WD tracks with obstacles such as “Heartbreak Hill”. There are no other tourists.
3 OLD-FASHIONED MILK IN BOTTLES
Dreadlocked Jersey farmer Alby Van Dongen is one of the most recent stallholders at the Albany Farmers’ Market, where he sells bottled milk, with cream on top, fresh-milked from his 11 grass-fed cows. Like his Yard 86 labelled milk, everything at the Saturday-morning market is seasonal, local and straight from the producer. Ringwould goats’ cheese, avocados, blueberries, honey and asparagus are also on the trestle tables.
4 SEASONAL AND REGIONAL
Good food goes beyond the market. There is a bounty of fresh regional produce such as the award-winning Torbay olive oil (see torbayolives老域名.au) and free-range eggs from Shipley’s Farm which practises ethical animal husbandry and is soon to start selling its beef (see shipleysfarm老域名.au). Another delight, Plantagenet pork belly ($34), is served with cabbage at the casual York Street Cafe, one of several cafe/restaurants embracing the regional food movement here.
5 GOOD DROPS
Margaret River (three hours from Perth) gets the plaudits for wine but Albany (4½ hours from Perth) is in Australia’s biggest wine region, the Great Southern. Albany wines include pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and riesling. James Halliday has rated four wines from the West Cape Howe winery in his Top 100 for 2013, the only West Australian producer to make the list. Great Southern also includes towns such as Mount Barker, Frankland and Denmark where pleasant cellar doors among the vines include the Lake House (lakehousedenmark老域名.au) which has a whole store of local relishes, pickles and handmade sauces alongside its wines. Nearby Singlefile Wines (singlefilewines老域名), has been picked by Halliday as his “dark horse of the year”.
6 WHALE WORLD
Albany has a dirty past that is remembered at the Whale World museum, the last working whaling station in Australia that closed in 1978 after thousands of sperm and humpback whales were slaughtered. This is a fascinating place. Allow about three hours. General manager Glenn Russell says Sea Shepherd anti-whaling captain Paul Watson has given Whale World his imprimatur so people can see what anti-whaling activists are campaigning against. Whale World is considered by many as the highlight in Albany. It is getting even better, with a botanical garden of West Australian wildflowers and native animal exhibit where you can pat kangaroos.
Lying down, barefoot, and sniffing sandalwood oil in a tepee-like cone while a symphony of gongs reverberates around you could be the ultimate hippie experience. The one-hour relaxation session ($19.50) is part of the Sandalwood Factory at Mount Romance. The fragrance from sandalwood is said to promote relaxation, and at the factory showroom you can buy everything from aromatherapy oils to beauty products.
Nanarup is a long and exposed beach with turquoise water, but at one end a rocky knoll protects it like a cupped hand. This is where we are surfing with Little Seeds Surf School, on clean waves protected from the wind. Little Seeds is one of several surf schools in the area. The surf breaks range from novice waves at Middleton Beach to toe-curling takeoffs at the Blow Holes.
9 BEST BEACH
The coastline near Albany has some outstanding beaches. Little Beach, in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, is sometimes referred to as the best in Australia. When we arrive, we have the granite boulders, turquoise water and white sand to ourselves. Cosy Corner is another not to miss and has plenty of picnic places in the shade of peppermint trees. The nearby Cosy Corner cafe and shop is an attraction in itself, with a great menu featuring homemade local produce.
10… AND NEXT TO THE BEST
Albany’s main beach is Middleton Beach, a long sweep of sand four kilometres from the centre of the city. There are grassed areas with playgrounds at the beach, shaded by Norfolk pines. Whales can sometimes be seen within 20 metres of the shore, or, for a higher vantage point, take a stroll on the three-kilometre Ellen Cove boardwalk that runs along a hillside on the southern shoreline. (Seasonal whale-watching tours are also available). Three Anchors is a cafe/bar/restaurant at Middleton Beach that again supports the concept of local produce.
11 THAR SHE BLOWS
Waves rush in and out of The Gap, a granite channel on the coast at Torndirrup National Park, 10 kilometres from Albany. A small lookout provides a viewing platform 24 metres above the water. Nearby is The Bridge, another rock formation of spectacular proportions. There are several walks here, including a 50-minute trek to the Blow Holes and a return trip to Bald Head that takes from six to eight hours but rewards with sea views.
12 BIBBULMUN TRACK
This is a 1000-kilometre walking route between Albany and Kalamunda in the Perth Hills. It is broken into nine sections including Albany/Denmark, an 85-kilometre stretch along the coast. Day walks are also possible and each year about 100 people walk from end to end.
13 THE OTHER DENMARK
Kangaroo, Thai green curry, and seafood chowder pies are on the menu at Denmark Bakery, which has won more than 300 awards. Another food highlight is the Salt & Pepper restaurant at Forest Hill Vineyard, where one of the region’s star chefs, Silas Masih, turns out dishes close to his Fijian-Indian heritage. His creations include blue swimmer crab linguine in coconut garlic butter and Cone Bay barramundi with cumin raita. This pretty town, about 50 kilometres via the main road from Albany, is also rich with artists and galleries.
See denmark老域名.au, foresthillwines老域名.au.
14 KAYAK FISHING
On Honeymoon Island, in the middle of the Kalgan River, we’re having a picnic of sushi and sashimi. We’ve pedalled here, not along a bike track but via the river on pedal kayaks. They’re easy to use and the advantage is that you have your hands free to cast for bream. There are plenty of them in the water, but hooking one is another thing. The kayak excursion is easy and safe and one of several tours offered by Great Southern Discovery.
15 MARRON ON THE MENU
One of the food treats of the area is marron, a freshwater crayfish that is served barbecued with mild lime wasabi butter at the Albany Marron Farm. There are also marron pizzas on the menu, and platters that include yabbies, smoked trout, white anchovies and feta. Segway tours are an unusual side attraction at the farm. With a bit of instruction, they’ll have you zipping along bush tracks on the property, which is 20 kilometres from Albany.
16 WIND FARM
Wind farms around Australia have been mired in controversy and the turbines spinning relentlessly on the coast at the Albany Wind Farm have been no exception in attracting outrage. This farm opened in 2001 and now provides 15,000 Albany homes with power, half of the city’s energy needs. The 35-metre-long blades are on towers that are 65 metres high. It’s possible to get up close to check them out from tracks and lookouts open to the public.
17 NAUGHTY BOYS
This region doesn’t just turn out good wines, the Great Southern Distilling Company uses traditional methods to produce premium spirits, including its flagship, the award-winning Limeburners single malt whisky, as well as brandy, gin, grappe and vodka. Lunch is casual, comprising flathead and chips, but the drinks list will knock your socks off with the likes of the “naughty boy”, a concoction of single malt whisky and chocolate.
18 LADY GAGA’S BEDROOM
I’ve just crept into Lady Gaga’s bedroom. She’s a lucky girl, having stayed here once in the best of eight king-sized bedrooms at Maitraya Luxury Retreat. The room’s vacant when I peer in, but I imagine she enjoyed the floor-to-ceiling windows with ocean views, the retractable star-gazing roof, open fireplace and double bathroom with jacuzzi. Guests also have an indoor swimming pool, glass atrium with jungle foliage and a theatrette. Lady Gaga probably arrived via the property’s private air strip.
19 SPOT THE DOG
This is an Albany landmark. A massive rock next to Middleton Road, it is shaped like a dog’s head and is more photographed than a royal dog show’s hound of the year. The reverence shown by the townsfolk is clear because there is no sign of graffiti, although someone has painted a collar around the old boy’s neck. The council wanted to blow the feature up in 1921, but there were howls of protest and a referendum voted to leave the granite canine alone.
20 THE MOTEL THAT ROCKS
Across the road, the Dog Rock Motel, one of Albany’s key accommodation choices, harks back to the ’70s with mixed reviews for its rooms; some have been renovated while others are in retro condition. The hotel’s funky Lime 303 Restaurant is well regarded and heavily booked, even by non-guests, but at $40 the fresh local nannygai (it’s a fish) isn’t cheap for a motel meal.
See dogrockmotel老域名.au; amazingalbany老域名.au.
The writer was a guest of the City of Albany.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 老域名.
Mudgee farm walks. Photo: Lynne WhileyVisitors find they have more than enough on their plates in Mudgee, writes Lynne Whiley.
It was an experiment that has paid off handsomely. Greg Dixon’s Capertee Valley Saffron granola and his orange marmalade with saffron and orange liqueur have won gold at Royal Shows and top chefs source his saffron-infused products.
Quite a coup for a man who only began growing the spice in 2010 and “experimenting” with infusions.
Intrigued that delicate saffron, a costly spice associated with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern soils, is thriving in the NSW Central West, we stop to sample Dixon’s saffron caramelised vinegar and his fig, saffron and cardamom paste at his stall at the Mudgee Farmers’ Market.
Browsing, tasting and talking with stallholders seems a Saturday morning ritual on Mudgee’s market days, where canny visitors buy the fruits of a region’s labours and stash it in their car boots before returning to the market to order another espresso and graze among the homemade breads and preserves.
Given Mudgee’s well-deserved reputation for reds, we’ve left space in our boot for a box of wine. But we won’t get to the drinking stage until after dark as we have children in tow. What to do with them during the day on a weekend visit is front of mind. Thankfully, Mudgee has solutions.
On select market days, a kids’ gardening program takes place, so while they’re getting their hands dirty bucketing and shovelling, planting or worm-farming nearby, adults are free to relax, order another coffee and hoover up the market’s homemade slices, biscuits and cakes – without having to share such sweet things with children. Lovely.
We’re tempted to spend the rest of the weekend on our bikes, cycling town and country, but opt instead to leave the markets on foot and stroll broad city streets, looking at foundations, facades and filigree styles on heritage buildings constructed with a civic-minded sense of permanence after the 1850s gold-rush years.
Then we head by car about 30 minutes north to Gulgong, where old workers’ cottages and shops made of timber and tin speak of a leaner history.
On the way back, a pit stop at the Mudgee Honey Haven becomes an afternoon spent on its cafe verandah. As it turns out, the owners are in the genius category: they have a putt-putt golf course in the grounds.
The children disperse so we’re free to sample creamed and gourmet honeys and the wicked surprise of rich, aromatic meads.
When the cafe’s fresh scones with jam and cream arrive at our table it seems a shame to disrupt the kids from their putting games, so we don’t.
For dinner, we book a table at Mudgee’s Blue Wren Wines restaurant, a well-appointed site of wine tasting and delicious dining where the vines and views disappear towards surrounding hills. The restaurant’s log fire is blazing, groups of diners are settling deeper in their chairs for the evening and after dessert the kids retire to a quiet sofa.
A courtesy bus is available for Blue Wren dinner guests staying within 10 kilometres of the winery – more genius on the part of locals.
The following day sees us take a farm walk at Leaning Oak Dairy.
It’s an easy way for children to see where cheese comes from.
Leaning Oaks has creamy capre goat’s milk varieties and a suite of sheep’s cheeses, including the Baa Baa Blue. Local ways are at work here, too: while children feed goats and play outside, adults retire to the tasting room. Pure genius.
The writer was a guest of Mudgee Region Tourism.
28 Rocky Waterhole Road is a two-bedroom, self-contained cottage about a five-minute drive from downtown Mudgee and a 600-metre walk from Moothi Estate winery. From $180 a couple a night (maximum two couples). Children under 12, $25 a child a night. See 28rockywaterholeroad.weebly老域名.
SEE + DO
The Mudgee Farmers’ Markets take place on the third Saturday of each month from 8.30am in the grounds of St Mary’s Catholic Church.
Kids’ gardening is on this month, October, January and March 2015, at the markets. Open to all ages, $15 a head. Under fives need a helper.
Farm Walks take place on the Sunday after the markets. The farm walks calendar of places to visit changes with the seasons and it is $20 for a family to visit two farms. See mudgeefinefoods老域名.au.
The Mudgee Wine and Food Festival is from September 19 to October 5.
The Capertee Valley Saffron range of infusions can also be bought at the The Saffron Kitchen cafe in nearby Rylstone.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 老域名.
Scene stealers: lighthouse, Prince Edward Island. On the confederation trail, Prince Edward Island. Photo: Daniel Scott
The Cavendish National Historic Site. Photo: Daniel Scott
Anne of Green Gables store in Charlottetown. Photo: Daniel Scott
The lure of a fictional red-haired heroine eventually proves too much for Daniel Scott.
Travelling on Prince Edward Island, which floats like a stretched butterfly off Canada’s Atlantic east coast, I am living a dream. Not my own, you understand, for while the image of a freckle-faced girl with braids the colour of maple syrup figured in my childhood, it never consumed me like it seems to have done to almost every woman I know.
Somehow, the story of this slightly bad-tempered orphan growing up on a farm beside the Gulf of St Lawrence captured the imagination of successive generations so effectively that it has sold more than 50 million copies. Published in 1908, the book has never been out of print.
To many, then, including busloads of Japanese schoolgirls that are regularly disgorged at the Cavendish National Historic Site which commemorates the character’s creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery, a visit to this idyllic rural island is like getting a glimpse of the Holy Grail.
But surely, I reason, there has to be more to Prince Edward Island than its connection with a pig-tailed character named after the colour of her home’s roof?
For eight days I resolve to put her out of mind and set off in search of other pleasures on what islanders call PEI.
At first, based in a cottage at Shaw’s Hotel, near Brackley Beach on the island’s north coast, my quest goes well. By day, I ride my hired bike behind the dunes in nearby Prince Edward Island National Park, skirting Brackley Marsh and Dalvay Lake, where there is a cluster of imposing historic houses. Already, the number of mansions I see on PEI suggest it may be Canada’s version of New York’s Long Island.
By night, I settle in for dinner in the friendly restaurant at Shaws, Canada’s oldest family-operated inn, established in 1860, before returning to my cottage to light my log fire, set each day by room service. One morning I embark on a section of the 400-kilometre Confederation Trail, a shared cycling and walking path that reaches right across the island.
I ride alongside the Hillsborough River, a waterway that sustained an aboriginal presence on the island for 11,000 years, between the villages of Morell and St Peters, on the north-east coast.
The Mikmaq people harvested oysters and quahogs (a hard-shelled clam) here and feasted on eels, salmon and white perch from the river and waterfowl and their eggs from its banks.
There remains an abundance of food at the riverside, with field upon field full of the island’s famous potatoes and wild strawberries, blueberries and blackberries crowding the trail.
My reward for a sunny day of cycling is a traditional lobster supper at New Glasgow, perilously close to the Cavendish home of the ginger-nutted miss.
Marvellously unpretentious, almost school-refectory in style, this is all about generous platefuls of well-prepared island seafood washed down with local “Beach chair” beer. On an island where there are lobster flavoured potato chips and a Mclobster roll on the fast food menu, it seems there is more than one orange pretender to the role of tourist icon.
The banquet inspires me on a one-man mission to discover the provenance of the island’s seafood. I begin, off Georgetown on the east coast, by joining third generation fisherman Perry Gotell to learn the tricks of the lobster trade. Then, near New London on the north coast, I meet Alistair Macdonald at Raspberry Point Oyster Company to get the inside gen on prising a dollar from intransigent molluscs.
Another morning, way out west, off Tignish, I embark on a “Feeding the giants” tour with Captain Kenny McCrae. In search of bluefin tuna, our hopes are dashed by heavy swells in the deeper ocean.
However, we see Minke whales, more than 50 grey seals and squadrons of gannet, dive-bombing the sea like demented arrows shot from the sky.
Back on dry land, I arrive at the seaside hamlet of Victoria in time for a once-in-a-blue-moon sunset. Conjuring pristine reflections of fluffy white clouds in the indigo waters of the Northumberland strait, which separates PEI from the mainland, it renders the evening as still and luminous as a 19th century oil painting.
Dinner, mirroring my down-to-earth lobster supper experience in New Glasgow, is in the backroom surrounds of Victoria’s Landmark cafe. The home-made food is so moreish that it draws mirthful comments like “my dessert stomach is never full” from neighbouring diners.
For my last few days I move into the capital Charlottetown, installing myself in the heritage Hillhurst Inn. All wood panelling, period furniture and four-poster beds, it’s an appropriately regal home at the heart of a town named after the wife of King George III.
Although I’m still trying to avoid the girl with the braided red locks, it becomes increasingly difficult in Charlottetown’s compact centre. On the main Queen Street, there are giant billboards proclaiming a long-running musical based on her, a store stuffed full of orphan-related souvenirs and, oh god, even a chocolate shop bearing her name.
Luckily, I am distracted again by PEI’s flourishing food scene.
I’m booked on an eight-stop “Taste the town” walking tour with a spritely older guide named Heather Carver. Leading our small group into temptation upon temptation, Carver disseminates PEI’s history in between our slurps of locally made “Wowie Cowie” ice-cream and sips of artisan vodka made from eight kilograms of the island’s finest potatoes.
“Charlottetown was where Canada’s founding fathers met in 1864,” she tells us near the harbour, “but, when the delegates from the provinces arrived in row boats, a circus was in town, so nobody was here to meet them.”
Notwithstanding such inauspicious beginnings, the Charlottetown conference formulated a plan for confederation and the city became known as “the birthplace of Canada”. The 150th anniversary celebrations of the accord are ta0king place on the island through the year.
I like every stop on the “Taste the Town” tour. But I’m most impressed by the Terre Rouge provedore and cafe on Queen Street. Its produce isn’t just delicious – one aged cheddar is as flakily pungent as parmesan – but all are sourced from within a 160-kilometre radius.
Now, if I were PEI’s marketing team I’d be moving that fictional, outdated schoolgirl into the background and championing the “Queen of Fries”, at whose harbourside shack we end our tour.
If ever there was a modern gal with whom to charm the masses then this sassy chip-frier, who moonlights as a rock singer and sports a “Queen of Fries” tattoo, is it. With her “life is delicious” sign outside the shack, chips “made with love” and the offer of free hugs to patrons, she’d have to be good for business.
Yet it is the “Queen of Fries” who shames me into visiting Cavendish. “You’ve got to go,” she insists, after learning of my two young daughters, “for the women in your life.”
So, next day, I dutifully trudge around the homestead where J.M. Montgomery penned all nine books about her red-headed heroine, through the Haunted Wood and down Lovers Lane where she once roamed to a neighbour’s house named Green Gables.
Although I’ve managed eight days on PEI with scarcely a nod to the legend, my surrender, when it comes, is absolute.
Spotting me eyeing souvenirs for “the women in my life”, three giggling Japanese schoolgirls pressgang me into trying on a pig-tailed ginger wig, green school frock and straw boater, before capturing my humiliation on their mobiles.
So somewhere in Okinawa is a bizarre image, not of their beloved Anne Shirley, but of a scowling middle-aged Aussie they’ve nicknamed “Dan of Green Gables”.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and PEI Tourism.
Air Canada has direct flights to Charlottetown from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Delta has flights from New York in peak season. See flypei老域名.
Shaw’s Hotel, Brackley Beach, has hotel rooms and cottages beside its own inlet near Prince Edward Island National Park. One-bedroom cottages from $140 a night. See shawshotel.ca. Hillhurst Inn, Charlottetown, has nine elegant rooms in a leafy, central location. From $139 a night. See hillhurst老域名.
Terre Rouge Bistro Market, 72 Queens Street, Charlottetown. See terrerougepei老域名. New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, New Glasgow, 1.4-kilogram lobster for two to share costs $74.95. See peilobstersuppers老域名.
au-keepexploring.canada.travel; tourismpei老域名; experiencepei.ca.
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Prague offers a rare window into some of Europe’s most dramatic moments, writes Sue Bennett.
In a dingy, non-descript passageway close to Prague’s National Theatre is a bronze plaque comprising sculpted, open hands with the date “17.11.1989” in relief below. It’s easy to miss but its significance is lost on no one with the scantest knowledge of this beautiful city’s recent history.
It marks the moment when communism began its rapid collapse, when students and, later, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Czechs took to the streets, theatres and squares to protest, not with weapons, but with outstretched hands. Not a shot was fired, hence the name “Velvet Revolution”, and it ended 41 years of communist rule as part of the Soviet bloc.
Prague is full of small and large monuments, grand and spectacular sights. They tell the story of a landlocked country at the epicentre of central Europe which, for much of its existence, was pulled, pushed and governed by its neighbouring great powers.
A few years ago, when Czech television asked its viewers to nominate their greatest countryman or woman, more than 250,000 responded. Not for them any modern-day hero but 14th-century King Charles IV. He not only ruled Bohemia, loosely today’s Czech Republic, but was King of Italy, the Romans and the Holy Roman Empire.
It was a high point about which today’s Czechs remain fiercely proud. Sensitivities about recent history are constantly displayed.
“It was always a Czech government and administration in control – with Soviet advice,” says tour guide Helena Trnkova, later describing how Russian was compulsory in her school years and conceding: “We never really knew what was going on, there was no freedom, the borders were closed and people were afraid to speak. It was difficult.”
It makes fascinating vignettes for today’s visitor. My hotel, now Radisson Blu Alcron, was the swankiest in town in “socialist times” and, when it was renovated years later, the ashtrays in all the bedrooms were found to have been been bugged. A far more chilling reminder of those times is seen at the Museum of Communism, which includes a reconstructed interrogation room.
Quite incongruously, the museum’s entrance, off the busy, pedestrianised shopping street of Na Prikope, is beside a McDonald’s and shares a grand, if faded entrance with a casino. Fashion house Zara is opposite. The old guard would weep.
The largest statue of Stalin ever built once towered over the city, but in 1962 Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had it blown up – the only way to budge it.
However, explosions have been rare in Prague. Despite its turbulent political history, the city’s buildings survive largely intact. Its 866-hectare centre is UNESCO World Heritage listed.
Even a large part of its Jewish legacy is there to see, unlike many other European cities, where all the evidence was destroyed by the Nazis. Chillingly, it is said Adolf Hitler saved Prague’s quarter so it could become “a museum to an extinct race”.
That museum – in different parts but close proximity – is among the most visited sites by the Czech Republic’s 7 million annual visitors. In the Pinkas Synagogue, the names of 80,000 Bohemian and Moravian Jewish Holocaust victims are inscribed on the walls. Upstairs, children’s drawings from Terezin Concentration Camp (about one hour outside Prague and open to the public) are displayed. Most youngsters died at Auschwitz.
Outside, a cemetery dating from 1439 and used until 1787, has almost 12,000 headstones over a tiny area, but more than 100,000 Jews are buried here, up to 10 deep. The museum is in the Old Town, dating from 1230. There’s also the Castle District, Lesser or Little Quarter and New Town, which dates from 1348.
Walk through the narrow, cobbled laneways, into tiny squares and beneath stone arches for a taste of the city’s antiquity. Then enter Old Town Square, dominated by the Gothic beauty of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn and surrounded by tall, narrow ornate buildings in candy shades of pink, cream and pale green.
Beside the town hall, the famous astronomical clock shows the position of the sun and moon and, each hour, there’s the “Walk of the Apostles”, when figures, including a skeleton representing death, parade across the clock. It was made in 1410 and attracts huge crowds, so try to go early.
Likewise, head for Charles Bridge, initiated by our hero, King Charles IV, outside the busiest times. It’s 520 metres long, built of stone and was opened at the start of the 15th century. Today, the statues lining the cobbled walkway look down on a sea of tourists, buskers and artists touting for commissions.
Go early. That way, you get the full impact of the approach from the Old Town, crossing the wide Vltava River on Charles Bridge, and heading up to Prague Castle, a massive structure that dominates the city skyline. The size of seven football fields, it dates from the ninth century and is home to palaces, a convent, gardens and St Vitus Cathedral, built by Charles IV. Like all Prague, it’s a glorious mix of fine gothic and baroque architecture. Back down in town, add art nouveau to the mix.
Wander back through the quiet streets, looking above doorways in Nerudova Street for illustrative plaques used to show a house’s name before the advent of street numbers.
Make your way to Legion Bridge, which has magnificent castle and river views, but just before crossing, stop at Cafe Savoy, a beautiful coffee house with a high, gilded ceiling, crystal chandeliers, in-house bakery and divine cakes. I opt for a Prague favourite – thick, warm ham with creamy grain mustard, fresh horseradish and slightly vinegary, slightly sweet gherkins. It’s with brown bread (a hint of caraway seeds) and it’s the best dish I eat in Prague.
At Kolkovna, a chain of restaurants serving Czech dishes, I choose roast leg of young goose with large, not-very-fluffy, potato dumplings and apple-flavoured sauerkraut. I could have opted for the all-time national favourite of roast beef in cream sauce, goulash or duck with “Moravian sparrows” (pieces of roast pork). Menus get a bit lost in translation everywhere – I didn’t try, intriguing as it was, “chicken in the style of pheasant”.
It’s all good fodder for beer, which Czechs are very good at making and drinking. Pilsner Urquell is ubiquitous, but there is also a host of boutique brands. Czechs remain the world’s biggest beer drinkers per capita, downing about 150 litres each a year, and that’s despite zero tolerance laws for drivers.
Brewing is important to the country’s economy but it’s nothing compared with engineering. Today, it’s an important centre of car production. Between World War I and World War II, the then-Czechoslovakia was among the world’s 10 wealthiest nations, thanks largely to its engineering skills. On the drive from the airport, the road is lined by imposing, expensive houses from this period.
The economy stagnated through the socialist years but Prague’s remarkable good fortune in remaining largely intact through centuries of turbulent history makes it a huge drawcard for today’s visitors – tourists carrying nothing more threatening than a credit card.
The writer travelled as a guest of APT.
Travellers on many APT Royal Collection river cruises can extend their holidays at either end of a cruise with an escorted city visit to places like Prague. Each group is led by an APT tour director with English speaking guides. Spend three nights in Prague before or after an APT river cruise on an 18-day Magnificent Europe all-inclusive cruise from Amsterdam to Prague, priced from $9645 a person twin share for 2015 departures. See aptouring老域名.au.
Free return flights between Australia and Europe with Singapore Airlines are available for bookings made with APT by October 31.
APT holidays feature stays in luxury hotels. In Prague, guests stay at the Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel. Art deco in style, it’s home to one of the city’s two Michelin-starred restaurants, with famous Wenceslas Square just around the corner.
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Appalachian Trail at the Bald Mountain Ridge. Photo: 123Australia tops the travel wish list of author Bill Bryson.
WHICH WAS YOUR BEST HOLIDAY?
Here in Australia actually. We went as a family to Palm Cove in Queensland and it was just the most perfect place.
AND THE BEST HOTEL YOU’VE STAYED IN?
I think the nicest hotel I’ve stayed in was The Peninsula in Hong Kong. It was a magazine assignment and it was fantastic.
WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE WITH YOU?
I always take way too much to read.
WHAT DO YOU NEED FOR A PERFECT HOLIDAY?
My family. If I’m not with my wife or my children then it’s not really a holiday for me. The second thing that I need is to have something to do. I like, for instance, to walk and luckily my wife is the same.
WHAT’S YOUR BEST PIECE OF TRAVEL ADVICE?
Go! Just do it. I just think that if people have a hankering to go somewhere then they should. When I was young, coming to somewhere like Australia was something you could only dream about because it was so far away and so expensive. But nowadays, the world has shrunk so much that there really isn’t an excuse.
AND YOUR WORST EXPERIENCE ON HOLIDAY?
I went to Tasmania for a story and developed deep vein thrombosis en route. So for the first two weeks I was in hospital getting treated.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST PACKING MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE?
The one that comes to mind is when I was hiking the Appalachian Trail. We took way too much stuff, namely items to make coffee with.
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO NEXT?
Home. We’ve recently moved to a new house in Hampshire in England and I haven’t really had a chance to settle in and enjoy it.
Bill Bryson’s latest book is One Summer: America, 1927 (Random House).
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AGL’s $290 million Nyngan solar plant in NSW will be the largest in the Southern hemisphere. Just add panels: AGL’s Nyngan solar plant under construction. Photo: Supplied
AGL’s first installers: (L-R) Ray Donald, Bogan Shire Mayor; Ivor Frischknecht, ARENA, CEO; Kevin Humphries, Minister for Western NSW; Brian Stanley, First Solar Senior Vice President; Mark Coulton, Federal MP for Parkes; Scott Thomas, AGL executive; Leslie Williams MP, NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy. Photo: Supplied
Artist’s impression of AGL’s solar plant when complete. Photo: AGL
Lining up: AGL’s Nyngan solar array awaits PV panels. Photo: Supplied.
Australians considering putting solar panels on their roofs might want to get a hurry-on, with prices for a typical system looking set to rise by 50 per cent.
The Abbott government is widely expected to cut the formerly bi-partisan renewable energy target (RET) this year, a move the clean energy industry fears will hit small-scale and utility-sized renewables alike.
Under the RET scheme, the upfront payment for anticipated future power generation lowers the price of a typical 3-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system from about $7500 to $5000, according to Melbourne-based Ric Brazzale, president of the Renewable Energy Certificates Agents Association.
Despite a rollback in state support and lower feed-in prices, installers were still putting in about 3500 solar panel systems a week during the first half of 2014, although the rate was down by about 1000 from a year earlier, according to Australia Solar Council data.
Hugh Bromley, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, says the scrapping of the RET would slash solar panel installations by 20 to 30 per cent in the short term.
“The energy companies hate solar, particularly the gentailers,” said Mr Brazzale, referring to the big three – AGL, Origin Energy and Energy Australia. “Solar eats their lunch on lower demand but also reduces the amount of electricity that retailers sell to consumers.”
The tale is more nuanced, for AGL at least. The owner of Loy Yang brown coal-fired power plants and the main bidder for NSW’s black-coal-fired Macquarie Generation, is also the owner of the country’s biggest wind farm at Macarthur in Victoria.
Last week the portfolio came closer to including large-scale solar with the first panels installed at AGL’s $290 million Nyngan Solar Plant, the largest in the southern hemisphere.
The 250-hectare former wheat farm now sprouts about a quarter of the 150,000 poles that will support 1.35 million shiny black panels, enough to stretch almost from Melbourne to Sydney and back again.
Nyngan and an AGL sister plant at Broken Hill of about half the size beat regional competitors including Mildura in Victoria.
The appeal of solar includes the lack of issues involving water, moving parts and dust associated with other sources of energy.
“It’s really nice to come to a facility that doesn’t have someone chained to it,” said Nationals MP Mark Coulton, whose electorate of Parkes takes in coal mines, gas and wind.
Bogan Shire mayor Ray Donald welcomed the project that will bring 300 jobs to the central plains region at its construction peak and supply power to about 33,000 homes.
In Donald’s view, there’s “far more potential” to develop solar plants such as Nyngan “than might be happening with the coal industry”.
“Coal-fired power plants have a sunset on them – not these,” Donald said, after helping to plug in one of the first panels.
The RET has been crucial to supporting big solar, said Robert Bartrop, a director of US-based First Solar which is building AGL’s solar plants.
Any change in the settings “would make it very difficult for projects like this to be replicated,” he said.
Replication is important. A boom in solar PV for roof tops in recent years has made Australian installers highly efficient, said Danny Kennedy, a former Greenpeace activist turned California-based entrepreneur.
Installers here “are better than most if not everyone,” said Kennedy, founder of Sungevity, a firm providing finance to help spread PV to more homes in Australia, the US and the Netherlands. “They do an install twice as fast as in the US.”
Solar’s spurt – which extends to about 1.2 million Australian homes – supports at least 14,000 workers in communities across the country. Coal-fired power plants employ fewer than 10,000, Kennedy said.
The Nyngan and Broken Hill plants have also provided new revenue streams for companies such as Geelong-based auto parts maker IXL.
The firm, which is battling to diversify away from the shrinking car industry, is supplying the steel posts holding the panels up and was a “surprising” success in the tender, Bartrop said.
Government support, though, has been crucial for the solar plants, with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) granting $116.1 million and the NSW government chipping in $43.3 million for Nyngan.
The Abbott government’s plan to scrap ARENA has been blocked in the Senate with new Victorian senator Ricky Muir lately playing a pivotal role.
ARENA say ongoing uncertainty about their future – not to mention a halt in fresh funds for several years – means its pipeline of potential projects has been blocked.
The Abbott government’s hand-picked panel reviewing the RET – led by former Caltex chairman and climate change sceptic Dick Warburton – this week reportedly asked for more time to complete its recommendations originally due at the end of July.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and other senior ministers have repeatedly blamed the RET for raising electricity prices.
Even the most ardent RET opponents, though, say the RET costs the average household about $1 a week – far smaller than other imposts such as network overbuild. Taking into account other benefits, such as lower peak demand and near-zero carbon emissions, those costs are outweighed, supporters say.
Should the Abbott government take the axe to the RET, Bromley says the underlying economics of residential and commercial solar will mean the industry eventually will recover.
“Politicians and utilities may try to slow the growth, but it would be extremely difficult and unpalatable to stop consumers who are looking for cheaper sources of power,” he said.
“By 2030, Australian home owners and businesses could own more solar capacity than the combined coal fleets of AGL, Origin and EnergyAustralia.”
Peter Hannam travelled to Nyngan as a guest of AGL.
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Rubbish tip fire costs $2 million to put out: Stockpile of waste in south-west Sydney. Photo: Seven NewsA fire which burned in a huge stockpile of waste in south-west Sydney for more than two months, sparking dozens of complaints from people suffering anxiety and health problems, has cost more than $2 million to clean up.
The money had to be paid from the coffers of the Environmental Trust because the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) had only secured a $100,000 bond from the operators of the site in case a clean-up was ever needed.
But despite the huge cost to put out the fire, massive stockpiles of rubbish and dirt remain on the site in Miller Road, Chester Hill.
TThe EPA has not laid any charges over the fire, which was finally put out in April, nor has it released the test results taken on firefighters’ water which ran off the site and into a local creek, killing fish.
The operators of the business Number 1 Demolition and Excavation, which is now in liquidation, had been known to the EPA for five years and despite being issued with three clean-up notices, many extensions and six fines totalling $26,500 the stockpile had not been cleaned up. The maximum penalty for not complying with a clean-up notice is $1 million for a company.
A spokeswoman for the EPA said the company had been using corporate structures and liquidation procedures to frustrate their licensing obligations and regulatory action. She also said the EPA does not have a set deadline for the investigation.
The EPA is trying to recover the clean-up costs as a matter of priority and have applied strict new conditions on the site, which was been leased to a new owner. The owner has agreed to a guarantee of $500,000 in case a clean-up is needed, and to reduce the stockpiles by next month.
But Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi said there are very clear questions to answer on how the waste was able to build up to levels many times over the legal level.
“People were deeply concerned about the acrid smell and smoke from the fire and the trucks carrying the burning material. It is the role of an environmental regulator to respond to these concerns and reduce the risk to human health and the environment,” said Dr Faruqi.
Local resident Gary Roser said his wife, who has asthma, was still recovering from the effects of the fire.
Documents obtained under freedom of information laws have shown that there were dozens of complaints of health problems including vomiting, asthma, difficulty breathing and migraines.
One resident said they “can’t open windows or doors and they had chronic asthma and lung disease.” The complaint said that “Caller said EPA have claimed it is fixed and is just lying to the public and media….Caller very upset and claims EPA has allowed this company to operate and this situation is completely EPA’s fault.”
Residents have said they had complained about the fire in January, but said no one turned up until they called Channel Seven News in February.
Documents showed there were criticisms about the lack of public information. Three weeks after the EPA first attended the fire, the Director for Public Health at Liverpool rang the EPA suggesting they “characterise the emissions” from the fire and develop some key messages regarding public health to put on websites and in a letter box drop to residents.
NSW Health then criticised the EPA’s proposed draft letter, saying it did not have enough information.
“An affected neighbour is quite likely to want to know what the EPA and other agencies are doing to put the fire out and if that’s difficult to answer , some explanation as to why that is,” said a NSW Health said in an email dated March 12 to the EPA.
When the letter was eventually sent out several days later it had the wrong number for the public health unit contact. Documents show the EPA blamed NSW Health for giving them the wrong number.
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