All posts by roshan

10 top wineries to go to in the Mornington Peninsula

I went to the Mornington Peninsula for the Winter Wine Festival with a group of friends and it was great fun. On the first day, we went to the main festival area where all of the wineries in the region were available in one place to taste. It was great to try so many different wines in one location, but a little overwhelming. So for the next two days, we toured around by ourselves visiting vineyards one at a time.

The Mornington Peninsula itself is a beautiful part of the world with beautiful beaches, long piers, great lookouts and even a huge hedge maze. I would love to return in the summer months when I am sure the area sparkles even more.

My top 10 wineries in the Mornington Peninsula are:

  1. Box Stallion

Box Stallion was my favourite winery in the Mornington Peninsula as I pretty much liked every wine I tasted here- both red and white. It is now, unfortunately closed.

  1. Foxey’s Hangout

This winery was a highlight as the owner makes and bottles your own personalised bottle of sparkling wine.

  1. Red Hill

Red Hill has the best views over the water. They also have award winning pinot noir’s and chardonnays.

  1. Ten Minutes by Tractor

A cute story about three vineyards that are all ten minutes from each other by tractor gave this winery its name. It is kitschy, but fun, with old style tractors to pose on.

  1. Port Phillip Estate

Port Phillip Estate is well established and well known. All the wines are handpicked and aged in French Oak.

  1. Paringa Estate

This winery has a beautiful dining room overlooking vineyards, with good food. They produce good classic Mornington Peninsula pinot noir.

  1. Vidoni Estate Vineyard

Vidoni Estate Vineyard is surrounded by olive groves producing tasty olives, olive oil and olive-related products.

  1. Willow Creek

This winery makes cool climate single vineyard wines. It is now attached to the Rare Hare restaurant.

  1. Stonier Wines

Stonier Wines is rated five stars by James Halliday. It produces pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling wines.

  1. Moorooduc Estate

With an unusual and imposing building making this estate memorable, they use Burgundian techniques and focus on matching food with wine.

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10 top wineries to go to in the Barossa

I have been lucky enough to go to the Barossa in South Australia three times and I think it is my favourite wine region in Australia. Being one of the older regions it is well established with pretty heritage buildings and the food is also fantastic.

There’s the fancy fermentAsia in Tanunda, Maggie’s Beer’s farm shop for a casual lunch and Red Door Espresso for a great breakfast. The 1918 bistro and grill and the Tanunda bakery also have good food and seem to be favourites with the locals.

Tanunda is the best area to stay to be near all the action. I’ve stayed at Barossa Valley Apartments each time and can recommend their conveniently located self-contained two bedroom apartments with a swimming pool on the grounds.

My top 10 wineries in the Barossa are:

  1. Rockford Wines.

Rockford is my favourite winery in the Barossa. It has a small, cute cellar door, excellent service from the staff and interesting grounds with winemaking equipment.

  1. Charles Melton

Charles Melton serves a great lunch with affordable wines and excellent service. The rose is good and the reds are great. They also have a super cute border collie.

  1. Henschke

A little bit of a drive away from the main winery area, past a couple of Lutheran churches, you’ll find the beautiful hedged grounds of Henschke and an old cellar door.

  1. Pindarie

With a lovely veranda where you can enjoy a fine lunch with affordable wines, Pindarie makes a good pit stop for lunch.

  1. Wolf Blass

Wolf Blass is in a gorgeous modern building. They serve excellent food in the restaurant upstairs.

  1. Chateau Tanunda

The iconic Chateau Tanunda is a great castle-like building which even has a croquet ground.

  1. Chateau Yaldara/Barossa

Chateau Yaldara- now called Chateau Barossa- is another lovely old mansion with a fountain. It houses many wines from different wineries to try.

  1. Langmeil

Langmeil has consistently good red wines. With its cellar door conveniently located in town at Tanunda, it’s a great place to make up your case of 12 before sending it back home.

  1. Greenock Creek Vineyard and Cellars

With a very small, old underground cellar door, Greenock serves red wines only. They are a little on the expensive side, but worth it.

  1. Burge Family Winemakers

The Burge family are old established winemakers with new infamous wine dogs.

Happy hunting!

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10 top wineries to go to in the Hunter Valley

Living in Sydney, I have been to the Hunter Valley many times. For weddings, hen’s parties, with friends, as a couple, as a family and for experience activities such at hot air ballooning, husky running and music festivals.

Accommodation is best sorted in a group as there are many houses to rent on different estates. However if there are only a few of you, Cypress Lakes Resort and Harrigan’s Irish Pub offer more expensive hotel accommodation.

Most of the wineries are centred around the Pokolbin region, so plan your trip if you don’t want to be wasting time driving from one end of the valley to another. For a quieter trip with less of a wait at the cellar door, try the Lovedale region.

Not every winery serves food, so if you’re not self catering at a homestay, make sure you plan to visit a winery that serves meals around lunchtime, head for Hunter Valley Gardens for a cheap eat or visit the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop for some night-time nibblies.

There are over 150 wineries in the Hunter Valley and I’ve been to about a third of them. There is no accounting for taste and even though these are my top 10 wineries, they may not be yours.

I’ve also had a couple of days where we went to 7 wineries in a day, so by then end you don’t really know what you’re tasting. I recommend no more than 5 wineries per day, and of course, have a designated driver or hire one to take you on a tour.

  1. Tintilla Estate

By far my favourite winery in the Hunter Valley for red wines is Tintilla Estate. They have many varieties, including my favourite Sangiovese’s and Tempranillo’s. Most times, a trip to the Hunter Valley isn’t complete for me without a visit here to stock up.

  1. Scarborough Wine Co

Scarborough is my favourite vineyard in the Hunter Valley for white wines. They have many different varieties from soft to bold creamy Chardonnay’s and the way they set up the tasting with a placemat for each wine is genius. I once took a non-white drinker here and by the end of the tasting they were converted.

  1. First Creek Wines

First Creek is one of my new favourites. The setting is beautiful as they often have kangaroos hopping by in nearby fields and a horse drawn cart out the front. The cellar door overlooks the winemaking facilities and the relaxed atmosphere makes the wines taste all the more sweet.

  1. Tatler Wines

The owner of Tatler made this a winery to remember for me. Not being a big fan of dessert wines, he taught me a trick: add ice, swirl and the taste is completely different.

  1. Marsh Estate

Unfortunately, I believe Marsh Estate is no longer open. When it was, it was only open 6 months of the year as the owner was a surfer who spent the other 6 months chasing waves. The wines were expensive, but worth it.

  1. Hope Estate

Hope Estate is now well known as it hosts many outdoor live music concerts. The wine is reasonably priced and the cellar door is roomy.

  1. Keith Tulloch

For a nice relaxed wine on the balcony, Keith Tulloch is my pick.

  1. Peterson Champagne House

Champagne, oysters and a chocolate shop next door- what’s not to like? Perfect for a hen’s party and many different types of yummy traditional method champenoise to try.

  1. De Bortoli Wines

Well known for its award winning Hunter Valley Semillon and classic Hunter Shiraz. It also has an infamous wine dog.

  1. Gartelmann Hunter Estate

Another new favourite, Gartelmann has a lovely woodland setting and cute Magpie mascot.

Happy tasting!

Related posts: It’s a winery thing, Hot air ballooning in the Hunter Valley, 10 things to do in the Gold Coast, 10 things to do in Melbourne, 10 things to do in Sydney, 10 things I have learnt from travelling, Marlborough to Akaroa, 2012

Snorkel Safari, 2017

The next day I decided to treat myself to a manicure and pedicure at the hotel spa. The beautician was from Jamaica and entertained me with stories of her life on the islands.

After pampering, we had a little more beach time and took in all the water sports on offer out front of the hotel. There were jet boots, parasailing, beach volleyball, two person sailing boats, paddleboards, water skiing and banana boating.

We decided on a snorkel safari that included riding on Jet Ski’s to two different snorkelling locations.

Having never been on a Jet Ski before, I was quite happy for my husband to drive. After donning life jackets, packing our snorkelling gear and a few short instructions on how to drive, we were ready to head off.

We went slowly at first, but found this was too rocky. So we sped up and were soon sailing past our South African tour guide.

At the first snorkelling site, I was lucky enough to see a small black stingray trawling the bottom of the ocean.

The second snorkel site, near the cruise ships anchored in Georgetown harbour, was much deeper and better.

We saw large schools of blue fish swimming in between the crevices of the rocky reef, bright green parrotfish and even bigger schools of silver fish that swam right up to the surface and past your face.

Then we had another Jet Ski race back to the beach, just in time to get ready for dinner back at the hotel.

There were tables were set up by the pool for dinner. The pay-as-you-go family sized canvas lounging chairs were finally free as daytime was over, so we settled in for some pre-dinner drinks.

A DJ set up near the pool, which was deep blue in the moonlight. The night ended with much dancing here, fireworks on the beach and a nightcap at the hotel bar.

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Rum Point, 2017

After our close encounter with the stingrays, we hopped back on the boat and sailed to Rum Point.

The sun came out and shone on the water, making it sparkle. Then, like a mirage, Rum Point emerged over the horizon. A low beach with pine trees jutting out into the endless ocean with a long wharf to access it.

Even though we were still on Grand Cayman, it felt like Rum Point was a new stand alone island to explore.

We hopped off the boat and walked down the wharf to the signpost telling us how far away we were from other places like Sri Lanka or home. There were silly questions not to ask listed such as: Where is the best place to swim? Try the water; and Do you guys sell rum? Welcome to Rum Point.

There were also signs showing the various hurricanes which have narrowly missed Rum Point, the Wreck Bar and of course, a gift shop selling soft toy string rays and other related stingray paraphernalia.

Our stretch of semi-private beach had deck chairs set up on the sand and dining tables  under paper lanterns for lunch. There were large hammocks and most importantly The Dak Shack, which funnily enough, served strawberry daiquiris and the signature drink of Rum Point- mudslides.

They were both delicious, especially when consumed whilst knee deep in clear blue water. Some, more energetic, people could be found snorkelling and playing volleyball, but I preferred bobbing around in the shallows.

After a most relaxing afternoon, we jumped back on the boat and headed back to the hotel where we dined on pig on a spit while taking in another gorgeous Seven Mile Beach sunset.

It had been a long, eventful, but also relaxing day. Now we could say we sailed the Caribbean and didn’t get looted by pirates or stung by stingrays.

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Crystal Caves and Stingray City, 2017

The next day, we spent the morning by the pool before hopping on a bus to drive to the Crystal Caves on the other side of the island. On the way we passed the port where the Disney cruise ship was in harbour and Bodden town where the locals live.

Crystal Caves is a new tourist attraction having only been open for about a year. Our tour guide used to explore the caves as a child before they were excavated and lit up. He told us stories of crawling through small crevices and knew what all the plants in the surrounding countryside could be used for.

Our first cave was the open ceiling cave, with funnily enough, a hole in the ceiling. A huge fig tree crowded the entrance and there were bats grouped together sleeping. The next cave was the roots cave where the roots of trees could be seen breaking through the stalactites and stalagmites.

The final cave, the lake cave, was the highlight of the tour as it actually had a blue lake inside the cave. There have been tales of pirates burying treasure here. The caves sparkled like crystal gems and the cool temperatures were a welcome change from the heat of the beach.

After the tour, we headed back to the hotel for a fancy dinner at The Beachhouse. The scallops benedict were delicious and the desserts almost looked better than they tasted. We went to bed early, as we knew the next day was going to be a big one as we were off for a day of sailing to Stingray City.

The morning dawned sunny and we boarded the boat with expectations for a great day out. The catamaran was wide with equipment for sailing and several places that you could sit to get your feet wet. The water was so clear and many different shades of blue and aqua. Once the sails went up, it was so beautifully quiet and peaceful.

Stingray City is a sandbar where stingrays gather out of a habit that started a few years ago when fisherman started to feed them. Now, Stingray City is a haven for cruise ship day-trippers as they all crowd around seeking a spot for that perfect photo opportunity.

Nevertheless, our boat crew seemed to be responsible for the animal’s welfare, gently handling the animals and giving us all an opportunity to hug and kiss a stingray one by one.

I was apprehensive at first; being an Aussie I had heard all the reports about Steve Irwin getting killed by a stingray, but these sting rays were smoother than I thought and not at all aggressive.

It was a crazy cool experience and I am glad that we had the opportunity to do something so lovely and unusual.

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Caribbean rum, 2017

On our second day on Grand Cayman Island, we went into Georgetown and found a pretty town square with a white washed library, a peace memorial and a large open plaza. I was particularly taken with a statue commemorating the steps women have taken to gain equality.

We headed down to the port and found the place where all the cruise ships come in. There were lots of touristy shops to be found here, including a Margarittaville. We searched for the local market, only to discover that we had arrived too late and there were only two stalls left selling scotch bonnet chillies and fresh coconut.

On the walk to the Cayman Spirits Distillery, we struck gold when I spotted Smokies BBQ, which sold tasty brisket bread rolls and mac and cheese bites. We also found the Tortuga factory- famous for its rum cake and also apparently its statues of pirates.

The Cayman Spirits Distillery offered 7 different types of rum including one that is aged in barrels seven fathoms under the Caribbean Sea. They also served a vodka and flavoured liqueurs. The set up of the cellar door was suitable nautically themed with an old style dive suit and model ships.

As we waited for the next distillery tour to start, we chatted to the exceedingly friendly staff who let us sample some of the wares. The tour itself was quite interesting to learn how the rum is made from fermenters to the liquor tank and the bottling machine.

After the tour we were treated to free pouring fun and photo opportunities with a suitable soundtrack by the very generous proprietor. It was definitely value for money and a great experience. We left with two bottles of genuine Caribbean rum- coconut and dark.

Next we returned to the hotel pool bar for some rum cocktails, before we went to dinner on the beach. Tables were set up so we could eat with our feet in the sand while we watched the beautiful Seven Mile Beach sunset.

More rum drinking ensued as we listened to the authentic sound of kettledrums. For desert we roasted marshmallows and smores on a beach bonfire paired with more rum cocktails. When in the Caribbean, what else can you do, but drink rum? It would be rude not to.

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Grand Cayman, 2017

After a long flight through Los Angeles and Miami, we finally arrived on Grand Cayman Island in the British West Indies at night. Exhausted, we checked into The Westin and crashed.

The next day, we awoke to the beautiful aqua blue waters of Seven Mile Beach. After breakfast and a short stroll along the beach out the back of the hotel, we caught the complimentary bus to the Cayman Turtle Centre.

Our driver, Benny, was at a bit of a loose end on a not so busy Sunday morning, so he gave us a personal tour of the centre. There was the main pool and egg-laying beach that had 300 massive adult size turtles; the smaller tanks with younger turtles and a lonely Cayman crocodile.

Benny pointed out the silver thatch palm- the national tree of the Cayman Islands- and a few iguana’s, which are everywhere on the island. He showed us the replica local houses that survive hurricanes and the hatchery, which had no eggs, but a turtle shell showing its spine and a turtle skull.

The highlight was paddling knee deep in the pools of turtles that were less than a year old and being able to hold them, flapping around as they objected to being out of the water. We crossed the road outside the centre that dropped off into the sea- deep blue as far as the eye could see.

On the way back to the hotel, Benny took us to Hell- a dark rocky limestone formation, hence the name. We posed for the requisite devil and angel photos and then hopped back in the van and passed some traditional houses in West Bay, all with porch swing seats out the front.

Back at the hotel, I had my first cocktail- a Cayman Lemonade- with my lunch of proper American hot wings. We bypassed the comfy cane chairs and hammocks to claim some umbrella deck chairs on the beach and settle in for some more cocktails with table side service.

After a few Cayman Island Ice Teas, I jumped in the water and swam out to the furthest buoy I could see. The water was so clear, deep and refreshing. Next on the agenda was a few Capiroska’s at the bar in the pool, before we decided it might be time to think about dinner.

The most recommended place for BBQ by the hotel staff was Peppers BBQ. Dubious at first, we saw locals arriving for take away as we waited for our meals so I thought it must be good.

The jerk chicken was tasty, but the BBQ pork ribs were definitely the star. We walked it off back to the hotel along a street lined with lamps. A great start to what promised to be a great holiday.

Related posts: Solo trip to Hawaii, 2014New Caledonia, 2014, Malaysia, 2012, Isla Mujeres and Cancun, 2011, New Year’s Eve on the Island, 2007It’s a South Pacific Thing, It’s a Sri Lankan Thing

Tokyo Disneysea, 2016

On our last day in Japan we went to Tokyo Disneysea. It was slightly smaller than Disneyland, so we had plenty of time in the day to go on all the rides that our daughter wanted to, and some that my husband and I wanted to go on too.

We walked through the entry gates where there was a big globe fountain and Mickey and Minnie Mouse were putting on a welcome show. There was also a golden ship to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Disneysea.

In front of us was the Mediterranean Harbour and it really did look like Europe. There was the Ponte Vecchio, a fortification tower, Venetian palace buildings and cobblestoned alleyways. Our first ride was in a submarine into the middle of the volcano- 20,000 leagues under the sea.

My favourite Disney princess was Ariel so we headed straight for Mermaid Lagoon after that. A tunnel led from the outside to an indoor cave that was dark and glowing with lights and several themed rides for smaller children- we went on them all- and found a few Ariel’s posing in Ariel’s playground.

The highlight was sitting in the front row of King Triton’s Concert starring Ariel the mermaid on acrobatic strings, Flounder and Sebastian as puppets, Triton as a huge moving statue and Ariel’s sisters as holograms videos. It was very entertaining.

Next we went to the Arabian Coast where Princess Jasmine lives and it really looked like an Arabian town, with a walled city, marketplace, archways and a replica of the Lion fountain usually found in the Spanish Alhambra. Some Jasmine’s could be found taking photos here.

Our daughter went on the double storey Carousel and we all went on the flying carpets and into the Genie’s 3D show, which was very good. We also stopped in the Casbah food court for a curry lunch- very tasty.

From here we walked passed the Mexican temples and caught the steamboat through old American looking towns to the American Waterfront and it really looked like America. There was a big ship, a San Francisco tram, a town square and a New York City street.

Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale were putting on a show at the ship and we saw the special Halloween show in the harbour on boats with evil characters such as Ursula, Captain Hook and Jaffar. It was very clever, but very loud.

In Port Discovery we met Goofy and Mrs Incredible and went on the Aquatopia water ride, which was a lot of fun. We ended the day inside the castle where the adults shared an adult drink and an oversized turkey leg.

We left just as it was getting dark to catch our plane back to Sydney. Japan had been a great holiday. Good food, nice people, easy with kids and plenty to see and do from cultural to technological activities. We would definitely be back again.

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Tokyo Disneyland, 2016

We arrived at the Sheraton- one of the Disneyland resorts- and were upgraded to a penguin room. The penguin is the mascot of the hotel and they devote a whole floor to him including games, carpet, doors, bedspreads and furniture. Our daughter loved it.

The hotel also had a kids soft play area following a similar theme, electronic games, a miniature golf course and even an area where you can dress up as your favourite Disney character for a personalised photo shoot. Our daughter’s favourite game was the Sofia the First one where a hologram dressed her like the princess.

I was more impressed with the rest of the hotel including waterfall, two swimming pools, ocean views and even a fancy dessert bar with a fairy floss machine. My husband was most impressed with the fact that we could see the Disneyland castle and Disneysea volcano from our balcony and all we had to do was take a short monorail trip to get there.

We went to bed early- it was going to be a big two days.

I was so excited for our daughter’s first trip to Disneyland that I woke up before her. She dressed up in her Rapunzel dress that we had bought in Osaka with matching crown and princess doll that we had brought on our trip to Japan.

When we arrived at the Disneyland gates, we discovered that all the adults were dressed up too as this is allowed only for the week before Halloween. It made the day even better, the atmosphere was amazing and our daughter got to meet all the princesses.

There was another Rapunzel, Snow Whites, many Elsa’s, Jasmine, some Anna’s, Sleeping Beauty, a few Cinderella’s, Ariel, and even a Sophia, Amber and Princess Ivy. And of course there were many other Disney characters too, from Alice in Wonderland to Judy Hopps from Zootopia.

Our first ride was the Star Jets on the way to Toontown. Then we lined up for an hour to meet Mickey Mouse. It was worth it of course and while we waited, we took turns on the rides there with our daughter- Gadgets Go Coaster, Goofy’s House, Daisy’s Boat and Chip and Dale’s House.

We also met Pluto, bought a refillable Dumbo popcorn holder and saw the special Halloween parade with all the classic Disney characters- Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald, Goofy and Pluto.

Fantasyland was exactly how I remembered it being in Los Angeles, but even better. There was the classic cups ride, the carousel, the flying Dumbo ride and you could actually go inside Cinderella’s castle to try on her glass slipper.

We went on a couple more rides in Tomorrowland, like the Monster’s Inc ride, and hit Adventureland when darkness hit. I love the New Orleans quarter here so we ate dinner in a café before riding Pirates of the Caribbean, another classic.

After a few more rides, it was time to call it on a very long day, put a happy little girl to sleep and watch the fireworks from our balcony.

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