Travel: Arrowtown New Zealand


Arrowtown is in a word divine. It’s 25 minutes from Queenstown and is a haven for walkers and history buffs. As an old gold mining town it’s described as being a place where “history meets nature”. You can walk around the quaint town, stop in and look at the historic buildings, the old gold mining settlement and enjoy lunch. After lunch you could take the walk along the river which is depending upon the time of year dotted with beautiful wildflowers.


Lupins grow as wildflowers in New Zealand.

Things to do in Arrowtown:

  • Hire a bike and take a leisurely ride around the town
  • Visit the galleries, the shops and enjoy a long lunch
  • Go for a walk on one of the fifteen walking trails! I walked the Tobins Track to the top of the hill to get the view pictured at the top of the page. Walk around the historic gold mine to get a sense of the loneliness and the isolation that the Chinese felt trying to get an income to support their families.
  • Rent a house and just chill out with a roaring fire a picnic blanket and a bottle of wine
  • Play a round of golf at Millbrook Resort or get a day spa treatment

I visited in summer, but am longing to return in Autumn to capture the full splendour of the colours of the town.

Postcard from the Past: Canterbury



This postcard was sent to me in an envelope, so technically that’s cheating. But it was accompanied with photos, so, I’ll allow it. 🙂 To accompany down this memory lane, you’ll need to understand that at the end of 1999, I left Australia to live on a working holiday visa in London. I was chasing the dot com bubble, and as I was bored out of my brains working for a consulting firm. I didn’t want to be consulting on internet stuff, I wanted to be working for a internet start up. And so, I landed in London, and started working for a seed funded wireless start up.

My job didn’t last long, six months to be precise, and then we were bought out by an American company. I was paid as a contractor, so no, I did not become an instant millionaire over night. It was fun however, but also rather stressful at the end of it because our two founders were fighting. So when my friend Vanessa invited me to Whitstable to celebrate her 25th birthday, I jumped at the opportunity to get out of London for the weekend. Vanessa and Susie were friends that I was in boarding school with at high school. I lived in Holland Park in a flat of my own, and Susie lived in more iconic Aussie areas like Wimbledon. Another friend Cath, and her now husband Leo travelled for the weekend.

Whitstable is a small beach town, with a population of 30,000 people, eight kilometres north of Canterbury. Canterbury is on the North Coast of Kent in South East England, and it takes about one and a half hours to travel there from London.


Whitstable is famous for its oysters and the annual oyster festival. Apparently, oysters have been collected there since Roman times. It’s also more recently famous for the local pub the Old Neptune and its’ role in the movie “Venus” which starred Peter O’Toole. We had a great weekend, and as you can tell from the photos, it was a little cool, despite being spring.

Old Neptune

What mattered for us was that the sun was shining, we were experiencing a new location, and we had great company and a reason to celebrate! Places are nothing without the people you share the memories with.

The Old Neptune


Pink hats? Ahh that was the weekend before, at the Trooping the Colour, and the reference to family; mum, dad and my uncle Laurie came to visit and we travelled to the Cotswolds and Ireland together- but those memories will have to wait for another blog.


Postcards from the past

It’s a universal truth- everyone loves to get mail. Real mail. Not bills, or advertising, but good old fashioned mail; where a friend writes you a letter or a postcard. Sadly, these days “snail mail” as we’ve come to call it, is rare. I was revisiting an old photo album this morning and amongst the photos of my travels in Italy was this postcard.


I looked at what was written in the notes beside it

“It didn’t look like this- there were no flowers and the sky was grey. There were also people all over the steps”.  

(Clearly I was a frustrated photographer even back then)

So I turned it over, thinking that it was a postcard that I had bought to show me the potential of what the Spanish Steps looked like. At the time I was backpacking with my friend Stephanie. There is no photo in the album of the Spanish Steps, however Steph did take a photo of me at the Fountain of Truth.

Fountain of Truth

The Fountain of Truth, Rome, 1996: aged 20.


I was wrong. I didn’t buy the postcard at all, and it had nothing to do with my holiday.

(Click on the images to enlarge).

I’m delighted to have found that the postcard is from one of my favourite people on the planet. I think she could send me a letter at 92 and I’d know instantly that it is her writing.

Koel is one of two people that I have always loved getting letters and postcards from. Why, because they make me laugh and I can hear their voices reading the postcard out loud to me. I can visualise their faces and their smiles, and I happen to think they are good writers. The other person is Rani, and I always secretly hoped she’d grow up to be a writer. Maybe she will…

So thanks Koel! Your postcard took me back in time to not only my travels in Europe, but the memories of our friendship.

I look forward to sharing other postcards from my past with you next Thursday.

Until then, tell me have you kept any postcards from your past? You could upload a picture of them in the comments below.

Travel: Perth through the eyes of a local

Today’s guest blogger is Perth based writer Lisa Berson. Lisa and I met in Sydney when attending Carla Coulson’s Get Published Workshop.

"Picture This" Workshop with Carla Coulson. I'm in the front row in white and Lisa is next to me :) Photo by Deanna Gerlach

“Picture This” Workshop with Carla Coulson. I’m in the front row in white and Lisa is next to me 🙂 Photo by Deanna Gerlach, used with permission by Carla Coulson.

I’ve been to Perth only once, in 2004 when I travelled to the Margaret River to attend a Wine Tourism Conference, so I invited Lisa to share her local’s perspective on Perth. Enjoy!

My Guide to Perth



Katische has asked me to write about my beloved Perth for a while now. I have kept putting her off because how do you write and share almost 20 years of memories in a single post?

I moved to Perth 19 years ago from a country town in WA and have lived both North and South of the River. In the last few years, the Perth social scene has exploded and there are so many more options in every suburb, not just in the Perth City Centre.

Below are a few of my favourite places you should visit. Please note I am a little biased and have based my recommendations mainly on the city centre and Fremantle but if you have friends who live north of the river, then their recommendations will be entirely different.



Perth City & Kings Park A grand view of the city and the Swan River. Inner city suburbs such as Mt Lawley, Mt Hawthorn, North Perth, Northbridge, East Perth all have fantastic places to eat, drink and shop.

Cottesloe Beach

The best place to pull up a chair at the local café or bar and people watch. Enjoying a Sunday Session at the local beach watching the sunset over the ocean is considered an institution in our city. Catch the train from either Perth city or Fremantle to enjoying the view, ocean and beach house vibe in an afternoon with friends.

Fremantle (Freo to the locals)

Bathers Beach

Welcome to Little Italy. Fremantle is has a distinct family friendly character and so much to do. Start your day with coffee at Gino’s, wander through the famous Fremantle Markets, watch the buskers, take the kids to the new (free) skate park down on the Esplanade. Take a tour of the haunted Fremantle Prison. Finish the day off at Little Creatures (a brewery that used to be home to a Crocodile Park) or the Twilight Bathers Beach Markets.


Mt Lawley, Leederville and Inner City Suburbs

Laneways and side streets filled with street art, live music, wine bars, jazz clubs, outdoor community markets, roof top movies and food trucks vans. These suburbs have an upmarket community feel to them. A starting point for a night out should be The Five Bar, The Brisbane Hotel or The Queens Hotel all located in Mt Lawley.


A drive north along the coast road from Fremantle and you will eventually hit Hillarys. Visit AQUA (Ocean Aquarium), shopping boardwalk or splash in the paddle beach for kids.



You can catch a ferry to this small island (from Hillarys or Fremantle) which is car free and approx. 20km off the coast of WA. Most Perthites have at least one summer memory spent at Rotto.

Something a Little Different

Walking Tours around Perth, sharing a different perspective of Perth. Cruise on the Swan River, Visit the Twilight Food Markets in the Perth City at Forrest Chase, Fremantle Markets, bathers Beach Markets. Outdoor roof top Movies. Ghost Tours of Fremantle Prison, Brewery and Winery tours of the Swan Valley.

Family Fun

Skate Park

Drive along the Perth Coast and pick any beach on your journey to chill out on, To entertain the kids, visit the Perth Zoo, Adventure World, Burswood Outdoor Movies, Perth City Roof-top Movies, Hillarys Boat Harbour (The Great Escape) Fremantle Skate Park, Serpentine Falls, Fremantle Markets, Supa Golf in Ellenbrook, Mundaring Weir & Pub (Sunday Roast on a Spit, Live Music) in the Perth Hills or hire a car, drive north of Perth and explore the Yanchup Caves.

A bit of Music, Art & Culture

Perthite’s love their live music, theatre and events. Over summer, there are so many festivals, market stalls and free community events to be involved in. See the links below to get all the updated information.

The Fremantle Arts Centre, Barking Gecko Theatre, His Majesty’s Theatre, The Heath Ledger Theatre, Luna Palace Centre Leederville, Perth Art Gallery, and heaps of street festivals and markets days happen throughout summer in all suburbs. 

Where to Eat & Drink


In Perth, eating is an event. On Sundays, Perthites tend to travel from one meal to another. Our cafes definitely have personality all of their own and usually have a story to tell those who go there. If only those walls could talk!


zepher's cafe

The view from Zepher’s cafe in Freemantle


Fish and Chips at Cottesloe Beach.

Order your fish and chips from the local chippie and walk down to beach or grassed areas to take in the view or work on your suntan. Cottesloe Beach has playgrounds, grassed areas for families and restaurants, cafes & bars for those who are looking for something a little more upmarket.

The Swan River.


The Swan River divides north and south of Perth but is the glue that keeps us all together. There are so many restaurants, events and grassed areas along the Swan River especially through out the summer months that you are spoiled for choice. Take a day cruise (other cruises include lunch or dinner) on the Swan River (get on at Barrack Street Jetty). A little local secret: most sailing clubs offer Twilight Sailing during the mid-week. Non-members can pay a low cost price which is a fantastic alternative experience to a cruise.

Mundaring Weir Hotel. (Perth Hills) 40-45 minutes drive from Perth City

Take in the view from the lookout bridge on Mundaring Weir, then travel down the road to the Mundaring Weir Hotel for their Sunday Session for Roast on Spit, and Live Music

The Swan Valley

Join a winery & brewery tour bus to sample a taste of what WA has to offer. The Margaret River Chocolate Factory, Luewin Estate

Serpentine Falls (45-mins to hour drive from Perth)

Another worthwhile road trip but this time, grab a picnic and head south west down towards Armadale and visit Sepentine Falls. A short walk from the car park into the National Park ($12 entry), plenty of bbq’s, swimming holes or drive around to the Serpentine Dam and café for lunch.


* Most of the Wine bars listed offer food & tapas menus.


Heathcoate Reserve, Applecross, Perth

Sunset from Heathcoate Reserve, Applecross, Perth


Helpful Links to plan your Perth trip


Perth Bloggers

Phew! Thank’s Lisa that was certainly comprehensive, and I’m sure everyone will be bookmarking this blog for when they travel to Perth because you’ve covered everything! Certainly a few days is not enough to cover it all!

Lisa Berson is a freelance writer, copywriter & blogger.

Lisa Berson

Living the sea change life in coastal WA with my family of five. There is never a dull moment in my life and I love it that way. During the week I write (feature articles, web copy and ghost blogging) and then catch babies on the weekend (I am also a midwife). My words have been featured on Kidspot, Leaders in Heels and personal blog Woogsworld.

Travel: Exploring Auckland

Today’s guest travel blog is by former Auckland resident Cassie Twemlow. You can read millions of travel blogs, but there’s nothing like getting the inside story from a local. Cassie recently travelled back to Auckland for a family holiday, and I asked her to share her secrets about how she spends her time in New Zealand.



Auckland is one of, if not my favourite, places in the world!

My young family and I lived there for 2.5 wonderful, but not nearly long enough, years back at the start of the decade. We were lucky though – we lived on ‘The Shore’ which, if I had to equate, would be like the Manly of Sydney (but better!). It was flat, we were nestled between the beach and a lake, my daughters could walk to school and kindy, I could walk to work, we could all walk, or cycle, to Countdown or New World (Woolies and Coles), bars, restaurants, cafes and most other places you needed on a weekly basis. It was awesome!

Unfortunately, work prompted our move back ‘home’ (I say ‘home’ lightly because I think I will always consider Auckland my home now). However, in the September holidays I surprised my daughters with a trip back to NZ for a week. I was so excited, and when I eventually told them (the night before leaving) so were they!

As it usually goes, we visited all our oldest and greatest friends and spent many hours at KiwiYo. We admired the harbour and many beaches (their water is BLUE!), froze in the wind and then sunned ourselves in the afternoon sun (Crowded House weren’t joking when they sang about ‘Four Seasons in One Day’) and ate and drank too much.

But apart from catching up with people I wanted to visit old haunts and do things and visit places I missed.

So here is my list of ‘walking’ things to do in Auckland…

1. Climb Rangitoto:

Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island is off the coast of Auckland and is visible from most parts of the mainland. Over 600 years old, this once-volcano has a unique volcanic landscape that also boasts beautiful native fauna and flora. Rising to 260m high it is a great morning or afternoon climb to the top for kids and adults alike (although, I wouldn’t rely on kids younger than 4 years to trek all the way up by themselves). You can take a ferry from Devonport, on the north shore, or the city straight across to the island.

Lava caves

Lava Caves on Rangitoto Island

A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs $75. We took the 0925 ferry across and had plenty of times to walk up to the summit, around the crater rim and detour to the lava caves, with time to spare before our 1230 ferry back to Devonport. Make sure you bring water, snacks and sunscreen. A torch is useful too if you’re wanting to visit the lava caves (the one on your phone is usually good enough) because these are pitch black. It’s an amazing 360° view from the summit! – You can see all of Auckland and the harbour out to Waiheke and on clear days, as far as the Coromandel and Great Barrier Island.


2. Visit Ponsonby:

I love Ponsonby (or Pon-Snobby as I like to call it). It is a vibrant part of inner-city Auckland filled of streets dotted with gorgeous villas, trendy cafes, cool stores and award-winning restaurants. If you stick to Ponsonby Rd you really can’t go wrong. Cruising up and down this lively road is always fun no matter what the weather or what time of year it is. There are some amazing unique boutiques scattered along the road that sell everything from crafts, fashion and food. You can easily spend an entire day just wandering around and every now and then stop for a pulled pork burger and kumara fries or a double hot chocolate.

There are some seriously cool bars along and just off Ponsonby Road for those requiring a few adult beverages and a seat at a popular side-walk café. The Fairy Shop and other knick-knack outlets will keep the kids amused for a few hours if you need to drag them out with you – the promise of a mega donut shake will probably encourage them to keep walking with minimal whinging. There is something for everyone along a 1km stretch. If you are there around Christmas time, make sure you check out the light displays on Franklin Rd, which is always a popular and famed street for going completely OTT.

3. Milford Beach to Takapuna Beach:


It is particularly nice because it is varied. You start at the bottom of one of the streets that runs perpendicular to the beach, which will take you to the boardwalk. Walking along here past beautiful water-front homes and with a great view to Rangitoto you will eventually come to the end of the man-made pathway which then merges with more of a nature track that looks like you’re walking through someone’s yard! But, keep going.

The short track will eventually lead you to another man-made retaining wall which is fine for walking along. This brings you out at Thorne Bay, a beautiful little swimming hole only accessible by residents who live in the houses that overlook it or by people willing to take this walk. It’s very trendy and popular in summer with families – the kids swim or poke around in the lava rocks that line the beach and have a great time.

After Thorne Bay you get back onto a path whilst walking around the point. However, when you come out the other side and you can see clearly to the south, you’ll be walking on and around all the rocks that make up the coastline. It’s very beautiful but only for those who have good footing. Again, I wouldn’t recommend this walk for anyone under the age of 4 years and it’s also unsuitable for prams, scooter and bikes.

From here until you reach Takapuna Beach Holiday Park is all rocks. You can be as tame or adventurous as you like but be mindful of tides before you venture off on this walk as some parts of the rocks can be beneath water level when at high tide. Once you’re past the Holiday Park you’ll see the Takapuna Beach Café. Now is the perfect time to reward yourself with a coffee and a gelato for the kids whilst strolling along the beach itself – voted one of the best in NZ for obvious reasons. You can then walk back the same route or head up to Hurstmere Rd and take the easy walk back along the street and past some great bars and restaurants.

4. Westhaven to Wynyard Quarter and Viaduct:

Now, this is something you can do on foot or wheels. Again, because it’s flat, the kids loved taking their scooters on this 5km round trip from the marina around to Silo Park. We parked at Westhaven and walked along the new boardwalk all the way to the equally new-ish (about 3 years old) revamped Wynyard Quarter.

It’s a leisurely walk and the blue and green clean water of St Mary’s Bay is just beautiful to admire (especially coming from Brisbane!). You get to play ‘imagination lotto’ and pick out your favourite boats from the marina, marvel at the real estate on St Mary’s Bay face and catch up for a good old natter whilst pounding the wooden boards.

Eventually you’ll have to turn left down Wynyard Dr or Beaumont St which will bring you out at Silo Park and the play space. The kids can let off some more steam here on the playground, basketball court or by jumping in and out of the paddling pool. If you keep heading down Jellicoe St you’ll get to the famed Auckland Fish Market on your right and many new restaurants and cafes on your left which overlook the harbour.

Grab lunch and a pint whilst you’re here before heading back the way you came. Or, if you want to explore further, keep heading east towards the city centre along Wynyard Crossing and you will ultimately come out at the Viaduct. New Zealand Maritime Museum, the Hilton and many restaurants and bars all populate this area of energy.

(Click on the map to enlarge).

So many people come to NZ to explore the south island for skiing and its beautiful landscape, but don’t rule out Auckland. It is cultural, scenic, and friendly and I would recommend it as a holiday for everyone who especially didn’t want to travel too far from home. There are loads more things that you could do whilst here and, because the country it so small, it is easy and fun to plan day trips or weekends away if basing yourself in Auckland.

Definitely check it out!

Takapuna Beach

Takapuna Beach, Rangitoto Island



Cassie Twemlow is a graphic designer who designs digital artwork, websites, corporate branding, and invitations as well as photography and custom artwork. You can find her at  She’s also a legend who lets me test out my camera settings on her every now and again.

Thanks Cassie! I look forward to travelling back to N.Z 🙂

Finke Desert Races

Travel: Finke Desert Races (Northern Territory)

Finke Desert Races

Today’s guest blogger is Susan Papazian, a travel, portrait and lifestyle photographer from Sydney, who I met when she was helping Carla Coulson at the Picture This Photography Workshop in Sydney. Susan and I had been chatting online in one of Carla’s private Facebook groups prior to the course and it was such a relief to see a “familiar” face at the course. We’ve stayed in touch and I regularly ask Susan questions about photography and she’s always open and amazingly helpful. I’m not sure that I would have made it through the course without Susan. She steadied my nerves and constantly answered my questions about which manual settings my camera should be on. Today she guest blogs about her recent travels in the Northern Territory- it’s a part of Australia that I have yet to visit. I hope you are inspired to explore a little more of Australia.


Finke Desert Races

The Northern Territory outback has always been on my bucket list of travel destinations. The lure of traveling abroad to capture different lands, people and cultures has strongly pulled me in that direction over the last few years. Somehow, traveling and photographing in my own back yard would often get pushed to the bottom of my priority list, but certainly not to the back of my mind.

I first experienced a taste of the Aussie outback in 2011. Three girls – my sister, my best friend and myself drove for a week in a beat up old car from Brisbane across the outback to Darwin in an event called the Shitbox Rally, to raise money for the Cancer Council. It was an unbelievable experience, taking me through towns such as Longreach and Catherine. Driving hundreds of kilometres a day through dusty roads, crossing rivers (yes in the car!) and camping under a millions stars each night was magical!

Ironically, my road to becoming a professional photographer started later that same year. I didn’t even have a point and shoot camera so I used my iPhone to snap a few shots here and there. I always regretted not having captured this stunning part of the world through the “eyes of a photographer” and promised myself I would return to the NT, with camera in hand!

Fast-track to 2015. When details of a travel photography workshop with Master photographer Daniel Linnet landed in my inbox – “On Assignment Desert Journey, Northern Territory”, I jumped at the opportunity. This was my chance to head back to the “heartbeat” of our country, the Aussie Outback.

The eight day adventure would start in the town of Alice Springs. The first night was spent in a hotel before the trip would take me to the bush, with no showers or man-made toilets. Surprisingly, I was very excited to be roughing it in the bush, with no internet connection, no checking phones messages or email and no jumping on Facebook. The whole idea of being isolated and “disconnected” from my world created a huge sense of freedom for me.

The next eight days was one of the most liberating experiences of my life!

The first assignment was photographing the Finke Desert races.


You don’t often hear of female photographers getting excited about photographing motorbikes, buggies and quads bikes, let alone in one of the most remote places on the planet. I had never heard of the remote indigenous community called Aputula (Finke), 159km south of Alice Springs, let alone the Finke Desert Races. But this off-road multi-terrain two-day race, run over the Queen’s Birthday long-weekend, between Alice springs and Apuluta,is known as one of the most gruelling and toughest events in the world.


Day one was the preliminary and qualifying events, just outside of Alice Springs. As I arrived trackside, the place was buzzing with spectators, young and old. The smell of petrol filled the dusty air and the sound of engines revving, at most times, would drown out any conversation.


Like any country I visit, it’s the people that draw me in first, well before the architecture and the landscape. As a photographer, the very first connection I feel and make is with the people. Day one at the races had a carnival feel. Spectators clambered on top of cars and scaffolds to get the best vantage point. Tinnies of beer were kept chilled in eskies and the free flowing cans and bottles consumed snuggly found their place in stubby holders. This was real country Australia and it was only to get better.


The second night of the trip took us to Ooraminna Homestead Station 32km south of Alice Springs. It is nestled between the MacDonnell Ranges and the Simpson Desert. Stepping into Ooramina is like stepping onto a film set. And that’s exactly what it was when a few years back a visiting film crew built a little town to film the movie The Drover’s Son.


On the land you will also find Ooraminna’s Police Station and Wooden Slab Hut, built of stone and timber slats, retaining a rustic feel that’s increasingly lost in the outback. The Homestead caters for tourists who can stay in the fully furnished cabins. But for me, a tent and a swag was where I would be sleeping.


The cracking sunsets and sunrises are spectacular. The stars light up the sky in their millions and the distant sounds of dingos and kangaroos wandering through the brush make the experience complete.


The next morning was day two of the Finke races. This is where the true excitement of getting close to the action would begin. A short drive from camp and I was at “trackside”. The winding dirt corrugated track snakes through the dusty red land, with spinifex, mulga and desert oak dotting the landscape on either side. Although the track was realigned and rebuilt in the early 1980’s, the race continues along the original course.


Standing a few feet away as the bikes and quads raced by, the clouds of dust spitting from under the tyres and filling the air was very dense. So how does one protect their camera from the dust? A plastic bag and some masking tape covering my lens and camera body ensured my gear would be protected. A bandana around my mouth and nose helped somewhat, but I could feel the red dirt creeping into my nose and ears and showering my hair. I loved it! The Finke races are tough, dirty and dusty and that’s really the only way it should be. It is after all an Aussie sporting event in the Outback. Having it any other way just wouldn’t be the Finke Desert races!

Susan in action: Image Stephen Allworth

Susan in action: Image Stephen All worth

The racing dust that had crept into my pores stayed there for the next four days of my outback journey.

From here, I travel to a bush camp “Angkerle Arrenge, the outstation of our guide Jungala’s family. Stepping onto this special land, I feel an inexplainable spiritual force sweep over me. Jungala, who is from the Arrente (pronounced Ah-runda) people, suggests I go into the bush and introduce myself to the spirits of the land. As I do, a gentle energy tugs at my being, and as I stand there with tears in my eyes, I genuinely feel a strong and lasting connection to the land.

The journey continues and the remaining days I spend taking in the incredible landscapes at Standley Chasm, Ellery Big Hole and Serpentine Gorge off the Larapinta Trail and meeting some incredible people along the way.

Stay tuned to hear my story and see my photographs on another blog post.

About Susan:

Susan Papazian is a travel, portrait and lifestyle photographer based in Sydney Australia. She takes amazing portraits, and if you live in Sydney, you should absolutely update that crappy LinkedIn photo and call her! (Katische cheekily inserted that line)

You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Susan Papazian

Susan Papazian : Image courtesy Tony Strasser

Champagne region guide

Travel: Your guide to touring the wineries in the Champagne region of France

Champagne region guide

Today’s guest blog is written and photographed by Distant Francophile– Scott and Janelle Gould.

I met Scott in January when we were both attending and intensive four day portraiture workshop with the Australian/Parisian photographer Carla Coulson.  Everyone at the course, whilst learning portraiture, was also a travel photographer (not surprising given that Carla’s original speciality was travel photography). Scott and Janelle are in love with France- and it wasn’t until recently that Iearnt exactly how much until I saw on Instagram their trip to Paris.  I was thrilled when they accepted my invitation to blog about one of the wine regions on my bucket list- Champagne.

So enjoy- I do recommend that you pour yourself a glass of bubbles whilst reading this- just to get into the mood 😉

Champagne Veuve Garden

I’m quite surprised by the fact that it took us years to visit the Champagne region of France. Especially given how much we enjoy the famous local product – and the fact that we visit France at least once a year.

The problem was one of perception. I’d always thought that we would have to do a tour of the area, but I could never find one that suited our needs. And despite me asking anyone and everyone for a tour recommendation, the responses I received were usually a bit underwhelming.

Eventually, after a bit more questioning and a lot more reading, I worked out that you could essentially craft your own tour of the Champagne region – and its famous Champagne houses.

So it was under our own steam that we finally visited the famed French region.

To help out anyone else who might be keen to explore the area, here are our do-it-yourself suggestions for visiting the Champagne region of France.

Decide Which Champagne Houses To Visit – Before You Work Out How To Get There

A massive number of choices make this step easier said than done. All of the well known (and many of the lesser known) Champagne houses seem to offer a variety of guided visits for you to choose from. And the on-line reviews aren’t a lot of help – apparently every visit of every is house is recommended at least once as the very best!

Like anything, you only seem to be limited by the time you have available and your budget. However, it seems that for many of the guided visits, booking is essential, so you really are best to give it some thought before you go.

Given Scott and I were only planning to be in the region for one day, we really wanted to see and learn as much as possible. We were also keen to see the crayères or chalk mines the region is famous for so we centred our ‘house research’ around the houses in Reims that offer tours of the mines.

After much deliberation, we decided to make a very big day of it and visit two houses – Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart.

Visiting Veuve Clicquot 

Let’s start with Veuve Clicquot. The famous house offers three different guided visits at various times and price points:

  1. The one hour ‘Discoveries’ tour,
  1. The ‘In the footsteps of Madame Clicquot’ tour, which also takes an hour and focuses on the extraordinary woman who gave so much to the brand and;
  1. The ‘Aromatically Yours’ tour, which is provides an in depth overview of the house. It runs for two and a half hours and also includes a cheese tasting.

We chose to take the top of the range ‘Aromatically Yours’ visit which runs on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. We felt that it would provide far more detail of the history of the house. It also offered tastings of four vintage champagnes whereas the other tours offered fewer tastings.

When choosing your guided visit it is important to know that these tastings are not what we expect in Australia, where you taste a fairly small sample.  In France, you get a full glass of every wine on offer – important to note if you are planning to drive.

We booked our Veuve Clicquot tour on-line and paid for it on the day of our visit.

Although the ‘Aromatically Yours’ visit can accommodate eight visitors, there were only four of us on the Wednesday we visited. The ‘Aromatically Yours’ visit has a single time slot – 10:00 am – which seemed a little early to me. But our guide Vincent – an Italian sommelier who’d worked in many countries before marrying a French girl – explained that this start time is specifically chosen because our senses are heightened at this time of day.  I learn something new everyday!

Our visit started with an overview of the vines – specifically the three varieties that are used in Champagne – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Vincent showed us how to differentiate between the vines – apparently you can tell the difference by looking at the leaves.

If there was a test, I don’t think I’d pass it…

Vincent then guided us to a beautiful aroma garden where we spent time crushing flowers and leaves, trying to memorise scents that we might later find in the wine.

Following our aroma garden experience, Vincent gave us a run down of the history of the house and the region while we tasted non-vintage champagne. He also shared Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin’s story, the extraordinary young woman who married into the Clicquot family, was widowed aged 27 and who went on to improve just about everything regarding champagne. It is remarkable to consider just how successful the widow Clicquot was in a time when women were expected to do anything but run a family business, let alone revolutionise an industry.

She also gave her name to the house, given the word ‘veuve’ is French for widow.

After being immersed in the history of the house, we played a blind food smelling game where we again tried to identify scents that we might find in the wine. We then tasted jams – all with the aim of getting us primed to taste the vintage bubbles.

We were now well prepared and Vincent led us into the crayères. Veuve Clicquot has access to 24 kilometres of crayères or chalk mines which they now use as cellars for the champagne. The crayères are amazing cave-like spaces dug out of the chalk. It is quite chilly in the crayères – they remain at 12 degrees celsius year round. This fact really resonated with me when I learnt that that the caves had provided refuge for the citizens of Reims during the second world war.

Veuve crayer stair

Many of the crayères have been named after loyal workers who have been with Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin more than 40 years. Even after they’ve left the company, the former worker can visit ‘their’ crayère and can use it for private functions.

Veuve Cliquot

Our tasting was also held in one of the bottle lined crayères, which provided spectacular ambience. We were treated to two champagnes from the 2004 vintage – a brut and a rosé as well as a 1990 rosé and an excellent brut from 1989.

Vincent took us through the whole champagne making process and explained the differences between the champagnes as he guided us through the tasting. He took the time to explain the nuances of the wines and I feel like I developed a much better appreciation for champagne in general.

Champagne VeuveOur champagnes were perfectly matched with cheeses – the older the wine, the more mature the corresponding cheese.

Veuve Cliquot

Our two and a half hour visit flew by and I only have one word for the whole Verve Clicquot tasting experience – and that is amazing!


Visiting Ruinart

Ruinart sign

Ruinart, by contrast, offers one style of guided visit at various times of the day. We chose 4:00pm so we would have time for lunch and to visit the famous Reims cathedral between our Champagne house visits.

Ruinart accepts visitors by appointment only, and payment is required when you book. Unfortunately, the on-line payment method is not particularly secure, which may deter potential guests.

That point aside, the booking method ensured that the Ruinart team knew we were coming – there was a security guard awaiting our arrival at the gate. Once we’d had our names ticked off the guest list we were free to take in the sight of the aristocratic buildings which sat very comfortably on perfectly manicured grounds.

We were soon met by our guide and ushered into the formal waiting room. Ruinart visits are limited to eight visitors, so it didn’t take long for all the guests to arrive.

While we lounged on plush furnishings, our guide explained the history of the house and the region before we climbed down the numerous stairs to the Ruinart crayères.

Ruinart have access to eight kilometres of crayères and the structure of the Ruinart chalk caves are quite unique.

Ruinart crayers

Ruinart crayers

Although the word amphitheatre is inappropriate in the context, it is the word that keeps springing to my mind. Some of the Ruinart crayères are impressively cavernous. One was even used as a ‘cathedral’ during the World War Two, when these crayères also protected the locals from the perils of war.

Ruinart crayers

Ruinart crayers

With our tour of the crayères complete, we returned to our plush lounges for a champagne tasting. The Ruinart tasting consisted of two glasses each – and guests get to choose their two tastings from four champagnes, two of which are rosés.

The entire Ruinart visit lasted around an hour and a half and it certainly offered a taste of class that you’d expect from a luxury champagne house.

I have to say that we were really pleased with our decision to visit both Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart in the one day. Not only do I feel like we got an extensive insight into the champagne making process as well as the crayères, our decision also gave us a chance to compare and contrast two spectacular champagne houses.

Getting Yourself To The Champagne Region From Paris – And Back Again.

Once you’ve made your choice of Champagne houses to visit, and understand your tour times, you need to plan your journey. You could choose to hire a car from Paris if you were a) brave enough to drive in Paris and b) didn’t want to taste any bubbly. Unsurprisingly, we decided to take the train.

Our fast, smooth TGV service left Paris at 8:00am from Gare de l’Est and delivered us to Reims in around 45 minutes. You can book and pay for your train tickets in advance on-line – but do make sure that your destination is Reims rather than the Gare de Champagne-Ardenne. Stopping there would leave you in a difficult spot, about five kilometres south of Reims itself.

Although we didn’t choose to do so, it is easy to take a connecting train from Reims to the capital of the Champagne region, Épernay if the champagne houses in that town are better suited to your taste. Apparently Épernay is beautiful and worth a visit in its own right – I’ve definitely put it on the to-do list for a future visit.

Returning to Paris was equally easy, with trains running regularly. Again, the travel time was only 45 minutes. Of course, if you had the luxury of more time, it seemed that there were many forms of accommodation in Reims, and you could easily stay longer if you wanted to explore more of the area, or wanted to space out your visits to the Champagne houses.

Getting around the Champagne Region.

Scott and I tend to do a lot of walking while we are in France – you just get to see so much more. And while we were in Reims, it was no different.

The town of Reims is really quite charming, despite suffering a fair amount of damage due to bombing in World War Two. A number of older buildings remain intact, with squares and green areas providing space for visitors and locals alike.

We were due at Veuve Clicquot at 10:00am, and as it happens, Veuve Clicquot is the house farthest from the railway station, on the outskirts of Reims. The walk itself took a little over 30 minutes so we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

That said, other visitors on both our morning and afternoon tours chose to take taxis which seemed to be in good supply, with the staff at the Champagne houses ordering cabs for visitors at the end of the tours.

All in all our do-it-yourself visit to Champagne worked a treat – we had a fantastic day in a beautiful town – and I would recommend the DIY option to anyone else struggling to select a tour of the region.


Distant Francophile

Scott and Janelle Gould from Distant Francophile: Image: Carla Coulson

About Janelle and Scott

You might already be aware that Melbourne, Australia is a long way away. From anywhere. From everywhere. But especially from France, particularly if you happen to be a devoted francophile.

We are a husband and wife team who love travel and photography. We also had a passing interest in France. But this interest grew into a full blown obsession after spending October 2008 in Paris and Provence with our son. We fell in love with the people, the culture, the architecture, the food, the wine… basically, we fell in love with everything about the place.

Since that first trip, we have chosen to brave the 24 hour flight to France several times – we try to visit at least once each year. We spend every spare minute planning future journeys – researching accommodation and tours, restaurants and shopping opportunities, packing lists and train timetables.

And when we cannot be in France, we are searching for ways to capture the spirit of France, and bring it into our everyday life…

Colleagues, friends and family originally smiled at our ever growing infatuation. Slowly though, they started to seek our advice on all things French. We are forever lugging books and photos here and there, scribbling out addresses and providing advice…and we absolutely adore every minute of it!

Travel: a surprise lunch in the vines


Last Saturday I went for a five km walk around the Enoggera Reservoir. I was finished by 8:20am and home and showered by 9:30am, which got me thinking, what was I going to do for the rest of the day?

travel- enoggerareserveouir

I escaped both the heat of the day and the crowds by completing my walk around the Enoggera Reservoir by 8:20am

I had no plans, and didn’t want to end up spending the day at my desk, catching up on work. I wanted to go somewhere, except for the fact that it was the long weekend, and you know what long weekends mean- TRAFFIC.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to go out somewhere for lunch and make a day of it? I thought. My mind started its auto search and bingo, I remembered a winery out Samford way, that I had been meaning to try.

So I rang the winery to see if they had any tables available and then rang mum. I asked her if she had anything planned, and as she began to tell me about her never-ending list of jobs (when you are a widow, it seems like a never-ending list because it takes a lot to keep a house maintained by yourself). Today’s list was the watering system.

I had anticipated that there would be jobs, and told her- well, I need your help. Unless it’s absolutely urgent that you fix those sprinklers right now, then I need you to help me come and research something for the blog. Ok she said what? Never you mind I said, just shower and I’ll pick you up at 10:45am. Wear something nice.

I knew she’d be in an absolute flap. I’ve always been spontaneous and it takes me a whole of ten minutes to shower and get dressed for the day. Mum on the other hand, has a complicated beauty, hair and makeup routine and it can take her an hour alone to get ready.

10:35 I arrived and I could hear the hairdryer still going.
“Mum, I’m here- we have to leave by 10:45 at the absolute latest as our table booking is for 12:00 and it’s at least an hour’s drive to where we are going.”

Now I had her attention.

“You can do your makeup in the car….” (I’ve never seen her resort to that in her entire life).

“Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise.”

Eventually I told her that we were heading to Mount Mee, to Ocean View Estates Winery.

I’d never been to the winery, and so it was a gamble, however, I knew that Sirromet: Mount Cotton Estate was not an option as the freeway to the Gold Coast would be chock a block with traffic.

ocean view estate winery

Entrance to Ocean View Estate Winery at Mt Mee, Qld, Australia.

We ended taking a very very scenic route there, however, we made it in time for our booking. The first thing we noticed at the winery was the elevation. We were up high and it was much cooler here. (500 meters above sea level to be precise) I affectionately call mum a lizard as she always needs to warm up in the sun, and so she was glad we were visiting in spring and not winter.

We were shown to our table at the enclosed verandah, which had peaceful views of the vineyard and the heart shaped lake. (Really, I promise it was shaped like a heart).

We ordered two glasses of the Reserve Viognier and a shared Charcuterie Plate which contained serrano, soppressa, fresh marinated anchovies, pepperdew with truffled mascarpone, peppered pecorino, marinated mixed olives, cornichons, and sourdough bread.

For main I ordered the fish of the day, which was Barramundi, served with soubise, sea spray, crushed peas, goats curd, and edamame. I recommended mum order the twice-cooked crispy duck, with candied orange, mushroom dumpling, kale, and port jus. I had seen that the reviews for the restaurant on Trip Advisor were mixed, but that the best reviews were from those who had ordered the duck.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals- mum was not so sure about the mushroom in the dumpling and would have appreciated some mashed potato with her dish, however, it did not impact upon her satisfaction.

We were too full for desert, however the people at the next table certainly looked to be enjoying theirs.


Outside dining option

It was too cool for mum to want to wander around the vineyard and she wasn’t interested in tasting more wine, so we decide to leave that for another time.


Some of the wines on offer at Ocean View Estate Winery

As we left we noticed that a large group of people were eating lunch outside and had just finished a horse ride around th winery (horses tied up nearby).


Horse ride around the vines anyone?

The restaurant was also putting their finishing touches together for a wedding that afternoon, down by the heart shaped lake! Now I understood….


Setting up for an afternoon wedding.


The lake of love- told you it was heart shaped.

All in all a lovely afternoon and highly recommended, especially if you are staying for a relaxing weekend at a B&B in the Daybro, Mount Mee or Samford regions. If you want to have the full experience, complete with vineyard and winery tour at 11am, a tasting in the cellar door followed by lunch in the restaurant, then I recommend staying on the property in their accommodation.

The winery also can organize a picnic in the vines, a helicopter wine tour, a “just girls getaway day” as well as a ride on those horse I mentioned earlier.

I think mum enjoyed herself much more than staying at home fixing those darn sprinklers…

Things you need to know:

Opening Hours:

Wednesday 10:00-3:00pm Thursday to Sat 10:00pm til late Sunday 8:30am – 5:00pm

Restaurant bookings 07 3425 3900.

Vineyard and winery tours 11am daily

Owners: Thomas and Kate Honnef


Travel: Sculpture on the Edge: Getting your holiday art fix


Two weeks ago I headed up to Maleny for a portraiture shoot, and to attend Wittafest. On the way, I got an unexpected bonus- Sculpture on the Edge. On display from 12th September 2015 to 18th October 2015 at Spicers Tamarind Retreat is an interesting and thought provoking display of sculpture by local artists. Pictured above is what I like to think of as my self portrait. The artist Jim Cox, called it “The blonde arrived in her open top sports car”. It’s made from mixed media/resin/collage/polyster/fiber. She’s on sale for $1,500, if you’d like to have a permanent reminder of me in your garden…

I was very excited to see my old mate Mr Snuffaluffagus had joined me for the day. Well obviously the artist  Elli Schlunke had an active imagination and a whole heap of determination to make “Mammoths” out of old electrical cables, but clearly she wasn’t a fan of Sesame Street. Who needs a trampoline in your garden when you’ve got a friend like Snuffy to tell your secrets to?  An expensive friend at $35,000, but then great works shouldn’t come cheap should they? I think this would be much more interesting that Ronald McDonald in our street (Yes, there is a real Ronald McDonald statue in our street – one of the owners used to make Ronald for the stores when he was made out of steel rather than plastic).

sculpture on the edge

Every exhibition has to have its political statement, and this seemingly innocent plane, is not all that it appears.


“Underwear” by Greg Windsor

“The work encompasses issues of social justice as well as political commentary, responding to an obligation in ‘keeping the bastards honest’. “Our Blokes couldn’t build a canoe…” the comments made by then Defence Minister David Johnston, in the Abbot Government, declaring that our shipwrights ‘couldn’t build a canoe’. His words rocked the boat so much as to cost him his job. The work “Underwear” is a play on words, referring to how the sub operates, as well as to what is meant to be worn inside ones’ outer attire. It reveals this embarrassment which, when viewed by the world, must be seen as ‘hanging out the laundry for all to see’. The craftsmanship and detail of a stripped canoe combined with aeroplane wings are symbolic/ironic toward the pending decision for our government to award the $20 billion contract for the building of the submarines to either South Australia or Japan. The works employ the use of recycled timber and challenge the notion of what some may consider waste or discarded materials, giving them new life and meaning. The skill level required in using substandard materials becomes a juggle as this challenges the process of construction. This material is metaphorical for the fragility of the common man dispossessed.”

Artists statement

I’ve never claimed to understand art, and can’t draw or paint or sculpt to save my life, but what I do understand is that art provides us with a powerful way to express ourselves. I can imagine that the process of making this piece of art saved Greg thousands of dollars in therapy bills, because art is a fantastic way to vent our frustrations and anger and even sadness. You have to respect people who take action and actively work with their thoughts rather than letting them channel down into resentment and bitterness. The world would be a better place if we all picked up a pencil or a camera instead of a fist.

Here’s a small selection of some of the photos I took of the sculptures.

My favourite thing about the exhibition was, not the art. It was the location; oh and um these pods. I call them nanoo nanoo pods because well, they remind me of Mork and Mindy, but, heck we all know I’m a little quirky.

spicers pods

I might have sat here for a while



Other things you should know:

Spices has a coffee shop, for after your wanderings. I haven’t dined there (yet). A girl’s got to leave some things for later…

On the last weekend of every month, a selection of hinterland artists throw open their studio doors and invite you in to see their work and enjoy their creative spaces. Open 10am- 4pm. See the Arts Connect Website for details.

Gardeners Fall’s is right below Spicers, and is a favourite place for locals to test their dare devil natured by diving from the top of the falls into the water. It was empty when I went, (because it was cold) but is a lovely stroll (man I am getting old using that word), regardless.

Katische would like to thank her portraiture client Phillipa for having a photo shoot in Maleny and allowing this little gem to bring sunshine into my life. Spices Tamarind Retreat is now on my wish list to stay at. You can book to stay there by clicking on the button on the right hand side of the page.

Coochiemudlo Island

Travel Inspiration: Coochiemudlo Island

Coochiemudlo Island

Coochiemudlo Island

Having moved back to Brisbane three years ago, I am on a quest to discover places in South East Queensland that I have never travelled to. So often when we grow up in a city and return as an adult we make many assumptions about what there is to see and do. For example, the islands of Redland Bay; if you think you’ve seen it all just because you’ve been to North Stradbroke Island, you’re wrong.

Coochiemudlo Island (Kutchi-mudlo) is a name that many people have not heard since the 1980s. I know, because I recently surveyed my Facebook friends and the responses were, well a little interesting… It seems that not many had been back to the island since their high school science excursion where the only thing they remember is being knee-deep in mud.

So now, I was curious. Why had no one been back? Was there something wrong with the island? We spent a weekend there to find out exactly what the island offered.

Up for the challenge were my two children and friend and fellow Instagrammer Amanda. Amanda took care of the logistics and found a friend who let us stay at his holiday house, so that we could provide you with an objective view of the island.

How to get there:

Ferry from Redland Bay. You can travel on the passenger only ferry (perfect for a day trip) or the vehicle ferry. You’ll have to reverse onto the vehicle ferry so that you can drive off forward when you reach the island.


The history of the island:

  • Matthew Flinders landed here in 1799, and the first white settlers came in 1895, however it took until 1978 for electricity to come to the island! Coochiemudlo retains its Aboriginal name and although thought not to have been settled by the traditional land owners of Australia, they did use the island for collecting shellfish and other bush tucker. As at 2008, 708 people were recorded by the Australian Census as living here.

Top ten things to do on the island:

ride your bikeThere’s a 5km bike track that starts at the ferry and meanders through wetlands and beach. Or, if you’re like Amanda, you can jog it! Bring your own bike on the ferry or, hire a fancy one.

Cocchiemudlocollect shells
Collect shells at low tide. I have never seen as many whelks as there are on Coochie. This place is kid heaven for collecting all things fascinating.
3. SUP
SUP: Stand Up Paddle boarding at high tide. Amanda took her board out and paddled through the mangroves.
4. Have fun on the water
Hire a kayak, tinnie, BBQ boat, or aquaboat from Coochie Boat and Bike Hire and have some fun on the water!
5. Get Wet!Get your togs on (or cozzie’s if your from the south and visiting) this is the best place to swim at high tide for the kids- there’s no surf, so the water’s calm.
6. gorge yourself (1)

Eat- we found a mulberry tree and gorged ourselves. If you’re more civilised you might like to try dining at Red Rock Cafe, or enjoy licking an ice-cream on the beach from the kiosk.

7. relax
Relax and read a book while the kids play at the park, or even better, join this vibrant community of artists, photographers and writers, and take a retreat and write your own book here!
8. Get your camera out
Get your camera out, there’s tranquility, rugged beauty and an abundance of wildlife! Bring a waterproof camera if you like exploring the mangroves at low tide.
9. Play Golf
Yep, you’re right, that’s definitely not a photo of a golf ball. But the kids didn’t want to get off their bikes and hike down to the course, so you’ll have to imagine it is. Betcha didn’t think there was a golf course on Coochie!
10. exfoliate
Get more than dirty in the mangroves- have a professional give you a real exfoliation, massage or beauty treatment.

Our verdict:

This is good old fashioned fun at its best! Time out in nature, where wildlife is at your doorstep and there’s no pressure to fill your time with expensive activities and a never ending list of restaurants. This island is about spending time with and actually talking to your holiday companions, and doing the simple things that you used to enjoy before we came obsessed with bucket lists, and instagramming our every meal.

To find out more about Coochie, and see fabulous photos, visit our destination page. Why not head there this weekend?