Port Hedland: Family, flies and four wheel drives

It is been a while since my last blog, most obviously because I have been to Port Hedland to see my sister Kate and the family.

Followers of my twitter and tumblr feeds will know how much I love my family, how much I have been looking forward to my time in Port Hedland with them and, from the photos I have posted, how good a time I have had with them.

Simply put, I just had the best time with my family in their new house in South Hedland and, despite nearly being folded up with the fold out bed on night one, I am already trying to work out when I will come back again. To say I was little bit down as the family saw me off at the airport yesterday would be an understatement particularly given that it is my oldest nephew Jack’s birthday next weekend.

It has taken me a long time just to realise how important family is and, selfishly, how important time spent with family is for my mental health. The effect that the smiles on the faces of my nephews, Jack and Cooper, and new niece, Abbey, had on me alone on this trip has been profound.

But that is enough about family for this blog, as this trip was also my first opportunity to travel to the western part of Australia and, more particularly, to Port Hedland. Whilst I was only there for four days some key themes from my experience are worth noting.

First and foremost, if you are coming to Port Hedland expecting anything other than a mining town then you are sorely mistaken. From the marking of just about every major piece of public works with the branding of BHP or FMG to the large “salt mountain” of Dampier Salt on the way to town it is clear that mining drives the town and its people. This is never more apparent than when the BHP headquarters reveal themselves along the highway to town as the vast expanses of red dirt give way to manicured gardens and green grass.

If you intend to drive around Port Hedland it is also important to note that just about every car on the road is a four wheel drive and the bulk of them are workmen’s vehicles. I have never seen more four wheel drives in one space at one time so if you are shaky driving one I would suggest finding an alternate mode of transport. The other thing that can catch unsuspecting drivers unaware is getting caught at a railway crossing when the self proclaimed “longest trains in the world” are shunting past. My sister described us being lucky when we got to one such crossing as the gates descended because “it is only a short one”, after 10 minutes I was somewhat unsure how lucky we in fact were.

It goes without saying as well that Port Hedland is hot, very hot, and with heat comes flies. I am not sure I would have ever gotten used to the standard fly around my mouth or eyes on the occasions we went out no matter how long we went out for during this trip. My brother-in-law claims that you do get used to them after a while and maybe next time I have over hopefully in the “cooler” months I will be able to test whether the flies are less irritating.

I say none of this to be negative about Port Hedland. I am glad it is another place in Australia that I wanted to see that I have now seen. Before my sister and brother-in-law decided to go on this adventure they are presently on I am unsure that I would ever have headed over to that part of the world. I am unsure as to whether, without my family being over there, that I would be intending to come back. However, if you want to see one of the real nerve centres of Australia’s economy at work and have some spare time while you are in the West, it is definitely worth the 2 hour flight up for a look around in my opinion.

Shumpty on tour: the best meal of my life and Stephen Fry

Today was my last full day in Queenstown and was another lazy one with the only items on the agenda eating more good food, watching the cricket from the Basin Reserve and trying to keep warm. Lunch again was at Eichardts: I have already waxed lyrical about the food and the service and again they did not let me down. Top notch again! Travellers to Queenstown would be well advised to check this little dining room out: try the Chicken Risotto.

Followers of my twitter feed (@shumpty77) will already attest to my excitement at seeing some snow on the peaks around Queenstown and that snow was only added to throughout the day as the mercury dropped (according to my iPhone) to a maximum of 8 degrees during the day. I love this weather and found myself often gazing out to the peaks from the apartment window.

Earlier in this part of the trip I spent the day in Arrowtown and tested out the well regarded Saffron Restaurant. At that time I rebooked for 7pm tonight. What followed was the best meal of my life. Some context on that statement first: I am not a gourmet, I have a very limited palate and I hate seafood. That said I like what I like so I regularly order similar dishes because I know what will be served up will satisfy my limited palate. I should also declare now that I do not drink wine (anymore) so I have no interest at all in the wine list at restaurants in which I eat.

So the scene set I repeat the statement in the title: tonight I had the best meal of my life. So what did I have? At this point you should all add to your favourites the site for the restaurant http://www.saffron.co.nz. My menu for tonight was as follows:

Entree: Spicy Lentil, Tomato and Coconut Soup
Main: Chargilled Hereford fillet of Beef
Desert: Deep fried Ginger Bread icecream

The soup, as described to me by my waiter (“you are going to love this mate”) I simply loved. I normally would need a gun pointed to my head to even try lentils but I am now a convert. The soup was smooth, the coconut clearly evident in the mix and the raita accompaniment just spot on.

I had the beef medium rare and it came out perfectly medium rare. The rib, smoked with Oak leaves, was like nothing I have ever tasted before and the Pumpkin and Whisky Pie was again spot on as an accompaniment.

Readers who know me will tell you I abhor deserts normally but to tonight the urge took me and I was not disappointed. The overwhelming taste of ginger was the mainstay of the desert which was just what I needed to top off the meal.

Let me declare now that with the first bite of my desert I was ready to declare this the best meal I had ever had. Then, 3 bites later, Stephen Fry walks in the front door with Sam Neill following shortly after.

I have read all of Mr Fry’s books and watched nearly all of his tv shows and movies (pivotal role in A Civil Action among my favourites) save for his role in Bones because I dislike the show. He would be one of the six people I would invite to my ideal dinner party (the others: my dad, my mum, Bradman, Lloyd George and an English archer at the battle of Agincourt). 20 metres away from one of my idols and what did I do: nothing. I repeat: nothing! Let me explain … On this occasion I followed my head and respected that he was just another guy out having a meal with his friends and did not wish to be disturbed rather than my heart which screamed: get over there! I immediately regretted the decision.

That said: what a bottler of a last night in Queenstown: the best meal I have ever had and I was within 20 metres of an idol. Will remember this night for a long time!

Till tomorrow.

Shumpty on tour: the road to Wanaka!

Yesterday dawned as an overcast and dreary day … A perfect day for another road trip. After breakfasting again at Eichardts Private Hotel (I have a gift voucher that still keeps on giving) and a brief pit stop to checkout the sale at Macpac (I love their gear … Would buy the store if I could), it was time for the Yaris to again do the work and get over the Crown Range to Wanaka.

Some background: the drive to Wanaka if you don’t go via the Crown Range from Queenstown is 117kms. When you go over the Range it is 59kms. So it is a hilly, curvy drive over the range and then through the valley between two of the mountains that form the range. Why Wanaka you ask? Well I retort with why not AND I wanted to see the National Transport and Toy Museum. More on that later.

The drive was an edge of your seat and sweaty palm experience! It would be in the dry but was more even more so in the wet. Forget the scenery, the glimpses of which I saw was brilliant, the actually driving experience was brilliant. The Yaris again served me well but I have to say I will be coming back here and hiring a higher powered car to do that drive again!

Wanaka is another one of these hidden gems in the Southland / Otago region that I keep finding. Set on Lake Wanaka it has some good cafes, the usual souvenir shops selling NZ paraphernalia and art and photo galleries. As I have found everywhere the people were friendly and keen for a chat.

A beef burger and a coke at the Kai Whaka Pai Cafe settled my nerves after the battling the Crown Range and after a quick walk around I headed to the Transport and Toy Museum. For the first time this tour I have to confess that this was a disappointment. So much so I declined the $12 entry fee after perusing the “free section” of the museum and return to the Yaris for the drive home.

The Queensland election and the rugby dominated the rest of my day … Both are subjects that I will canvass in blogs later today!

Today, after more of Eichardts fine food, will be a lazy day walking around town me thinks.

Till tomorrow.