HIGH TIMES IN THE AUSTRALIAN HIGHLANDS
Once you get Down Under to Sydney, it'll take a lot to get you to leave the San Francisco of Australia. But the nearby Blue Mountains are the best reason I can think of, mate.
These lovely highlands are just two hours from Sydney by car or train. These cool, wooded mountains, punctuated with deep canyons, make a fine day trip. But I suggest renting a car and spending at least two nights and days prowling this picturesque country.
The swank resort of Lilianfels is an 1889 estate just a short walk from the stunning Echo Point lookout at the Three Sisters rock formation in the scenic Jamison Valley.
It's the only five-star hotel in the Blue Mountains and has been purchased by the Orient-Express hotels group. The famed Darleys restaurant is named after the original owner. The restaurant is tops but I do not recommend kangaroo except for those who wish to experiment.
Lilianfels offers just about everything you can imagine, from tennis, indoor swimming pool, health spa and a billiards room I tried late at night, after too much wine. Fortunately, the woman I was with also had tried the wine. Result: a tie, then bed. At nearby Katoomba, stroll the steep street with its charming tea shops and art-deco Paragon Cafe.
Follow the Blue Mountains Scenic Drive to the memorable town of Leura, a pretty page out of Australia's past. The historic main street is full of antique and craft shops and cute cafes. Just the spot for a coffee break. (Barney Brantingham)
DINING IN A DESERT DOWN UNDER
Take a slice of kangaroo, a tad of emu and add some of the most delicious fish in the world - barramundi. The only bush tucker which appears to be missing from the Sounds of Silence dining table is camel.
An Aboriginal didgeridoo player forms the welcoming committee. He’s good.
Welcome to Central Australian cuisine, - where, with a glass of fine South Australian wine and “silver service” - we are dining desert style. The sun is setting over Ayers Rock and the even more spectacular Olgas. Guests of Ayers Rock Resort have been bussed into their desert vantage point - and for what is full-on service.
It's hard to imagine that we are actually in the very heart of the largest continent on earth, a stones throw from Ayers Rock. The red dust of the desert sand covering our shoes, another chardonnay in hand, we are about to dine from a table setting of starched white table cloth and a full array of “working tools”. (Remember John, start from the outside and work in.) It’s almost dark, and there’s been one too many chardonnays, but nobody seems to be particularly watching anyone's table manners. There’s just too much happening.
The breeze is cooling the face - it’s been another dry hot day. The steaks sizzle and the sun sets beyond the Rock and it's time for dinner!
This daily evening experience is very special.
Sounds of Silence is another of the novel dining experiences offered to visitors into Central Australia. The bush foods are well to the fore. A bush-blend vegetable soup, choice cuts of shall we say the more unusual (but exceptionally tasty) meats, unique chutneys and relishes, and then a choice of Australian desserts - pavlova or macadamia nut pudding.
The only sounds coming from gas lanterns, which after dinner are extinguished, and then we are left with just the desert sounds. An occasional dingo breaks the silence with a mournful howl.
The stars are at their brightest. Out with the powerful telescopes and an introduction to the heavens which belong to Central Australia. The astronomer, didgeridoo player, food and wines (even an after dinner port with the tea or coffee) - all part of the A$80 fee.
Don't even think about visiting Australia without including Ayers Rock in your holiday plans. Then of course, you’re just a few minutes away from the very special Sounds of Silence Dinner. You should allow one night for Ayers Rock and two to three nights for Alice Springs which is about 500 kilometers to the north east.