Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Habitat For Humanity is a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing organisation building simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need.

I have a number of friends and colleagues who have volunteered to travel overseas and assist with building projects for people in need – great job by them I say.

Compass on ABC TV recently had a show on one of these builds in which two friends participated – click here to see the show (probably only viewable in Australia unfortunately).

Read Full Post »

I learned to drive in a Volkswagen, all those years ago. It was one of the old VW bugs, in fact the first of the models released in Australia with the curved, instead of the straight windscreen.

They were funny days, in hindsight, trying to master a handbrake start on a slight hill at Merrimac, behind the Gold Coast (although it’s probably an integral part of the Gold Coast now). And seeing the look on my father’s face when I mounted the gutter and ended up on the footpath at the end of our street, thankfully pulling up before we slid down into Boobegan Creek.

For a time, when Dad was out of work, our family of six was a single car family, with the VW being the single car. It would certainly by frowned on by the constabulary now, probably was then too. But I can confirm that the luggage compartment behind the back seat was the perfect size for a small child. Do you remember that, Ian?

I’ve owned one VW prior to the Golf, a VW Bora (now called the Jetta), which I thoroughly loved, and I traded in for a Citroen CX3, which was a piece of crap. But that’s another story.

This time around (October 2010), I was in the market for a mid-sized station wagon, because I have two large dogs that need to be transported from time to time. On that subject, you should have seen me when I was trying to transport them in the CX3. I already had a Holden Astra Wagon, which was doing an OK job, but I’d decided to head up market a little bit.

What were my buying criteria?

  • Mid-sized wagon;
  • Cruise control;
  • Climate control;
  • iPod connectivity;
  • Mobile phone connectivity.

The first car I looked at and drove was the Hyundai i30 wagon. A reasonable sort of car, but just didn’t do it for me. Without wanting to sound too snobby, I really wanted something that was a bit more up market. I know that sounds funny from someone who had an Astra. The other problem was the sales guy at the dealership. “Hey buddy, you’re selling to a salesman here. Don’t promise me you’ll do something and then don’t do it. That really pisses me off.”

The thinking finally came down to two cars, the Peugeot 308 Touring or the VW Golf Comfortline. I really liked the glass roof arrangement on the Peugeot and it looked like a really cool “unique” car. As well as that, family and colleagues who owned Peugeots swore by them. One downside was that along the way I’d decided I wanted a diesel and, from memory, the diesel was only available as a manual transmission at the time. As well as that, after the Citroen, I swore I would never buy another crap French car again. Finally, the sales guy at Booran in Dandenong was an absolute prick. I thought all those old time car salesmen had died and gone to hell. Apparently not. “Hey buddy, don’t tell me stuff where you can be found to be a complete liar with the click of a mouse button.”

When contrasting the Golf and the Peugeot, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague that went something along the lines of:

Me: “Hey I believe you have a Peugeot 308”

Him: “Yes”

Me: “How is it?”

Him: “Yeah, it’s really good”

(Conversation progressed and I found out his wife owned a VW Golf)

Me: “ So when you need to go down to the shop for the milk, which car do you take?”

Him: “The Golf”

Me: “Would you buy another Peugeot?”

Him: “Um, ah, um, ah. No”

The ultimate question. Would you buy another one?

It was probably that single conversation that persuaded me to head down the Golf path. So what do I have? It’s a silver 2010 Volkswagen Golf 103TDI Comfortline (http://www.volkswagen.com.au/en/models/golf_wagon/variants.html). Which basically means it’s the top-of-the-line with regard to appointments, with a 2.0 litre diesel engine and 6-speed automatic gearbox. All my buying criteria were met, the latter two by after-market addons.

So what do I think after 8 months? Absolutely love it. Firstly, I just can’t believe how much grunt I get out of the 2.0 litre diesel. It really makes me wonder how quick the smaller, lighter hatch would be with the same engine.

I still, even after eight months, struggle with the Direct Shift Gearbox a bit. While it is an automatic transmission, it is a bit like a manual that’s being controlled automatically. Funny way of describing it, I know, but hey, I’m not a mechanic. It struggles a bit in that black spot between 1st and 2nd that those who drive manuals will relate to –  while moving, do I put it into first with a big lurch and over-revving or second with low revs and ride the clutch? It’s a bit slow on the pickup when one needs to change down in a hurry as well.

There is just something about German cars though. A bit spartan perhaps, but absolutely rock solid and great engineering. It’s amazing the number of people who have commented on the solid “thunk” of the doors as they close. The economy is fantastic – I’m averaging 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres around town. I find that if I shop around, generally using www.motormouth.com.au, I can get diesel for about the same price as unleaded, so there is definitely a saving in that regard.

There have been a couple of dramas along the way. The phone kit packed it in after a couple of weeks and I had to get it completely replaced. On top of that, when the transfer of registration came through from VicRoads, it was for the wrong registration number. The error wasn’t picked up for six months after I bought the car and now, two months later, I’m still trying to get it sorted out. I suspect the fault lies with VicRoads, rather than Camberwell VW, where I bought the car. In fact, as an aside, the folks at Camberwell VW were great and I would definitely recommend them. I thought the new owners’ seminar was a great touch.

So, in short, I really look forward to driving my car every day, and would thoroughly recommend the Golf. I’m guessing that, having jumped around all over the place (Austin / Toyota / Mazda (x2) / Ford / Saab / VW (x2) / Citroen / Holden), I’m now solidly in the VW camp for good. And thankfully, I haven’t come close to driving it into a creek.

Read Full Post »

A big three cheers to all the volunteers from Warragul SES and the Lions Club for their manning of the Driver Reviver post at Longwarry North today. An excellent service for all of us travelling back from Gippsland – managed extremely well and in a very friendly manner.


Read Full Post »

I’ve blogged before about the importance of our dogs, Spike and Ned, to Carol and me. They are an integral part of our lives, so when we decided to go away for Easter, it had to be somewhere that they could come as well.

We found Eagle Point Cottages on the net (http://www.gippslandlakesaccommodation.com/), about three and a quarter hours drive from Melbourne in East Gippsland. Well it would normally be that, if the freeway wasn’t closed at Morwell. Add an hour. Thanks VicRoads.

DSC_0276We discussed the usual concerns when we’ve thought about going to East Gippsland in the past. It’s just a bit too far. Ned doesn’t travel well. Everyone says the mosquitoes are shocking. We put all that aside and booked anyway and are so glad we did, for two reasons. We had a fantastic time and also made one of those life-defining decisions while we were there.

There are two cottages comprising Eagle Point Cottages, set on an extremely large area of mowed lawns and native trees, surrounded by farmland. The eagle and pelicans flying overhead at different stages were stunning and there was a plethora of native birds as well, given all the trees. There were no concerns about letting the boys off the leads to run around, given the size of the property and the distance from the road. However they also had their fenced-in back yard.

The cottage was described as a studio, which I guess means the bed isn’t in a separate bedroom. It had everything we needed, was clean and extremely comfortable. Phil, the owner, dropped over briefly to make sure everything was OK on our first morning, but beyond that, we were left completely to ourselves. I really like that.

For those of you who don’t know and haven’t bothered to look at a map since you started reading this, Eagle Point is about seven or eight minutes drive from Paynesville, described as the Victorian Riviera. If Paynesville isn’t ringing any bells, it’s about 20 minutes from Bairnsdale. If you’re still looking blankly, look at a map.

“Oh give me a spell” was my reaction when I first heard the Victorian Riviera bit. “What wanker real estate agent came up with that?”. But damn it, it’s pretty close to the mark, albeit nowhere near as pretentious as the French Riviera or more locally, Sorrento, to which we found ourselves making a comparison.


We (and Spike and Ned) absolutely loved the place. It was certainly the most relaxing break either of us could remember having for a very long time. There was lots of running, swimming and walking for the boys and plenty of things to see for uDSC_0279s. The Gippsland Lakes area is absolutely magnificent – I continued to curse myself for leaving it so long to go down there. I used to say that Rutherglen and surrounds was the best part of Victoria. Wrong!

We also found more than enough time to curl up with a couple of good books, which usually coincided with two exhausted boys being sound asleep on their beds.

So what of the reasons for not going? It probably is a bit too far, but was no doubt worth the pain once we got there. The mosquitoes are a pain in the arse, but nothing that Aerogard can’t fix. And we learnt that Ned goes a bit stir crazy coming down off the valium. While we’re on that subject, why do four valium tablets cost $20 at the vet? That might be the subject of another blog post.

So if you’ve bothered to read this far, you’ve probably only done so because you want to find out what was the life-defining decision. Wow! How sad are you that my life-defining decisions are so important to you! 😉

So here it is. Carol and I have decided that, when the time comes for us to finally retire, it will be to either Paynesville or Raymond Island. Probably Paynesville – I don’t fancy being completely dependent on a car ferry when there’s a bushfire screaming across the island. Although, at least it’s not operated by VicRoads.

Read Full Post »

The Age had a story this morning on another Tiger Airways debacle. Why anyone would fly with these clowns is a complete mystery to me.

If you dig down into the comments in the article, you’ll find this.


Bravo Make A Wish Foundation!

Read Full Post »

I hate Qantas!

That may not come as too much of a surprise to those that know me. I concede I get carried away sometimes with the adverse way I rate Qantas when compared to Virgin Blue, an airline which I consider to be a vastly superior domestic carrier in Australia.

However, on this occasion, let me try and strip the emotion away and explain why Virgin Blue is better. The scenario is this. I am scheduled to travel to Perth from Melbourne with Qantas (not my choice) on an Airbus A330. The aircraft on which we are supposed to travel is 40 minutes late arriving from Sydney. Something to get upset about? Not really. After all it is Boxing Day with half of Australia travelling it seems, there is adverse weather all around the country and this particular aircraft originates from Sydney, notorious for causing delays.

However, 30 minutes after the revised boarding time for out flight, it is apparent that something isn’t right. 40 minutes after the revised boarding time there is finally an announcement. There is a problem with the flaps on the aircraft and we would be kept informed. Do I have a problem with Qantas being 100% certain the aircraft is airworthy? Absolutely not. Do I have a problem with having to wait 40 minutes to find out what’s going on? Absolutely.

Issue 1: Failure to keep the customers informed.

To Qantas’s credit, they have done a couple of good things I haven’t seen before. The flight attendants have come into the lounge to hand out drinks, nibbles and ice creams. Also, one of the flight crew is present in the lounge to deal with any customer enquiries.

After another period of time (I must admit, I don’t remember how long), we are advised the aircraft is unserviceable and they have arranged a replacement aircraft. This will leave from a lounge at the other end of the terminal at 3:00pm, 2 hours 25 minutes after the original scheduled departure time. We can present our boarding pass at a food outlet to receive a meal to the value of $10 (wow, that gets you a lot at Melbourne airport). We also need to present our boarding passes at the service desk, because there is a change of aircraft, to a Boeing 767 with a different seating configuration.

Issue 2: It took around 40 minutes to give everyone (approximately 250 people) a new boarding pass, with the queue stretching a very long way through the terminal. Seriously Qantas, you’ve already screwed people around. Couldn’t you actually plan for these events and organise for some more people to be available?

So, having been informed by the Qantas staff members at the service desk that the food voucher was actually $20, off we toddle to get some lunch.

Issue 3: The people at the food outlets have been told the voucher value was $10, while the customers have been told it’s $20.

Back to the lounge now as we don’t want to miss our 3:00pm departure. At 3:10pm, still sitting in the lounge, it is apparent we are not leaving at 3:00pm. Then there is an announcement from one of the flight crew that, because of the different aircraft type and the delay, catering needs to be re-done for the flight and sourced from the Qantas kitchens. There will be a further delay and we are not expected to leave until 4:30pm, a smidgeon less than four hours later than the original scheduled departure.

Issue 4: Why does Qantas get so hung up on feeding people? Even for a 4 hour flight to Perth, surely it’s possible for people to forego feeding their faces. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve experienced delays with Qantas because of “catering requirements”. Also, the appalling quality of the food just doesn’t justify the more expensive fare. I don’t care if it’s inspired by Neil Perry. It’s still crap.

Issue 5: As a much younger airline, Virgin Blue has the benefit of having one type of aircraft on its major routes, the Boeing 737. Qantas has a mixture of 737s, Airbus and Boeing 767 aircraft. Thus when problems occur, Virgin has much better flexibility to make changes to aircraft with a minimum of inconvenience.

In summary, you’re always going to get emotional, almost religious wars, about which is the better airline. Customer service, good or bad, is pretty subjective. Did they smile at me? Did they keep me informed? Was the captain there to wave me goodbye as I left the aircraft?

But when considering Issues 4 and 5 above, there is no good reason why you would seriously consider flying Qantas domestically in Australia. It’s dearer than the competition (generally speaking), its customer service is choppy, and operationally, it is in a much worse position than the competition to react to unexpected events. And that’s mainly why I choose to fly Virgin. And they smile!

Read Full Post »

The Flinging Kangaroo

When it goes bad for Qantas, it goes bad big time. This is how The Age described the airline online, prior to it being corrected soon after.

Read Full Post »

The plan was to head to the Red Hill Brewery for lunch and a taste of some fine ale. The plan was thwarted by this thing called Easter. “We can get you a table at 2:00pm tomorrow” wasn’t really what we wanted to hear, but so be it. The dining rooms at three wineries down the road were all full as well.

So we headed to a cafe in Flinders for lunch and then went for a drive over to Hastings. That was where we came across the headless pelican.

And the swooping gull.

The pelicans and gulls were being fed by two small girls, with scraps from the fish shop at the jetty. It was the first time we’d been to Hastings – I can definitely see a weekend coming up down that way in the future.

Read Full Post »

With Carol and me both on leave this week, we’ve been looking for a couple of day trips to do. Carol had seen a news story on the new supermarket opening in Marysville and how the locals were encouraging visitors to come along and help get the town back on its feet after the fires. What a good idea, we thought. So off we headed to Marysville this morning.

It was certainly a trip of contrasting emotions. I didn’t get to Marysville during Red Cross activities – most of my time was spent in Kinglake, Kinglake West and Whittlesea. It’s still hard not to have an emotional attachment. As we drove into the town, it was impossible to miss what had happened. All the debris is gone, but the bare cement slabs and cleared allotments give it all away.

We parked where the Caltex service station had been. The sign is still there, strangely the first thing that sprang to mind was a question about why Marysville would need a 24 hour service station. Unfortunately, it’s now 24 hours less than that – all that remains other than the sign is the concrete driveway.

Neither of us could get out of the car immediately, feeling the need to gather ourselves emotionally before we ventured forth.

The main purpose of our visit was not to go and see for ourselves what had happened. I’d had enough of that at Kinglake and Kinglake West, and Carol had assisted people at the relief centre at Lilydale. The idea was to try, in our own small way, to help Marysville get back on its feet. It’s hard to do that in a major way – there is still only a minimum of businesses operating. But we bought an ornamental frog and some place mats at a gift shop, and a necklace at another. We had lunch at the cafe, which was teaming with people, none of whom seemed the least bit concerned about the delay getting served. We went to the supermarket and paid $12 for a Cherry Ripe, a small bottle of lemonade and a jar of honey. Normally I’d have a few words to say about those prices, but not on this occasion.

I’d never been to Marysville before the fires – people say it was an extremely pretty place to visit. It’s certainly not that now, but gee it’s great to see it slowly getting back on its feet. There is a cleared housing allotment across the road from the cafe where the only thing remaining is the front gate, pretty much totally covered by a large Christmas decoration. How fantastic it is to see the Christmas spirit prevailing despite the losses that have been experienced.

The most enduring memory from the day was the ferns growing throughout the forest on the drive between Marysville and Healesville. It was apparent the fires had been through this area, apparent from the blackness of the gum tree trunks and the lack of foliage. However, just about everywhere throughout the forest are these fantastic green ferns. The flames have clearly been the catalyst for these to regenerate more impressively than ever.

We were tempted to head over to Kinglake as well, but time and emotion said no, and we headed for home, via the White Rabbit Brewery and Beechworth Bakery in Healesville.

I encourage anyone reading this to make the effort, head into Marysville and give the local businesses your support. They deserve it!

Read Full Post »

Sydney Airport – Fail!

I flew into Sydney Airport this morning. Never been a big fan of Sydney, especially flying into / out of there.

We were advised in Melbourne that the flight was delayed due to single runway operations in Sydney. We ended up leaving 20 minutes late. Ah, I thought. It must be because there’s a westerly wind blowing and they can only use the east-west runway.

After an eternity of holding and circling, we finally entered the circuit and landed on one of the two north-south parallel runways. As we were getting off the plane, I asked the captain if they had changed runways during our flight. His answer staggered me. No, they were only using one runway because of Air Traffic Control staff shortages.

You have got to be freaking joking! This is the busiest airport in the country, during the morning peak, and we recently spent billions of dollars to build a parallel north-south runway, and they’re not using it because we can’t get enough people to keep it going.

What a joke! Get me out of this damn city!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »