Hot Chocolate at Pippies by the Bay (Maremma Project), Warrnambool, Australia

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To be honest we didn’t spend long at Pippies By the Bay. The waitress seemed confused when I came in, asked for a hot chocolate, drank it while typing (it was good), paid and left. I came into Pippies just before leaving because I had to warm up and tell you about our incredible morning in Warrnambool. It involved puppies, penguins and lighthouses. Read on…

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Warrnambool, right at the end of the stunning Great Ocean Road a few hours away from Melbourne, is situated on a coastline known for its beauty and its shipwrecks. Its rich maritime history is shared in a heritage listed village called Flagstaff Hill that displays not just Australia’s richest shipwreck collection but the opportunity to experience what life was like here in the 19th century.

This isn’t usually the type of tourist attraction I would visit and we only visited because we spent the night at the Lighthouse Lodge, a charming little house (highly recommended) with three bedrooms right between the two historic Warnambool lighthouses, erected on this hill in 1872. The lodge is part of and located within the park so this morning we woke up early and walked in to take a look around. I was pleasantly surprised by how real it all looked and felt. The village has a local bar, seamstress, newspaper, boat maker etc. all with authentic props and décor.

I wished we had had more time to walk through but we had something else planned, a tour of the Maremma Project. We met Peter who is not just in charge of the tour/project and tourism for Flagstaff and the city in general, but also manages the little lodge where we stayed. Twenty of us were given reflective gear and life jackets and made our way down to the beach.

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Middle Island is a small island right off the coast. It used to have a thriving little penguin population but when tides were low foxes would walk across to the island and kill the penguins. By 2005 there were less than 10 birds counted. In 2006 a local chicken farmer suggested that Maremma dogs be used to protect the penguins. These dogs had been used for centuries to protect chickens and sheep in Italy and the farmer was using them successfully with his free-range chickens to protect them from foxes. He suggested that the penguins were just chickens in dinner suits and that the dogs would have no troubles adapting to this new role. The first year the dogs were used no penguins were killed and since then the population has recovered to over 180 little penguins.

The first dog used on the island was named Oddball and his story, and the story of the programme, will be the base of a full-length movie coming out in 2015. The only way to meet the dogs and see the project in person is by booking one of these tours ($12 with all proceeds going into the programme). They already book up early and I suspect once the movie comes out it will be even more difficult to get a spot.

After an overview of the project we went to the beach to walk across to the island. It is a very short walk but through water. Because the sand moves from day to day,“every day the walk is different”, Peter said, “some days you can walk straight across on the sand, others you almost have to swim”. Today was something in between. We got wet up to our waists which was tough because even though it was summer, it was cold outside. The island is closed off to locals and tourists. A few years ago they had a referendum and locals voted overwhelming to close it in order to protect the penguins. A wooden walkway has been build up to the top and across the island with a locked door. On the walkway, waiting for us, are two female Maremma dogs, Eudy and Tula (the 6th and 7th dogs used in the project, their names mean penguin in Latin.) Phil is their caretaker who not only spends time with them on the island but regularly brings them off the island for breaks. “We are planning to get new puppies this year” Phil tells us. The dogs are only on the island during the summer and spend the rest of their time at Flagstaff Hill or on a local farm running around.

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The Maremma project is a fantastic initiative. It costs around $15,000 a year to run and counts on countless dedicated volunteers to make everything work. It is such a simple idea but one that seems to not only be working very well but also bringing the community together.

Back at Flagstaff Hill we stopped at Pippies, the restaurant near the entrance to warm up with a quick hot chocolate. Although it was the middle of summer in Australia, today it was a wintery 15 degrees Celsius – perfect hot chocolate drinking weather. The views from Pippies over the historic village and the coast in general are beautiful. A highly recommended morning.

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Verdict: Keep an eye out for the movie and join the Oddball club to get updates on how the penguins are doing. Pippies and Flagstaff Hill, 89 Merri Street, Warrnambool, AustraliaPippies By The Bay on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

 

March 19th, 2015|AUSTRALASIA, Australia, Victoria, Warrnambool|0 Comments

Hot Chocolate at Codrington Gardens, Codrington, Victoria, Australia

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I mentioned in an early blog that on this trip we had a hard time finding accommodation for the two nights. In the end we found a really interesting and unique option: an old train.

The property used to be known for its gardens, and many of the locals we spoke to still remember way back when they would pay an entrance fee to visit the once beautiful gardens. Today the gardens aren’t quite up to their former glory, but nicely surround all of the accommodation options.  We had a few trains to choose from including the “Port Fairy Flyer from 1894, the Overland Train from 1907 but we chose the Bondi Express, a double decker train that used to run on the Bondi to Cronulla line in the 1950’s in Sydney and was decommissioned late 1980’s. It somehow got here and was converted into two bedrooms with queen-sized beds and a small living room as well as a bathroom with shower and a small kitchen. Along the side of the train there was a covered terrace with a view over a field of friendly alpacas and a wind farm on the hills in the distance. The train was surprisingly clean, well organized and spacious, and each train was surrounded by lush gardens which provide a lot of privacy between the different properties. If you aren’t so keen on sleeping in a train there are some cute little cottages on the property as well.

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The alpacas weren’t the only animals around.  They had a few lazy cats, some dogs, and some beehives. We visited the little ponies and they seemed to have sheep too. A proud peacock was walking around like he owned the place, but the man in charge is their cockatoo named, surprise surprise, Cockie. He was born near Hamilton in 2000, but fell out of his nest and was abandoned during a storm. A kind farmer found him and brought him here. As far as he is concerned he is human, and a young human at that as he will live for another 80 to 90 more years. He isn’t a big fan of children any more, but loves adults and if you aren’t careful he will jump on your arm (the owners joke that it is free to put him on your arm but it costs $25 for them to come out and get him off your arm…that is the tough part) as Rich discovered ……

Cockie sits near the little house where the owners serve food and coffee and where I had my hot chocolate. The menu says Belgium chocolate hot chocolate, but to my taste this was very clearly a Cadbury cocoa mix with warm milk ($4). It wasn’t great, and I don’t think I’d recommend it, but I would recommend staying on the property if you want to try something a little bit different and want to get away from it all.

There are three side trips you need to do from here, two very close by and one a little further away. The first of these we did just before sunset, which was to drive 10 minutes to Yambuk Lake situated on the coast. As you approach Yambuk Lake, at the end of the road you will come across acaravan park –  keep driving through it, and park at the end of the road. Walk up the sand dune, and you will find yourself looking over a stunning beach which was almost completely deserted when we arrived. We couldn’t believe our luck when a pod of dolphins were playing in the waves just as the sun set. It doesn’t get much better than that!

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We did another side trip first thing in the morning, when we visited the Crags, only a seven minute drive away, with a spectacular view of the rugged coastline. It’s known as the shipwreck coastline, due to the number of sailing ships that wrecked along here during the 1800’s, and it’s easy to see why.   We did the last side trip on our way back to Melbourne, with a stop at the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. This Reserve is an dormant volcanic crater (4km wide) filled with wildlife, which last erupted about 25,000 years ago. You can just drive through the Reserve (takes 10 minutes) or stop and do one of its many short walks. You are pretty much guaranteed to see emus walking around, a koala or two up in the trees, kangaroos bouncing around and if you come at dusk you have even more chances to see some of the lesser known Aussie animals such as the echidnas and possums as many are nocturnal.

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Verdict: The property was beautiful and peaceful and the trains surprisingly spacious. I’d consider returning. Codrington Gardens, 4887 Princes Highway, Yambuk, Victoria

 

 

March 16th, 2015|AUSTRALASIA, Australia, Coddington, Victoria|0 Comments

Hot Chocolate at Clonmara Tearoom, Port Fairy, Australia

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Summer holiday in Australia is not a time to wing it when it comes to accommodation. If you want to be near the coast, which is where everyone else wants to be understandably, you better have already reserved in advance. We decided to plan a 2 night/3 day trip from Melbourne just after New Years day, down through Mortlake and Tower Hill to Port Fairy and then back to Melbourne stopping at Warrnambool. I spent a lot of time trying to find accommodation for us.

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Clonmara Cottages was one of the places I contacted but unfortunately they had no rooms left. But after visiting their website I decided that we needed to pass by to have a tea at their tearoom once we arrived in Port Fairy. Housed in an old stone cottage from 1860, Clonmara Tearoom is a traditional English style tearoom and giftshop. They serve welsh rarebit, bangers and mash, Cornish style pasties…you would be forgiven for forgetting that you were in Port Fairy! We ordered the freshly baked scones with homemade strawberry jam and thick clotted cream. Is there anything better than freshly baked scones? Traditionally they are supposed to be enjoyed with tea but I’d say hot chocolate is almost as good an option.

I was given two options for hot chocolates, a traditional hot chocolate with marshmallows (of course) or a ‘ciocciato’ hot chocolate for grownups ($4). As I am a grown up on most days, I chose this second option. It was a velvety pudding like hot chocolate, Italian style but not prepared as thick as you would get it in Italy which was lucky because the portion was very generous (I couldn’t finish it all). Instead of a marshmallow I got a giant smartie.

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Port Fairy itself is a historic seaside town with 3100 inhabitants (10,000 in the summer and 40,000 during its very popular folk festival). Around 1828 Captain James Wishart was in the area during a storm. He found shelter in the bay here and named the bay Port Fairy in honour of his tiny ship called “Fairy”. A whaling station was established here and when the supply was exhausted in the 1840’s many seamen started to clear and cultivate the rich volcanic soils in the area. It has retained a lot of its old world character and because of that and its stunning beaches (with incredible surf) it is consistently voted one of Victoria’s and one of Australia’s most popular destinations.

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 Verdict: Sitting on the beach at Port Fairy you will feel so relaxed you will wish you too had a summer house here. Then you could get all the freshly baked scones you liked at Clonmara Tearooms, 106 Princes Hwy, Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia

Clonmara Tea Rooms on Urbanspoon

March 10th, 2015|AUSTRALASIA, Australia, Port Fairy, Victoria|0 Comments

Hot Chocolate at Cocoa Lab, Melbourne, Australia

Hot Chocolate at Cacao Lab, Melbourne, Australia

When one thinks of shopping destinations Melbourne may not be the first place that comes to mind. But it should, especially now since in addition to the stores lining the various historic arcades, large department stores Meyer and David Jones and the stores in Melbourne Central there is now the larger than life Emporium with 225 more stores. This gives the lucky Melbournians blocks and blocks of nonstop shopping so naturally you would need a break somewhere in the middle to re-energize. That is where Cacao Lab comes in.

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Laurent Meric is a French Master Chocolatier who has worked at several 1, 2 and 3 Michelin star restaurants before arriving in Australia in 1999 to work with the InterContinental Hotel in preparation for the Sydney Olympics. Australian Tim Clark trained in Michelin star restaurants in Germany, and later became the youngest Executive Pastry chef of Melbourne’s Crown Casino. Together in 2003 they opened the first Cacao shop in St. Kilda and today have 3 other locations in Doncaster, Highpoint and this one in the CBD. “Each of the locations is different,” the woman at the counter told us, “they each have a different feel and sell different products. Cacao lab is the only one that sells the éclairs”.

The éclairs are traditional only in shape. The founders have used the Lab as a space to experiment with inventive and crazy flavor combinations. They have Tim Tam éclairs (Tim Tams being the official Aussie cookie), lemon meringue éclairs or the red and white stripped Where’s Wally/Waldo éclair with strawberry crème patisserie and marzipan. If you are even more adventurous try the Kevin Bacon éclair with caramelized pecan and maple syrup toped with maple icing and crispy bacon. If you can’t choose then “no worries” as the Aussies say. The éclairs are mini so you can order a few. Considering it is summer now in Melbourne, and it can get very hot, they have also created a range of éclairs full of ice cream (salted caramel gelato, cookies gelato etc.) conveniently presented on a stick for easy eating.

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I was able to control myself and only order one éclair so I could focus on my hot chocolate. We had several options to choose from (choices change regularly). A cacao blend, salted caramel, chili choc and choc mint, each mixing around in clear glass containers behind the counter. You can order your hot chocolate in a mug ($5.95), in a cup ($4.85) or as a straight up ‘hot shot’ for $3.5. I chose their classic cacao blend while Rich was feeling a bit more adventurous went for salted caramel.

They use beautifully rich dark Belgium chocolate (I’m assuming Callebaut chocolate since Tim was crowned Australia’s first Callebaut Chocolate Master in 2004). The chocolate, in the spirit of the lab theme, is presented in a small glass beaker next to a white mug filled with warm milk sprinkled with cocoa powder. The chocolate was beautiful on its own or expertly mixed with the milk (this is a lab after all). As many of you know I love hot chocolates where I can do the mixing so Cocoa lab had me with the beaker…really they had me as soon as I walked in but the beaker sealed the deal.

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Verdict: Fabulous place. In the end we spent more time in here than shopping and I’d do that again any day. How I miss those mini éclairs… Cacao Lab, Driver Lane, Melbourne, Australia

Cacao Lab on Urbanspoon

 

 

March 3rd, 2015|AUSTRALASIA, Australia, Melbourne, Victoria|0 Comments