Can you have your cake – and wine – and eat and drink them too? Indeed you can with the new Fantastic Aussie Tours (FAT) high tea and winery shuttle in the Blue Mountains and Megalong Valley.
The charter and tour bus company rerouted its itinerary to close to home locations after the COVID-19 pandemic forced interstate tours off the road.
From Saturday, September 5, passengers will be transported from Katoomba into the verdant Megalong Valley and the picturesque vineyards and cellar doors of Dryridge Estate and Megalong Creek Estate.
Alight at one and walk to the other before boarding the FAT bus back to Katoomba.
Passengers can also hop off the bus at the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath for high tea and a history tour before continuing on the Megalong Valley on a later bus.
One of Australia’s best kept secrets, the Megalong Valley features tranquil rural landscapes and native forests ringed by towering sandstone escarpments.
Next to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area at the centre of Sydney’s water catchment, the Megalong Valley teems with wildlife.
Operated by Simon and Emma McMahon since 2015, boutique vineyard Dryridge Estate was founded by Bob and Barbara Tyrrell in 2000 and produces distinctive crisp mineral-flavoured wines from the pink granite soil.
Indulge in a leisurely cheese platter and wine tasting before strolling to the nearby kerosene shale mine ruins and Megalong Creek Estate and single vineyard wines.
Established in 2002 by the Draguns family, all grapes are grown onsite and handpicked and transported to Mudgee for wine making by highly regarded third generation winemaker Jacob Stein.
As well as viognier, pinot grigio, pinot and shiraz, Megalong Creek Estate also produces a sparkling they have named Prozzante, a lightly sparked Prosecco-style wine, and a late harvest unique dessert-style wine.
Both wineries are located along the famous Six Foot Track, an important Indigenous pathway linking southern parts of the Hunter Valley with the Blue Mountains and western tablelands for the past 20,000 years.
Blue Mountains Explorer Bus managing director Jason Cronshaw said: “The Megalong Valley has been linked to the Blue Mountains for millennia yet is largely unknown today.
“Our new shuttle service is a fantastic opportunity to reintroduce the area to a new generation of visitors.’’
The Megalong Valley high tea and winery shuttle “means you can have a tipple and we’ll navigate the road for you’’.
“We also have large storage bays under the bus, so don’t be shy about stocking up on your favourite drop.’’
Fantastic Aussie Tours coaches leave Katoomba at 10.15am, 12.15pm, 2.15pm and 4.15pm and Megalong Creek Estate and Dryridge Estate at 11.10am, 1.10pm, 3.10pm and 5.10pm each Saturday and Sunday.
Buses stop at the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath in time for a history tour and high tea or continue to the Megalong Valley on a later service. Alternatively, stay aboard and continue straight to the wineries.
Book the shuttle and receive complimentary pick-up and drop-off to any hotel in Katoomba or Leura on the famous red double-decker Blue Mountains Explorer Bus circuit.
Tickets: $59pp return shuttle.
The Blue Mountains region has prepared a jam-packed calendar of festivals and events to welcome visitors back to Australia’s first tourist destination.
Blue Mountains Tourism president Jason Cronshaw said while the region was still struggling from mass tourist cancellations during the recent bushfire situation, businesses had taken a positive approach to recovery.
“Compared to other regions where tourism attractions, hotels and infrastructure have been destroyed, we recognise how very blessed we are.
“Much of our 1 million square hectare Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area looks as fantastic as ever, including the globally-recognised Three Sisters scene.
“More bush tracks into the wilderness are opening all the time.
“All the popular tourist strips and businesses are open and welcome visitors.’’
Mr Cronshaw, who also owns the double-decker Blue Mountains Explorer Bus, encouraged people with existing bookings to still come, those who had cancelled to re-book and people considering a trip to #HolidayHereThisYear in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area right on Sydney’s doorstep.
Several long-scheduled festivals and events will go ahead as planned, including annual Roaring 20s Festival events at the Carrington and Hydro Majestic hotels in February, Blue Mountains Music Festival in March and Winter Magic Festival in June.
“The Lady Luck and Wines of the West festivals got things rolling in January and, while crowds were down on previous years, that show of confidence has buoyed the wider business community which will eventually lead the market back to normal.’’
From live music pub gigs, community markets and open days to costumed balls and fundraising dinners, the Blue Mountains will be a hive of non-stop activity throughout 2020.
Take your pick from these upcoming Blue Mountains festivals and events:
- February 1: Great Art Deco Weekend, Carrington Hotel, Katoomba St, Katoomba
- February 7 – 9: Blue Mountains Ukulele Festival, Carrington Hotel, Katoomba
- February 8: Roaring 20s Festival, Hydro Majestic Hotel, Great Western Hwy, Medlow Bath – Charleston for Charity dance, Majestic Long Lunch, Deco Dinner & The Roslyns
- February 8-9 & 29: vintage car rides, Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath
- February 15: Woodford Academy open day, Great Western Hwy, Woodford
- February 23: Trains Trams & Ts Roaring 20s event, Valley Heights Rail Museum, Tusculum Rd, Valley Heights
- February 29: Gatsby Casino Night for Rotary, Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath
- March 13-15: Blue Mountains Music Festival at various venues around Katoomba
- March 21: Woodford Academy Harvest Festival, Great Western Hwy, Woodford
- April 10-14: 61st Australian National Square Dance Convention, Blue Mountains Grammar School, Wentworth Falls
- May 24: Teddy Bears’ Day Out, Valley Heights Rail Museum, Tusculum Rd, Valley Heights
- June 20: Winter Magic Festival, Katoomba St, Katoomba
By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group Photos: David Hill
Seat-swapping, hand-crossing bravura, drama, passion and cheeky fun will return to the original Blue Mountains party palace as a string of musical events rolls out during the next few months.
The music program will see the return of popular opera and classical instrumental performances, reviving the traditions established by original Hydro Majestic Hotel owner, Mark Foy, in the early 20th century.
General manager of Escarpment Group, which owns the Hydro Majestic, Ralf Bruegger said: “The Hydro Majestic and Foy himself were famous for their revelry and decadence and we’ve reignited the celebration by filling the calendar with festivals, events and performances and an endless round of public and private parties.
“Guest are welcome to swap seats, cross hands and indulge in cheeky fun but please keep the passion and drama to yourselves.’’
Choose one or more from the following performances:
Le Grand Tango, June 11: Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra principal cellist Teije Hylkema and internationally-awarded pianist Grace Kim will present a program to ignite passion and fire featuring Le Grand Tango by Astor Piazzolla.
4 hands, 2 pianists, 1 piano, August 19: One of the busiest pianists in Australia, Kristian Chong, will team up with Grace Kim to present a brilliant program of seat swapping, hand crossing bravura. You will see why four hands are better than two.
2017 Blue Mountains Opera Festival, September 30 – October 1:
- High tea, Saturday: Mozart’s magnificent masterpiece, his Clarinet Quintet, will begin the weekend on a high note featuring Sydney Symphony Orchestra clarinettist Frank Celata with the Enigma Quartet.
- Opera Gala Dinner Concert, Saturday: After a glowing inaugural success last year, Opera Australia tenor Brad Cooper, mezzo/soprano Sally Wilson and bass Damian Whiteley will take guests on an evening of drama, passion and cheeky fun.
- High tea, Sunday: The festivities crescendo when eight of the finest string players perform with the ever popular Mendelssohn Octet.
Each high tea concert package ($85pp) includes a glass of sparkling wine on arrival with a sumptuous three-tier offering including an indulgent selection of gourmet sandwiches, warm fluffy scones, delicate pastries and the finest selection of handmade desserts served with Vittoria Coffee and La Maison Du The teas. The concert will be from 12pm to 1pm.
The Gala Dinner Concert package from 5.30pm to 9.30pm on Saturday, October 1, will include drinks and canapes on arrival followed by a two-course dinner with beverages. Cost: $150pp.
Go to www.hydromajestic.com.au or phone (02) 4782 6885 to book concerts, accommodation and dining.
- Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
FIVE years after unexpectedly finding ourselves “on the dark side’’ in PR, we have discovered it’s not that bad after all.
That’s possibly because the media landscape has shifted so much that “the dark side’’ is now filled with our own kind and it is more acceptable for the likes of us to juggle both worlds and continue to produce journalism as well as commercial content.
Here’s a few positive surprises we have discovered:
RESPECT FROM MEDIA
I’m ashamed to admit that most journalists have treated me with more pleasant professionalism than I gave to PR contacts while working solely in a newsroom.
They recognise the credibility of my information, my industry knowledge, calibre of clients, quality of the release and have come to expect editorial-style images as standard.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
Well, kind of. We still write and shoot genuinely newsworthy and interesting stories and try very hard to ensure the stories we tell are fair and accurate. It’s just that someone else is paying us.
However, we cannot deny the bias and interests that arises with who is paying when we generate PR.
NO RIGHT OF REPLY NEEDED
The publisher of a local industry magazine once complained that my
articles’’ wereverbose, self-serving diatribes’’. Well yes, that’s what my clients pay me to do. She was bewildered when told it was actually her job to pick through my media releases for information and story angles of interest to her readers and get the other side of the story before running the piece she wanted. The publisher, who had never been a journalist, believed that media releases were ready-made stories for her to fill her magazine with.
Armed with knowledge of the current media landscape, we do often now write media releases as completed stories, leaving no unanswered questions for sparsely populated newsrooms and inexperienced tree-changers. They are regularly published without change.
Therefore, as PR, we can choose to submit a traditional media release or a completed story depending on the occasion yet are never obliged to provide balance.
BECOMING SOMEONE ELSE
In the past few years I have created new words and phrases, changed a client’s vocabulary, taken on several vastly different personas, made moral and political points and berated senior politicians under Parliamentary privilege – all under the guise of others.
Anyone who has met me knows that really I am more than a bit shy, not that verbally articulate and certainly not confrontational. So it is a privilege and a joy to step outside myself and be someone else when writing quotes for a media release or a speech.
Do you agree? Can you add to this list?
* Ellen and David Hill worked in traditional print media for 20 and 30 years respectively. In 2012 they unexpectedly found themselves “on the dark side” in PR. Today, they run a communications consultancy. When not crafting communications for high-end clients, they traipse the country in search of stories, usually in a grubby hatchback piled to the ceiling with gear, a lanky teenager and, sometimes, a pampered pet rabbit called Sophie.
I always wanted to be a journalist. Never thought of being anything else. And for nearly 20 years I lived my dream, met my photojournalist husband in the newsroom and raised our son as a newshound. News and media was our life.
In those days, journos would climb the editorial ladder, go to the subs desk and become editors. Those who left media would work as press secretaries to politicians, head media teams in government departments and churn out media releases at charities and big companies. They were no longer journalists. They had “gone to the dark side’’.
PRs were dismissed outright while we scribes wrote stories from scratch, interviewed people face-to-face, attended court, police rounds, pollie doorstops, disasters and death knocks and rarely accepted submitted pictures.
So how on earth have we found ourselves on “the dark side’’?
We felt the winds of change in the mid-2000s and took voluntary redundancy in 2009. Among the first wave of the tide of redundancies which has swept through the traditional media, we didn’t realise it at the time but we were actually pioneers.
First, we wrote a coffee table book. Everyone loved it, no one bought it.
We tried our hand as travel writers. I even won an award. While we could definitely write stories and shoot images, we failed dismally at selling ourselves, pitching stories and reaching out to editors. We never had to while working for one media outlet.
We didn’t intend to go into PR. It just happened. A local organisation was restructuring and wanted to refocus their PR to communications driven by a journalist/photographer team. We would sniff out stories, shoot postcard-style images and organise travel itineraries for the occasional visiting journalist. Easy.
For the first six months I was, uncharacteristically, a sobbing, hyperventilating mess at least once a week, lost 10kg and worked until 1am most nights, desperately trying to learn the ropes and battle the shame of becoming a PR chic.
Over time, we did learn the formulae for valuing media outcomes, we built up a huge media contact list and made sure the organisation we contracted to gained media attention every single week for three years solid.
Today, we run a boutique communications consultancy offering writing skills, photography and media services. We’re also branching back into freelance travel stories, character profiles and history articles, and David has begun to explore his creativity and photographic art. We do all of that under the one banner – and we’re not the only ones.
These days, ex-journos prefer to be called communications consultants or content creators and often juggle editorial work with commercial clients. Readers, listeners and viewers now provide much of the news content. Bloggers and social influencers have emerged as the new media. Reality TV is the new reality. Media reports on media and new terms like
marcomms’’ andbrand journalism’’ have cropped up. Everyone is supposed to have a blog, social media platforms and be skilled across all mediums from writing, photography and video.
One thing I know for certain is that “the dark side’’ continues to evolve and really is many shades of grey.
By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill
“Bula Mrs Hill. Bula Mr Hill. Bula Master Hill.
“Bula scruffy dog.
“Naughty dog – you should be at home.
It set the tone for the whole seven-day visit to Fiji’s Coral Coast.
From the palm tree-lined beaches, the thatched huts, azure waters dotted with quaint fishing boats, sapphire-coloured skies, and strapping young men in sarongs, all the clichés were there in glorious real life. It was as if we had been engulfed by the pages of a tourist brochure.
After a tough previous few months, it was just what we needed, right down to being handed a coconut on the promenade by the grinning man who scampered up to cut it down.
The Fiji Hideaway Resort was perfect: not too posh so we felt uncomfortable but nice enough to feel like a treat.
Our white bure (villa) was spacious, cool and clean, surrounded by tropical plants and with high ceilings, a queen size bed, an indoor shower (and a pretty spiffy outdoor one) and a front verandah.
Unheard of for us, we embraced the opportunity to “fly and flop’’ and didn’t leave the resort for three days.
With jobs that require us to be positive, polite and almost servile, it was a welcome relief to laze by the pool while resort staff scurried around at our beck and call.
We enjoyed the theatrical nightly kava ceremony, the lighting of the torches, the cultural stage performance each evening and got a buzz from the “personal’’ invitation to attend drinks with the resort general manager the afternoon we arrived.
Our tweenage son preferred our company, although the resort does have a kids club where resort crew look after the children with non-stop activities from treasure hunts to snorkelling and Fijian fishing lessons.
The resort website encourages visitors to meet
the real Fiji’’ by visiting thefriendly locals’’ in nearby villages, although we suspect the many locals who work there feel obliged to welcome tourists into their personal spaces after serving their every need all day.
After three days of soaking in the cloistered embrace of the resort, we tentatively ventured beyond the protective gates and wandered down the narrow potholed road towards town.
Just a few hundred metres down the road we were confronted by a man holding a machete.
He eyed us suspiciously.
We eyed him anxiously.
“Where are you going?’’ he asked.
“Just for a walk,’’ my husband said, aiming for a casual tone but achieving a warbled defence.
Why?’’ the man asked in amazement.Why you leave the resort?’’
Sitting cross-legged on the bare earthen floor of the hut, a tiny naked child peeped around the doorframe as the man told us his hard luck story and asked for money.
The next day it was slightly disconcerting to see him elevated as an elder at the local Methodist church service, where we were amused by the spotlessly dressed children in their Sabbath whites, singing psalms like angels and squabbling like seagulls during the sermon.
We took an organised full-day tour to Robinson Caruso Island (arranged by the resort staff), where tourists can enjoy a bountiful lunch, educational tour and entertainment. There is also a bar, children’s water activities and basic hut accommodation.
The resort shops are stocked with a range of items, from toiletries to clothing along with traditional novelties and snacks – all carrying a generous mark-up price.
The Hideaway has a full gym but we steered clear of physical torture, preferring a massage at the day spa and a lounge by the pool.
Apart from the raw sausage served at the “traditional Aussie BBQ’’, the only real downer was the lack of an ATM (we had to order a taxi and travel to the 5-star hotel down the road).
After building a sandcastle on the beach, going on numerous romantic sunset strolls along the sun-soaked shores of the
majestic ocean lagoon with year-round warm tropical waters’’ andpristine coral beaches’’, collecting shells and sipping rich cocktails by the pool, we truly felt refreshed.
Sometimes you just need a postcard.
Several international airlines have flights into Fij, including Qantas, Air New Zealand, Korean Air, Pacific Blue, and V Australia. Air Pacific is the national carrier and has direct flights from Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Christchurch, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Japan. The Fiji International Airport is located in Nadi.
The Coral Coast and the Fiji Hideaway Resort & Spa are a 90 minute transfer away. The resort’s reservations staff can organise a transfer at the time of reservation via private car, taxi, or coach (fees apply).
Sightseeing around the Coral Coast is a must, with beautiful beaches and coral lagoons to explore. Taxis are available from the resort to visit Sigatoka for duty free shopping or the tour desk can organise a rental.
We rode the public bus into Sigatoka, which cost only a few dollars.
Words by Ellen Hill for Scenic World
Perch on a clifftop at Scenic World overlooking the world-famous Blue Mountains escarpment and feel small again – in the heart of the city. Capture the moment in a photo and share it with the world next Friday (March 20) and Saturday (March 21) – all from Circular Quay.
Urban residents can experience a small slice of Australia’s most visited privately-owned tourist attraction and the nation’s most accessible wilderness when multi award-winning 3D chalk artist Anton Pulvirenti transforms Customs House forecourt into a World Heritage-listed landscape.
The 10m x 15m canvass 3D drawing will offer a glimpse of the Scenic Skyway as it glides 270m above ancient rainforest between clifftops, against the backdrop of the iconic Three Sisters and spectacular Katoomba Falls.
Scenic World brother and sister Joint Managing Directors Anthea and David Hammon said: “We have grown up with the Three Sisters as our view, breathed the fresh Blue Mountains air and enjoyed the rides at Scenic World as our playground our whole lives yet we never take the size of this vast one million square hectare landscape for granted.’’
Anton Pulvirenti will create the 3D chalk drawing using forced perspective to create an illusion of scale, meaning the scene will be so realistic that passers-by could be forgiven for believing they have truly been transported to the Blue Mountains.
So “stand’’ on the Scenic World clifftop and ask a friend to take a photo and share it with the world on Instagram with #feelsmallagain and receive an instant keepsake photo from the Scenic World team.
The top 10 most creative photos will receive a family pass to Scenic World so they can experience the thrilling attraction for themselves – for real.
The Scenic World Feel Small Again 3D chalk art will be staged in front of Customs House, Alfred St, Circular Quay, from 8am to 6pm Friday (March 20) and 10am to 5pm Saturday (March 21).
The family-owned Scenic World overlooking the world-famous Three Sisters landmark at Katoomba is home to the world’s steepest passenger train, the highest and largest cablecars in Australia and the longest boardwalk in Australia.
For two years, I have blipped between my alter-ego (a gregarious, witty, charming born leader who loves a verbal stoush) and, well, me – verbally awkward, socially uncomfortable, to be honest, a bit of a wallflower.
More recently, I have enjoyed reconnecting with a long-time political acquaintance, coaxing to the surface his warmth, generous community spirit and subtle humour others don’t often see. I can’t deny it’s also been just a little fun helping him stick the proverbial boot into his foes under Parliamentary privilege too.
Most recently, I have begun to explore two new characters, similar in personality. My challenge is to convert their tinder dry sense of humour, almost imperceptible asides and one-liners into the written word. I don’t know either of them deeply and our paths do not cross frequently. The exciting thing is, we are embarking on this journey together.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
1: It’s not about you
If you want the kudos and glory, become the boss yourself.
If not, leave your ego at home and accept that no one will know your name unless they want to complain, you will have to lug the pull-up banners to the conference and you will not be given a goodie bag.
2: Believe in the cause
To write convincingly for and as someone else you must believe in their cause, share their ideals and work towards a shared goal.
3: Get to know them
Whether you both enjoy Sudoko when travelling on the train or smashing a tiny ball against a wall with a racquet on Saturday morning to relieve stress, have kids the same age or collect stamps, guaranteed you will find something in common that will kick start your relationship.
A good relationship with your boss will give depth to your speechwriting.
4: Get to understand them
Learning what makes someone tick, why they think the way they do and their opinion on a wide range of topics will help you hear their “voice’’.
5: Get to like them
You must learn to like them. You must, after all, convince others of their message.
6: Hang off their every word
Rather than fiddling with your phone, gossiping with his PA at the back of the room or gazing at the spider inching closer to Madam Mayor’s stiletto, listen to your boss give his speech. Take note of how he speaks, what words he uses and how he uses them, where he pauses for effect and whether he thumps the lectern or points at the audience.
That will help make your speeches for him more theatrical, more alive and more believable.
7: Sweat the small stuff
It’s the details which can make a good speech a memorable one which resonates with an audience touched by the sincerity of the “voice’’.
A speaker who halts and stumbles over unfamiliar words will not come across as genuine.
So notice that your speaker uses “first’’ and “second’’ rather than “firstly’’ and “secondly’’, “each’’ rather than “every’’, “everyone’’ rather than “everybody’’; that she is a fan of alliteration; that he likes to pause and eyeball a few people in the front row after a particularly passionate line.
Notice that your charge always carefully chooses cufflinks or a tie appropriate to each function or engagement. Mentioning it in a speech might just win over that deciding voter or that crucial sponsorship deal one day.