GreenAroundTheGlobe - Part 14

The Museum of Interesting Things

by Amy on August 3, 2010 · 1 comment

Seriously.  This is the name of a little museum set in the scenic countryside along the Waterfall Highway in New South Wales.  Intrigued by the name (and in need of a bathroom break) we decided to make a short stop and see what exactly these interesting things worthy of a museum were all about.

It turns out that when it comes to the Museum of Interesting Things, the meaning of “interesting” is more like when you tell someone something completely absurd or random, and in an attempt to be polite they respond “oh, isn’t that interesting” instead of “that’s just plain bizarre.”

For the most part, The Museum of Interesting Things is really the Museum of Russell Crowe Movie Paraphernalia.  There are Gladiator movie posters in every language,

the Pennsylvania State Seal from the set of State of Play,

the police badge from American Gangster,

and rounding things out are costumes from many Russell Crowe films. But just when you think this place is really a homage to this local hero in disguise, there are other “interesting” exhibits thrown in for good measure.

In between the movie props and posters, you’ll find a motorcycle designed and built by Orange County Choppers and featured on the hit television series American Chopper.  Around the corner is a giant marine reptile skull.  And just when you thought the exhibits couldn’t get any more haphazard, there is a model Australian stage coach, complete with manikin riders all done up in their best Western attire. It just can’t get anymore “interesting” than that.

The Museum of Interesting Things is located on the Waterfall Highway in Nymboida, NSW.  Be sure to bring $5 for the entrance fee and a sense of humor.

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When we arrived in the Hunter Valley we found no shortage of wineries, cheese shops and other culinary delights to be had.  In an effort to see and taste as much as we could, Amy and I would start each day by mapping out our route.  On a Tuesday morning over our morning coffee we scanned the Hunter Valley Map we had picked up from our camper park.  I was happy to see that Tamburlaine Winery, only 11kilometers outside Cessnock, was offering a tour at 9:30am.  We packed up the camper and set out to start our day.  If we had only known then how interesting a start to the day it would be.

When we arrived we discovered that Tamburlaine is one of only three organic wineries in the Hunter Valley.  The board just inside the cellar entrance detailed out many organic wine facts. I thought to myself, this is great; we’ll get a chance to better understand the process of growing and marketing organic wine.  I was already thinking of questions to ask our tour guide before we found him.

Our guide, Gordon Ballard, a.k.a. Gourdeaux – in honor of his favorite wine, Bordeaux, was more than happy to indulge my questions.  Gourdeaux started our tour with an explanation of the water management systems that Tamburlaine has in place to ensure that their irrigation water is not contaminated with pesticides or fertilizer from adjoining farms.   He also explained that the relationships with the neighboring vineyards have improved dramatically over the last couple of years.  At first Tamburlaine’s requests for its neighbors to refrain from spraying when the wind would carry the pesticide onto the organic vines was met with disdain.  Now that the other growers have seen the economic success Tamburlaine has had in a tough market there is more openness and respect for the organic process.  I am happy to once again see that the environmentally sustainable choice is also the economically superior one.

Next it was off to the fields to see the vines up close.  As it was winter the vines were pruned back in preparation for the spring; however, there was still lots to see and learn.  Gourdeaux showed us how the vines are trimmed back, the efficient drip irrigation system and he explained the varied ground cover plants (the weed looking plants between the vines in the picture to the right) and how they are plowed under in the spring to fertilize the soil naturally. Gourdeaux explained that unlike in other forms of organic farming, with grapes you can’t easily rotate the crops every year.  To overcome that challenge the choice of ground cover plants and use of organic fertilizer is critical.

Our final stop before the cellar and getting to taste wine right from the barrels was the worm farm, the source of Tamburlaine’s organic fertilizer.  This structure is a hyper-sized version of your backyard compost pile.   The organic material is fed into the top and the millions of worms fed on it, breaking it down to super nutrient rich fertilizer.

While I am interested in all of the processes and planning that goes into the growing of the organic grapes, all of this is for naught if the wine itself is not worth it. Gourdeaux, never one to disappoint, took us to our next stop, the cellars.  Here we tasted Chardonnay and Verdelho right from the tank.  We even had the opportunity to taste vertically, meaning multiple years of the same wine.  Traditionally this is quite expensive as it is done with older wines.  But we sampled a 2009 Verdelho that was nearly ready to be bottled and a 2010 that was not quite finished.   I had not had this much fun tasting wine since we were in Mendosa in Argentina.  And as we had been with Gourdeaux for nearly 2 hours by this point, the tour was feeling reminiscent of the extended, friendly tours we went on at many wineries in Argentina.

Our tour of Tamburlaine and time with Gourdeaux was a highlight of our three days in the Hunter Valley.  If you find yourself there with a couple of hours to learn about the fascinating process of making organic wine, be sure to stop by and see our friend, Gourdeaux.


Finding a Home on Wheels

by Keith on July 26, 2010 · 0 comments

The Anticipation
After 8 months of being on someone else’s schedule to get around, whether it was a bus, train, boat, tuk-tuk or even the occasional airplane, I was looking forward to the freedom of driving when we got to Australia.  Open roads, stopping at roadside stands for fresh fruit and vegetables, being in control of the air conditioning: it all sounded fantastic.  To live the dream we decided that a campervan made the most sense, as we wanted to cover quite a bit of ground from Cairns to Sydney while seeing many sights along the Eastern Coast.   In addition to the freedom of being on your own schedule, having a camper is great because you are covering your lodging and transport with one cost.  And in a country like Australia where a private double room in a hostel can cost upwards of $52/night, a camper can be quite a cost saver.

The one reservation that Amy and I had about many of the initial companies we looked into was the size of the campers and varied reports from other travelers on the quality once they picked them up.  As you can see below, the “campers” from companies like Wicked are really just converted old mini vans.   Being crammed into one of these for a couple weeks made us both a little nervous, even if the paint jobs are creative.

Finding the Right Company
We were fortunate enough to find out about KEA Campers while we were in Beijing.  KEA operates in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  The best part was they have a serious commitment to the environment as all of their campers have solar panels on the roofs that charge the electrical system when it is not plugged in at a campground.  In addition, they operate a new and very fuel-efficient fleet of campers.  Our 2-person model was a converted Ford Transit van.  The best part of this vehicle was that while it was small enough to drive comfortably, the living area was tall enough to be able to stand up and walk around in.  And by looking around KEA’s website we were able to get our camper on a “fleet relocation” special which reduced the daily rate from $120 AUS to $80 AUS (~$75 USD) per day.  The pickup process in Cairns was pretty easy once we arrived at the depot, which is quite a walk from town.  The van came equipped with nearly everything we would need from maps, a coffee press and even dish soap.  Many of the other camper companies will not include even necessities such as pots and pans in the stated price, making you pay extra for them.

The Drive
I found the camper was easy and comfortable to drive.  One thing to note is that KEA’s entire fleet is manual transmission.  I found the driving to be quite easy, even if as the driver I was on the right side of the cab, driving on the left side of the road and having to shift with my left hand.   I think I only stalled out twice…the first day.   Since the camper was a manual transmission diesel it got much better mileage than other campers.  Mileage is another consideration when renting a camper.  While some of the campervans may have much cheaper per day costs, if they are older they could get much worse gas mileage than a new, more comfortable van such as a KEA.  Fuel costs are likely to be your second biggest cost when renting a camper so be sure you are aware of gas mileage the vehicle will likely get and build that cost into your budget.

Bringing it Back
Due to our change in plans, we had to get to Sydney a week earlier than expected.  When I called KEA to explain the situation they could not have been more accommodating.  Not only did they take the camper back early, they refunded us for the days we did not use – in full!   The check in process in Sydney was quite easy.  After pulling in and doing a quick inspection of the van, the agent took us inside to process the paperwork and refund our insurance excess deposit of $7,500AUS – which because of the strengthening Australian dollar, made us a profit of nearly $500 USD.  This is another thing to note about KEA.  If you do not pay for the extra insurance they will charge your credit card $7,500AUS.  That money is refunded when the van is returned in the same condition it was rented in.  However, if your credit card company charges international transaction fees or the Australian dollar changes in relative value your refund will not match your deposit.  For us it worked in our favor but it could have been the opposite.

All in all I was very happy with our experience with KEA.  And while they are not the lowest cost company, their campers are very high quality and they have a clear commitment to limiting their impact on the environment.  When Amy and I make it to New Zealand we will be sure to get our camper from KEA.