Here’s a quick window on life in the southern hemisphere where, while we in the UK & Europe hear only about austerity, they are sitting on a gold-mine – literally. You can add to the gold a bit of copper and zinc, as well as the odd diamond. I’m talking about Western Australia and its booming capital, Perth, reaping the benefits of the Kimberly mines (a harshly beautiful region that bowled me over when I visited three years ago) in the northwest.
But last week’s trip to the south-western corner revealed another face entirely. Peering out at Antartica, we were treated to a spectacle of farmland, unadulterated wilderness and pristine coastline washed by the clearest possible air and sea.
Gum trees ruled of course – whether Jarrah or otherwise, and Angus cattle beat sheep into second place (glorious steak). In other words, this is Aussie Arcadia. This bounty continued in the palate, as our little group worked its way through a gourmet smorgasbord of oysters, marinated and barbecued tuna fresh from the ocean (thank you Shane Osborn), truffles – in ice-cream or simply shaved, freshly made Swiss-Aussie chocs and of course an array of exceptional wines. I hasten to add this was not all at once, though sometimes it felt like it.
Australian truffle – cultivated during the opposite season to Europe
Something I learned fast was that Western Australian wine doesn’t stop at Margaret River, nor at Chardonnay. In fact there are hundreds of wineries dotted around this mellow land, all seemingly producing top notch stuff and growing grapes from Riesling to Shiraz. One reason is that with the world glut in vino, competition is tough and, as Aussie booze taxes are high, vintners have to work hard to be up there with the best.
A wine-tasting at Cape Mentelle’s state of the art winery (above) in Margaret River set us on the right track – but it was downhill from there on. Not in quality but in ability to consume.
Between the tastings and gastronomic overkill, there was luckily time to breathe the unpolluted air, follow a few vertiginous coastal paths, canoe through arches of paperbark trees, avoid tiger snakes, swim off the whitest sand I’ve seen outside the Caribbean and generally wash the eyes with turquoise heaven.
Then there was the odd Roo bouncing into the sunset and flocks of screeching cockatoos.
And I won’t start on the nightly starscapes…shooting stars, southern cross, milky milky way and all.