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The Red Door

Canada #2 Chinatown, Victoria

If you’re walking along Pandora Avenue in downtown Victoria remember to look up, or you might miss the sign for Fan Tan Alley.

The entrance to Canada’s narrowest street is nondescript and you could easily walk past without noticing. Once inside though, you can’t help but look up. A thin strip of blue sky dotted with a line of bright red lanterns guides you through the alley to Chinatown.


Located on Fisgard Street, Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada. Here you’ll find restaurants, grocers and medicinal shops side by side with those selling paper umbrellas and happy cats. In Fan Tan Alley, there are quirky stores where you can treat yourself to an ice cream, a vintage record or some handmade jewellery, soap or clothing.

At the top of Fisgard Street, the brightly decorated Gate of Harmonious Interest marks the main entrance to Chinatown.

Red and gold are favourite colours in Chinese culture, symbolising good luck, wealth and happiness, and we feel endowed with all three in this lively atmosphere. More strings of lanterns gaily crisscross the street while ornamental signs point the way to other narrow alleys.



It’s the colour red which catches our attention in Fan Tan Alley. This slender door, its red paint worn and patchy, has an air of mystery. There’s no number 23 or 24, just this door – halfway in between.


Perhaps Fan Tan Alley is too narrow to fit them all!

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Welcome to Canada!

Canada #1 Victoria BC

There’s something special about visiting a country for the first time. When we arrived in Victoria, British Columbia the feeling was extra special, with flags, music and colourful celebrations on every street. But we knew the party wasn’t in honour of our arrival. We were there in time to celebrate Canada Day!


This year, 1st of July was the 151st anniversary of Canada’s achievement of self-governance and we were excited to join the festivities in front of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. Proud Canadians wearing red and white formed a living flag and, all around us, the national anthem was sung with patriotic fervour. With markets, concerts and cultural displays to enjoy, we were immersed in the emotion of the day.



At dusk we stood on the crowded Johnson St Bridge to watch as fireworks brightened the darkening sky. The city lights, with the illuminated Legislature at their centre, glowed on the blackened waters of the Inner Harbour.


Even though the party wasn’t meant for us, we felt welcomed in the most special way!

Feathers and Fur

An Australian Point of View #6 Healesville Sanctuary

Australia is renowned for its unique wildlife and we sometimes joke that international visitors imagine there are kangaroos jumping down our main streets. While estimates put the kangaroo population at more than 50 million, urban dwellers don’t tend to see them unless they leave the towns and cities behind and head into rural areas. Other well-known Australian animals like koalas, echidnas and platypuses are even more difficult to spot in the wild.

A beautiful place to see many of our native animals is Healesville Sanctuary, an hour’s drive from Melbourne in the Yarra Valley. A bushland zoo dedicated to Australian fauna, the sanctuary is home to those native animals with which we are all familiar and some others less ordinary.



Two walk-through aviaries, Land of Parrots and the Wetlands, have purpose-built hides where visitors can quietly observe native birds in their natural environment.


Flightless emus have their own large enclosure.

The zoo has an extensive conservation and breeding program for some of Australia’s most threatened or endangered species.

Native flowering plants bring seasonal colour to the paths leading through each bushland environment.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular exhibit is the Koala Forest, where raised boardwalks and platforms rise up into the canopy of the eucalypts. Here, the sleepy marsupials rest in the forked branches of manna gums, seemingly unaware of their admiring audience.

For a close up view of Australia’s unique wildlife, Healesville Sanctuary is the perfect choice – it’s easier than waiting on the street!

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From On High

An Australian Point of View #5 Mountains

One of my most vivid memories of my first year of high school is the day my geography teacher, a European immigrant, made a scathing comment about Australia’s mountains. How dare we call our main mountain range “great” when, in comparison to the European alps it was nothing. I remember, even at the tender age of 12, feeling indignant that he should feel free to criticise my country.

Since then, I’ve seen much of this land and explored many of its mountain areas. I know now that Australia, once part of the supercontinent Gondwana, is the oldest and flattest continent on Earth.

Norseman, Western Australia

Nullarbor Plain, South Australia

Tectonic movement and volcanic activity have shaped the upland areas and erosion by wind and water has worn them away; instead of the rugged craggy peaks seen in Europe and the Americas, Australia’s mountain ranges are characterised by highland plateaus and deep canyons, wide valleys and rounded peaks.

Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake, Tasmania

Mount Wellington, Tasmania

Porongurups, Western Australia

Bungle Bungles, Western Australia

Katherine River and Katherine Gorge, Northern Territory

Australia’s highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, reaches an elevation of just 2,228 metres above sea level.

Mount Kosciuszko, New South Wales

The Great Dividing Range, so maligned by my teacher, is the third longest land-based mountain range on Earth. It is 3,500 kilometres long and stretches from the northernmost tip of Queensland, through New South wales and into Victoria. At its widest it is more than 300 kilometres across. The range dates from the Carboniferous Period, making it more than 300 million years old. Surely the term “great” is well-deserved.

Where the mountains meet the sea, Cape Tribulation, Far North Queensland

Daintree National Park, Far North Queensland

Kroombit Tops, Central Queensland

Glasshouse Mountains, South East Queensland

Bald Rock National Park, Northern New South Wales

Alpine National Park, Eastern Victoria

Perhaps that teacher needed to study his geography!

On the Beach

An Australian Point of View #4 The Gold Coast

It’s not surprising that more than 10 million people visit the Gold Coast every year. With its subtropical climate, nearby national parks and beautiful beaches, theme parks, wildlife sanctuaries and dozens of restaurants and cafes, Queensland’s second largest city is one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations.

For an overall view of the Gold Coast region, go straight to the top. At the Q1 Tower at Surfers Paradise there are observation decks on the 76th and 77th floor.  From a height of 230 metres it’s easy to see the 70 kilometres of beautiful beaches and 600 kilometres of canals which make waterfront living so desirable.

Back down at ground level head away from the popular tourist areas and you’ll find plenty of places where it’s not so busy. Go for a long walk, sit on the beach for a while or swim between the flags where vigilant lifeguards keep watch.

If you’re feeling adventurous, take a surf class or do some windsurfing.

Or simply take some time to relax. That’s what everyone else will be doing!

 

Gold Fever

An Australian Point of View #3 Sovereign Hill

On the main street of Ballarat there’s a memorial commemorating the centenary of the discovery of gold in 1851. It is dedicated to the miners who toiled on the gold fields and has a replica of the second largest gold nugget ever found. The Welcome Nugget, weighing almost 70 kg and worth £10,500 at the time, was discovered at Bakery Hill in 1858.

More than 25,000 people flocked to the gold fields in western Victoria. Miners with hopes of riches came from around the world and others, who saw the money-making opportunities, provided the goods and services the miners needed. Another life-size replica, even bigger than that massive nugget, allows 21st century visitors to travel back in time to experience life on the gold fields in the 1850s.

Sovereign Hill is one of Australia’s most visited tourist attractions. History comes alive at the open-air museum located on the site of original gold workings.


Cobb & Co coaches once carried passengers and parcels of gold from Ballarat to Melbourne. At Sovereign Hill, teams of Clydesdales pull handcrafted replica coaches and drays through the streets.


On Main Street the grocer, apothecary and drapers sell traditional wares. A popular store is the confectionery, where raspberry drops, toffee apples and humbugs gleam like crystals on the shelves.

There are two hotels, a theatre and a school where today’s students can dress up in knickerbockers and braces, bonnets and pinafores for an 1850s school day. Those who work at Sovereign Hill dress up too; the streets are filled with redcoated soldiers, demure ladies and policemen ready to check for mining licences.

Closer to the gold mine, the blacksmith turns out horseshoes and mining tools. A boiler attendant works around the clock to keep up a constant supply of steam for the mine engines. At the smelting works, a three kilogram gold bar worth $100,000 is melted in the furnace before being poured into a mould to take shape again.


Down in Red Hill Gully, calico tents and bark huts like those the first miners lived in dot the hillside, and a makeshift store sells the necessary fossicking tools.



Modern treasure hunters pan for alluvial gold and, if they’re lucky enough to find some, they can take it home.


Like most of those hopeful miners of the 1850s, they won’t be retiring on their earnings!

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Born to Sing

An Australian Point of View #2 Redcliffe

There’s a lot to like about Redcliffe. This seaside suburb on Brisbane’s northern outskirts has a broad esplanade overlooking the calm waters of Moreton Bay. Redcliffe Jetty, the third to be built on the site, has heritage features copied from its forebears. There are plenty of cafes where cake and coffee can be enjoyed with an ocean view, but there’s no big city hustle and bustle to contend with.

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Perhaps this is what attracted Hugh and Barbara Gibb to the area when they emigrated from England with their young family in 1958. Three of their boys, talented musicians from an early age, formed a band to make pocket money and, in 1960 at the ages of 12 and 9, they were regular performers at interval during the Redcliffe Speedway. The boys were allowed to keep the money the enthusiastic crowd would throw onto the track.

Little did those people know they were witnessing the birth of one of the greatest musical acts of the 20th century, with eventual worldwide sales of more than 220 million records. After those early shows Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb went on to become The Bee Gees.

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Bee Gees Way, a 70 metre walkway on Redcliffe Parade, documents the amazing career of the brothers who called Redcliffe home. It celebrates their music with photos and video footage played on a large screen.

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Visitors are serenaded by the music of the Bee Gees as they view the group’s first recording contract, signed by their parents because they were underage.

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Two statues pay homage to the brothers, first as barefoot boys singing at the speedway, and then as a supergroup of the 70s and 80s.

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Barry Gibb opened the walkway on 14 February, 2013 and visited again on 9 September, 2015. Perhaps the last plaque on the walk echoes his thoughts about the walkway dedicated to the story of the Bee Gees.

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