The Bear

On a recent hike through the World Heritage Shiretoko National Park, I briefed on what to do if a large brown bear approached.

My intrepid guide said you must stand still and remain calm. I will protect you he said, do not worry. Yeah right, do not worry, remain calm.

Whatever you do don’t run. You will be safe with me he added. Ok, so I was a little bit dubious as to how he wasgoing to defend me. Was he going to sacrifice himself to the bear or what.

I suddenly had visions of a 500kg ball of brown fluff galloping towards me at 30 k’s an hour. With teeth bared and looking decidedly hungry. Oh yes, remain calm and stand still.

Easier said than done I would imagine. No doubt I would pass out. This would be a good thing as bears are not atracted to a prostrate human, or so I have read somewhere.

The sheer beauty of the surrounding forest momentarily took my mind away from thoughts of bear attack.

The sound of leaves falling, plop plop upon the ground conjured up images of a stalking hungry beast.

The guide stopped beside a large tree which had huge scdatch marks on its trunk. Bear scratches he said. Bear marking his territory.

Oh my, we were standing in the bears living room. What if came home?

Would he be happy to have visitors?

My heart was racing at 100 miles an hour , mind in overload at the very thought.

Stop! I told myself. There was no news of any bear attacking in recent times.

Finally I gathered my thoughts and continued on. The beauty of the forest soon took over any thoughts of bears.

Giant maple trees, vibrant red in colour, ginkgo trees with their brilliant yellow leaves aswell as birch and rowan trees in similar colours.

Lots of Sika Deer quietly grazing added to the peacefullness. I saw where woodpeckers pecked their holes,hoping to find insects. A red fox lay basking in the sunshine. Birds sang sweetly in the treetops.

A truly magical experience, all thoughts of bears erased from my mind.

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Kyushu

Kyushu. A mythical mysterious wonderland of sights that exceeded my wildest dreams.

This relatively unknown, to Australians, destination is the south westernmost of Japan’s main islands. It has a mostly subtropical climate so not as cool as Hokkaido in winter.

With active volcanoes, beaches, and natural hot springs it is a destination to put on your list.

Beppu, in the Oita prefecture, is home to more than 2000 Onsen, (hot springs.)

It is also home to the famous Beppu Hells.(Jigoku)

There are seven Hells in Bepu and I was lucky enough to visit three of them.

The first is the Blood Hells (Chinoike -Jigoku). The water in the ponds of this hell is red, hence the name blood hells. It is extremely hot at around 78C so one would not want to touch it. The area is wheelchair friendly and easy to get about for an older person.

Next door is the Oniishibozu Jigoku. These are bubbling hot mud which look like the shaven heads of monks. Surrounded by stunning autumn colours and green foliage these are a true wonderland.

Umi Jigoku, the Sea Hell, is perhaps the most beautiful. Steamimg hot with a deep cobalt blue colour makes for an extremely pleasant experience. Ponds full of lotus flowers abound as do the trees of autumn colours. The leaves of the lotus plant are strong enough to support a small child. There are a couple of blood ponds here as well. All boiling hot.

A particular delicacy at the Hells is a steamed custard pudding with caramel base. Quite delicious.

Not too far away from Beppu is the town of Matama. Unbelievable sunsets can be viewed from Matama Beach. Photographers from all over the world gather at this beach all hoping for that perfect shot.

A short drive to the farming community of Tashimunosho and one can see ancient rice paddies and farms nestled between the towering hills. These areas are all easily accessed by over 60’s, mobile or not. There are no long hikes in Beppu.

Leaving Beppu, take a train ride on the Sea Gaia to Nobeoka in the Takachiho Prefecture.

Up big mountains, along the seashore and through farming areas and small towns. This is a great trip.

Takachiho, in my opinion is the jewel in Japan’s crown. I was in awe of everything I laid eyes on. From the deep gorges to the small towns. The autumn colours on the mountain sides and along the streets had to be seen to be believed.

Once again the pristine waters meandering through the Takachiho Gorge was unbelievable.

The vibrant red leaves of the Maple, a native tree of Japan, the brilliant yellow of the ginkgo, Tokyo’s symbol tree, the almost as brilliant yellow of the larch tree, orange red cherry trees and the red of the Rowan tree. The deep green of the cedars. A sight to behold.

A boat trip on the crystal waters of the Takachiho gorge to see the beautiful Manai Waterfall is another must do activity. There are many steps down to the boat so not suitable for those with limited mobility, but never fear. The falls can be viewed from the bridge above.

Takachiho village is a lovely little village in which to take a night time stroll. The winding streets and small shops and cafes are indeed interesting.

Takachiho Shrine , located on the edge of the town centre is a beautiful shrine nestled between a stand of tall cedars.

It is the site of one of the most important legends in Japanese mythology.

Amaterasu, the Shinto Sun Goddess, became so outraged at her brothers cruel tricks that she hid herself in a cave and thus deprived the world of her life giving light.

A cultural performance about how the other Gods lured her out and thus restored light to the world is indeed an amazing experience.

A few hours drive away is Japan’s largest active volcano, Mount Aso. It stands in the Aso Kuju National Park in Kumamoto prefecture.

Mt Aso is amongst the largest volcanoes in the world.

Enjoy a horse ride around the outer rim, or for the more flexible , a pushbike ride.

There is a lookout high above the crater. Amazingly the floor of the volcano is dotted with homes and farms , all very fertile because of the soil. I do not think I would like to live down there though. It could erupt at any given moment. The last eruption was in 2016.

Still very interesting to see this place.

Kyushu is thought to be the birthplace of Japan. It is where it all began and a more amazing island I have yet to see.

Hokkaido

Japan – The Land of the Rising Sun

So caĺled because Nihon and Nippon literally mean the Sun’s Origin and so translated to the Land of the Rising Sun.

My first visit to Japan, 40 years ago, was to the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. I was visiting a sibling and had a week there enroute to Australia.

Memories of mountains , tall buildings, concrete footpaths and well suited men hurrying to work have stuck with me for all of those years. Not to mention seeing the thousands of people being packed into trains by pushers, men with broom like sticks, literally pushing everyone into the train.

Fast forward to 2018 and those memories are pushed way back into the furthermost corner of my memory bank.

If you have never been to Japan, please put it on your travel list.

It is a land of towering mountains and deep gorges. Of heavily wooded forests,unbelievable autumn foliage ,stunning clifftops, crystal clear water ,and lakes. Birdlife abounds in these pristine lakes.

Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s islands is home to volcanoes, natural hot springs (onsen), and fantastic ski areas during winter.The Shiretoko Peninsular is also home to Brown Bears. Large furry creatures who make their home in the Shiretoko World Heritage Park as well as the adjoining Shiretoko National Park.

“Shiretoko” is derived from the Ainu ( indigenous people of Japan) word “sir etok” meaning a place where the earth protrudes, or the end of the earth.

A 4 hour hike around the five lakes in Shiretoko World Heritage Park is well worth the sore legs experienced afterwards.

The lakes were formed long ago after an eruption of nearby Mt Io.

The lakes are fed by underground springs which means the water is crystal clear. A totally unspoilt natural area that is jaw dropping to say the least.

This area is suitable for hiking by over 60 year olds with no mobility issues.

Those with mobiliy issues are also catered for with a shorter, 800 metre elevated wooden platform boardwalk. An area on which to walk and see one of the lakes and the stunning snow capped mountains surrounding the lakes. Also

from this area ,atop the towering cliffs , the Sea of Okhotsk can be viewed, without any damage to the fragile ecosystem. The boardwalk is free to use and is wheelchair friendly.

In wintertime the drift ice from further north arrives at the Sea of Okhotsk and walking tours out onto the ice are conducted.

Another hike is the Shiretoko National Park animal watching tour. This is slightly more challenging and not for those with mobility issues. A 4 hour hike through the forest of Birch, Mongolian Oak, Ginkgo Maple and Cedar trees is amazing. One is always aware that one is walking through Bear territory and the nature guides call out and clap to let the bears know they have visitors.

Hikers are briefed on what to do in case they are confronted by a bear. Stay calm, do not run and retreat back to where you came started the hike.

All well and good, but I had images of a 500kg ball of brown fluff galloping towards me at 30 k’s and hour and thought , no way I could remain calm. In fact I am sure I would have passed out. Probably a good thing too as Bears are not interested in stationary bodies.

I need not have worried though as no bears were sighted. As scary as they sound, I was secretly hoping to see a bear in the wild. Just not too close.

Other animals encountered are Red Fox and lots of Sika Deer.

There are many birds including several species of Woodpecker, Stellers SeaEagke, the white tailed Sea Eagle and this park is also home to the worlds largest owl, the Blakistons Fish Owl.

There are over 50 species of mammal here and 280 kinds of birds.

Shiretoko is indeed a nature lovers paradise.

During autumn the Salmon run the rivers in Shiretoko. They run up river to spawn and then die. Salmon watching is suitable for limited mobility visitors.

Salmon is a very popular dish in Shiretoko and clams are harvested and enjoyed as well.

A good base for all of these activities in the Kiki Shiretoko Natural Resort in the small town of Utoro.

The hotel has many Onsen where hot spring bathing can be enjoyed.

The water from the thermals is full of nutrients and excellent for soaking in after a long hike.

There are hundreds of Onsen dotted about Hokkaido, most towns have a public foot bath as well. These foot baths can be a godsend for those with sore feet.

A visit to an Izakaya ( Japanese Pub) is well worth the time. There is an array of diferent foods on offer and the coziness of the Izakaya makes for a memorable time.

The people of Japan are some of the most friendly , respectful people I have ever encountered. They will go out of their way to please and always with a smile.

I would recomment an English speaking guide if visiting Hokaido as English is not widely spoken and the guides are experts in what type of tours or eating experiences the tourist may be looking for.

On my time in Hokkaido I did not see any other Australian tourist . I

asked myself why.

The answer I think, is that like myself, most Australians are unaware of this beautiful and intriguing destination.

The Hunt for the perfect Vanilla Slice

Vanilla slice, love them or hate them.

Australian vanilla slice is a snack consisting of a layer of vanilla yumminess sandwiched between two layers of light and crisp pastry. It is similar to a french mille-feuille.

The New Zealand version is more like a custard square, usually with passionfruit icing. Not so nice.

In Austria it is called a Cremeschnitte. Maybe this is where the term Snot Block originated, sounds a bit like it.

What ever there are called though,

I love them, and cannot get enough of them.

My quest to find the perfect vanilla slice started many years ago.

I have travelled Australia, far and wide, and, along the way ,have stopped at almost every bakery in my search for the perfect vanilla slice.

There are many imposters out there masquerading as the true blue slice.

Some are nothing more than a lumpy heap of custard sandwiched between some soggy pastry.

Others are a little more refined, but still none the less, are custard and pastry.

A true vanilla slice has no custard in it. It is not sickly gluggy yellow stuff.

A true vanilla slice is almost white. It is creamy. Vanillary, is that even a word?

The pastry is thin and crisp..

A true vanilla slice is something that keeps you wanting more.

It keeps you always on the look out for the next best one.

Even the thought of it brings saliva to ones mouth. Not unlike a dog drooling over a juicy bone.

My local town has three major bakeries.

Number one has a vanilla slice which is somewhat akin to a jelly baby in so much as the texture of it is rubbery and stretchy.

Goodness only knows how they make it.

Number two has a somewhat custardy looking filling and soggy pastry. Not something that woukd inspire you to go back for seconds.

Number three has the most vanilla slice like treat. The pastry is a little thick, the icing is thick, sweet and pink, but the filling is quite creamy and not a hint of custard powder to be had.

Despite this, there is no perfect slice to be had there.

In Queensland I sampled some pretty good examples of slice. The best being at Morayfield Plaza. The slicd was almost perfect, just the pastry was a little thick but still nice and crunchy.

Severalmother samplings in Qld were not too bad.

Down through NSW I found no good slices. They were all custard squares. Some had an extra layer of cream, I think to make it more palatable, but it did not work for me.

I am fussy.

Back in Victoria, about 150 kilometres from home, I read about the Bakery that had won the annual Vanilla Slice challenge.

I had to go, surely this was going to be the most perfect slice.

I set off one morning, on my quest.

When I arrived at the town, and it was a tiny town, I headed straight for the Bakery.

There were people and cars everywhere. All seeking what I was seeking.

The were trays and trays of delicious looking slices , there must have been hundreds of them. All were flying out the door with great speed.

Stop looking, I told myself. Just buy one and try it.

I was not disappointed. My search was over.

This was the perfect slice.

Two sheets of super thin crispy pastry. The filling was to die for. Light, creamy, full of flavour not gluggy or any hint of custard . Icing thin and not too sweet.

This was what I had been looking for all my life.

I was in vanilla slice heaven.

great grandma was cast out by her family

My Great Grandmother was named Ellen. she was born in the UK in 1868..

When Ellen was a young child the Family decided to immigrate to Australia After a lengthy boat ride, in mostly squalid conditions, the family arrived in NSW.

Great Great Grandfather, Ellens father, took up farming in the Armidale, New England area of NSW.

He was a very successful farmer and became an extremely wealthy man. Family life was good, the children all had food and clothing and led a happy life. Much better than they had back in the Mother Country.

When Ellen was just 18 years of age, she met a handsome young man and fell in love right away.

This strapping young man was good looking and worked hard as a labourer. However, he had a dark secret.

His own Father had been sent out from Ireland as a Convict. He had not committed a serious crime, just stolen a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. This news was to be kept a secret from Ellens family as they were “Upper Crust” so to speak. They would never tolerate a son of a criminal becoming one of their family members.

The courtship progressed and Ellens family quite liked this young bloke. Until, someone let the cat out of the bag about this fellows heritage.

All hell broke loose and Ellen was forbidden to see the young man again. She had other ideas though and continued to meet him in secret. This went on for a year or two until once again someone let her Father know. Talk about gossipers, how terrible it was.

By this time, Ellen was 21 and able to make her own mind up. Her Father gave her the word, stay with him and you are banished from our family. Never to be spoken of and never to visit us again. What a tough old bugger he was. He kept his word though and Ellen made her choice.

She and her true love moved away and became married in 1887. The couple were very happy , apart from the fact that Ellen had been banished and all rights to any inheritance from her wealthy father all forsaken.

They had children, first a son and then a daughter. The son died from unknown circumstances when he was just 19. The daughter grew up to be a lovely young woman who would become my Grandmother.When Great Grandad passed away, Ellen came and lived with my Grandmother, her daughter. I remember Ellen. She always wore black. Always in mourning, perhaps for the loss of her husband, or maybe the loss of her family back in the countryside. I know that her parents never knew of anything that happened in her life after Armidale. I find that very sad.

Skeletons in the closet

Mum was a tormented soul.For as far back as I can remember, Mum was always running down people and gossipping about them.

As a kid, I could not understand why she would do this it just did not make sense to me. The people in question seemed lovely.

Mum never seemed to be happy with her life. She was constantly shouting at us kids and giving poor Dad a hard time.

She was so unhappy. Her unhappiness caused many problems for her .

It was not until I was in my fourties that I found out why she was like this.

After Dad passed away, Mum and I were talking about a cousin, this cousin was adopted and I mentioned to Mum that it must be very sad, not knowing who ones real parents were. Mum then told me her story.

It went like this.

When Mum was 32, her and Dad decided to go to the UK and Europe for a holiday. The Queens Coronation was about to happen and they wanted to be in the UK at that time. Get caught up in the activities and celebrations so to speak.

Mum applied for her passport. Dad already had one from before they were married.

There was a bit of a hiccup though. It seemed that Mum did not exist. No records were held of her birth. None in her known name anyway.

Grandma was summoned and had to come clean with a few secrets she had been holding close.

The man Mum knew as her Father, was in fact, not her Father.

It seems Gran had been a bit naughty and had given birth to Mum out of wedlock. Back in the 1920’s this was quite a scandalous thing to happen to a poor girl. Even worse was when the unwed Mother decided to keep her child. Poor Gran was indeed an outcast of society.

In due course the paperwork was sorted and Mum got her passport.

Dad was not amused to know his wife was illegitimate but he loved her and accepted it. He did ask Mum not to tell anyone though.

A few years after Dad passed away, Mum decided to delve into her real Fathers identity.

There were more than a few shocks to be had.

Gran had been seeing a much older man, a travelling salesman , married with a family.

Oh dear, naughty Gran.

When Gran found out she was pregnant, she ceased the affair, not telling her suitor that she was pregnant. She did not want to disrupt his family any further.

To her credit, Gran kept my Mum and raised her on her own. It was not an easy task back in those days.

Mums real Father was not a very nice man. He was a Lieutenant in the Light Horse Brigade but was dishonorably discharged for failing to obey orders.

More bad news came to light. The old philanderer had yet another mistress. This young girl also had a child to him. She told him about his daughter and it led to a massive court case to see who would get custody of the child.

Things were going against the young girl so in a brief ajournment, outside the Redfern Courthouse, she shot him dead.

I have the newspaper clippings of the incident. I know not what happened to the young woman or the child. A child who would have been my mothers halfsister.

No wonder Mum was such an unhappy soul.

All of this was just too much a burden to carry.

That little girl would be 86 if she is still alive. Sadly Mum passed away, never knowing her real Father or her half sister.

great grandma was cast out by her family

My Great Grandmother was named Ellen. she was born in the UK  in 1868..

When Ellen was a young child the Family decided to immigrate to Australia  After a lengthy boat ride, in mostly squalid conditions, the family arrived in NSW.

Great Great Grandfather, Ellens father, took up farming in the Armidale, New England area of NSW.

He was a very successful farmer and became an extremely wealthy man. Family life was good, the children all had food and clothing and led a happy life. Much better than they had back in the Mother Country.

When Ellen was just 18 years of age, she met a handsome young man and fell in love right away.

This strapping young man was good looking and worked hard as a labourer. However, he had a dark secret.

His own Father had been sent out from Ireland as a Convict. He had not committed a serious crime, just stolen a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. This news was to be kept a secret from Ellens family as they were  “Upper Crust” so to speak. They would never tolerate a son of a criminal becoming one of their family members.

The courtship progressed and Ellens family quite liked this young bloke. Until, someone let the cat out of the bag about this fellows heritage.

All hell broke loose and Ellen was forbidden to see the young man again. She had other ideas though and continued to meet him in secret.  This went on for a year or two until once again someone let her Father know. Talk about gossipers, how terrible it was.

By this time, Ellen was 21 and able to make her own mind up. Her Father gave her the word, stay with him and you are banished from our family. Never to be spoken of and never to visit us again. What a tough old bugger he was. He kept his word though and Ellen made her choice.

She and her true love moved away and became married in 1887. The couple were very happy , apart from the fact that Ellen had been banished and all rights to any inheritance from her wealthy father all forsaken.

They had children, first a son and then a daughter. The son died from unknown circumstances when he was just 19. The daughter grew up to be a lovely young woman who would become  my Grandmother.When Great Grandad passed away, Ellen came and lived with  my Grandmother, her daughter. I remember Ellen. She always wore black. Always in mourning, perhaps for the loss of her husband, or maybe the loss of her family back in the countryside. I know that her parents never knew of anything that happened in her life after Armidale. I find that very sad.

snippets of my life as it is and how it was