Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Blueberry Picking

20160814_021828sI could never have exercised that willpower, I thought as I popped another handful of blueberries, fresh off the stem, into the mouth.

Years ago, my sister was asked to whistle as she picked the little berries packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

“Why?” she had asked, a little perplexed by the odd request.

“Because you can’t whistle and eat at the same time,” the farmer had replied with a straight face.

I’m not sure if my sister had obliged, but I was so glad the farm we were on had no qualms about us enjoying their berries. There were no ‘Eating is Prohibited’ signs and we weren’t told to whistle either.

But at just $1 a pound, the farmers probably didn’t really mind that pickers, like us, helped ourselves to as many berries as we wanted. After all, how many could we have eaten?

20160814_040113sAs it was, hundreds of overripe berries peppered the ground beneath the bushes. And despite it being the tail end of the season, there were still huge clusters of unripe blush and riper blue berries.

Armed with buckets, we went straight for the furthest bushes hoping to find those other pickers would have missed. The berries were waiting … by the thousands! The biggest berries were often out of reach on the highest branches, but our buckets filled fast nonetheless.

20160814_035537sAn hour and a half later, we made our way back to the blueberry stand, complete with berry-stained lips and fingers. Our haul tipped the scale at nine pounds! My first blueberry-picking mission was a success.

You’d think we had enough berries to last us a while, but no. We were back at the farm just a few days later for another berry picking session.

Those were happy blueberry-filled days. Nature has since set those same bushes aflame in autumn colours, frosting them over on colder mornings. And every berry has since been eaten, dried or frozen. 20160814_022844s

The blueberry season may be over up north, but the season is just round the corner for my friends down south. There’s already talk about netting their plants, protecting the berries from birds and squirrels.

Here I am, thousands of miles away, wishing I could join in the action. At best I can only start making plans for the 2018 season which can’t come too soon. Until then, the only blueberry picking I will be doing is from the supermarket shelves.










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Autumn Colours

New Zealand dazzles in autumn. I saw gold and red everywhere but could not get enough of it.

There were berries and fruit, ripe for the picking.

Amongst fallen leaves and gumnuts, toadstools appear – yellow and scarlet, speckled and streaked.

And when the frost came and ice crystals dusted everything, Nature literally sparkled.

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We left Melbourne while it was still dark and reached Mornington Peninsula before 8:00.

It was early but it looked like half the residents of Mornington were at the Red Hill Craft Market as well. 

Maybe it was because it was the Easter weekend. Or maybe it’s just because the market’s a really good one.  😀

The first stall I saw sold platyceriums, bromeliads and wooden garden ornaments! The typical gardener in me smiled. I was going to like this market.

They had stalls selling just about everything; clothes and accessories, stuff for people and stuff for pets, flowers and fruit, edibles and non-edibles – sometimes it was difficult to tell the two apart.

Looking at these pictures, can you? Seriously, we were fooled and had to touch a few of the cakes to be sure. Even so, we had to peer closely at the hot cross buns to check. It was Easter after all!

To tell the truth, I couldn’t bear to use such deliciously beautiful soaps.

I checked out all the stalls, but gravitated back to the plants at every opportunity and lingered there.

When my friends queued to get some coffee, I doubled back to the plant stalls. When they went to the washroom, I did the same. They must thought I was a nutcase.  😀  Close enough, I guess.

There were some really lovely herbs; Corsican mint, summer and winter savory, lemon verbena, all sorts of thymes and bacopa, just to name a few.

The tag on the bacopa caught my eye – ‘a memory herb that rejuvenates brain cells, etc etc’ – or something to that effect. Just what I needed – if only I could get it. Yeah, wishful thinking …

They have espaliered fruit trees too; lemons, mandarins and even olives.  Now, that would have looked good in the garden!

If plants topped my wish list, then garden ornaments came a close second.

But of course my memory worked perfectly just then and reminded me of the heavy wrought iron ornament I had already bought. I knew I’d better not push my luck.

The ornaments were tempting though. I would have loved to cart off a clay pelican, kangaroo, chook or  frog, but I had to leave them behind as we left the market.

We had to move on as there were still lots we wanted to see at Mornington; lavender gardens, apple orchard, berry farms … to name a few.

We wanted to look for gnomes too!

Thank goodness we still had more than half a day ahead of us.

There was a 3-km stretch of cars weaving their way to the market as we left.

We may have woken up before 5am to reach the market at a reasonably early hour, but believe me, it’s something worth sacrificing your sleep for.

Bet everyone in those cars wished they had sacrificed their sleep too.

Would I go there again? Let’s just say I’d pitch a tent and stay there if I could.

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A bit of Old England in Camerons

Four days in Cameron Highlands and we hadn’t made any hotel reservations. The plan was to check out a few places and make a decision once we’d seen Bala’s Chalet. I had taken a look at their website and it seemed intriguing.

After making a few enquiries, we came to Bala’s.

We drove up the steep road, set our eyes on the cottage and that was it.

An old Tudor-styled building with an ivy clad façade greeted us. Pots of gay petunias hung from the eaves, while impatiens grew in abandon below. Green moss and lichen grew rampantly on the tiled roof as ficus scrambled up to join the fun.

We walked into the charming reception area. This was essentially English with plump fabric sofas and bay windows edged with clinging ivy.

“Do you have a room for us?” we asked with bated breath. They did. In fact we were given choices. My heart sang.

Bala’s was an old colonial boarding school in 1934. I spied more than a couple stocks in the garden and wondered if that was how they had punished mischievous children of that era. I don’t envy the poor kid who was caught misbehaving in class!


The tudor boarding school has since been converted into a holiday chalet, but the stocks remain. There was also an old dog house in Tudor style.

Elsewhere, I found an old discarded bathtub, a cobwebby chandelier – remnants of the yesteryears. If only these things could talk.

The chalet has remained true to its English tradition and has retained much of its old charm.

There are stone fireplaces as well as nooks and crannies typical of old English homes. Dark wooden beams run across the ceilings of the simple yet tastefully furnished rooms.

I couldn’t wait to explore the gardens. There were medinilla, fuchsias, abutilons, and geraniums.

I spied ipomoea and thunbergias grandiflora and mysorensis trailing down from the ledges above. There were even a couple of mysore raspberry canes.

I loved the flamboyant blooms of the tibouchina and brugmansia, as well as the more sedate roses, calla lilies and begonias that graced the gardens. 



There was even a wooden bird house with a resident dove. I walked up close, but the ‘dove’ remained impassive and still. Birdlovers may have to wait forever to hear it coo.     😛


There was much to see and to savour.

Near the main building, we saw a steep road and a flight of steps.

At the top, we found more rooms. Some of these had lofts and if the photos in the reception were anything to go by, they would be ideal for small families as long as one was prepared to walk up and down the steps to get to the rooms.

Set on higher ground, these rooms had a picturesque view of the place. I could sit up there all day.

Some of the rooms at the chalet are named Balmoral, Edinburgh, Windsor … after the English castles, while others are named Anne, Catherine, Elizabeth … after the queens. Ours was Evening Rose.

Our room opened out to the lovely front garden. Wrought-iron tables and chairs beckoned invitingly, and we sat there beneath the starry skies on more than one occasion.

With just a handful of guests during the low peak period, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. To me, this was bliss.

Those with deeper pockets may wish to check out Ye Olde Smokehouse. This is arguably the most famous address in Camerons and is slightly further up the hill.

This English Tudor hotel sits in a beautiful cottage garden complete with a tudor dovecote, a wooden bridge and an old English telephone booth.


















More information about Bala’s Chalet:

Bala’s lies between Brinchang and Tanah Rata.

Facilities provided with our ensuite room:

–          hot shower
–          TV
–          towels
–          shampoo and shower gel sachets
–          jug kettle

(there was neither bar fridge nor phone in our room but we didn’t really miss those)

Services provided include:

–          Free shuttle to and from Tanah Rata
–          Reading room and library
–          Recreational activities include:
–          Daily countryside tour
–          Daily adventure tours, tea plantation, Gunung Brinchang
–          Guided jungle trekking
–          Orang asli experience
–          Jim Thompson’s trail from hotel grounds


For more information about Ye Olde Smokehouse:


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Charmed by Cameron Highlands

It was bliss.

Cool temps, an English Tudor setting, verdant green hills, temperate flowers, English scones, strawberries and cream… stuff dreams are made of. 

For a start, I was smitten with the holiday chalet. It was quintessentially English.

I loved its authentic wooden beams, fireplaces and timbered floors, and readily forgave the occasional creaking floorboard and stiff bathroom door.

I could have been in bonny England. Imagine, even the dog house in the garden was Tudor!

Ivy clung to the walls and window panes, while moss and lichen hugged the roof. Everything was lush and green.

Geraniums, impatiens, fuchsia, and brugmansias added splashes of color to the picturesque garden.

As the rays of the sun streamed through the foliage, it looked almost like paradise on earth. But even paradise has its thorns.

I stifled a whoop of joy when I found wild mysore raspberry canes.

The ripened berries beckoned, but their vicious thorns held me back – for a second.

I was not about to be deterred and ignored the snaring hooks as I spied a couple of ripe, plump berries.

Maybe being at a higher altitude heightened the senses. Somehow, everything seemed more vibrant and tasted better in the highlands. 

Our itinerary was simple – farms  and plant centres (and yet more plant centres) interspersed with pit-stops for meals.

The plant stops were definitely non-negotiable.

Now’s the time to take in the lovely fuchsias, camellias, roses, lavenders, herbs and more. And now’s the time to buy some too!

I succumbed to a lavandula dentata, an osmanthus, a drosera aliceae, an eu de cologne mint, a bunch of lycopodiums and a couple of African violets.

I was pleased. I had my plant-fix.

I could skip a meal if it meant I got to see another plant centre. Brave words, since I usually think or plan two meals ahead of time.

Talking about food, I was told that I had to try the scones in Camerons. I love scones, but never had any in all my visits to the highland.

So for the first time, I sampled their English scones with strawberries and cream.

I even tried fruity strawberry scones, strawberry crepes, strawberry tarts and roti strawberry.

It was a good thing I stopped short of getting a strawberry milkshake or juice or it’d probably be coursing through my veins by now.

We had steamboat, as well as fish and chips and chicken chop.

We even had bak kut teh. This was not something we had planned for, but was really good – and we had it with the most appetizing tofu I’ve ever tasted. 

On the last day, we drove to the Palas tea plantation for a breakfast of scones, tarts and apple pie.

The access road seemed trickier than I remembered, but the view from the tea centre was as lovely as it was before – at least my memory served me well there.

As I packed the bottles of ‘blackberry’ jam I had bought, I filed away treasured memories …

… a field of daylilies,

… brilliant blue strongylodon macrobotrys,

… pendants of thunbergia mysorensis,

… spectacular peach, yellow and white brugmansias,

… striking pyrostegia,

… a bed of chamomile,

… ripening apples, pears,

wild begonias and orange berries I had seen on a hillside.   

Finally, we weaved our way down the hill, passing a few indigenous people (orang asli) who had been collecting firewood.

Some of them had set up stalls selling wild orchids, lycopodiums, bamboo shoots, and parkia speciosa (petai).

As we drove, we saw evidences of landslides caused by the monsoon rains.

The scars were fresh, but thankfully we had near-perfect weather throughout our stay.

In this rainy season, that was nothing short of a miracle.

Bala’s Holiday Chalet lies between Tanah Rata and Brinchang

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Flea markets and car boot sales

Want to pick up a few items for your garden while on holiday? Flea markets and car boot sales are the way to go. For one thing, they are cheaper; for another, you can bargain.

P1050509I went to a car boot sale at Bury’s St. Edmunds and saw some of the most intriguing stuff. They had just about everything from stone urns and planter tubs to chimney pots, spin dryers and salt shakers. I drooled.

I wish I could have opted for an urn or planter but I had to be contented with a small bronze lamppost bell which cost 20p and memories of the rest instead.

IMG_0695I wasn’t as restrained in Perth. The flea market had numerous  plant stalls and I paused at each one.

I stopped longest at two of them; one which sold a cherry guava plant (psidium littorale) and another which had a couple of adorable garden ornaments.

One look at the rabbit and hedgehog and I was smitten. At AUD10 each, I thought they were a steal. Never mind the fact that I already had a bulging luggage bag and that it was probably overweight. The ornaments weighed close to a kilo each and were the size of rugby balls, but they were coming home with me.

The cherry guava is, of course, another story …


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Wildflower season


September. Springtime in Perth and the wildflower season – what a lethal combination.

I was straining at the bit to hit the trail. So I did the logical thing and signed up for a tour that included wildflowers stops.

It was an interesting experience. We’d be in the middle of nowhere and the guide would say, “We’ll stop for a while for you to look at some wild flowers.” I looked out of the window … “But, where?

I was expecting fields of them but I couldn’t see anything except for scrub. But I 

trooped down anyway. Maybe it was too early in the season. Maybe if I looked more closely…

First, I couldn’t see anything of interest. Then finally I saw one, and then another. The more we looked, the more wildflowers we found. It was a bit like looking for sand dollars on the beach.

Some of the flowers were tiny but gorgeous, emerging out of the dry sandy soil and what seemed like punishing conditions. 

Some flowers were modest and understated in pale pastels while others shouted in gay psychedelic colours.

There were wild wildflowers … as opposed to cultivated ones, for want of a better phrase. I saw plenty of the latter.

There were masses of them and I was just as enchanted. I almost fell over myself in my haste to see everything. There were drifts of pink wildflowers everywhere, and yellow ones too.

I soaked it all in and was dumbfounded by their beauty. But I guess there is no need for any more words when the flowers speak for themselves.

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