Tuesday, April 19, 2011

EAT, PRAY, LOVE IN WA

EAT LOVE AND PRAY IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Since ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ hit the big screen last August 2010, many have felt compelled to visit Italy (for gastronomic satisfaction), India (for spiritual nourishment) and Bali (for physical fulfilment). Although Western Australia was not mentioned, it has compiled its own ‘Eat Pray Love’ list for your own retreat.


The movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ was unrealistic as the producer should have chosen a less attractive star. Julia Roberts was simply too pretty (remember ‘Pretty Woman’?) to be unloved not only by her husband but post-marriage lover. As a wag puts it, if things like these happen to the likes of Julia Robert, God help the rest of us.

Still, the 2006 memoir by American writer Elizabeth Gilbert has touched many a raw nerve as it refused to budge from the New York Times best seller list for 187 weeks.

Spending a year jet-setting to exotic locales while trying to balance your life and finding yourself is what most of us, married or otherwise, would love to do. Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, our year long sojourn is unlikely to be funded by a generous publisher who gave her an advance to enjoy life before chronicling it. We also seldom conveniently bump into a nine generation shaman who predicts we will end up studying life’s esoteric mysteries with him.

And so Elizabeth Gilbert spent 4 months in Italy eating and enjoying life for her ‘Eat’ part, 4 months in India finding spirituality (‘Pray’) and the last 4 months in beautiful Bali getting her fuses electrified (‘Love’) before finding true love in the handsome, dashing form of a Brazilian factory owner who now lives with her in New Jersey! Can life get any lusher?

Yes. In January 2010 she released ‘Committed; A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage’! So we must brace ourselves with a sequel in 2012 unless the world ends (remember ‘2012’?) before its release.

Meanwhile, judging by the positive response and ignoring its unfortunate omission, Western Australia has come up with its own ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ romantic sojourn, taking in Margaret River, New Norcia and Coral Coast!

EAT; MARGARET RIVER

Margaret River in southwest Western Australia is internationally acclaimed more for its wines than food but fear not, there are plenty of fabulous eateries to match the drinks.

Indulging in an extraordinary culinary adventure is easy as Margaret River is a mere 3 hours drive from Perth. Lonely Planet lists Margaret River is one of the Top Ten Regions of the World which says a lot as this travel bible knows this planet like the back of its palm.

Mind you, Margaret River does not have spectacular manmade monuments like Taj Mahal or huge natural formations like Ayers Rock but fascinates with a dazzling array of great food, fine wines, lovely landscapes, interesting art galleries, pristine beaches, abundant wildlife and mysterious caves. Together they form a potent combination that draw tourists by the containerload.

When it comes to untamed beauty and eco-tourism at its sustainable best, few places beat Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge with its dramatic cliffs and rocks, tranquil bays and vineyards shrouded in morning mist. Picturesque Hamelin Bay abounds with stingrays, dolphins and seals while its hinterlands are home to kangaroos, possums and birdlife. In spring, the wildflowers form a carpet that has to be seen to be believed.

The Blackwood and Margaret rivers offer canoeing, swimming, fishing and boating while Augusta offers one of the world’s most scenic golf courses.

The verdant countryside attracts artists, painters, sculptors, photographers, jewellers, glass blowers, wood carvers and craftspeople who find the convivial atmosphere so inspiring. As a result, the local galleries are always buzzing.

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Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is Australia’s tallest at 39 metres and guards the point where the Indian and Southern oceans meet. Set against a stunning blue backdrop of sea and sky, the lighthouse glows white in summer and moody grey in winter when the waves crash spectacularly against the rocks. Many come at this time just to gawk and gasp at Nature’s awesome power.

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You can rent a flashy roadster like this or join a tourist van.


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Amberly Estate vineyard


Lest you forget you are here to ‘Eat’, Margaret River is justly famous for sweet treats like chocolate, hot fudge and ice cream. Stop over at Margaret River Providore in Wilyabrup and stock up on jams, oils, wines, spices and spices made from produce from its own orchard, vineyard and vegetable farm. Or just gorge on meals made from these ingredients in Providore’s cafe. With more than 90 cellar doors and 200 vineyards, you are spoilt rotten for choice.

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Leeuwin Estate Winery also offers fine dining and expert wine pairing


Other must-try eateries include Vasse Felix, Xanadu, Leeuwin Estate, Cullen and Clairault where fresh local produce are expertly cooked and paired with some of the world’s most outstanding wines.

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Playing footsie is such fun with wine


PRAY; NEW NORCIA

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This could be Europe but is in the middle of nowhere; the serene and soul-lifting skyline of New Norcia.


By coincidence, Margaret River produces some great wines reminiscent of Italy where Elizabeth Gilbert went to eat while New Norcia is named after Norcia in Italy!

The Italian Norcia is the birthplace of St Benedict while the Aussie Norcia was founded in 1847 by two Spanish Benedictine monks. Just 132 km north of Perth, New Norcia is the only monastic town in Australia with architecture based on Spanish churches. The exquisitely embellished chapels of St Ildephonsus, St Gertrude and Abbey Church transport you back to olde Europe while the New Norcia Museum and Art Gallery boasts paintings given by the Queen of Spain, drawing of an apostle by Raphael and 50 contemporary works of art.

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St Ildephonsus College


The Benedictine monks continue to live, work and of course pray at the monastery and are involved in almost all the enterprises in New Norcia. The monks live a simple communal life of work and prayer but welcome visitors.

Friends of New Norcia operate the twice daily, two-hour tours which allow tourists to visit the frescoed interiors and interact with the monks. Outsiders can also dine with them though they have to keep quiet during meals and not utter a word!

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The Abbey Church of New Norcia


Surrounding this exquisitely preserved beautiful town is a 20,000 acre working farm first tilled by missionaries Salvado and Serra in 1847. New Norcia has 69 buildings on some 10 acres of which 27 are listed by Australia’s National Trust due to their important cultural heritage.

Driving into New Norcia from the rural outback only to land smack in what seems like a Spanish Mediterranean village in the middle of nowhere is a shock to the system and enough for novices to fall to their knees and pray for succour. But it is best to join the monks for Midday Prayer (20 minutes) at noon or Afternoon Prayer at 2.30pm in the Monastery Chapel. The Monastery Guesthouse and Old Convent are places of retreat for individuals and spiritual direction is yours for the asking. Pilgrims and good Christians can enrol in the Spirituality Programme 2011which allows you to join the communal life of monks through daily round of prayers and celebration of Eucharist while enjoying the spirit of silence, solitude and peace.


LOVE; CORAL COAST

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Swimming with a whale shark is an out of this world experience.


Complete your ‘Eat, Pray’ journey by falling in love with Coral Coast, filled with outdoor activities to take the breath away. Swim with the world’s largest fish---the whale shark---at Ningaloo Reef, the world’s biggest fringing reef. Even if you can barely swim, snorkelling is an absolute must here as you will love the marine life.


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These wild dolphins come to shore to be fed and befriended by humans! A great rarity of nature!


The bottle nose dolphins of Monkey Mia are world famous for swimming up to the shore to interact with humans thrice a day. Five to ten dolphins swim up to your knees to be stroked and fed, a natural and incredibly rare phenomenon.


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You will be doing this too once you reach Shell Beach

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These are how the shells look like, pure white and charming.



Nearby is Shell Beach which seems like any Malaysian beach with white sands. But upon arrival you will love to discover the ‘sand’ is made entirely of billions of tiny seashells! Stretching an amazing 200 km and up to 10 metres deep, these coquina bivalve shells have no natural enemies, exist in huge numbers and washed ashore after they die.

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Close-up of the tiny, cutesy white shells of Shell Beach

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She sells seashells by the seashore, remember this tongue twister?


Even more astonishing are the world’s oldest living marine fossils---the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool at Shark Bay. This is a World Heritage area as scientists believe Hamelin Pool today may well be how planet Earth looked like 3.5 billion years ago when stromatolites first appeared!

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A jetty allows visitors to look but not touch or damage the stromatolites.



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A pier to view the stromatolites in comfort.

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An eerie landscape that seems almost alien to this planet!


Visit westernaustralia.com to help plan your very own, unique ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ journey.

AMEN