Monday, 11 January 2016

The Best Australian Destination For Sign-Power!

When travelling around the world, it is essential to read the signs carefully. In a foreign country, directional signs, security information, place-names and even warning notices give you a sense of place, and a certain measure of comprehension; which in turn creates enough confidence to move on to the next leg of your journey. In one particular destination, however, I found that the signs around me became a major attraction of their own!

They inform, they direct, they attract, and they entertain - all by themselves. Strictly policed and stringently controlled, they still manage to exhibit exuberance and glee as they stand outside and do their daily duty in rain or shine. "They" are the signboards of Queensland - or more specifically, that part of the state from Brisbane to the Gold Coast. Ignore these signs, and you may be stuck with the stereotyped touristy trip, and miss out on the best things the region has to offer. Stop, look, and appreciate them fully - and you will transform your holiday into an enchanting experience of local passion, beauty and dedication to excellence. These signboards will lead you into a wonderful world full of local colour, humour, enterprise - and most importantly for serious shoppers - outstanding products of exquisite finesse, great value, and solid quality.

The first group of signs that caught my eye were neither stylish or colourful. In fact, they were downright grubby, rough and weather-beaten; just like the ramshackle old shop they fronted. "MICK'S NUTS", the first sign proclaimed very loudly and rudely. "Macadamia Shop", called another, in vivid red on white. The third sign in the motley crew was the clincher. Nearest the door, it pulled me in irresistibly : "NUTS SHOP. Australian Pesticide-Free Almonds". Now, if that did not tantalise the taste-buds, what would?
Entering the low-ceilinged store was to enter a magical kingdom of nuts and cousins. Almonds, brazil-nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, peanuts, pecans, pine-nuts, pistachios, walnuts - every nut in town seemed to be there save the coconut. Roasted or toasted, salted or spiced, sliced or diced, cooked or raw - if it was edible, it was on sale. And all related foods were there as well, in Mick's Nut Shop:- raisins, sultanas, prunes, pulses, sunflower kernels, watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, tiny sesame seeds, and dried fruit like figs, apricots, bananas, apples - everything you'd want for a healthy, fibre-rich Mediterranean-style diet. Standing at the same location for over twenty years, this family-run shop has become something of an icon in Brisbane's West End neighbourhood, with the same warm Greek hospitality of its second-generation owners, who greet the regulars by name.

Hospitable was not the adjective that came to mind when I saw another sign in the lush green environs of another intriguing destination. "ENTRY RULES" it stated ominously. "Coach or Tour Groups Not Permitted. No Pedestrians. Small Vehicle Groups Only." The white-bearded gnome-like owner was unapologetic. "Coach Tours? Bah! Humbugs, the lot of them! If it was legal to shoot 'em, I would, the bludgers! Driving in here, posing for photographs, knocking off free samples, and then turning tail and leaving without spending a single penny!"
This was my introduction to the 'legendary' Michael Ward of Mount Tamborine:- raconteur, orchard farmer, avid environmentalist and co-owner of the award-winning Tamborine Mountain Distillery, widely-known as "Australia's Most-Awarded Distillery & Liquor Brand In the New Millennium", as its website modestly proclaims. Whatever the case, discerning connoisseurs from all over the world clamour for the award-winning fruit liqueurs, schnapps, vodka, absinthe and other fine spirits produced by this small family of dedicated distillers.

Elsewhere on Mount Tamborine is what could be the world's fastest signboard - the gaudy-liveried Lotus racing-car that is usually parked in a strategic spot to advertise two special businesses owned by a glamorous young couple : Mount Tamborine Brewery and Witches Chase Cheese Company. The first combines traditional brewing methods with ultra-modern equipment to produce award-winning beer while the second is an artisan boutique cheese factory that hand-creates internationally-acclaimed cheeses using old-fashioned recipes, the finest french cultures, pure vegetarian rennet, and fresh local milk. Together, these two companies make a fascinating stopover for visitors.

Rather more sedate is the amphibious vehicle that is a mobile advertisement for the exciting Aquaduck Tours. One moment, you are trundling along the traffic-clogged main thoroughfares of the Gold Coast - and the next moment you are chugging across the sea, dodging buzzing speedboats and elegant yachts while enjoying a panoramic view of the nation's most expensive and exclusive waterfront properties. Families with small children will enjoy this unique experience as the young ones get invited up to the captain's cabin to 'steer' the vessel across the waves before it transforms back into a street vehicle on dry land.

Leaving the cartoon Aquaduck mascots behind, visitors to Queensland are invited to 'Get Closer' to real birds and animals at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, the region's leading native wildlife experience in a coastal rainforest setting. The clever graphics and wry local humour on the signboards all over this interactive zoo really help visitors enjoy the full benefits of the exhibits in the extensive natural surroundings. With hundreds of native Australian birds, reptiles and animal, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary has been awarded Ecotourism Australia's Advanced Ecotourism Accreditation.

If furry or feathered creatures aren't enough for you, what about bees? Bee-watching is a legitimate pastime, according to the signboard at Mount Nathan Winery. A labour of love for three generations of the Gibson family, the panoramic property consists of vineyards, apiaries and a plantation of Paulownia trees. The winery produces lovingly-created red and white wines, while the bee-hives among the Paulownia trees provide the finest honey. Paul Gibson also produces superb mead, honey-based liqueurs, muscat and fortified wines. A visit to the scenic estate would not be complete without a walking-tour and purchase of these excellent products, which will then be specially bubble-wrapped for you to take home safely on your return flight.

Honey-based products can also be found along the vibrant and fascinating Gallery Walk in Mount Tamborine, with its colourful and eye-catching signboards advertising everything from Granny Mac's sinfully-delicious home-made fudge and the rustic German Cuckoo-Clock House, to the intriguing Totally Different handicraft house and the enchanting Fairies On The Wall. Now, to find out what that last sign is all about,
you will have to follow the signs in Queensland,
and discover the best things in life for yourself!

(All photographs by Andrew Ponnampalam) 

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