Thursday, 16 October 2014

Tasmania Specialist Conference 2014 (Plus a Free 4-days Educational Trip!)


So, I have been a busy, busy little bee (hence the delay in submitting a post, let alone such a long one)! The rewarding aspect of being a travel agent, is that occasionally I score a free trip (aka also known as a famil)!

Everyday, we get a "Hotline" (which is a Word Document, containing various important travel-related updates), and several months ago, the Hotline contained a first ever Tassie Specialist Conference, to be held in Hobart. The only thing I needed to do to qualify as a Tassie Specialist was to do several online modules and pass the quiz! After completion, I received a pretty nifty little pack containing my certificate of completion (officially a Tassie Specialist!), some maps and further information regarding Tasmania. 

For those wanting to know more, in-depth about Tasmania: 


These links contains almost all the handy information needed to plan your next trip to Tasmania. Even though the first link relates more towards travel agents, it is definitely a resourceful website :)

Not long after that, I received an email for an Expression of Interest to register for the conference and also the choice of a famil (I chose the post-conference North-East famil initially, but got the North famil in the end) and pretty much forgot about my registration, so you can imagine how surprised I was when they have accepted my registration! I FINALLY GOT MY FREE EDUCATIONAL TRIP!! I was completely over-the-moon, and could not believe what I was reading (I had to re-read that email 3 times). THANK YOU TOURISM TASMANIA! <3

P.S: I had almost wet myself from excitement when they sent my flight details & itineraries. 

Without further ado, here is my Tasmanian experience:

DAY 1 [19SEP14]
Woke up nice and early and ducked down to Brisbane domestic airport to catch my 8:00AM Qantas flight to Hobart. Now, I have to focus on this fact that it was my 1st time flying with Qantas! 
Okay, it is ironic that I sell Qantas but had never flown with them before. I was pretty damn excited about it. The Qantas section of the domestic airport had the self-check-in option but I still enjoyed queuing to drop off my checked-luggage.

Qantas, however, does not have a direct flight to/from Tasmania (Launceston/Hobart) and both ways   goes via Melbourne.  

I had about an hour plus transit time there and did some shopping (Victoria's Secret had a 40%, so I bought myself a brand new handbag and make-up case :P ). 

Onwards from Melbourne into Hobart. My, oh, my, what a beautiful way to fly into a city! The flight from Melbourne to Hobart was operated by Qantas Link, so it was a smaller aircraft (2 x 3 seats configuration) and the plane flew pretty low over the water to land.

AAANDD, Qantas actually provided each passenger with an iPad mini for entertainment! The only downfall is that I did not take a set of earphones with me :( so I had to twiddle my thumbs for entertainment.

Another thing I have to mention, is that Qantas does not hold back on feeding their passengers:
 Flight from Brisbane to Melbourne, I either had a choice of Muesli & Yoghurt (which came with a mini muesli bar), or the Cereal with a Mini-Muffin. I chose the latter.

For even a short hour-plus flight, Qantas served a damn good Shepherd's Pie (Aussie style, with Tomato Sauce). It is good based on other airplane food.

Upon arrival into Hobart Airport, Kate from Tourism Tasmania was there to greet and welcome those who were on the same flight/arrival date. Hopped onto a coach bus and onwards to Hobart city!

View from the coach 

There were several stops, as some of the other consultants stayed at other hotels nearby. In my itinerary, I was staying at Hotel Collins

It is a pretty cute, small 4-star property, which is conveniently walking distance to Woolworths, the ferry terminal (to Peppermint Bay & Mona), and the Salamanca Markets. 

I shared a room with another Flight Centre consultant for most of my trip.

Lovely touch! They had provided us with a customised welcome letter and also a little gift - 3 pack of preserves. I <3 sauce.

One thing I have to rave about the room is... THE PILLOWS! OMG OMG, SUPER DUPER COMFY PILLOWS!! I slept like a baby for the short 2 nights I was there. I was also very tempted on stealing bringing home one of them. 

Upon check-in, they had also given us vouchers for breakfast and 1 x Standard Drink (tea, coffee or a Tasmanian beer/wine). A girl I met along this famil, Victoria, agreed that an alcoholic beverage right after check-in would be awesome. 

Moo Brew Pilsner is awesome!

Then, we decided to check out Hobart's waterfront area and for some lunch.

Victoria and I decided to try Mures for some seafood!

Nothing better than a small basket of prawns, half a dozen oysters and a beer :)

After lunch, we decided to check out the Salamanca Market area, where we had a couple more drinks.
Once we had our alcohol fix, we ducked back to the hotel to refresh ourselves before heading to the Welcome Reception, which was held at the Henry Jones Art Hotel

Yes, I got lazy and did not attempt taking any photos and was busy picking at the canapes - which were super delicious.


Guess who gate-crashed our little function?
Omfg with Heston Blumenthal #tsc14 #mycookingidol #bucketlist

Didn't make it for drinks at the Observatory as I was too drunk off the generous free-flow of alcohol that night and wanted to have a good night's rest for the next day - the Salamanca Market Challenge & the Conference.

DAY 2 [20SEP14]
Woke up, got ready, had a very healthy breakfast whilst reading through the Salamanca Market Challenge.
Still can't believe that they gave us $10 each! :D Thank you!

I wanted to buy like most of the things the market had to offer, but guess I can't have everything :( One stall vendor did catch my attention though:

Jewellery made from antique silverware! 

Unfortunately, I have misplaced the business card, so I cannot place further information. I did purchase a ring which was made from a cocktail fork though!

After the challenge, we ducked down to attend the conference which gave us a goodie filled with many good random things - a slab of Cadbury Chocolate Bar, a bottle of the Cape Grim water: "purest water on earth", and etc. The day consisted of speeches about the different areas of Tasmania, morning tea, lunch and the best part: speed-dating suppliers! We've received further promotional goodies and information. Some of the best items I gathered from that day was a little seal stuffed-toy, a computer-mouse and some other random toys.

Our evening itinerary was a cruise, courtesy of Peppermint Bay Cruises, to.. well, Peppermint Bay where the gala dinner was held.

 They gathered most of the photos that was posted on Instagram and projected it on the wall. Yes, my photo of Heston did pop up too!

Unfortunately, I did not win the Salamanca Challenge: the reward was a scenic flight of Tasmania. 6 lucky consultants had a chance to do so!

By the time dinner finished and the cruise back to Hobart, the majority of us went back to our designated hotel and crashed. I slept like a baby that night, but rest was well-needed for what was in store for me!

DAY 3 [21SEP14]
Woke up really early to pack and ducked down for breakfast. I was really excited as it was the first day of the actual famil! Checked out and first stop: a ferry ride to MONA (Museum of Old & New Art). Even the ferry was funky! They had a caged parrot on the ferry, no joke!

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we only ended up having 45 minutes to run around the place. Rather than appreciating too much of it, I was running around the place with my camera to grab as many photos as I could. Yes! Photography is allowed in MONA, however, there are some areas that flash is not appreciated.

MONA was definitely one of the strangest art gallery I have ever been to: there are many weird and fantastic pieces which shocked, insulted my senses and intrigued me. Definitely a place worth visiting, even if you are not that interested in art.

 This... really bugged me. From afar, I couldn't make out what it was meant to be, until closer inspection.

Yes. Yes, they are plaster casts of 150 female genitalia - ranging from young to old. Holy Jesus, some disturbed me.

My favourite one so far: the ash Buddha!

Smelly, pooping contraption 

Okay, remember when I said that some of the works here will insult your senses. Well, this is one of them. One of the girls on the trip told me to check out a machine which is meant to mimic and show how food is processed into faeces by our body. Supposedly, they do feed the damn thing. This is the only photo of it - as I approached it for more up-close photos, the strong smell of poop raped my nostrils and I ran away gagging.

Me in front of this wired-truck-thingamajig!

After MONA, the 2-hour plus drive begun, to Launceston, with scenic fields along the way. We stopped to grab some lunch at Zeps Cafe, in Campbell Town. Again, due to time constraints, we had to order food that could be made relatively quickly (this was a shame as I would have loved to try the pork belly on the menu!!). Once our bellies were filled, our next and last stop for the day was in Hadspen, at The Red Feather Inn

Since there was a larger ratio of women to men, the women shared the 'Murphetts Cottage'(I finally had a room to myself! First & last night of no co-sharing!!), whilst one lucky dude had 'The Loft' to himself!

Living room - Murphetts Cottage

Super-duper happy to have had a large bed to myself for a night!

Who knew red onions could be used as home decorations? I didn't :/

We had an hour plus or so to just chill/unpack/etc., before the 'Perfect Pasta Class' begun. I was super-duper excited because I had no clue how to make pasta from scratch! Plus what we made was our dinner for the night - Minestrone Soup for entrees, Ricotta & Spinach Stuffed Ravioli (pan-fried with pine nuts and broccoli) and Tiramisu for dessert.

Had a few others starting the tiramisu 

After prepping the pasta dough, he split us up by assigning certain groups with different tasks. Some stayed on to prep a different sort of pasta dough, made from semolina flour, whilst a few of us went out to the veggie patch to gather some fresh vegetables.

 Fresh, as fresh can get!

We ended up with a massive bowl of spinach and other vegetables such as kale, celery, broccolini and etc., to be used in the entree and the main course. We then had other prep work before the actual fun begun - turning rested dough into pasta (ravioli)!

 Some funky Stained Glass Pasta!

My babies :) 

This was made from the semolina flour batch. I have no clue what type of pasta this is, but I am assuming it is Radiatori. This was used in the Minestrone soup.

Left over pasta hung to dry 

Then the even more enjoyable part = eating our results!

By golly, this Minestrone, served with the little semolina pasta and pesto was THE BEST I've ever had. Not just cause we had made it, but I hate the soup in general as I find it either too bland or watery at times. This one was perfect! 

The Tiramisu team may have been over-generous with the alcohol - there was literally a shot of liquor left at the bottom of the glass! Still yummy though :)

After dinner, some opted to head to bed early whilst a few of us decided to gather around an outdoor fire-thingamajig and have a couple more drinks. Needless to say, I was super-drunk that night. Worst decision ever as we had another big itinerary the following day. Other than that, I think most of us from the group can agree that The Red Feather Inn experience was the highlight of the trip.

DAY 4 [22SEP14]
After the usual shit of packing up and checking out, the first stop was at the Queen Victoria Museum - started off with the normal stuff you see at a museum: stuffed local animals, some historical artefacts, etc. One funky part was a stuffed Tasmanian tiger (now extinct) and a rail-related portion of the museum.

 Taxidermy of a Tasmanian Tiger

Straight after the museum tour, we had the Boags Beer Lovers Tour (which sounded awesome when I had a look at the itinerary, but not so great when I was hungover.. Boo..). It was a quick tour about James Boags Brewery and how beer is produced. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside, but got a few photos at the tastings, which was outside the factory. It was definitely a first beer tasting I've had that was paired with cheese! Also, got to munch on some actual roasted malt. That was a first.

 Yummy beers, though I personally enjoy the Boag's XXX Ale the best. Please note that you can only drink Boag's XXX Ale and Wizard Smith's Ale in Tasmania. They aren't exported inter-state. 

Mini-museum upstairs: Can designs over the years (plus an accidental selfie included)

Couldn't believe that I had a beer (as opposed to a full 3 glasses) and cheese for morning tea, before we headed into the Tamar Valley region, stopping at Velo Wines for lunch, where we all received a pizza each. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you whether I liked any of their wines or not, as I was still not feeling well enough for the consumption of alcohol.

A filling lunch also meant sleepy time: whilst we drove onwards to the next destination, I fell asleep on the coach (I am assuming there was a few of us who dozed off!) and woke up when we arrived at Seahorse World, where we had a quick tour about the place. Highlights of this place: I got to touch and hold a live seahorse! *squeals*

 There's something very disturbing about seeing this many seahorses in one area. I don't know why this freaks me out a bit :/

 This sea-dragron is my favourite! Look at the bright colours on it! 

Okay. This photo does NOT do this crab justice. Let's just say that the big claw was like half a metre long, if not bigger. 

Our tour guide holding up one of the biggest hermit crab I've seen in person

No photos of me holding the little seahorse though :( *regret*

Located right next door to Seahorse World, is the Platypus House, where we had our second tour about these cute little fuzzy semi-aquatic egg-laying mammals. I only learned several years ago that platypuses are actually venomous (males only). You know what they say! There are plenty of things that can kill (or attempt to kill you) in Australia!

No photos of a platypus as it was pretty dark and all my photos turned out blurry *cries* But, I'll make it up with an up-close photo of an echidna! First ever time where an echidna is literally walking around right next to you.

It's so cute! It's little long pink tongue goes around slurping the feed in!

After our little tours, we drove to George Town, where we checked-in at Peppers York Cove. We had a little site inspection after checking-in.

 Our room for the night. Every deco at Peppers is pretty modern. Love the red, white and black decor.

Missed out a photo of the showers - the room I was in had those shower-heads which is was as big as a side-plate and was installed from the ceiling, which gave a rain-like experience <3

Since we were pushed for time again, we pre-ordered what we wanted for dinner before our last tour for the day: Low Head Penguin Tours

I've seen many penguins before in the wild, so this tour didn't appeal to me too much, BUT I did get to see a couple of penguins in the act of mating, and that was the highlight. Seriously, it's not everyday you get to see them doing it, like doggy-style.

By the time the tour ended, I was starving and could not wait to hide from the cold. Dinner was waiting for us when we returned.

Prawn & Scallop Slider for my entree: Wasn't too impressed as there wasn't much prawn nor scallop and a whole lot of bread. Slightly disappointing.  

Main course: Wallaby with beetroot quinoa. First time having wallaby and goddamn it was good. Tasted like a cross between kangaroo & beef. Ommnommnomm

As per usual, after dinner meant bed-time for me, as we had an early morning start again.

DAY 5 [23SEP14]
I'm not a huge breakfast fan, but I decided to have something warm and savoury. The staff at Peppers were courteous enough to accommodate my simple request, which I am thankful for.

 Poached egg with fried haloumi - Told the staff to give me one egg as opposed to two and not to serve me toast. Perfect portion right here :)

View from dining area

After breakfast and having my caffeine hit for the day, we were off to Hollybank Treetops, where I was lucky enough to do the 3-hours Zipline tour (this is was on my bucket-list). The other group did the Segway Tour (2 hours duration) instead.

No photos just of yet as we weren't allowed any mobile phones or loose items. But, I did receive a DVD copy after my famil, so look out for a post with further updates :)

Did I mention I had fear of heights?

Post-adrenaline rush, it was time for lunch at Pipers Brook Vineyard, where we had a tasting as well. Though we only received small portions of wine, all of us started acting silly. I personally did not enjoy any of the wines there enough to purchase a bottle (since we were to visit Jansz after that; decided to keep my options open for bubblies instead).

Best platter ever! The quiche served on this plate was the fluffiest, most decadent quiche! T_T I don't know when I'll be able to find a quiche this good ever again (note the quiche portions are on the middle right).

Bellies full and we were to do a quick tour of the winery: From the machinery to the cellar where we tasted wine in the process of ageing in the barrels. Not tasty I tell you!

Next stop: Jansz 

My manager was like going-on about Janz, and I was a clueless child. Supposedly, it's one of the well known brands for sparking wines.

Tasting time!

Out of the entire lot, I liked the taste of the Jansz Vintage Rose 2010, so I bought a bottle (off memory, I paid like $45AUD for the bottle).

By then, I was relatively tipsy and was ready to check-out our next stop in Launceston: The Cataract Gorge.

Yes, I realise that I've been saying "First Time" a lot, but it's true! There's many things I haven't experienced before :( First time on a chair-lift too.

 There was a lot of plants before reaching the end. Had to hold my legs up to avoid contact

 Quite a few peacocks flaunting their tail feathers

Next stop: Hotel Charles

No photos here as it reminds me of Hotel Collins, which wasn't a surprise when I learned from the conference, that it was run by the same group of hotels. We had like an hour and a half to relax before we had a progressive-dinner (courtesy of Tourism Northern Tasmania).

Another first, with progressive-dining. Had entree at Hotel Charles before moving on to Saint John Craft Beer Bar for mains - had one of the yummiest pork belly burger and fries, prepared by a food van Eats with Beats.

Entree: Salmon, Scallop, Quail & Pork Belly <3

Cannot remember where dessert was held, but they had some great Creme Brulee (I had two small portions despite being over-stuffed with food).

Being that full, falling asleep was not an issue when we finished our progressive dinner.

DAY 6 [23SEP14]
Our last day in Tasmania! Woke up really early to have some breakfast before my final packing :(
The last stops in Launceston was at the Design Tasmania Centre (which didn't really appeal to me too much), other than the fine woodwork displayed.

However, close by was a park where they had a Japanese monkey enclosure. Thought that was pretty nifty!

The last place we visited before heading back to our respective cities, was the Tasmanian Gourmet Sauce Company, where we had lunch and a chance to purchase sauce (and if you don't know me by now, I am addicted to sauce. All food must have some sort of sauce/gravy/relish!!). Purchased like 4 different ones!

Not only did they serve lunch, and sell sauces, they also have a garden and some scenic view going on.

Straight after lunch, we headed down to Launceston Airport to check-in for our flights back. At the check-in counter, my checked-bag actually weighed 24kg ++!! I arrived in Tasmania with only 16kg!! I blame all the brochures and stuff I received from the conference lol.
Thankfully the lady at the counter wasn't particular about that 1 extra kilo.

Was pretty sad to leave Tasmania after spending such a short but intense time there.

 Leaving Launceston :( Photo courtesy of Skye (taken from her Facebook)

First and foremost, I must apologise for the long wait in posts as I either procrastinate or get too busy to finish a post, especially one as long as this! I have truly enjoyed my stay in Tasmania, and can definitely understand how and why they are able to say that 70% will come back to visit this beautiful Australian state.

The local produce is fresh, and so is the air, which means better tasting food and a better lifestyle (definitely won't see hustle & bustle anywhere!). Wildlife and scenic views are abundant and there's definitely plenty of activities to suit all sorts of budget.

I haven't been able to share all of the photos from this trip as I'm afraid it'll make this post way too long, but have posted the nicer ones!

Other than that, I want to personally thank all of those responsible for my trip and making it such an enjoyable & memorable one.

I can only hope to have the chance to visit Tasmania once again!