Travel

Australian Odyssey

A Learjet fantasy flight
By Chris Middleton
Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer...'

Homer's Odyssey Ulysses endured a ten year meandering voyage around the Mediterranean through Homer's dactylic hexameter. I'm planning we enjoy a more indulgent, speedy and informative Odyssey around Australia. Ours will be a twelve day all expenses paid expedition visiting the ten largest distilleries. Along the way, we should encounter as many interesting people, places and adventures as did the heroic king of Ithaca, and we do not have to kill or maim anyone we meet. We move to our own beat.



Sydney, Emerald City



When you arrive into Sydney, you're booked into the Park Hyatt. It's £9,600 a night Opera House facing room. More importantly it has a £5,000 musical toilet. I'm intrigued to learn what it does. Does it flush water? The poor Ulysses only had the rolling stern of his nameless vessel at his disposal.

At dawn of day one, we'll start by climbing the Harbour Bridge (at £200 each) and looking west to where our adventure will eventually take us. Then we'll cruise Sydney Harbour where I can point to places where distilleries once existed, leading us to Rose Bay. Here I've booked a seaplane to fly us over Sydney's northern beaches to a restaurant you can only reach by water, Berowra Waters, where it's only £350 per person, not including drinks. In the evening, we'll head to Tetsuya's, one of the world's great restaurants. Meals start at only £110, no drinks of course. The next morning a limousine will pick us up and take us to the heliport to fly us to the Blue Mountains on the western perimeter of Sydney and then north to the Hunter Valley for lunch. We'll be back in Sydney to dine at Rockpool. Then out into the night to some interesting bars - Baxter's Inn with the largest whisky range in the country and new small bar, Black Penny that has the largest Australian made whisky range, with 21 expressions.



Brisbane, 'Brissie'



It's an early start at Sydney's Mascot jet base to meet our executive Learjet which will fly us north to Brisbane. Here begins our proper Odyssey. I've negotiated a charter package deal for £76,000, including accommodation and meals for the crew. I sincerely hope that you appreciate the intense negotiations that were conducted to conclude this deal. At the Brisbane Jetbase, a limousine will meet us and take us to the outskirts of the city to Australia's second largest distillery, Beenleigh Distillery, built 1884 to distil rum. From there, we will drive to the Gold Coast where Miami meets Vegas by the Pacific. We'll lunch at Palazzo Versace then back to Brisbane. The 'must see' in town is the Breakfast Creek Hotel rum bar, the world's biggest with over 500 rums. It also has one of Australia's most famous steakhouses, from the sacred cattle of the Darling Downs. We could slip across the river to the Morrison Hotel, also another famous steakhouse and home of the Naked whisky bar. To finish the night, we'll hit a few whisky bars such as Cobbler, Gresham and Lefties, then head back to Stamford Plaza (£2,200 per room) to recharge our batteries.



Bundaberg, 'Bundy'



Looking down onto the Sunshine Coast beaches from our padded leather chairs like Greek gods, our next leg will see us jetting northward to tropical Queensland towards the Bundaberg Distillery, Australia's largest. Bundaberg rum is Australia's second most popular spirit brand. In Queensland, it has heroic status. After the distillery, it's off to the Great Barrier Reef, and we'll be chasing black marlin. Here we will join our luxurious 'mothership' priced from £3,200 to strike out for a quiet afternoon of robust fishing. In the evening we'll bed down on Hamilton Island for £860 per room, it's close to Great Barrier Reef Airport where our jet awaits us in the morning.



Alice Springs, Red Heart



It's a long flight today, over Queensland as we head towards Western Australia. On the route, we'll drop into Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock). There are cattle stations here bigger than some European countries. The closest we get to a liquor producer here is a desert winery that goes by the name of Chateau Hornsby. In homage to the epic poem, we should celebrate by partaking in a barrel of wine. I've booked tent accommodation at Longitude 131 for £1,000.



Perth, City of Lights



Perth is our next destination, and our Learjet will touch down at the Jet Centre. It's off to explore this young modern city constantly fuelled by mining booms. You've got to watch where you step otherwise you're likely to trip over a reef of gold, a cluster of diamonds or a mountain of iron ore. I wouldn't be surprised if our toilets run with champagne. It will be a full day as we head by limousine to Port Fremantle which is on the edge of the city where the America's Cup was first relocated. Then by helicopter to Rottnest Island, Swan River Valley and a night out at the Burswood Casino. Bring plenty of cash as I've booked us a seat on the high rollers table in the Pearl Room. They tell me you have every chance to 'win it big'. This could be your opportunity to cover all our travel costs.

In the morning, it's wheels-up for our next port of call, Albany, the old whaling town facing down the Great Southern Ocean. On the way, we will fly into the Margaret River wine and food region for lunch. By late afternoon, we will be at Great Southern Distillery. It is one of the smallest of the ten distilleries on our list, certainly the most remote. In the late afternoon we fly out to Adelaide across the treeless Nullarbor.



Adelaide, City of Churches



Adelaide is also the wine capital of Australia and in the morning we're heading out of town in a limo to the old and picturesque Barossa Valley. This is where we'll find the Tarac Distillery, brandy distiller. In the valley, we will be enchanted by the hidden boutique wineries with Rockford, Veritas, Greenock Creek and a dozen more. This may well be our siren's moment as I find I am ever-drawn to these beautiful wines. Tonight, we'll again be staying at Adelaide's best hotel, the Intercontinental, which also has one of the best restaurants, the Shiki. Then we'll hit the town to see what's being rotated on the whisky lists at Adelaide's better whisky bars, like the Wheatsheaf and the Udaberri.



Renmark, Orchard Town



Buckle-up for our next destination, as we hop across to Renmark in the Riverland where the vast carpet of vineyards, citrus groves and nut orchards have transformed the floodplain into a cornucopia of fruit. Here is the home of Angove Distillery, Australia's leading brandy producer.



Melbourne, City by the Bay



Landing at Essendon Fields VIP corporate Jet Base we're right on the doorstep of New World Distillery. In less than 20 minutes we will be in the centre of Melbourne. It's a grand old city of fine dining, wide boulevards with small laneways bars. Tonight, we are staying at one of my favourites, the elegant old Hotel Windsor. It started life in the 1880s as the Grand Coffee Palace, a temperance hotel refusing to sell liquor. Not to worry, it only lasted a few years without a licence. Melbourne is served well with great restaurants like Attica, Flower Drum and Ezard. In the darkness of night, we shall venture to Whisky and Alement, Baranows and the new Heirloom bar with over 60 Japanese labels as part of our most arduous tasting visits.

The next morning will see us at the foot of the scenic Dandenong Ranges cool climate wineries and our next whisky stop, Bakery Hill Distillery.



Hobart, Southern City



The last leg of our trip takes us to where we find the Tasmania Distillery, one of the first boutique distilleries which was started in the 1990s craft push. From Hobart, we drive into the Tasmanian hinterlands which can be rugged wilderness. Our next port of call is Nant Distillery at Bothwell. Trout fishing may be less exciting then marlin, but I've booked us into Tarraleah Lodge for a spot of fly fishing. In the morning, we'll head up to north Tasmania and visit Australia's largest whisky distillery, Hellyers Road Distillery near Burnie.

From here it's our final flight to Sydney to end of our national tour and end our odyssey. I hope we won at the casino to cover the costs.



Fact Box



Estimated total cost: £140,000 12 days, jet charter, car hire, helicopters and expenses

Distance travelled: 15,000 kilometres

Travel costs of tour: Jet charter 26 hours £2,700 per hour = £70,200 + £550 per day crew accommodation @ £6,000; helicopters (£600 per hour x 16 = £16,000) and hire cars (£100 per hour x 40 hours = £4,000) = £90,000. Accommodation and drinks, meals and drinks, boat & fishing hire, sundries and drink = £50,000

Distances to be travelled: 15,000 kilometres.By air 12,000 kilometres.Car and helicopter 3,000 kilometres

Brown spirit production: Rum 80 per cent, brandy 14 per cent, whisky 6 per cent

Share of market: Local rum 75 per cent, local brandy 44 per cent and local whisky 0.2 per cent

Number of distilleries: Around 75

Craft distilleries make whisky: 28 (12 focused on whisky) per cent

Whisky production: Production estimate 300,000 litres (2103). Australian malt whisky brands: 12

Rum distilleries: 7

Brandy distilleries: 2

Number of breweries: 14 major breweries + 200 craft

Number of wineries: 2,573

Top 10 distilleries

1. Bundaberg (Bundaberg rum) www.bundabergrum.com.au

2. Beenleigh (Beenleigh rum) www.beenleighrum.com.au

3. Angove (St Agnes brandy) www.angove.com.au

4. Tarac (Tarac brandy) www.tarac.com.au

5. Hellyers Road (Hellyers Road whisky) www.hellyersroaddistillery.com.au

7. Tasmanian Distillery (Sullivans Cove whisky) www.sullivanscovewhisky.com

6. New World (Starward whisky) www.newworldwhisky.com.au

8. Nant (Nant whisky) www.nant.com.au

9. Great Southern (Limeburners whisky) www.distillery.com.au

10. Bakery Hill (Bakery Hill whisky) www.bakeryhilldistillery.com.au