Travel and Leisure

Discover Boulder Opal at the 2021 Winton Festival

Fancy Hunting for Boulder Opal? Start at Winton

If you’ve ever fancied yourself striking it lucky on an Australian opal field but felt a tad daunted, your chance to get the lowdown on all things Boulder Opal is coming up soon at Winton.

The 2021 Winton Opal Festival and Trade Show is happening in July with everything for anyone interested in opal, Australia’s National Gemstone.

The Queensland Boulder Opal Association has organised a line-up of 10 speakers to talk about opal mining, mines compliance, cutting, designing, valuing opal, jewellery, and more.

Stephen Tasic from Winton Opal Gems said visitors could also liaise directly with miners, buyers and jewellers and even meet a genuine Outback Opal Hunter.

Festival events will be at the Aussie Hotel on Thursday 8 July (informal meet and greet), the famous North Gregory on Friday 9 July (industry forum speakers), and in Elderslie Street on Saturday 10 July (opal trading), finishing with the QBOA’s AGM at the Royal Open Air Theatre on Sunday 11th.

The Winton Opal Festival and Trade Show, which is open to the public, is the first event on the circuit for Australia’s eastern states, with shows in opal producing areas such as Winton, Yowa and Lightning Ridge.

This year, QBOA will also hold a second Opal Festival in September, coinciding with Winton’s famous biannual Outback Festival.

If you’re interested in the July festival, now is the time to pack your swag and plan a trip to Winton.

The festival usually attracts hundreds of people, so it is wise to book your accommodation well in advance.

For more details visit https://www.qboa.com.au/opalfestival

 

 

Boulder Opal

Stephen Tasic holds Boulder Opal at Winton Opal Gems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Tasic’s Opal Journey

While at Winton for this year’s Opal Festival, be sure to drop into Winton Opal Gems and have a chat with second-generation opal miner and part-time jewellery designer Stephen Tasic or one of his friendly helpers.

Stephen said his family came to opal mining in the mid-1980s.

“I came out here to Winton as a kid on school holidays from the Atherton Tablelands,” he said.

“My father was mining and buying opal off other miners. My family then sold the opal at the Kuranda markets through the 80s and 90s to visiting Australian, Americans, Japanese and other internationals.

“I found my first opal about three feet deep when I was about 16 years old. I think that memory pretty well hooked me, I got the fever, but it lay dormant for a few years!”

Stephen’s shop carries all kinds of opals including Queensland’s Boulder Opal, White Crystal Opal from Coober Pedy and Andamooka in South Australia, as well as Black Opal from Lightning Ridge in New South Wales.

“I even have some Mexican and some Ethiopian Opal. I like all opal no matter where it is from.”

Stephen said his ongoing opal journey takes him from Winton in the winter months to wholesaling with opal and jewellery shops around Australia in the summer months.

“Eight years ago, this journey led me to the biggest gem show in the world in Tucson, Arizona, selling and showcasing Australian opals to American designers. I’ve done many trips to the US in the past eight years.

“It has been an exciting journey. There is so much to learn and there is a new challenge every day. It’s a constant learning curve from exploration to mining, cutting, wholesaling, designing and retailing.

 “This isn’t like working a normal job, for me anyway. There are so many aspects to the opal industry that many people rarely realise.”

 

Boulder Opal Fossicking Tips

Stephen Tasic’s top tip on how to fossick for opal is: “Eat your carrots so you have good eyes!”

“You can go to Winton’s Waltzing Matilda Centre or to the bush park at Opalton and pay for a permit to fossick at the designated fossicking area in Opalton. Then take a spray bottle and go for your life,” he said.

“When you pick up the stone and have a look, it pays to spray them with water in order to see the colour hidden in the boulder.

“We have a fossicking pit in front of our shop so we can show people what to look for.”

Stephen said some of the “gemiest” opal was often inside the rock.

“It’s a fine gem line, like the one I found when I was 16 years old.

“That was the finest, smallest line and I didn’t think much of it, but once cut, you could see it was a top gem. I wish I had it now. It would definitely have appreciated in price.

“If people find something, they can bring it in and we’ll have a look at it and say if it’s worth cutting or cut it for them, or suggest maybe it could be a specimen or set into a piece of jewellery.”

 

Opalton to Jundah Run

Some of the best Queensland opals come from the run between Opalton and Jundah, which is more than 200km long by 60km wide.

“This run is prolific for producing some of the best quality opals,” Stephen said.

“The trinity of Australian opals is the Boulder, Black and Crystal opals, and we get all of it out here on the Queensland fields.

“Over the years, Crystal Opal coming out of Opalton, 120km out of Winton, has been prolific in volume and quality.

“But out here we mainly get the beautifully patterned Boulder Opal, which can often be brighter, more durable and better value than other opals.

“It’s mostly open-cut mining out here. I’m not a fan of underground mining, but over 800 old-timers during the Opal Rush before World War I were digging underground at Opalton for the spectacular Crystal Opal.

“Outside of the hand-mining area, we use excavators, bulldozers and drills to search for the opal.

“There’s so much potential here. There’s so much still under the ground. The only issue is there’s so much dirt with it, that it comes down to the economics of it.

“You need to be a jack of all trades, an operator, a bush mechanic, and above all, very patient.

“But if the old-timers did it, why can’t we? We just have to spend the time out in the bush.”

 

Getting into the Opal Industry

Anyone interested in a career in the opal industry could start with doing apprenticeships in mining, as a machine operator, or in cutting opal, Stephen said.

“Opal mining is largely small-scale mining and not all of us are doing it for the money.

“It’s more about small family businesses or partnerships than it is about full-scale industrial mining.

“It’s a passion, and about uncovering Australia’s National Gemstone and presenting it in the best light we can to the world.

“Ninety-five per cent of the world’s sedimentary opal comes from Australia. We’re pretty lucky with that.

“If this resource was in any other country, 100 per cent of our opal fields would be claimed, or pegged, and being worked.”

 

Valuing Boulder Opal

Stephen Tasic said the value of Boulder Opal was largely in the eye of the beholder.

“It often depends on what you’re attracted to, but a general guide, the brighter or darker the opal, the more colours it has, the bigger the stone, or the cleaner the face, the more valuable it is.

“Then, there is the trump card, which is its pattern. The rarity of the pattern can change an opal from $100 a carat to $1000 a carat.

“The rarer the pattern, the more desirable and valuable the opal is.”


Boulder Opals as investments

Stephen said buying Bounder Opal was a wonderful investment, not only for its appreciation value but also for sentimental values.

“We have what we call fun stones at the lower end of the market. Then there are picture stones, the commercial grade, and then the high grade.

“Then there’s the super-high investment grade, which rarely gets showcased in Australia.

“Super-high investment-grade opal is available in Winton, Lightning Ridge and Coober Pedy with certain dealers and shopkeepers. You just need to ask for it.

“It helps that you have done your research first and have a budget in mind when talking with an opal dealer or shopkeeper, but when you find that special piece, sometimes the budget goes out the window! ”


Boulder Opal Jewellery

Boulder Opal Necklace

Having your opals made into jewellery is a popular way to showcase your stones.

“Our award-winning jeweller has worked with Opals for over 30 years,” Stephen said.

“He’s very experienced. There’s a real art to it.”

Stephen also designs some of the jewellery at Winton Opal Gems and enters annual design competitions.

“Every piece of opal has a story that can lend itself to its own special one of a kind design.

“If someone has a special piece of opal jewellery they would like advice about including how to look after it or have it valued, they’re welcome to bring it to our shop while they’re visiting Winton.”

 

  • If you have any stories about fossicking for opal in Queensland and would like to share, feel free to leave a comment. 

 

Granite Belt Wine Region

What’s strange in the Granite Belt Wine Region?

Something strange is happening in the Granite Belt Wine Region of South East Queensland, and it’s not just the birds.

Soon after driving into Stanthorpe last November, I heard about the Strange Bird Wine Trail, which advertises its wineries as offering personalised, unhurried wine experiences.

To qualify as a Strange Bird wine, the alternative wines of the Granite Belt Wine Region must represent no more than one per cent of Australian wines varieties.

Excellent! I’d experience something different here.

Grapes

Well, that statement was certainly true. As I nosed around the area I found not only Strange Birds but also a number of other strange things that raised my eyebrows.

The South African ex-pat owners of Rumbulara Estate Wines were showing Buffalos, Elephants, Rhinos, Leopards and Lions.  

Ridgemill Estate had Moggies, Three-legged foxes, Sly dogs, Howling dogs and even Hungry horses.

At Wyberba, what used to be a Balancing Rock was now a Balancing Heart. And, near Glen Aplin, there was a Jester on the Hill.

The strangest of the strange was at Harrington Glen Estate where the jovial host took great delight in showing off not only the train he was converting into cabins but also his man cave!

My New Guinea-born host invited me to look behind his bar to the mezzanine floor where his man cave was located, complete with a large television, computer games and books.  

He also gave me a great commentary on the upcoming US presidential election and his reviews of the movie streaming services.

Oh, and I did get to taste his Verdelho, as well as some dessert and fortified wines, eventually.

As I left, my host said that next time, I might like to invite some friends along, bring some cheese and crackers from ALDI, relax beside his bar, and enjoy his wine and vineyard view.

Clearly, the winery owners in and around Stanthorpe, a three-hour drive south-west of Brisbane, have a sense of humour.

They’ve needed it. The year 2020 has gone down in history as one of their worst yet.

After five years of drought and devastating bushfires in the summer of 2019-20 that burned more than 12.6 million hectares of land across Australia, many wineries were left with no crop to harvest and others with just 10 to 25 per cent.

Hot on the heels of these disasters was the Covid-19 pandemic and global shutdowns.

Faced with such adversities, the Granite Belt Wine Region people had to get creative if they were to survive.

Most had water trucked in to keep their vines alive; many bought grapes from other regions and others started blending varieties, something they wouldn’t do normally, from what little was left of their harvest.

My host at Ballandean Estate Wines said that when the Covid-19 shutdowns started in March 2020, they were seriously concerned about their future.    

“By August, no one was coming in, no one was buying. But, soon people started buying online and once we re-opened we were smashed,” she said.

“My daughter said we should tell Scott Morrison to get organised now to close Australia down every five years so people will spend their money in this country.”

And spend I did, visiting eight wineries over my two-day whirlwind tour of the Granite Belt Wine Region. At each, I bought one or two, and sometimes three or more, of their finest wines.

Here is a summary of what we found in the Granite Belt Wine Region.

Granite Ridge Wines

The range at Granite Ridge Wines included Chardonello and Caberaz. TheGranite Ridge Wines Chardonello was a combination of Chardonnay and Verdelho, crisp but not too dry.

Its brother, the Caberaz, was a blend of Cabernet and Shiraz, making it a light easy-drinking red with coconut, leather and spice aromas.

Website: Granite Ridge Wines

Balancing Heart Vineyards

Balancing RockNew owner Greg Kentish has made significant changes at what used to be Balancing Rock Wines.

Not only had he changed the winery’s name but he also introduced new wines and a range of modern, colourful labels.

Their Energy & Grace Chardonnay had a typical Chardonnay character but was lighter and more delicate with wild fig and rockmelon aromas.

The Evolve & Inspire Viognier had lots of stone fruit character such as dried apricot and creamy peach.

Blossom, a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, had lots of strawberry character with a well-developed ruby colour.

Website: Balancing Heart Vineyards

Golden Grove Estate Wines

Golden Grove in the Granite Belt Wine Region

Golden Grove Estate Wines 

The 2020 Vermentino, made with fruit sourced from Mildura, was a 60/40 blend of Chardonnay and Sémillon, with floral, stone fruit and sea spray aromas.

Their 2019 Durif had a red berry flavour and hints of cedar. It’s ideal for drinking now for freshness or tuck away for up to eight years to soften and mellow.

The 2018 Joven Tempranillo was a medium-bodied style of Tempranillo made for early consumption with fresh cherry and red berry fruit to set the tone for things to come.

Website: Golden Grove Estate 

Rumbulara Estate Wines

Rumbulara Estate Wines

Rumbulara Estate Wines

The five animal-themed wines – Buffalo, Elephant, Rhino, Leopard and Lion – were designed to be consumed much colder than traditional wines and are preservative free.

Buffalo, a lunch-time Chardonnay, was deliberately made not to taste like a Chardonnay.

Elephant, more suited to mid-afternoon, was designed to be consumed without food. It has residual sweetness with more fruit and body.

Rhino was made to drink with strong cheeses such as blue or vintage. Customers wanted a wine that tastes like fresh grapes, so Rhino was made from Waltham Cross, an eating grape, not a wine grape. Our host said Rhino was the only wine in the world made from Waltham Cross grapes.

Leopard and Lion are simply grape juice and alcohol. Our host said they’re the only wines made in Australia deliberately to go to zero degrees Celsius. Made the same initially, they both sit in the tanks as Lion. When they want to bottle some Leopard, they add unfermented Shiraz, which sweetens it from Lion to Leopard.

Website: Rumbulara Estate Wines

Jester Hill Wines

Jester Hill Wines

Jester Hill Wines

Our host at Jester Hill Wines said it’s the only winery in Queensland to commercially make wine with Roussanne, a white wine grape grown originally in the Rhône wine region in France.

Eleven other Australian wineries that use it are located in the other states.

Jester Hill’s 2017 Touchstone Roussanne is dry crisp wooded white.

Their Chardonnay is a lighter style. Rather than being full buttery, it has a creamy feel to it with some of the pineapple flavour coming through. It’s not as heavy as some Chardonnays.

Joker’s Blush Rosé is made on Merlot and is a sweater style with a hint of dryness.

Their Sangiovese Rosé is a dry, crisp style with a lot of guava.

The 2 Fools Trinculo Red is a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend and light, like a Pinot, with an aroma of cherries and soft plums.

The Muckle John Fortified Shiraz is smooth with a hint of dryness and tastes much like a Christmas cake.

Website: Jester Hill Wines

Ridgemill Estate

Ridgemill Estate

Ridgemill Estate

At Ridgemill Estate, their Semillon Viognier Riesling, named Hungry Horse, is nice and light.

They also have an off-dry Riesling that’s fruitier than Hungry Horse, if you want something dryer than a Chardonnay.

They had a new 2020 Rosé that’s a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Grenache, and Chardonnay that’s very floral on the nose.

Their straight Verdelho is a sweet fruity white called Moggies.

Howling Dog is their liqueur Black Muscat, aged at just over five years, and not for drinking on a full moon!

As our host said, their Sly Dog, a fortified Verdelho with a touch of liqueur Muscat, sneaks up on you so it comes in a smaller bottle for your own protection. It has nougat, raisins and nut flavours with a hint of rosewater.

The Three-Legged Fox is a bitza – bits of Cabernet and bits of Merlot and even bits of other varieties from time to time.

Website: Ridgemill Estate

 

Harrington Glen Estate

Harrington Glen Estate Vineyard

 

 

 

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WetSide Water Park, Hervey Bay

WetSide blitzes 2019 attendances

By Jocelyn Watts

Hervey Bay’s WetSide Water Park has blitzed its 2019 attendance figures with tens of thousands of people visiting the top-rating venue in 2020 despite closing for six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.   

Mayor George Seymour said that as well as surpassing figures from previous years between January and March, residents and visitors also made up for lost time after the venue reopened in September.

“New statistics show the total number of attendances at WetSide from September 2020 to December 2020 was 71,804, up 5270 from 66,534 for the same period in 2019,” Cr Seymour said.  

“The waterslides have been a real hit again with 9297 slide passes being sold between September 2020 and December 2020, whereas 8918 sold during the same period in 2019, a difference of 379.

“Between September 2019 and March 2020 when pandemic restrictions closed the venue, WetSide attracted 122,142 visitors, with 15,269 buying tickets for the slides.

“In December 2019, statistics showed 24,000 people had bought water slide tickets since the additional attraction opened at WetSide prior to Christmas in 2017.”

WetSide blitzes attendance figures

Fraser Coast Mayor George Seymour at WetSide Water Park in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

Cr Seymour said WetSide was a fantastic place to keep cool and have fun with something for everyone.

“In addition to the slides, there is the water play arena, TotSide for under 5s play and a Fountain Light Show on Saturday nights that is a sight to behold.”

Cr Seymour said WetSide regularly received excellent reviews on tourism websites and magazines.

“WetSide gained global attention in recent years and is currently the top-ranked water park in all of Australia: https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/TravelersChoice-Attractions-cWaterParks-g255055

Cr Seymour said WetSide and its waterslides were all part of the Fraser Coast Regional Council’s plan to build better communities, maintain our unique lifestyle and grow our local economy.

Funds raised by waterslide rides help to offset the running costs for WetSide, which is free to use.

WetSide is open 7 days from 10 am to 5 pm during school holidays with more information available at www.frasercoast.qld.gov.au/wetside

WetSide blitzes attendance figures

Fraser Coast Mayor George Seymour tries out a waterslide at WetSide Water Park.

Fraser Coast’s other aquatic centres also booming

Visitor numbers at Fraser Coast Regional Council’s other aquatic centres are also increasing with swim school enrolments booming in Hervey Bay and Maryborough.

The aquatic centres had over 24,782 teacher/student interactions over 10 weeks in Term Four.

This equates to over 12,000 hours of teaching children how to feel confident and safe in the water.

Most Fraser Coast children have visited one of Council’s aquatic centres for squad sessions, school break-ups, swimming carnivals and WetSide over Term Four.

WetSide visits throughout the school holidays increased 40 per cent from this time last year. 

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