Cycling New Zealand’s Great Taste Trail

Horsing around: Happy horse poo for sale at the side of the road en route to Motueka. Photo: Rob McFarland Horsing around: Happy horse poo for sale at the side of the road en route to Motueka. Photo: Rob McFarland
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Horsing around: Happy horse poo for sale at the side of the road en route to Motueka. Photo: Rob McFarland

Horsing around: Happy horse poo for sale at the side of the road en route to Motueka. Photo: Rob McFarland

“That’s not a hill, it’s a wrinkle,” says John with trademark understatement as we survey the ominous incline ahead. The rest of the group have sensibly chosen to remain in the van and start today’s ride at the summit. I, fuelled by male bravado and three Weet-Bix, have decided to keep him company, blissfully unaware that next month he heads to France to cycle 2000 kilometres of the Tour de France route.

I quickly realise trying to keep up is futile so instead relax and enjoy the view. We’re cycling along a quiet country back road, through the sort of idyllic rural scene that dominates much of New Zealand’s South Island. Rolling pastures dotted with sheep, weather-beaten wooden sheds with rusted iron roofs and an impressive backdrop of undulating hills in shifting shades of green.

We collect the rest of the group and continue on tranquil country lanes to the village of Wakefield, where Evan has laid out an extravagant morning tea of fruit, shortbread, tea and plunger coffee. We all tuck in heartily even though it’s less than two hours since we ate breakfast and there’s still lunch at a winery, afternoon tea and a hearty dinner to come. I suppose there’s not much point in cycling the Great Taste Trail if you’re not going to taste.

New Zealand’s cycle network has grown rapidly over the last few years, fuelled by government investment and the success of the original cycling prodigy, the Otago Central Rail Trail. There are now 23 routes that are classified as Great Rides, predominantly off-road trails that showcase the best of the country’s landscape, environment, culture and heritage. The Great Taste Trail is one of the most recent, a 175-kilometre loop around the top of the South Island that passes through Nelson.

The route focuses on the abundance of fresh produce and wineries in the region so unless you have monk-like restraint you’ll be consuming more calories than you expend.

Our five-day trip started in Christchurch where we were kitted out at PureTrail’s depot with comfortable 27-speed hybrid bikes, helmets, panniers and sexy fluorescent high-vis vests. This departure is slightly unusual because there are only four of us, compared to the normal 10-14 guests, and we have two guides rather than one (Evan is in training).

Bikes safely loaded on the trailer, we leave Christchurch, heading north and then west over the scenic Lewis Pass to Saint Arnaud, an alpine village on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. After a spot of sightseeing and a gentle 16-kilometre orientation ride, it’s back to the more pressing issue of eating. Clinker Cafe may not sound like the most salubrious of dining spots but the braised pork belly in apple cider I have for dinner is not only excellent, it’s enormous. “Heartland portions,” explains John.

Fast forward a day and our convoy of four leaves Wakefield full of coffee and shortbread and heads towards lunch. It’s easy, delightful riding – a mixture of roadside paths, quiet back roads and gravel tracks that meander past vineyards and skirt orchards bursting with apples, berries and kiwifruit. On one section we cycle along a riverbank through fragrant bursts of fennel and flickering clouds of butterflies.

Lunch is at Waimea Estates, a family-run winery where our not-very-hard-work is rewarded with generous bowls of plump, creamy, Chardonnay-steamed green lipped mussels in a sun-drenched courtyard overlooking the vines.

We’re only eight kilometres from Nelson so this afternoon’s ride is a gentle 30-minute cruise along a dedicated bike path next to the Waimea Estuary. We arrive at our accommodation, the charming mews-style Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco at 1:30pm, leaving us plenty of time to explore.

In an effort to work up an appetite for what I know will be another heartland-sized dinner, I eschew Nelson’s museums and boutiques in favour of a walk along the Maitai River to the Botanical Reserve. After a mildly strenuous climb up Botanical Hill, I arrive at what is allegedly the geographic centre of New Zealand. I later discover that several places claim this accolade but either way the 360-degree views over the harbour and the rolling hills of the surrounding national parks are sensational. And I’m pretty sure I’ve burned off a mussel.

That evening we reconvene in the garden of the pub opposite our hotel and over a sunset glass of sav blanc our merry band of six gets to know each other. Husband and wife Gerry and Penny live in Newcastle and are cycling converts after doing the Otago Central Rail Trail with PureTrails last year. Margaret is from the Gold Coast and is clearly a PureTrails fan given this is her sixth trip with them. Guides John and Evan are both diehard, shorts-in-any-weather Cantabrians and expert exponents of the region’s trademark dry sarcasm. The South Island is the “mainland” and John confesses he’ll “barrack for anyone over Auckland”.

We retire inside for dinner where I feast on a tender Angus steak washed down with a glass of Roaring Meg pinot noir. Given PureTrails also covers the cost of a dessert, it seems rude not to sample the lemon cheesecake with cream and lemon sherbet. In the distance I hear my cycling shorts crying in protest.

While superlative food and wine are the trip’s main attraction, the scenery comes a close second. The next day we cycle back along the estuary, passing through a protected wetland before crossing onto Rabbit Island for morning tea by a deserted white sand beach. A winding pine tree-lined track leads us to a tiny cove where a ferry takes us and our bikes across an inlet to the buzzy township of Mapua for lunch.

Subsequent days deliver similarly beguiling landscapes – an early morning cycle along the Motueka River, the sun filtering through the haze of a freshly limed field; vast fields of hops, their carefully trained branches resembling dancers around a maypole; orchards full of berries swathed in dew-soaked nets.

We spend two nights at the comfortable Equestrian Lodge Motel in Motueka, cycling in the mornings and sightseeing in the afternoons. Excursions include a scenic cruise from Kaiteriteri that skirts the bays and furrows of the Abel Tasman National Park and a visit to the Riwaka Resurgence, a sacred Maori site where the Riwaka River emerges from a network of caves underneath Takaka Hill.

On our final day we head back inland to complete the loop. The trail here is still being completed so John and Evan improvise with a 13-kilometre ride along a quiet valley flanked by fields of curious cows. It’s knuckle-numbingly cold when we start at 8:30am and a brisk headwind (or a “gentle cooling breeze” according to John) drags tears from our eyes. After 40 minutes we’re all happy to jump back in the van and begin the long trek back to Christchurch.

The cycling portion of the trip may be over but the tasting part isn’t. Our last lunch is a fitting finale, a lazy feast of tapas-style shared plates washed down with crisp glasses of riesling at Forrest Estate Wines’ stylish cellar door in Marlborough.

FIVE MORE GREAT NZ RIDES

OTAGO CENTRAL RAIL TRAIL

The original “Great Ride”, this 150-kilometre route through Central Otago follows a disused railway line. The perfect introduction to a multi-day cycling trip.

TE ARA AHI

Starting at Rotorua, this 66-kilometre trail passes through a thermal wonderland of steaming vents, bubbling mud pools and spectacular geysers. Expect rare flora and fauna and a rich vein of Maori folklore.

QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK

This 70-kilometre off-road track through the heart of the Marlborough Sounds offers pristine wilderness, spectacular views and thigh-burning ascents.

ALPS 2 OCEAN

The longest continuous cycle trail in New Zealand, this 300-kilometre jaunt starts from the country’s highest mountain, Mount Cook, and finishes in the coastal town of Oamaru. The best bit? It’s all downhill.

MOUNTAINS TO SEA

Beginning in the otherworldly Tongariro National Park, this four to six day route uses bike trails, public roads and a jetboat to deliver riders to the coast at Wanganui.

For a complete list of NZ’s Great Rides, see nzcycletrail杭州龙凤419m.

TRIP NOTES

The writer travelled as a guest of PureTrails and Air New Zealand.

MORE INFORMATION

newzealand杭州龙凤419m.

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand flies direct from Sydney and Melbourne to Christchurch. Phone 13 24 76; see airnewzealand杭州龙凤419m.au.

SEE + DO

PureTrails offers regular departures of its guided five-day Great Taste Trail cycle trip between October and April, from $1400 including accommodation, meals and excursions. See puretrailsnewzealand杭州龙凤419.nz.

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RSL Clubs could be the next victim of Sydney property boom

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media
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Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

South Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

Hurstville RSL Club in Hurstville Photo: Dominic Lorrimer/Fairfax Media

The RSL Club used to be part of the social fabric, a place to go for a special occasion or a cheap meal when mum or dad couldn’t be bothered cooking or for a few quick drinks after work.

Many are now fighting for their financial futures due to a combination of falling patronage, outdated facilities, demographic changes and competition from modern alternative entertainment options.

But where many see an outdated and tired business model and board members heavy with age property developers see large, well-located freehold sites, ideal for residential redevelopment.

Take the current saga surrounding South Hurstville RSL and Hurstville RSL.

South Hurstville RSL is a financially strong club with an upward trajectory.

Hurstville RSL on the other hand been in the red for the past few years, with growing losses, declining revenues and dwindling net assets.

As a result, both have voted in favour of an amalgamation . However those decisions are being challenged by a group called “The Friends of Hurstville”, who prefer a plan for a mixed use redevelopment being put forward by property developer Will McDonald of Skye Pacific Properties Pty Ltd.

Mr McDonald  leads a consortium that includes Parkview Constructions and Dickson Rothschild Architects.

The chairman of the pro-development Friends of Hurstville group, Ed Mason, said a meeting held at Hursville RSL on August 10 (to vote on the decision to amalgamate) was a “farce” and that some members of Chinese background were unhappy.

When asked specifically about the vote, Mr Mason couldn’t confirm any actual numbers as he is not a member of Hurstville RSL. He was issued a membership card when he applied but said he then had his application refused at the board level.

Mr Mason did confirm there were about 120 people, all of which he said wanted to vote at the meeting, at a lunch meeting of the Friends of Hurstville group which was paid for by the property group led by Mr McDonald.

Hurstville RSL general manager Rod Bell, and the CEO of South Hurstville RSL, Simon Mikkelsen, refute Mr Mason’s and Mr McDonald’s claims and say that all votes have been conducted correctly and have been validated by a separate NSW Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) investigation.

“Everything has been done by the book to allow both clubs’ members’ wishes to proceed,” Mr Mikkelsen said.

Mr Bell said Hurstville RSL has looked over and rejected a number of property development proposals submitted for their site because the board considered they did not have the members’ best interests at heart and risked rendering the RSL insolvent.

“Our only and best chance of surviving as a community club is by joining with South Hurstville RSL,” Mr Bell said. “Club members should realise that if the developer gets control of this club it will be closed for up to two years and may never reopen.”

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority has adjourned their decision on the amalgamation to assess the claims made by the warring factions. Mr Bell feels this gives the development proposal an unfair advantage.

“We now need the Minister Troy Grant to instruct ILGA to support the wishes of both clubs’ real members and not a bunch that are more than happy to see another RSL disappear in this Anzac centenary year,” he said.

The ILGA said it deferred its decision on December 17 “so it could receive further detailed submissions about claims it received questioning whether the correct steps had been followed in the merger process”.

A final decision is expected by March.

Two highly publicised  property development deals where financially stricken clubs have been “rescued”  by property developers are the proposed Balmain / Rozelle Village development deal and the Souths on Chalmers development deal.

Souths on Chalmers was put into administration and then closed, with significant debts, and Balmain Leagues have borrowed millions for lead time costs (to continue operating at a temporary venue) and still have no formal resolution.

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More to be caught in tax net on surging Sydney land values

More property investors will be caught in the property tax net with the resurgent Sydney property market pushing up residential land values at a double-digit pace in the wake of historically low interest rates and the revived NSW economy.
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Land values across the state rose 11.2 per cent in 2014, which was led by a strong 13.1 per cent rise in residential land values, according to data released on Friday by the NSW Valuer General.

Willoughby, Bankstown and Hornsby led the gains in residential land values across Sydney, with Mosman, Camden and Ryde witnessing the lowest rise in values among Sydney council areas.

The eastern suburbs regained the crown from the lower north shore as the area with the most expensive median land values in the state, with median residential land values in Woollahra, which takes in Double Bay, Point Piper and Vaucluse, reaching $1.4 million, eclipsing Mosman’s median of $1.39 million.

“The past 12 months has seen a significant increase in large parts of the market – particularly the middle ring,” said the NSW Valuer General,  Simon Gilkes.

“There were not the large increases at the high end of the market and in the outer areas, but rather the inner west and areas close to transport, such as Chatswood and the Hills district, partly due to the new rail link.”

Low interest rates has brought both owner occupiers and investors into the market, he said.

The values are based primarily on property sales data, with more than 43,000 sales assessed.

The year was market by a “ripple out effect” from gains in the inner ring of the city’s suburbs, he said.

Median land values in areas such as Leichhardt and Marrickville continued to rise strongly – up 17.4 per cent and 19.9 per cent respectively – but this was outpaced by gains a little further out such as Canterbury – up 21.4 per cent – and Bankstown (up 29.4 per cent).

The updated valuation data will have a direct effect in broadening the land tax net, where it is applicable, and is also used by councils when assessing rate variations, Mr Gilkes said. At the top end of the market, the rise in land values have been more restrained which is due in part to the already high level of prices in those areas.

“The increases were not as strong in the highly valued suburbs since fewer people may have been able to raise the money needed” to buy into these suburbs, Mr Gilkes said.

Slavko Romic, the principal of Elders Double Bay, said the new year has started where last year finished.

“It’s been strong since the start of the new year. Inquiries are running at peak levels, and we’re not alone with other agents reporting the same level of activity,” he said.

“There is not a lot of stock available, so over-demand and under-supply, along with low interest rates, is keeping interest high.”

A year ago, only Mosman and Woollahra had land values of more than $1 million. Now, they have been joined by Willoughby, Manly, Hunters Hill and Waverley, with North Sydney and Lane Cove just falling short of this figure.

The updated valuation data are used by about one third of councils each year when revising rates. This year, Blacktown, Liverpool, Ku-ring-gai, the Hills, Maitland and Leichhardt will use the updated data when setting rates.

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Michael Hussey’s calf muscle injury strikes Sydney Thunder

Sydney Thunder received a blow ahead of Monday night’s must-win match against the Adelaide Strikers with confirmation skipper Michael Hussey would miss the match because of the calf muscle injury he suffered during the five-wicket loss to Hobart on Friday night.
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The former Test batsman was injured while running between wickets before being dismissed for a run-a-ball nine at the franchise’s first game at Spotless Stadium. The defeat allowed Hobart to leap-frog them into fourth place on the ladder.

Thunder chief executive Nick Cummins said it was too soon to say whether the injury had finished 39-year-old Hussey’s Big Bash campaign.

“We’ll allow for it to settle down so we can get a better indication but he’ll miss the Strikers’ match,” said Cummins. “He’ll travel with the team to Adelaide irrespective of the injury but we’ll wait a few days for a clearer picture.”

Hussey joins teammates Usman Khawaja and Kurtis Patterson on the injured list, but Cummins said the franchise had a host of batsmen capable of ensuring the Thunder added to the two victories they’d already posted this summer.

“It’s disappointing to lose our captain and a match-winner but it is an opportunity for someone else to step up and make runs,” he said. “We’re lucky to have guys like Jacques Kallis, Aiden Blizzard and Jason Roy who are all capable of playing a match-winning innings.”

Compounding the blow, the injury will deny Hussey the opportunity to captain the Prime Minister’s XI against England in Canberra on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, popular Sydney Sixers’ fast bowler Doug Bollinger said when he marks out his run-up in Sunday night’s match against the Brisbane Heat at the Gabba it would be a chance to add some much-needed scalps to his Big Bash tally and yet another audition for Australian honours.

In his five Big Bash matches this season the left-armer has captured just three wickets, however, he insisted the numbers don’t reflect the way he’s bowled. “I’d love a few more wickets, there’s no doubt about that, but as I said to [Sixers’ bowling coach] Geoff Lawson the other day, my run-up is good, the ball feels as though it’s coming out really well but I just need a bit of luck to get some more wickets,” he said.

“But that’s Twenty20 cricket and I’ll just have to keep crunching away … and keep my fingers crossed. I feel good, I feel really fit and feel as though I’m bowling well. I just need the wheel to turn in my favour.”

Bollinger, who played the last of his 12 Tests for Australia in 2010, was determined to make an impression in what remained of the league and then the second half of the Sheffield Shield season to force his way into the Ashes squad and capitalise on the stunning form he displayed during his stint with English county team, Kent. “I’d love one more go to show them I could still do it,” he said of Australian selection.

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Aussie men’s tennis enjoys days in the sun

Brisbane When Roger Federer ended James Duckworth’s maiden ATP quarter-final with a regal flourish on Friday night, the curtain was also drawn on a mostly good news week for Australian men’s tennis. Three locals among the last eight at the Brisbane International was a positive return from six main draw starters, even if none could emulate 2014 champion Lleyton Hewitt by making it to the final weekend.
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With injured Nick Kyrgios unable to contest the Hopman Cup, and replaced first by Matt Ebden, and then cross-continental Marinko Matosevic in a desperate search for healthy manpower, the focus after Hewitt’s swift Brisbane exit switched to those making up a growing support cast. None are inside the top 50, but the troops are arriving in numbers, at last.

“We’ve been saying for a long time now there are Aussies coming through, there are young guys coming through,” says mature-aged success story Sam Groth, the 27-year-old who cracked the top 100 in July, emphatically upstaged Hewitt in Brisbane and has realistic top-50 ambitions. “Until it happens, people question what’s happening in the system and that sort of thing.

“But it’s great that it’s happening here because it makes everybody take notice. If it happens overseas, OK, but right now we are in everyone’s eye in Australia. It’s great. On the back of what happened last year, we had a few guys break through: myself, Nick, doing well. This is our one time of the year to promote tennis in Australia and promote ourselves in Australia. I think all the young guys, myself included, are doing a good job.”

Groth’s point is worth exploring. Indeed, the fact you have read even this far is an indication that this must be January. From saturation coverage in the first month of the year, and the Melbourne Park fortnight in particular, the reality is that within days of the must-watch Australian Open men’s final, the football codes – and this year, cricket, with the World Cup imminent – return to swallow up the precious column centimetres and broadcast minutes. Until Wimbledon – and, to a lesser extent, the French Open – tick around mid-year to revive interest, tennis becomes a much harder sell.

So, while everyone’s buying, what of the local product? It is still all about Kyrgios, of course, as the All England Club quarter-finalist prepares to return to competition in Sydney after a break that stretches back to last September. Davis Cup coach Josh Eagle, who travelled with Kyrgios for several months in 2014, would prefer to dial down the hype. Good luck with that.

“It’s been such an incredible, rapid rise, that there’s still so much for him to learn,” says Eagle of the injury-prone Canberran, who won his maiden grand slam match at last year’s Open. “Nick’s 50 in the world, but has really played about three ATP main draw events in his life, so I think he’s still got so much room to improve.

“He’s going to feel a lot of pressure, no doubt, in the coming weeks and he’s really got to work hard to manage the expectation of the Australian public, but if he can get his body fit and strong and healthy, already on the tennis side of it, his level is really high. So if he can put the tennis and the physicality all together and then be able to mentally deal with the pressure and the expectation, he’s got big improvements to make. But that’s not going to happen quickly.”

His great mate Kokkinakis has jumped from 628 to 149th in just over 12 months, yet continues to gather invaluable experience with every week spent among the big boys. In Brisbane, he upset seasoned world No.25 Julien Benneteau for his best senior win, before a second-round slap-down from Bernard Tomic, but not before an encouraging first tie-break set.

The 18-year-old’s week finished with a doubles semi-final partnering grand slam singles contender Grigor Dimitrov against US Open finalists Kei Nishikori and Alex Dolgopolov, the Kokkinakis warm-up including a few kicks of a hot pink Sherrin with Dimitrov and India Rasheed, eight-year-old daughter of the Bulgarian’s Australian coach, Roger.

Indeed, after a dozen or so training sessions with Federer in Dubai in December, Kokkinakis is now mixing with the best and brightest, and increasingly feeling like he belongs. “The first week was interesting, because Roger didn’t have much of an off-season, so it was pretty relaxed and the sessions weren’t too intense but they were still specific,” says Kokkinakis’  long-time coach Todd  Langman. “But then in the second week he upped his ante, and I remember Thanasi looking up and go ‘All right, here he is now’.”

Kokkinakis is still coming, just as Tomic is returning back from the relative oblivion of the 120s territory where he slumped after a meritorious loss to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon. It was at the Colombian Open, where he won his second career title, that Tomic’s injury-hit season turned around in July.

“That two, three weeks there was where I sort of felt that I was back. I kept playing a lot of tournaments and finished the year I think 55, 56, so that was very good for me,” said Tomic. “I’m feeling physically better and it’s helping me mentally as well on court to feel good and go for my shots and I play the right tennis I should play to beat these guys.” Shame, then, about the rather ugly 6-0, 6-4 quarter-final loss to Nishikori, but on he goes to Sydney, and then to Melbourne Park.

Which leaves the likes of improvers Groth and Duckworth, the latter still just 22 and better than he showed against a red-hot Federer, as well as the tempestuous but undeniably talented Matosevic and battling Brisbane specialist John Millman, who was not so very far from doing the unthinkable against Federer in the second round.

Duckworth paid a heavy price for Millman’s impertinence, through a 6-0, 6-1 shellacking the following night, as Federer reminded Brisbane, and the world, that this pre-Melbourne detour is about more than swimming with dolphins, flitting about in helicopters and visiting galleries to spruik the host state’s tourism credentials. Federer’s, of course, are unrivalled in a tennis sense, and if Australia’s will never again rival the glory days, then they are also, encouragingly, better than they were.

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Broulee beach shark footage causes controversy

SOURCE: SOUTH COAST REGISTER
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RELATED CONTENT:Shark attack on beached whale closes Broulee Beach: Photos

Diver dodges sharks to rope whale

Shark feeds on whale off South Coast beach: Video

RARE footage captured of a shark feeding off a dead whale, just metres from a popular South Coast holiday beach, has left a bad taste in some people’s mouths.

The shark was sighted in the shallow waters of Broulee Beach where those daring few stood nearby to get a better view.

Michael Jamescaptured footage of one shark tearing into the whale by attaching his waterproof Go-Pro camera to a Go-Pro rod and submerging it next to a bobbing shark tail when it was closer to shore.

However, he has since been reprimanded by many who have watched the video.

His mother, Trina James, said her son was never in any danger and has become disheartened by the negative commentary.

“At first I was a little taken back that he managed to get close enough to get video footage of the shark from the shore,” she said.

“He is a lifeguard, he wouldn’t do anything to put his life or anybody else’s in danger.

“It’s just such a shame to see so much negative feedback.”

Ms James said her son was well respected in the area.

“He slipped when he was kneeling down to get some more footage and that seems to be what has upset so many people,” she said.

“He got the video for his girlfriend who is really good with photography, so she could have some good footage of the shark.”

The drama began on Wednesday, when a distressed juvenile humpback was noticed on rocks on the Broulee headland.

The whale died before a rescue could be mounted, and quickly became a magnet for sharks, closing beaches and making some swimmers nervous.

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter crew members reported two 3.5 metre sharks in the water nearby, and there were unconfirmed reports of up to four in the area.

A Eurobodalla surfer dived into the sea to rope the dead whale, timing his dive between shark feeding sessions, so it could be towed away from the popular beach.

He and others towed the carcass in a borrowed boat out to sea to reduce the shark risk.

Despite that,South Broulee, Shark Bay, North Broulee and North Head beaches remained closed all day Wednesday,Thursday and Friday, reopening Saturday morning. It closed briefly that afternoon but has since reopened.

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Lawyer for men charged in Sydney anti-terror raids denies they are threats

Police arrest a man in Greenacre during a counter-terrorism operation. Photo: NSW Police Photos released by police of the Photo: NSW Police
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Western Sydney home raided in counter-terrorism raids

The lawyer for two Sydney men arrested and charged with terror-related activity has denied they have any links to terrorism.

Omar Ammouche, 33, an alleged associate of wanted Sydney jihadist Khaled Sharrouf, was arrested at his Greenacre home on Friday as part of a long-running counter-terrorism investigation by Operation Duntulm, targeting foreign assistance and support provided to foreign fighters.

He was charged with possession of ammunition.

Hours later, Jibryl Alamouie, 21, handed himself in to police at Surry Hills police station. His Condell Park home was raided in December as part of a separate counter-terrorism investigation, Operation Appleby, where three guns and a “large amount” of ammunition were seized, police alleged.

Both were represented at Parramatta Bail Court on Saturday by solicitor Adam Houda when their matters were briefly mentioned and adjourned until Monday when both are expected to apply for bail.

Mr Ammouche is allegedly an associate of Sharrouf, who fled Australia on his brother’s passport in 2013 despite being on the terror watch list and has posted photos of himself on social with severed heads, fighting with Islamic State.

However speaking outside the court, Mr Houda says both of his clients are “absolutely not” terrorists and have “no link whatsoever” to terrorism.

“No one’s charged with any terror-related offences, one of the hallmarks of our justice system is the presumption of innocence. So presume them innocent,” Mr Houda said.

“I can also say that the cases presented in court today are not strong cases, they are weak prosecution cases. And we hope to achieve bail for them on Monday,” he said.

As he left court with co-counsel Moustafa Kheir, Mr Houda said his clients should be released on bail on Monday.

“These matters, as you can see by court documentation, are nothing to do with terrorism or terror-related issues,” Mr Houda said, adding journalists should ask the “relevant authorities” why his clients were accused of terror charges in the first place. “There’s no suggestion at all that there’s any link with any terrorism. No link whatsoever,” he said.

The men will appear at Bankstown Local Court on Monday.

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Nathan Tinkler, FFA on collision course

Nathan Tinkler’s backflip over Jets
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FOOTBALL Federation Australia officials appear to be on a collision course with Newcastle Jets owner Nathan Tinkler after expressing “serious concerns” about the club’s management and denying that they had endorsed his decision to remain at the helm.

Tinkler revealed on Friday that he had taken his A-League franchise off the market, five months after declaring they were for sale and he “can’t wait to get them out the door”.

In a remarkable backflip, the notoriously unpredictable tycoon told the World Game website that he had appointed himself club chairman, after the resignation of long-serving Ray Baartz, and would take a hands-on role in striving to re-establish the Jets as “a winning club”.

In the interview, Tinkler said: ‘‘I have always had the support of the FFA. They have never seen anybody put money into soccer the way I have and despite all the press to the contrary they do appreciate that I am a beyond-loyal supporter of sport in the Hunter Region and they are happy to have my direct involvement in the future.’’

But in a statement issued on Saturday, the governing body appeared far from convinced that Tinkler’s tenure should continue.

“FFA is just one of many stakeholders in Newcastle that needs to be ‎satisfied that the Newcastle Jets are in fact on a new path under the continuing ownership of [Tinkler’s] Hunter Sports Group,” FFA chief executive David Gallop said.

“Our focus remains on the stability and sustainability of each A-League club.

“On that test, the Newcastle Jets’ current operation raises serious concerns.

“FFA will be sending senior executives to Newcastle [on Monday] to examine the club’s operating position.

“In this regard, FFA’s view has not changed in the past 24 hours and it’s premature to suggest that FFA has provided any endorsement.

“What we want to see is a strong Newcastle Jets club with a deep engagement with the Hunter community.

“That’s the core strength of football in the region.”

Unless he can convince FFA otherwise, Tinkler now faces the prospect of being forced to relinquish the Jets, just as he was ousted as Newcastle Knights owner by the NRL last June.

FFA officials Damian de Bohan and John Kelly will visit Jets headquarters on Monday to assess the club’s viability.

In particular, the governing body is understood to be eager to establish whether any of the club’s creditors have outstanding debts.

The Jets’ internet service was cut off on Thursday but a club spokesman said this was because they were “changing” IT providers.

Gallop said on Thursday that FFA “wants to see the ownership situation resolved as soon as possible”.

Scottish Premier League club Dundee United were in talks with the Jets about a possible takeover and there had been preliminary discussions with other parties.

It is understood Dundee remain interested but Tinkler withdrew from negotiations because they would not meet his $5 million asking price.

“There were interested parties out there previously. The process went on for about six months but as our performances on the field fizzled, so did the offers,” Tinkler was quoted as saying.

Tinkler’s comments about Baartz and Jets chief executive Robbie Middleby, who resigned simultaneously on Thursday, in his World Game interview are unlikely to have been well received in FFA’s corridors of power.

While Gallop said on Thursday Baartz and Middleby “are committed Newcastle football people and have given so much to the Jets”, Tinkler appeared to blame the two former Socceroos for the club’s lack of his success during his tenure.

“They are passionate football supporters who love the town, and their backing has been wonderful over the last four years,” Tinkler said.

“But, unfortunately for these guys a lot of the decisions they made over the years haven’t come off. You recruit the best people you think at the time and it may, or may not work.

“But they had to courage to live by their decisions and they have died by their decisions and full credit to them. They have my full respect but the club must move on.”

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Hayat Boumeddiene: fourth Paris terror suspect ‘on the run’

Wanted: Hayat Boumeddiene. Photo: TwitterParis attacks: how the Charlie Hebdo gunmen were tracked downParis attacks: Australians should not be cowed: Tony AbbottParis terror sieges: hostages survived by hiding
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A suspected accomplice to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack is reportedly on the run after three terrorists were killed in police raids.

Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, is believed to be the wife or girlfriend of Amedy Coulibaly, a gunman who took hostages at a kosher grocery store in Paris’ inner east. Before he was killed in a police raid, Coulibaly claimed he had “synchronised” his attacks with the Kouachi brothers’ attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine.

Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers were all shot dead by police during separate raids on Friday.

There are unconfirmed reports that Boumeddiene took part in the grocery store siege in Paris.

French police issued an alert on Thursday for Boumeddiene as well as Coulibaly in connection with the murder of policewoman Clarrisa Jean-Philippe at Montrouge, a commune in the southern Parisian suburbs. Police said they were “likely armed and dangerous”. SECOND Appel à témoins #Fusillade#Montrouge Contacter le 0805 02 17 17. En savoir plus >>>http://t上海龙凤419/8c2UJGQQJypic.twitter上海龙凤419m/n5h5e6Yb1b — Préfecture de police (@prefpolice) January 9, 2015Le Mondepublished several old photos of Boumeddiene and Coulibaly, some of which show them firing a crossbow.

Boumeddiene and Coulibaly’s relationship dates back to 2010 when Coulibaly was in jail and she waited for her boyfriend to be released from prison, London’s The Telegraph reports. Coulibaly, a Frenchman of Senegalese descent from Juvisy in the Essonne area outside Paris, was part of the Buttes-Chaumont network that sought to recruit and send radicalised French youths to Iraq in the early 2000s.

The Kouachi brothers were also part of the network, based in Paris’ 19th arrondissement.  

One of 10 children and the only boy, Coulibaly became a delinquent at 17, and a repeat offender for petty thefts and drugs crimes, moving on to an armed bank robbery in September 2002 in Orleans, in the Loiret, before radicalising.

In 2013, he was sentenced to five years in prison for his involvement in a botched prison break-out of Smain Ali Belkacem, a former member of the Algerian Islamist group GIA and the author of a 1995 attack on the Paris transport system that killed eight people and wounded 117.

According to Le Monde, Coulibaly and Boumeddiene were already in a relationship in 2010, when he was arrested over the jailbreak attempt. She reportedly waited for her boyfriend to be released from prison this spring after four years in detention, and he lived with her after that in a Paris suburb.

With AFP, Le Monde, The Telegraph, London

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Gober, once-blind Sumatran orangutan ditches her son, stunning carers

Gober and her twins when they were just a few days old at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme quarantine centre in Medan. Photo: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme
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Gober and her twins when they were just a few days old at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme quarantine centre in Medan. Photo: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme

Gober and her twins when they were just a few days old at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme quarantine centre in Medan. Photo: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme

Medan, Indonesia: The  keenly anticipated return to the wild of a formerly blind orangutan and her twins bred in captivity took an unexpectedly sad turn this week when the primate abandoned her son.

Gober, the Sumatran orangutan who saw her baby twins for the first time after a 90-minute operation by a top Indonesian ophthalmologist in 2012, captured the imagination of orangutan lovers worldwide.

Her triumphant return to the wild in the Indonesian province of Aceh with her twins Ginting and Ganteng on January 5 was hailed as a “freedom story”.

But the story had a bittersweet ending, when Gober stunned conservationists by deserting her son Ganteng within hours of their release.

“It was a shock. She barely tried to keep them (the twins) together,” Ian Singleton, the head of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said.

“Orangutans are intelligent. I know just how co-dependent and emotional they are. It’s been amazingly traumatic for Ganteng and presumably his mother as well. It was her decision to leave him. The mothering instinct is really strong but in hindsight, seeing how difficult it was for Gober to travel around with Ginting, expecting her to do that with two of them was probably a little bit ambitious.”

Sumatran orangutans are a critically endangered species, with just 6000 to 7000 remaining in the wild.

In 2008 Gober was rescued from a pocket of forest in North Sumatra isolated from the main orangutan habitat by palm oil plantations.

Her blindness made her vulnerable to attacks from farmers whose crops she was raiding.

“Despite (it) being illegal to kill or capture an orangutan under Indonesian national law, orangutans are frequently deliberately killed in areas where the forests are being cleared,” Dr Singleton wrote in his blog.

It was believed at the time Gober would remain in captivity for the rest of her life because of her lack of sight.

Male and female orangutans are kept separate at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program’s quarantine centre to prevent pregnancies.

However, Gober was permitted to mate – and subsequently gave birth to twins – after an unusual exception was made in her case to ease the sadness of a life in captivity and darkness.

The twins’ father, Leuser, is also blind, after being shot at 62 times with an air rifle.

Not only are orangutan twins rare, but the pair are believed to be the first in the world to be born to parents who were both blind.

This year it was considered the twins, who are almost four, were old enough to look after themselves in the forest with Gober as their mentor, given that her sight has been restored.

The three were released in the Jantho rainforest on January 5.

However, Ganteng struggled to adapt to the forest and was forced to spend his first night of freedom wet and alone after being deserted by his mother and sister.

He was given food by conservation staff the following day and returned to an onsite cage.

“The last two days have been an emotional rollercoaster for all of us, but none more so than poor little Ganteng,” Dr Singleton wrote in his blog.

“I’ve spent the time racking my brains and my conscience trying to figure out if we’ve done the right thing trying to release all three of them together, or if we should have taken another option.”

However, he said the risk was too high to release the trio when the twins were younger because it was difficult for an orangutan to travel around in trees when both infants were clinging to her body all day.

“If we’d waited until they were older, there’s no guarantee it would have gone any better and Gober would have had to endure even more years in a cage, where she has never settled and has always been stressed.”

Dr Singleton said that despite the obvious disappointment, he still considered the release had been a success, given Gober and Ginting are free and Ganteng is safe. Ganteng is likely to be reunited with his mother and sister in coming years, although the team have not completely given up hope that Gober will return to look for him in the next week.

More than 50 orangutans have been released in Jantho, as part of a project reintroducing the primates to Aceh.

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Oh, yes, Mitt Romney mulls another presidential run

Last January Mitt Romney was asked if he would consider running for the White House again. “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no.” he told The New York Times.
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That certainty appears to have receded.

“Everybody in here can go tell your friends that I’m considering a run,” he told a group of around 30 former donors at a recent function in Manhattan, Politico has reported.

The former Massachusetts governor lost the race for the Republican Party’s 2008 nomination to John McCain and the 2012 presidential election to Barack Obama.

It is understood his comments to donors were made some weeks ago, but that he held a meeting with donors in his former Manhattan campaign offices on Friday.

Without a clear frontrunner for the 2016 nomination Mr Romney has remained a favourite in polls of Republican voters.

As recently as December Mr Romney and Mr McCain topped a CNN poll as favoured candidates, while another from July last year found that if the election were held again he would now trounce Mr Obama.

Many of his supporters have argued that in the two years since the 2012 election, positions that Mr Romney took during the campaign turned out to be correct.

“I think about the campaign every single day, and what a shame it is who we have in the White House,” Spencer Zwick, who worked as Romney’s finance director and is a close friend to his family, told Buzzfeed last year. “I look at things happening and I say, you know what? Mitt was actually right when he talked about Russia, and he was actually right when he talked about how hard it was going to be to implement Obamacare, and he was actually right when he talked about the economy.”

Others have reported that this is the view held by Mr Romney and his wife Ann, who believe he would have been a better president than Mr Obama over the past two years.

Mr Romney is a favoured candidate by many party establishment figures who fear that other popular figures – people like senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz – are too extreme or unconventional to win an election.

The wide field of presumed candidates is lead at present by Jeb Bush, the brother and son of former presidents and a former governor of Florida. His family name is considered as much a hindrance as a help in the race, given his brother’s unpopularity and reservations among many Americans about dynastic politics.

But Mr Bush is working fast to secure the support of many big Republicans donors, forcing others considering a run to enter the field sooner than they otherwise might have.

Though Mr Romney enjoys near universal name recognition as a result of his previous run and has been thoroughly vetted by the press and public, he would still need to overcome the flaws that dogged his candidacy in 2012.

During that race he never truly excited the base of the Republican Party and he proved unable to overcome the sense that he was a privileged multi-millionaire disconnected from middle class American life.

The next election will be fought largely over middle-class concerns. Though the American economy has significantly improved since 2012 the benefits of that recovery have flowed into the hands of the wealthiest Americans, while middle class wages and wealth had stagnated or dropped.

Mr Romney’s wealth was estimated at around $US250 million at the time of the last election, and his campaign was further damaged by the leaked recording of him telling wealthy donors that 47 per cent of American voters dependent on government hand-outs and would never vote for him.

“My job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” he said.

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Sydney Kings coach blames lack of concentration for poor season

Sydney Kings coach Damian Cotter needed just four words to sum up his team’s sitaution following Friday’s disappointing loss to Townsville: “We’re in a hole.”
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With the Kings facing a difficult six rounds to finish their NBL campaign, including five of their next six games away from home, Cotter was quick to shut down the suggestion that any of his players were just trying to get to the end of the season.

“I think we got ahead of ourselves,” Cotter said, “and then we’ve had injures that have been disruptive with our flow. But the guys have just got to give over to what we are now, where were at.

“There’s still a lot of basketball left in the season. We’ve got 10 games to go, and it’s very, very important we validate the club’s support and the fans support with the way we play. I don’t think for a moment that any of the guys are trying to skate the season, and we’ve just got to do a better job.”

But the Kings coach was unable to deny that concentration continues to be an issue for his team, who have now lost five of their past six games. Friday’s 98-89 loss to the Crocs added to the team’s recent woes. Cotter said his men were unable to maintain consistency at the defensive end.

“They did a good job keeping the court spaced and finding men, and we stopped playing defence consistently. I would say, without exaggeration, at least four times they hit a three in the last six seconds of the shot clock – and credit to them – but that’s just us, too. There was no urgency to contest shots, and we’ve got to do that.”

Forward Tom Garlepp, looking despondent in the press conference after the game, agreed with his coach and indicated confusion between players was a constant issue on the court.

“I thought having five guys communicate tonight was a problem, it’s certainly not a game plan thing,” Garlepp said. “It’s just smarts, smarts and talk, really it comes down to that. We’re a team that puts in effort every week, we always come back, that’s our thing. We’ve got to be smarter and we’ve got to lift in the communication.”

After a number of tight refereeing calls went against the Kings, Cotter was asked about whether the players felt hard done by.

“I don’t know whether we should have got more calls or not, but I do know this: we’ve got to be strong and we’ve got to stop playing for calls,” he said.

“We’ve got to have a more positive mindset: attack the rim and convert and look for three-point plays. For us, I felt we were allowing things we can’t control to distract us, and I feel we’ve got to regain that composure and focus and worry about what we’ve got in front of us.”

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Bendigo Spirit great Kristi Harrower leaves game she loves … but for how long?

Gone for the moment: Kristi Harrower. Photo: Mick Connolly
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Gone for the moment: Kristi Harrower. Photo: Mick Connolly

Gone for the moment: Kristi Harrower. Photo: Mick Connolly

For 32 years Kristi Harrower has woken up and played basketball. Now, having retired from the game aged 39, she will have to do something else.

The day after she made the announcement, Harrower opened up a Boost Juice franchise in Bendigo – the town in which she is hailed as a legend of the sport she loved.

The business is said to be going “gangbusters already”.

That, combined with the expected arrival of a new baby (the reason behind her decision to stop playing now rather that at the end of the WNBL season), is certain to keep her busy as she makes the adjustment to life after basketball.

But her father, Bendigo Spirit coach Bernie Harrower, hopes she doesn’t get too comfortable.

Women’s basketball needs Kristi Harrower.

“I’m hopeful she steps into coaching soon,” Bernie Harrower said this week. “She has a great basketball mind, as everyone knows, so she would make an excellent coach.

“I’m hoping that she follows in my footsteps and takes over from me at Bendigo when I’m finished.”

With the right foundation, Bernie Harrower thinks his daughter — arguably Australia’s greatest point guard — could be a future Opals head coach.

“You have to play with her or coach her to appreciate how well she sees the game,” he said. “She’s as good as I’ve ever seen in that regard because not only does she see everything that the other four players on her team are doing, she seems to know what the other five players on the opposition are doing. She has the whole court in her head.”

More than anything, it is that world-class knowledge and innate “feel” for the game that has made Harrower.

Her record speaks for itself. She represented the Opals in four Olympics — winning three silvers and a bronze — was part of Australia’s world championship gold medal team in Brazil in 2006 (when she showed she was arguably the best point guard in the world) and played more than 300 WNBL games, including three championships.

But these achievements are only the end result of an intense drive to succeed that only a 162-centimetre player in a game of giants could truly understand.

She was told by some as a junior she would never make it.

But there were supporters too, such as Spirit board member Ashley Donaldson, who was telling people when Harrower was a teenager that the girl would be something special.

“I remember when she was little, her parents used to run the canteen at the stadium, so it would be 10pm-10.30pm before they closed,” said Donaldson, who has been involved in Victorian basketball for decades. “Kristi was out there shooting, and eventually they’d have to say to her, ‘It’s 10.30pm, we have to go home.’ “

Her father never thought his daughter’s physical limitations would hold her back from reaping the rewards from all the hard work.

“She always wanted to win,” he said. “She was only five foot, three inches, but hard as nails.”

But not even he could have predicted Harrower would end up having a court named after her – as is likely with court one in the stadium at Bendigo.

Her legacy at the Spirit will run far deeper than that. The most common theme stringing through the tributes delivered since Harrower’s farewell press conference last week has been her willingness to sacrifice her own game to make those around her better; the essence of a “true” basketball team.

And that is a trademark Bernie Harrower hopes will remain at the Spirit.

“We want that to be a part of the culture here. When we recruit players to Bendigo, we recruit unselfish players,” he said. “We have won the past two WNBL championships despite not having the best talent. But pound for pound we’ve had the best team and Kristi has been central to that.”

Sunday’s WNBL clash against Adelaide will be the last time Harrower officially “suits up” for the Spirit. Her No.10 jersey will be retired and she will be presented to the crowd before the game with a bouquet of flowers.

Given the right circumstances, the coach is expecting to sub his veteran playmaker into the game for the final few minutes.

“We’ll send her into the game one last time and then call a sub late and let her walk off and hear it from the crowd,” he said. “Hopefully we get a big crowd there, and I think that would be a nice way for them to show their respects.”

Looking ahead, Bernie Harrower is under no illusions that the Spirit are losing an “irreplaceable” player. And that is probably why he and his daughter both had “mixed emotions” last week.

On the one hand, the Spirit are losing their floor general who, in the coach’s estimation, would have made Bendigo the “team to beat” in this season’s championship race.

“Now I think we come back to the pack a bit,” he said.

On the other hand, the Harrower family adds another team member, all going well: in a sense, it is grandfather or championship coach for Bernie Harrower.

“I still think both could happen. I’m hoping it will be a big year for the Harrower family,” he said.

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