Thanksgiving: Part IV

As we left the hotel in Montauk the morning after Thanksgiving, many families were arriving for the weekend. I think we’d timed our visit to perfection. We drove back the way we came, dropping our luggage off at our next hotel in Manhattan, before returning the hire car to Newark, and getting the train back to Penn. It was very much colder in New York than on Long Island and you could sense that more wintery weather was on its way.

I love Mexican food, something we cannot get in France. It’s always Tex-Mex and somewhat average. I’d booked a table for dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant, much touted in the Michelin Guide.

Buttoned-up Midtown gets a much-needed shot in the arm compliments of chef Alex Stupak’s lively new flagship………………The menu bears the chef’s signature creative flair, offering a range of small bites, tacos and shareable large plates. Sample their clever spins on salsa, like a wickedly good smoky cashew salsa that arrives with a sampler salsa starter; or irresistible lamb sweetbread tacos with a flutter of white onion and bright cilantro.

Later that evening over Margharita’s – what else? – we had a magnificent meal which included a lobster dish I was reluctant to share! Typically my beloved and I will share most dishes but there’s stuff I now cannot eat, plus I like things a bit spicier than he does. For example, the graduated heat of the six small guacamole offerings was much appreciated.

I so rarely have a dessert but he always has one. The wait staff usually kindly bring an additional plate and spoon but are surprised to see I haven’t been tempted. It’s usually because at this point in the proceedings I’m full and, despite the number of vegan dessert offerings, I find them too “fatty” as they’re often made with coconut oil or vegan butter, and nuts.

As my beloved was going to be working all day Sunday and Monday, I let him choose what we went to see on Saturday. He plumped for visiting the Frick, an old favourite of ours, and a walk around Central Park. We walked to the Frick in the Upper Eastside along 5th avenue, enjoying the Christmas displays and lights in the shop windows. It was a gorgeously sunny, albeit chilly morning.

I often wonder what it must be like to have enough money that you could build yourself such a magnificent art collection and house it in an almost purpose-built setting? It’s hard to imagine but fun wondering about how you might spend the money. Sadly, the Frick is one museum where you can’t take photos of the rooms or exhibits just of its internal garden.

We’d gotten to the Frick just as it opened to avoid the hordes and left just as they pitched up. We crossed the road to enjoy a lengthy walk around Central Park, Manhattan’s lungs. All cities need green spaces where their inhabitants can enjoy the open air and nature’s beauty. We weren’t the only ones enjoying the Park’s bounty. There were families on foot or in horse-drawn carriages, people jogging or riding on bikes, skateboards and scooters. There were plenty of dogs nosing around their favourite spots while their owners/dog walkers looked on.

All that fresh air gave us an appetite which we put out in a well-known seafood restaurant where I had – yes, you’ve guessed it – lobster. Once more pointing the digit of doom at an innocent crustacean.

After lunch we browsed a couple of shops, specifically Lululemon, to which my hubby is addicted, and Uniqlo. We no longer have a branch of the former near us, its Cannes branch has closed. We do have a couple of small branches of Uniqlo with a correspondingly narrow range of products. No need to guess who came out of both shops clutching a purchase. Clue: it wasn’t me.

My beloved departed very early on Sunday morning for a breakfast meeting. Well, we were in New York! As the weather was still fine, I decided I would enjoy a spot of pavement pounding, door snapping and book shopping. Over the years I’ve probably spent about three months in total in New York which is why I now  like to only visit “old favourites” and any new stuff.

As I wandered around, an inordinate amount of construction and renovation seemed to be taking place. Even my favourite Flatiron building was covered in scaffolding. I happily whiled away more hours than I care to admit in a couple of bookshops. Luckily for me I was well under my luggage allowance on the way out, not so on the way back!

 

 

 

Thanksgiving: Part III

I believe I may have mentioned in a previous post that this was our maiden Thanksgiving. But, luckily for me, the hotel’s Thanksgiving offering was a splendid buffet – you know how I love a good buffet! We’d prepared dilligently with a light breakfast, a walk along the beach, a session in the gym and I was wearing my elasticated waist trousers – de rigeur for any buffet.

I started with half a dozen oysters and then moved onto the lobster and smoked salmon. My departure from the East Coast was no doubt good news for its lobster population but, while I was there, I made the most of them. My beloved decided to have one of the local craft IPAs so I drank a glass of Prosecco with my Thanksgiving lunch.

I like to take a bit of a breather between courses. We were seated at a window table with a beautiful view of the beach and sea, plus I had a good view of the rest of the restaurant which was rapidly filling up with both hotel residents and visitors.

I’m always fascinated by how some people tackle buffets. Many seem to love to pile a little bit of everything on their plates, despite there being no restriction on the number of times they can go to the buffet, returning to the table each time with veritable feats of engineering. One family dilligently worked their way through the buffet and then, after dessert, returned to the oyster bar! What was that all about?

After the delicious shellfish and seafood, I tackled a variety of healthy looking salads, a veritable manna for any vegan or vegetarian. Understandably I swerved the turkey and pigs in blankets to try small amounts of the side dishes but found most of them far too sweet for my liking, particularly the marshmallow with sweet potato. I guess it’s all a question of taste. I do not have a sweet tooth.

My hopes had been raised by the prospect of vegan ice cream or sorbet for dessert but they only had chocolate sorbet which I don’t like. I know I’m one of those rare creatures that doesn’t like chocolate ice cream or sorbet. Instead I happily returned to the breakfast part of the buffet and filled my bowl with some delicious red fruit and blue berries, before concluding with an espresso.

When we finally left the table, the light was starting to fade – cue brilliant sunset. We’d much enjoyed our first Thanksgiving which might well turn out to be our one and only!

 

 

Thanksgiving: Part II

As we drove along the main highway towards our destination of Montauk on Long Island, there was a distinct lack of places for a pit-stop. Finally, as we drove onto the south fork of the island, just outside of Southampton, we stopped for lunch (and a much needed comfort break). For me it was an easy choice: lobster salad. My beloved joined me. Whenever I’m on the east coast I try to keep my intake to at least one per day. On a two-week holiday to New England, I once famously ate lobster every single day!

Replete, we drove through the pretty villages which make up The Hamptons before arriving at our destination, just on the outskirts of Montauk, where I scored another room upgrade. Not for nothing do my sisters call me “Upgrade Sheree”! Our large and spacious room opened out onto the beach so that at night I could hear the surf crashing against the beach – quite my favourite lullaby.

We immediately went for a walk in the bracing beach air before heading to the gym and then the bar to try out the hotel’s cocktails and bar snacks! Everything passed muster and we slept like babes before enjoying breakfast in the hotel the following morning.

We spent the next couple of days re-aquainting ourselves with The Hamptons which is a series of beach towns and villages dotting eastern Long Island and, while all indisputably beautiful, each area of the island offers something a bit different. I was surprised that even though it was “out of season” so much was open, though none of it was busy. We were probably avoiding the visitors by leaving on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

We generally prefer to eat at lunchtime and enjoyed a little bit of France in Bridgehampton when we dined at a French restaurant. I ate a humongous lobster (steamed) while my beloved enjoyed brandade. We read with interest the story of how the current owner’s grandparents, who’d previously owned a patisserie in 16th arondissement of Paris, came to Long Island and opened a patisserie, which remains next-door, and chatted in French to the staff and charming owner. It was just the sort of neighbourhood restaurant which we love.

We were fortunate with the weather which was chilly but sunny allowing us to potter about each of the towns comprising The Hamptons, noting the changes from our last visit over four years ago. For example, the pretty white property (bottom right-hand corner) with the wrap around veranda and gingerbread trim used to sell antiques, it now sells French fashions. We also indulged in some spectacular property porn gazing!

For the first time we investigated one of the south-fork’s three local vineyards, the Wolffer Estate which had some impressive (IMHO) wines. We only tried a couple of their red wines, and would’ve liked to sample more, but didn’t fancy our chances of transporting them safely back to France. Despite the value of its acres, the island remains resolutely agricultural, and long may it stay that way. We’ve yet to visit the north fork which I understand has many more vineyards. Next time!

 

 

Thanksgiving: Part I

My beloved had built up sufficient air miles on British Airways for us to fly to and from New York, via London. We caught the first flight to London from Nice which left us about two hours between flights. I like to leave a reasonable amount of time to allow for delays and, more importantly, luggage transfer. We arrived in Newark ahead of schedule, early Sunday afternoon, and made our way to our nearby hotel for an overnight stay. I hadn’t wanted my beloved to drive any distance after a long-haul flight.

Typically, we’ll check in and then head into New York on the train from Newark. But it was cold and wet, so we opted for the gym and dinner locally. My beloved looked at the list of local restaurants, many of which were Hispanic; we plumped for the one claiming to be Basque.

A quick cab ride and we were entering a large buzzing restaurant, with bar attached. The food looked and smelled delicious. Since everybody appeared to be taking home a doggy bag, I elected to have just the one course which I struggled to finish. My beloved had to assist. Both of our dishes lived up to the billing.

We got chatting to one of our waiters and discovered the lady owner came from Markina, near Bilbao, a town we’ve visited thanks to watching Itzulia, a pro-cycling tour of the Basque Country. My beloved’s choice turned out to be a great neighbourhood restaurant that’s been in situ for many years. Replete, we returned to the hotel and a great night’s sleep.

The following morning we returned to Newark to pick up our hire car only to discover my beloved had mislaid aka lost his wallet containing his driving licence (credit cards and a number of membership cards)! A quick re-enactment established the last time he could recall seeing his wallet was at Nice airport the previous morning when he’d taken out his card to access the priority security channel.

He’d taken the wallet out of his hand luggage, taken out the card, and stuffed both back in his raincoat pocket. The wallet must have fallen out somewhere en route. Fortunately he’s a Herz Gold Card member, meaning they have a copy of his driving licence on file. You might be wondering why he didn’t notice it was missing before, like when we checked into the hotel, or paid for dinner? Simples! I always handle all of these tedious details.

Having established he hadn’t left his wallet at our overnight hotel, we sped off through Manhattan to Long Island and our destination for Thanksgiving, Montauk.

Postscript: On our return, I successfully applied on line for a replacement licence for my beloved. The site also provides “a declaration of loss of licence” should one need to provide a copy of same,  although I also had a copy of it on file. The replacement licence arrived early in the new year – pretty impressive turnaround.

Potted History of Brisbane

My beloved and I find the history of Australia fascinating, largely because it’s so recent yet so impressive. We’re always amused by the names of places. I love the Aboriginal names which I think are so evocative,  onomatopoeic even. But, of course, many places are named from whence the settlers came and we noted many Scottish and Irish names along the east coast.

Before European settlement in 1824, Aboriginal clans, namely Jagera and Turrbal, lived along the Brisbane River. It is not known how long they resided in this area but it is believed Aboriginal tenure in Australia dates back about 40,000 years.

A river curving and curling its way around the landscape makes Brisbane one of the more unique regional capital cities in Australia. Brisbane came into being long before the state of Queensland was established, when intrepid Surveyor General John Oxley named the river he discovered after the Governor of New South Wales – Thomas Brisbane – in 1823.

On Governor Brisbane’s instrictions, Oxley was looking for a suitable site for a penal colony, initially selecting one in 1824, called the Moreton Bay Settlement, with a further site finally selected by Captain Miller a year later. This was a triangle of land bounded on two sides by the Brisbane River and the escarpment (now Wickham Terrace), considered defendable as well as providing a natural barrier against convict escape.

The colony was originally established as a “prison within a prison” – a settlement, deliberately distant from Sydney, to which recidivist convicts could be sent as punishment. It soon garnered a reputation as one of the harshest penal settlements. In 1828 work began on the construction of the Commissariat Store, still intact today which, with The Old Windmill on Wickham Terrace, are the only remaining convict era buildings still standing in Queensland.

Civilian occupation of the area began in 1842, and by the late 1880s Brisbane had become a busy commercial hub, and the capital-to-be began to develop distinct architectural features and culture.

One of my favourite buildings from this era is Wynberg in New Farm. Named after the South African town, this grand residence was built in the 1880s and acquired by stonemason G.C Willcocks who had made his fortune in diamond mining in South Africa. He transformed Wynberg into the stately house it is today which is now occupied by the Archbishop of Brisbane.

With an abundance of sunshine and a laid-back lifestyle, Brisbane quickly drew people eager to settle in its environs. The city grew steadily over the years and a turning point in its advancement was during World War II when it housed the main allied headquarters in the South Pacific for Australian and American service personnel.

The post-war population boom brought a spurt in industry and Brisbane staked a claim as the third-largest city in Australia. Despite its rapid progress, Brisbane was often seen as lagging culturally behind Sydney and Melbourne. But two landmark events in the 1980s brought about major change and accelerated Brisbane towards Australia’s new world city it is today.

The Commonwealth Games came to Brisbane in 1982, and this resulted in a massive injection of new infrastructure and sporting facilities. Then the eyes of the world turned to Brisbane again in 1988 when thousands of visitors flocked to Expo 88. The subsequent birth of the South Bank on the Expo site has resulted in a thriving cultural hub and Brisbane is more than matching it with its southern counterparts.

We were surprised that Brisbane was so hilly but once we learned about the frequent flooding of the  river, we appreciated why one might wish to live atop a hill. Floods over the past couple of hundred years (1841, 1893, 1931, 1974, 2011 and 2013) have caused havoc for Brisbane’s population but also resulted in the depth of the river both decreasing and deepening with the creation of new shoals and sandbanks.

Today, Brisbane is an energetic and exciting city jam-packed with cultural experiences, adventurous outdoor activities, entertainment and shopping precincts and a distinct laid-back vibe. Furthermore, its rapidly growing global reputation as a city of opportunity was affirmed by its selection as the host of the G20 Leaders Summit in November 2014. Make sure it’s on your itinerary for any visit Down Under!

Must-see and do list for Brisbane

You didn’t think I’d finished with Australia, did you? I’ve got a couple more posts this week and then I’m going to cover our Thanksgiving Stateside. I do however reserve the right to return to Australia later in the year.

I consider we were most fortunate to spend two glorious weeks in the Sunshine State’s capital Brisbane but if you weren’t as lucky as us, what should you focus on if you have less time available?

Most of the city’s main attractions lie along its river, so initially head on down to the Brisbane river.

Story Bridge

A monstrous mass of steel, Brisbane’s cantilevered Story Bridge is perhaps the most imposing of the city’s 16 river crossings. The 777metre (approx. 1/2 mile) long structure reaches from the dramatic Kangaroo Point cliffs to the vibrant Fortitude Valley precinct on the edge of the CBD (central business district). Designed in 1934 by Brisbane-born Dr John Bradfield, who was well known for his role as the chief engineer on the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, it was opened on 28 October 1939.

A toll booth was established on one side to recuperate construction costs which were lifted much earlier than authorities expected, largely thanks to the increased traffic from US troops during WWII (the city was the Allied Forces’ headquarters for the South West Pacific campaign). The only reason you’d have to pay to cross the bridge these days is if you decide to do the Story Bridge Climb. I didn’t because I don’t like heights.

City Cat Ride

For only a few dollars, take a magnificent joyride along the Brisbane River to witness the entirety of Brisbane. From ferris wheels, skyscraper buildings, magnificent architectural bridges, historic properties and luscious parks, the City Cat is easily one of the best (and cheapest) ways to see Brisbane.

South Bank

What should probably be one of the first stops for any tourist in Brisbane, the South Bank is located perfectly in the city centre. The parklands here boast a beach, gardens, museums, galleries, library, restaurants, cafes, a movie theater and the Brisbane Eye, which is perfect for viewing the city lights in the evening. What’s more, regular theatre and performance events take place in the area, along with free fitness classes, children’s art workshops and open-air cinema showings. With stunning views across the river and onto Brisbane’s CBD, South Bank offers a selection of activities and some of the city’s best restaurant and bars.

While you’re there, don’t forget to visit:-

a). QAGOMA

The combined Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art is surely the jewel of the South Bank, if not Brisbane itself. Both galleries are housed in a single institution on the riverside, with a shared vision of being the leading institution for the contemporary art of Australia, Asia and the Pacific. Its collection comprises over 16,000 works of historical, modern and contemporary art, along with its supplementary programme of Australian and international exhibitions. The majority of exhibitions are free plus QAGOMA also has enough to entertain younger visitors too such as its permanent Children’s Art Centre which engages children with activities themed to coincide with current exhibits.

b). Nepalese Peace Pagoda

A relic of the World Expo ‘88 and now one of the South Bank’s most esteemed attractions, the Nepalese Pagoda was originally brought to Brisbane as the Kingdom of Nepal’s contribution to the Expo. The structure had been handcrafted over a two year period, using 80 tonnes of hard-carved Terai timber from the southern jungles of Nepal and employing the services of 160 Nepalese families. The Peace Pagoda now resides in the Southern Parklands, inviting quiet reflection and contemplation amidst the bustle of modern Brisbane.

c). The Arbour

The South Bank is an urban rambler’s dream with the Parklands and Cultural Precinct serving up a cornucopia of pleasing architecture and greenery. Both are wonderfully expressed in the Arbour, a kilometre-long pedestrian walkway connecting the Griffith Film School on the corner of Dock and Vulture Streets to the Cultural Forecourt and QPAC. The award-winning structure is comprised of 443 curling, galvanised steel posts, canopied over with eye-catching magenta bougainvillea flowers. A ribbon of yellow steel running through the structure fortunately makes the Arbour all-weather proof for walkers.

City’s Botanic Gardens

Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens are lush and tropical, thanks to the city’s warm climate. Positioned on the edge of the Brisbane River, the heritage-listed City Botanic Gardens, provide tranquillity next to Brisbane’s bustling CBD and include mature gardens with many rare and unusual botanic species. The Queensland Heritage Register describes the Gardens as:

The most significant, non-Aboriginal cultural landscape in Queensland, having a continuous horticultural history since 1828, without any significant loss of land area or change in use over that time. It remains the premier public park and recreational facility for the capital of Queensland, which role it has performed since the early 1840s.

New Farm Park Area

New Farm positively encourages an outdoor lifestyle, with tree-lined streets and unique spaces such as Brisbane Powerhouse and the heart of the suburb, New Farm Park. The park attracts visitors from all over with its perfect riverside picnic spots, cycling loops and tree house-style adventure playground. Nearby Teneriffe, once a farming area and industrial and commercial hub, has undergone an urban resurgence. Around the river’s bend, is greater Newstead, bursting with restaurants, bars and the iconic Newstead House. Now hit up James Street, which sits just a 10 minute stroll away. The veritable nerve centre of Brisbane’s shopping, loaded with outlets and high-street regulars, perfect for picking up Australia’s best in fashion, design and the latest trends. If you’re feeling peckish, the street also has plenty of restaurants and delis.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

We didn’t visit the sanctuary which was a big mistake as I didn’t get to see, let alone meet, any cuddly koalas.  Brisbane’s favourite native animal sanctuary, Lone Pine is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. Here you can meet more than 130 koalas, hand-feed kangaroos and encounter other Australian wildlife.

Brisbane CBD

Between the many heritage buildings, some of which have been repurposed, and sleek glass skyscrapers, Brisbane City is a veritable treasure trove of things to see and do. Plus, it’s so easy to explore everything on foot from busy shopping streets and arcades, through to chic high-end restaurants and laid-back laneway spots for a craft beer or two.

And don’t get me started on Brisbane’s delightful suburbs!

Christmas is done and dusted!

I know there’s a few days to go but I have nothing more to do. I’ve sent the Xmas cards (I don’t buy any presents) and the flat looks suitably festive without going the whole nine yards bearing in mind we won’t be here for Xmas.

Over the years, we’ve spent few Christmases at home and most of those were occasioned by my work commitments. Last year I actually drew up a chronological listing of our various Christmas celebrations. We’ve spent one with the outlaw –  our first and last – eight with my late parents and sisters, three with friends, one in Australia, one in Arizona, one in Dubai, three in Switzerland, two in Germany, one in Spain, seven in Austria, one in Italy and 13 Home Alone.

Since we moved to France, our solitary Christmases have generally been topped and tailed with festivities with friends. Often we’ve eaten at home over the period: oysters and champagne for Christmas Eve and fois gras – sadly now forbidden – for Christmas Day lunch, after our morning ride along the coast. However, if the weather’s been inclement, we’ve happily eaten out at one of the major hotels, just as we often used to do when we lived in London.

As you may have gathered, I’m not a fan of family festivities though, given half the chance, my beloved would have spent every Christmas with my late parents. I however find it all too much:  too much food, drink, television and family. Nice to do occasionally, but not every year. Of course, if we’d had children, it would probably have been different.

This year we’re heading to the sunshine and our maiden holiday together in southern Portugal where we may well stray across the border into Spain. I’ll tell you all about it in the New Year.

 

 

Must visit small towns in Australia

From the stunning Sydney Opera House to the beautiful botanical gardens in Brisbane, Australia’s big cities have obvious appeal. But if you want to get a deeper sense of what this amazing country is all about, escape to one of its many charming small towns. Here, you can get to know the locals, sample traditional cuisine and take things at your own pace, without the crowds of the city. Each of these small towns in Australia offers something different – from idyllic vineyards to laid-back beaches.

So, here they are…a handful of beautiful small towns in Australia that we believe are not to be missed!

Healesville

Located just under an hour from Melbourne and right in the centre of the Yarra Valley food and wine district, Healesville is also home to some of the region’s most talented artists whose wares you’ll find in the town’s galleries and studios. Partake in a leisurely lunch at one of the many al fresco cafes or popular restaurants, potter around the boutique shops, and stock up on fresh regional produce from the huge range of local growers and suppliers. You can interact with Australia’s native wildlife at the town’s Animal Sanctuary. There’s plenty of cellar doors close by and the famous Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery.

Birregurra

This historic town lies approximately 130 kilometres (81 miles) south-west of Melbourne and is home to the highly regarded restaurant Brae which features prominently in the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The town itself is charming, with wonderfully restored facades on buildings giving it a historic and reminiscent feel. Like Healesville, it has plenty for foodies to explore including amazing farm gates, growers and producers, breweries and winemakers of the Otway Harvest Trail.

Portland

A four-hour drive from Melbourne and 100 kilometres (63 miles) past the end of the Great Ocean Road, the beautiful Victorian town of Portland doesn’t get much of a look-in compared to better-known Great Ocean Road towns like Torquay, Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay. The town is home to good-looking old Australian architecture but it’s yet to be overrun by tourists.

Lorne

Lorne is a small town on the Great Ocean Road route. It’s a relaxing place surrounded by a forest full of waterfalls and a beach that’s perfect for surfing. It’s an ideal base from which to explore the stunning Great Ocean Road and some of Australia’s most iconic sights, including the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, and Gibson Steps.

Bangalow

Bangalow is a picturesque town combining a traditional streetscape with modern appeal. The main street is a pleasure to stroll along, filled with opportunities to indulge in excellent local food and boutique shopping. Located in the gentle hills of the Northern Rivers, Bangalow is 16km (10 miles) or a 20-minute scenic drive from Byron Bay. The historical architecture of the federation buildings give a warm ambiance to the town while the surrounding landscape consists of fertile countryside producing macadamia nuts, fruits and vegetables, coffee, dairy and beef.

Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay lies right in the middle of the Great Ocean Road route, and it’s a perfect stop if like us you’re doing a multi-day road trip. It’s a seafood town – home to my favourite fish shack –  embraced by tranquil beaches, rolling green hills and the Great Otway National Park.

Eden

Mid-way between Melbourne and Sydney, this small town is a natural paradise on the sparkling Sapphire Coast of NSW. Eden’s extraordinary attractions range from spotting humpback whales in the deep blue waters of Twofold Bay – third-deepest natural harbour in the southern hemisphere – to learning about the region’s whaling heritage and bushwalking in Ben Boyd National Park. There are plenty of things to do in Eden throughout the year, like relaxing on beautiful sandy beaches, fishing, kayaking, bushwalking and snorkelling. The wharf at Snug Cove is home to a number of restaurants serving fresh seafood or you can buy mussels directly from the fishing boats.

Hahndorf

Located just half an hour from Adelaide, in the Adelaide Hills, Hahndorf is a contemporary village proud of its German heritage still visible in its traditional streetscape with small goods stores, bakeries, cuckoo clocks, wooden folk art and German-style pubs. It’s Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, built by Prussian settlers in 1839. It’s also home to the Beerenberg Farm which produces lots of wonderful jams and preserves. I’m particularly fond of these.

There are so many wonderful small towns that we’ve visited or just passed through on our four vacations in Australia. I’m hoping we’ll have plenty of future additions to this list on subsequent trips.

Best beaches in Australia: my pick

Australia’s beaches quite rightly have a reputation for being among the most stunning in the world. The pale, fine sand squeaks beneath your feet, the water remains a brilliant blue all along the coastline, and the palm trees sway overhead as if dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song. Oh, and don’t forget that beaming sun! Put it all together, and you end up with some seriously beautiful beaches, and highly desirable destinations.

Whenever we’re on vacation in Australia it’s hard not to gravitate to one of its many wonderful beaches. My sisters are always amazed as to how few people are ever on the beach in my photos. This is often because, although the beach is beautiful, it’s unsafe to swim there. Now I’m not talking sharks but riptides and strong under currents.

As you know I rarely dip much more than my toes in the water so I’m most unlikely to be attacked by any marine wildlife much less swept off my feet and out to sea.

Each of these breathtaking Australian beach towns has its own personality, whether it’s an excellent spot for surfing, snorkeling, or simply soaking up the sun. Lather up with sunscreen, pack a towel, your hat and some sunnies, here are some of our favourite awesome Australian beaches.

(Apologies in advance to the many wonderful beaches we’ve yet to visit.)

1. Whitehaven Beach, Queensland

The uninhabited Whitsunday Island can only be visited via boat or seaplane. It’s a beautiful quiet destination which is largely unspoilt by tourists. Just very white sand, shady trees and cool clear water, facilities for BBQ, friendly wildlife, the perfect place to relax!

2. Surfers Paradise Beach, Queensland

One of Australia’s most iconic beaches, Surfers Paradise is a three kilometre walk of golden sand and is also conveniently close to the city with restaurants, shops and attractions all in the one place. It’s a bit too touristy for us but there’s no denying its splendid beach.

3. Noosa Main Beach, Queensland

This is the perfect family-friendly beach. It’s not very crowded and is also surrounded by a boardwalk chock-a-block with great restaurants and boutiques, not forgetting the nearby national park.

4. Manly Beach, New South Wales

This beach is a 20 minute ferry ride from Sydney’s Circular Quay and is a great day excursion. It’s mainly popular for surfing, but also features plenty of shops, restaurants and coffee shops. We’ve visited a couple of times, mainly to marvel at the surf. It’s larger and less crowded than its more famous neighbour, Bondi.

5. Four-Mile Beach, Port Douglas

We stayed in a hotel overlooking this wonderful beach which is a four-mile stretch of shimmering golden sand. It’s aptly named and reminded us of an island destination thanks to its crystal clear waters, tall palm trees and lush green mountains. You can get an Instagram worthy shot of the beach by climbing to the top of Flagstaff Hill Lookout.

6. Burleigh Heads Beach, Queensland

This beach is a popular alternative to Surfers Paradise and is ideal for surfing and swimming. There is also a fantastic walking path that goes for miles on parkland adjacent to the beach.

7. Lighthouse Beach, Port MacQuarie

Port Macquarie is a charming town where the forest meets the sea along the New South Wales coastline. It has a number of explore-worthy beaches but we thought Lighthouse Beach perfect for those looking for some serious relaxation. There’s also a charming coastal walk starting at Town Beach, then along the headlands to Flynns and Shelly Beach.

8. Mooloolaba Beach, Queensland

Another beautiful beach with white fine sand, warm water and a good surf. This is a nicely developed beach that has something for everyone and is really family-friendly.

9. Port Noarlunga, Adelaide

This beach is in a small, sea-side suburb, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) to the south of Adelaide CBD. Originally a sea port, the area is now a popular holiday and commuter destination. I took this photo from the balcony of where we were staying. The jetty connects to a 1.6 kilometres (0.99 miles) long natural reef that is exposed at low tide. The beach is large and very long with reasonable surfing.

10. Mornington Beach, Victoria

Just one of many delightful beaches on the Mornington Peninsula, this one is in Mornington itself and is one of the safe swimming beaches located around the harbour, a short walk from the town. There are lots of small inlet beaches like this on the Peninsula though many of those on the eastern coast are a much more exposed, wilder and not safe for swimming or surfing.

If you’re a beach lover, this small selection of Australia’s wonderful, glorious beaches probably has you dreaming of a holiday in the sun. Don’t just dream, plan!

Great Barrier Reef

When Sir David Attenborough refers to something as an “unforgettable and revelatory” experience you know it’s got to be good. Sir David himself classes the first time he donned scuba gear and dived on a coral reef as “the single most revelatory moment” of his life.

If the world’s most famous biologist isn’t convincing enough for you – he was for us – these fun facts will have you diving into a Great Barrier Reef holiday:

  • The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system made up of five distinct precincts each with their own characteristics and endemic wildlife:-
    • The wild north – A marine wilderness experience that is unspoilt and remote. For intrepid marine adventures from bountiful fishing, exploring untouched coral cays and meeting indigenous locals.
    • Cairns and Port Douglas Precinct – Where world heritage rainforest and reef meet. You can snorkel with Minke Whales, go diving or game fishing.
    • Townsville Precinct – Surround yourself with historic shipwrecks and unspoilt Islands.
    • Whitsundays and Mackay Precinct – Explore stylish Islands with a sailing adventure in the area known as the sailing mecca.
    • Southern Great Barrier Reef Precinct – Experience the beauty of an uncrowded getaway, explore laidback coastal towns and watch turtles nest and hatch from November to February.
  • It stretches 2600km (1625 miles) along the Queensland coast, so large, it can even be seen from space
  • Tourism to the reef generates approximately AU$5-6 billion per annum
  • It’s home to over 1,500 species of fish, abundant marine life and over 200 types of birds, it’s also one of Australia’s greatest conservation successes
  • A World Heritage Area since 1981 (the world’s first reef ecosystem to be recognised by UNESCO), it is highly protected and one of the best-managed marine areas on Earth
  • There’s more than 900 islands made for hammocks and long walks on the beach

Like most natural wonders, timing is everything. Although the reef never sleeps – like us, it’s best visited between June and October when temperatures are still warm enough for swimming but rainfall is minimal.

If you visit the reef between November and May, you can still swim, but you’ll have to wear a stinger suit – aka lycra from top-to-toe, including mittens, booties and balaclava – to protect you from jelly fish stings.

Aside from obvious weather factors like hot vs cold, seasons dictate the movements within the animal kingdom. Time your Great Barrier Reef holiday to see the following:

  • November/December – turtle nesting
  • January-March – turtle hatching
  • July-October – humpback whales
  • June/July – dwarf minke whales
  • Winter – manta rays

We visited just a couple of the precincts and were fortunate to see humpback whales from the air.

Whitsundays

In the Whitsundays there are plenty of day trip options leaving from Airlie Beach. We took a flight over the island and the Great Barrier Reef which was fantastic. A day or so later, we visited both again on a boat trip where we stopped at Whitehaven beach and my beloved snorkeled on some of the reef. I would say, don’t miss seeing the world’s most famous love heart and visiting at least one of the Whitsunday islands.

Townsville

Here you don’t even need to leave the mainland to see the reef. Townsville is home to the world’s largest living reef aquarium, Reef HQ, where you can see the creatures of the deep without donning the swimwear or mask to see them. If you want to go further afield, there are plenty of opportunities to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef.

Tropical North Queensland

This is possibly the epicentre of reef activity with everything from sunset sails, island adventures and week-long live aboard trips. However, we were reefed out at this point, happy to chill and enjoy the many charms of Port Douglas, though I suspect my beloved might have been happy to go snorkeling again!

If you ever get the opportunity to visit, grab it with both hands, it’s a truly magical place and one we’ll never forget.