One from the Vaults: Five things we loved about Australia

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan. This one’s from February 2016 which I wrote after our month-long trip to Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.

1. Australians and their passion for their country

As a nation, Australians are very friendly, chatty and helpful. They’ve been eager to share the best their towns have to offer which has been much appreciated. We’ve also enjoyed reading about their towns and gaining a better understanding of their place in Australia’s history. It has also given us an appreciation of how hard life must have been for the early settlers and the enormous challenges they faced. We can also comprehend the draw of Australia and its lifestyle for many people from other lands.

Mal Cooper and friends from Egham
Mal Cooper and friends from Egham

2. The scenery

To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect once outside the major conurbations but everywhere was wholly and (un)expectedly beautiful, magnificent and diverse from the towering rain forests to the fabulous sandy and rocky coastlines via the inland lakes, the salt flats, the fertile plains and the undulating hills. We’ve loved it all.

3. The Food

We have eaten well. It hasn’t mattered whether it’s been in one of Australia’s top fine dining establishments, local pubs, neighbourhood cafes or restaurants (literally) in the back of beyond, the food has been fabulous, fresh and seasonal. There has always been a vegan option for me and I’ve been thrilled at the number of delicious vegan baked goods I’ve found. We discovered a wide range of organic and vegan produce in every supermarket. I’m going to miss some of that when I get back to France, particularly the delicious relishes from Beerenberg’s Farms. If we had to pick a favourite meal it would be the one enjoyed at the quayside shack in Apollo Bay where we dined on fish caught that morning and, to quote my beloved, “the best chips ever.”

 4. Flora and Fauna

This would never be my specialist subject on Mastermind. Aside from identifying one of my late mother’s favourite plants which were in bloom everywhere, the agapanthus, I couldn’t name any of the wonderful trees and bushes we saw.

The same applied to most of the birds and animals, with obvious exceptions. Even the antics of the oh so noisy cockatoos were delightful. We’ve seen loads of different cattle and sheep but are no wiser as to their breeds which is where an Aussie version of Adam Henson from the UK’s Countryfile would’ve come in handy. I should add that neither of us has been bitten by anything: no mozzies, no man-eating spiders or anything remotely slithery!

5. Sport

Aussies love their sport. I have never, ever seen so many sports’ grounds! It’s no wonder they excel in so many sporting fields. The support for sport at grass-roots level is excellent. There was also plenty of live sporting action to see, such as 20/20 Cricket, The Australian Open and, of course, the Santos Tour Down Under where 70% of the spectators came by bike! It would never happen in Europe.

Tour Down Under riding past Adelaide cricket ground
Tour Down Under riding past Adelaide cricket ground

I could of course go on and on,  praising the excellent road network, the quality of the air, the sunsets, the night-time sky –  a black velvet backdrop for thousands of stars twinkling like diamonds – but I restrained myself!

That's what I call a sunset!
That’s what I call a sunset!

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!

Thursday doors #41

Here’s my last few doors from Australia. As I mentioned two weeks ago, I didn’t have a particularly large selection to choose from.

Brisbane beauty
Gold Coast shiner
Bangalow door, and no that’s not mispelt!

Four doors from Sydney’s CBD

A trio of doors from Townsville CBD

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Thursday doors #40

Here’s a few more doors from Australia. As I mentioned last week, I don’t have a particularly large selection because most of the wooden doors on older buildings appear to have been replaced with metal ones.

A rather elegant entrance in Brisbane
Art Deco block in Spring Hill
One from Townsville
A door in Sydney though probably not the original one

And finally, a trio from Brisbane’s beautiful City Hall

 

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Potterin’ in Port Douglas

Our final port of call in Queensland was Port Douglas, some five hours up the road from Townsville. The last stretch from Cairns is an hour’s drive along one of Australia’s most scenic coastal roads with the rainforest on one side and the Great Barrier Reef on the other – truly magnificent. I can say that as someone who’s driven along the Great Oceant Road (Melbourne to Adelaide) in both directions.

We arrived at our billet for the next three days, late afternoon, having eaten lunch en route in Innisfail. Actually, I just had a glass of water as the cafe where we stopped couldn’t really cope with a vegan, our first (and only) dining fail.

The town has a large retail centre with plenty of small specialty shops, many housed in a large and diverse range of Art Deco buildings. The CBD was largely rebuilt in this style following a cyclone in 1918 which destroyed much of the town. It sits on the Warrina Lakes, a 50 hectare recreational park with kilometres of walkways through open parkland, lakes, wooded areas and rainforest trails. We learned that in 2017 the town broke the record for the World’s Longest Banana Split!

Having stretched our legs and taken a few photos, we resumed our journey and were delighted as we approached our hotel, overlooking the beach. It was another one-bedroomed apartment, with yet another spa bath, great in-house dining and spectacular views.

Given that Port Douglas is the gateway to the World Heritage wonders of Tropical North Queensland, the closest mainland port to the Great Barrier Reef, and only a short drive into the heart of the Wet Tropics rainforest at Daintree and Cape Tribulation, you might be expecting we enjoyed a busy couple of days exploring. But no, we were rain-forested out and spent the time relaxing on the beach, cycling round town investigating its lovely shops and dining options. We basically chilled for our last few days in the Tropics.

Named in honour of a former Premier of Queensland, John Douglas, the peninsula was the traditional home of the Yirrganydji people until European settlement turned it into a remote port and fishing village. Port Douglas really developed in the 1980s, thanks largely to the late (now disgraced) entrepeneur Christopher Skase, becoming a sophisticated and upmarket resort town in contrast to Cairns’ tourist scene. Largely because it’s better connected: the outer Great Barrier Reef is less than an hour offshore, the Dickson Inlet and estuary is packed with fish and crocodiles – steered well clear of these – and sunset sailing from the marina is too good to pass up.

We really liked the town, it’s an intimate and relaxed place where food, wine, arts and culture are much appreciated. It also has a fabulous long sandy beach, some spectacular property porn, a large and lively Saturday market and some lovely walks around town and the headland. After three restfull days (and nights) we flew back for an overnighter in Sydney. We’d much enjoyed Port Douglas, it’s yet another place we’d be very happy to revisit.

 

Thursday doors #39

Finally, here’s some doors from Australia. I don’t have a particularly large selection because most of the wooden doors on older buildings appear to have been replaced with metal ones. I guess the problem is quite possibly termites.

This pair were being used for decorative purposes in Paddington

 

This is a church door in Townsville

 

These were the doors of a music venue in Fortitude Valley

 

Another church door on the walk back to Spring Hill from CBD

 

This door was in Noosa

 

This butcher’s shop was near New Farm in Brisbane

This bright blue door was also in Fortitude Valley, along with the wrought iron gates with cocktail glasses below.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Friday photos #10

Here’s a random selection of photos from our #adventuredownunder that tickled my fancy! Next week I’ll be reverting to one of the Friday Photo Challenges.

Australia has lots of big structures, one of the most colourful is The Big Mango (header above). You may recall I’ve also seen the Big Sheep, Big Lobster, Big Crab, Big Banana, Big Pineapple and Big Cow! This giant fruit only sprouted up in 2002. next to Bowen’s tourist information centre and pays tribute to the prosperous mango orchards in the area. Made of fiberglass, it cost A$90,000 when it was originally built, joining the ranks of Australia’s giant roadside attraction collection. Weighing around seven tons it may even be the largest mango in the world and is a proud reminder that in Australia, there is nothing that can’t be turned into huge a fibreglass statue.

This I am reliably informed is a humpback whale which I was happy to view from way above as opposed to beside! Adult whales range in length from 12–16 m (39–52 ft) and weigh around 25–30 metric tons (28–33 tons). They feed in polar waters but migrate to tropical or subtropical waters to breed and give birth. We had a number of such sightings while flying over the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsundays.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, this grasshopper about 10 cm (4 inches) in length was gracing the wall of our unit in Airlie Beach.

Just what every bike rider needs, a bike station with a pump and every possible tool for changing punctured tyres to fixing deraileurs! Every country should have these dotted about the place along with plenty of public toilets and water points.

Australians love their pies! According to Mr Google, they each eat an average of 12 meat pies a year, that’s 270 million pies! I thought that this pie was wrong on so many levels but my two sisters (pictured below), who admit their favourite dish is spag bol, said they’d love to try one. Be my guest girls!

Chillin’ in Byron Bay

Back in 2016 I bought a fabulous cookery book from Dymocks in Melbourne called Three Blue Ducks, the writers of which had just opened their second restaurant in Byron Bay. The location lodged in my subconscious and when I started to plan our trip it resurfaced.

Hence we spent a few days in Byron Bay, located 800 km (500 miles) north of Sydney and 173 km ( 109 miles) south of Brisbane. The town has the distinction of being one of the places along the east coast of Australia which was named for the poet Byron’s great-uncle, by his friend and fellow navigator, one Captain James Cook.

There can be few towns in Australia with a more contradictory identity than Byron Bay. On the one hand it has, historically, been associated with the alternative lifestyle movement of the 1970s and seen as a kind of interesting hippie retreat in northern NSW which now attracts backpackers.

On another level it is a very upmarket get-away-from-it-all retreat for wealthy baby boomers and Australian celebrities who respectively inhabit the various resorts and the serious property porn overlooking the Bay. In that respect, it’s more like the Californian coastal towns of Carmel and Monterey in its evolution moving from surfers to artists, tourists and celebrities.

We found Byron Bay to be a quiet, charming seaside town which has experienced a population boom because it boasts excellent surfing and plenty of good land. Without the publicity few people would drive off the Pacific Highway to visit and only holiday makers would decide to stay awhile.

The overwhelming impression is that of a town hiding behind Cape Byron, nestled in between the rocky headland and the hills which rise to the west. I understand that in the past five years it has grown dramatically and it now spreads in every direction – both up and down the coast and well into the hinterland.

Public pressure has halted both Club Med and McDonald’s from moving in; the green-dominated Byron Shire Council has banned drive-in takeaway food outlets from the town centre; buildings have been restricted to three storeys in height; and a moratorium has been placed on high-density development. In those actions lie the heart of contemporary Byron Bay.

We stayed at a well-known eco-resort, just outside of town with 92 suites backing onto windswept Tallow Beach and engulfed by 45 acres of lush sub-tropical rainforest inhabited by shy wallabies, some very entertaining bird life and a species of endangered large snails. We never saw any snails but we saw (and heard) the bush turkeys and wallabies.

Timber boardwalks connect the various resort buildings which radiate out from a decked central hub of an infinity pool, day spa, wellness centre and restaurant. We much enjoyed walking around the resort gazing at the Bangalow Palms and Paperbarks as we meandered back to our suite from long walks along the beach. In the mornings, it’s the first place in Australia to see the sun, its noisy whipbirds act as nature’s alarm clock.

We also pottered around the town which has an amazing mix of shops and eateries, plenty of festivals plus regular food and craft markets. But, again, the beach was a big draw with many coming down to watch the spectacular sunsets each evening.

Of course, I had to visit The Farm and its Three Blue Ducks restaurant which more than lived up to my expectations. We ate lunch there on Monday – fully-booked over the weekend – and the place was really buzzing. Aside from the spectacular organic food, The Farm’s main attractions are its wildlife: cute cuddly Highland cattle, free-range chickens, black  pigs and their oh-so-cute piglets, plus the bee hives.

Byron Bay more than lived up to the hype and we’d be happy to return but, for now, it was back to the Pacific Highway and on to Brisbane.