Places from our #adventuredownunder we’d visit again

If it’s difficult to whittle down the highlights of our vacation, it’s just as challenging to choose where we’d happily visit again. Our previous vacations in Australia had covered Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide but while we’d investigated much of South Australia and Victoria, there was still plenty for us to still see in New South Wales and we’d yet to visit Queensland. This vacation sought, in part, to remedy that oversight.

We’re unabashed urbanites who love living on the beach which is why we live near Nice on the Cote d’Azur. We never like to be too far from all the amenities. However, we’re not really beach people. I rarely sit on a beach though I do love walking along a sandy beach. I could spend hours looking at the sea and love being lulled to sleep by the sound of waves.

Given that my beloved has already driven pretty much of the length of Australia’s east coast, any further trips to this region will be by plane or train. And we’d certainly love to visit certain parts and places again. Our next trip to Australia is scheduled for winter 2021/22 and we want to take in Western Australia, particularly Perth and the Margaret river. So it remains to be seen how many more trips we’ll take to this wonderful country.

In no particular order, here’s the places we’d happily visit again and I’m going to let my photos do the talking for me.

Noosa

Byron Bay

Brisbane

Sydney

Wolgan Valley

Port Douglas

Inspired by The Blue Ducks

This cookery book in the header photo is what inspired our visit to Byron Bay. My beloved had bought me this in Farrells Bookshop in Mornington Peninsula back in 2016 because he’d liked the look of the recipes, many of which I’ve since made. With the company’s 10th anniversary fast approaching, I thought I’d write about one of my favourite restaurant concepts.

Since the first Three Blue Ducks venue opened in Bronte in 2010, they’ve expanded to four, café-turned-restaurants across New South Wales and Brisbane, plus one to come in Melbourne, each boasting a strong focus on ethical produce served in a no-frills setting.

The concept of Three Blue Ducks was sparked from an idea between Mark LaBrooy, Chris Sorrell and Sam Reid-Boquist, who shared a love of surf, snow and good food. In 2010, after years of discussion, the three mates found the perfect location in Bronte right next door to where Jeff Bennett had recently opened a pizza shop.

It wasn’t long before Bennett became friends with the boys next door and soon the wall between his pizza shop and Three Blue Ducks was knocked down and the four were in business together. As the venue got busier, they recruited Darren Robertson, former head chef at Tetsuya’s, to help expand the menu and open for dinner.

The group went on to open Three Blue Ducks at The Farm Byron Bay in 2015 (pictured above) and then Rosebery in 2016, with MasterChef Australia 2012 winner Andy Allen coming on board as a co-owner. This year they also opened a restaurant at the W hotel in Brisbane (desserts from our meal pictured below) and another one in Melbourne will soon open.

The common thread woven throughout the venues is a commitment to ethical food and supporting small farmers and producers,  something which I really try to embrace by buying local produce and ingredients from farmers markets and shopping seasonally. The Three Blue Ducks at The Farm, an 80-acre food and farming hub at the entrance to Byron Bay, is their biggest and busiest venue, and the true embodiment of their sustainability philosophy, where most of the restaurant is outside, surrounded by farmland, eating food grown metres away.

Celebrating the community and environment are core beliefs of the Ducks family. Even the name has a local element to it, though perhaps not in the way you might assume. It’s not a nursery rhyme. Instead, it’s a shout out to Bondi Boardriders team ‘Blue Ducks’, and, surprisingly, a 50-year-old pick up line Sam and Chris used as early teens in Bronte. The boys would try to get a girl alone at the beach and steal a kiss from her by asking if she’d seen the blue ducks that lived in the gully. So it’s a bit of a cheeky name!

What’s next for the Duck family? While there’s nothing yet in the works, there’s definitely potential to continue growing the brand – perhaps even internationally. As for a specific location, the boys have just one criterion: there must be surf or snow nearby. That’s not a bad requirement, is it?

Postcard from Brisbane V

Much as I love my better half, it’s sometimes nice to have time on my own. Friday morning I decided that my poor benighted feet deserved some pampering and booked a luxury pedicure and foot massage. It was sheer bliss – money well spent!

Afterwards I pottered around the CBD doing a spot of window shopping, door and building spotting before enjoying lunch at a restaurant in Queen’s Plaza, an upmarket shopping mall in the CBD. I strolled back up the hill to our hotel, admiring the historic properties littering Spring Hill.

It’s one of the oldest residential neighbourhoods in Brisbane, with many houses dating from 19th century, including quaint workers cottages and terrace houses, along with beautifully restored heritage-listed buildings. The Windmill in Wickham Park was built by convicts in 1827 and was one of Queensland’s first stone buildings. Of equal historical significance are the Spring Hill Baths, built in 1886, much updated and still in operation today.

While I enjoyed a quiet night in, my beloved went to a Gala Dinner over near the river in some renovated and repurposed buildings in Howard Smith Wharves, by Story Bridge. He managed to miss the speeches, though not the dinner, by inadvertantly gatecrashing a lawyers’ champagne reception in another part of the building!

Saturday was a day of total relaxation spent sunning myself around the pool in the hotel until my beloved returned, worn out from a hectic but successful exhibition – early night!

Sunday we enjoyed brunch at a restaurant over in Paddington, before heading out to view Mt Tamborine in what’s known as The Scenic Rim. Tamborine comes from the local Yugambeh language and may refer to the native fruit, finger lime. It’s a volcanic plateau about 550 metres (344 feet) above sea level and you can see for miles, even as far as the Gold Coast!

Narrow, verdant country roads meander around the mountains which are home to some lovely property porn and quaint villages with boutique wineries and an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. We drove around the area but could equally have visited the Tamborine National Park with its spectacular Falls probably best viewed from the elevated Tambourine Rainforest Skywalk – not for those of us who dislike heights – and the Botanical Gardens.

On Monday we enjoyed an early breakfast in the same restaurant I’d eaten lunch in on Friday before ambling along the Broadwalk which runs on the city side of the Brisbane River, walking all the way to New Farm, Newstead and Teneriffe: three adjacent areas fronting the Brisbane River, northeast of the CBD, that have been subject to significant, successful urban renewal.

These areas formerly played significant roles in the industrial life of Brisbane from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, with much of the activity clustered around the river which was an important transport corridor. Brisbane Gas Company’s gasworks opened in 1887 with the Colonial Sugar Refinery constructed in 1893. These were followed by timber yards, coal yards and wool stores which were disused and neglected 100 years’ later.

Many of these industrial buildings are now listed and have been beautifully renovated to “create sustainable livework communities in the inner city, revive local economies, deliver affordable housing and reverse the exodus of residents and businesses.”

Tuesday lunchtime I had arranged to meet with fellow blogger Lyn Douglas not far from where she works as a volunteer, over in New Farm. Lyn had just returned from what sounded like a really fabulous trip to North America, don’t forget to check out her blog for details. It was so lovely to meet with her and thank her for all the useful tips she’d provided me with while planning our stay in Brisbane.

Meeting Lyn in New Farm gave me an opportunity to further explore Fortitude Valley, particularly the shops over in James St, a tree covered promenade studded with jewel-like, largely upscale boutiques.

It’s just a two minute stroll from the heart of Fortitude Valley where we spent Wednesday morning and is without a doubt the place to be seen at one of the chic bars and cafes that line the street. In addition, the James Street Market has a fabulous selection of edible goodies.

James St is also home to an array of fashion and homeware retailers that has earned it a reputation as one of Brisbane’s most stylish strips. I was so taken with the area that I dragged my beloved back there that evening for dinner in a wonderful Middle Eastern restaurant.

Wednesday and what do you know it’s time to move on to Mooloolaba. But before we said good bye to Brisbane we ate a leisurely lunch in nearby Paddington again. We’d had a wondeful time in Brisbane and if you want to know more about this city don’t forget to check out Brisbane resident Lyn’s blog (link above) and that of Sam, who spent time working in Brisbane. It’s a fabulous place and well worth an extended stay.

 

Postcard from Brisbane IV

Unbelievably, yesterday’s post only covered the morning of our second Wednesday In Brisbane. You may recall that the raison d’etre for our visit to this fair city was attendance at a major Dental Congress. We had to set up the company’s stand on this Wednesday afternoon, before the congress started the following day. Consequently, we headed over to the South Bank for lunch. I wanted to check out the restaurant I’d booked for a dinner my beloved was hosting on Thursday evening. It was easy to find and being Italian was sure to please everyone. Who doesn’t like pizza and pasta? Exactly!

Having walked all around the many restaurants, we decided to eat in a Middle Eastern one which is always great for my regime. Lunch over we headed to the exhibition centre to set everything up. This fortunately took next to no time leaving us plenty of time to further explore Brisbane’s 17-acre parkland on South Bank which was opened to the public in 1992 on the former site of World Expo 88.

South Bank’s promenade stretches along the Brisbane River, from the north to the south end of South Bank Parklands and up to Kangaroo Point. It includes the delightful Arbour, a kilometre-long steel canopy covered by neon pink and purple bougainvillea flowers. The award-winning structure is made up of 443 curling, galvanised steel posts.

We strolled along Clem Jones Promenade beside the river in the warm sunshine, visiting the Epicurious Garden filled with lots of lovely edibles and stopping to admire Streets Beach. Brisbane may not be on the coast but its year-round summer weather means it has a beach and swimming pools in South Bank which are free! Streets Beach provides a little hit of Paradise and a place to cool off for everyone.

There’s also an area of rain-forest within which is a relic of the World Expo ‘88 and now one of the South Bank’s most esteemed attractions. The Nepalese Peace 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.

Of course, no modern playground is complete without a large ferris wheel. The Brisbane Wheel is  60-metre (197 ft) tall and was erected in August 2008 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of  World Expo 88 and Queensland’s 150th Anniversary (1859-2009). It carries 42 gondolas on a 15-minute ride with panoramic views of the river and city. We passed on this delight.

Thursday morning we were up early and looking bright-eyed and bushy tailed at the exhibition. I lent my beloved a hand until lunchtime when reinforcements arrived. This liberated me to continue exploring South Bank, specifically The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art where I happily whiled away the afternoon.

I much enjoyed two related but quite different exhibitions of artists whose work I’d never before seen. The first entitled “A Generous Life” celebrates the enduring legacy of much-loved Australian artist Margaret Olley (1923–2011). A short documentary revealed a fascinating and charismatic character, a widely recognised still-life and interior painter who drew inspiration from her home and the beauty of everyday objects. She was a significant benefactor to public institutions, and the subject of two Archibald Prize-winning portraits including one (above) painted by Ben Quilty (2011). This major exhibition profiles a life that was vigorously immersed in art — her own and that of those she supported.

The second featured the afore-mentioned Ben Quilty one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, whose thickly painted landscapes and intimate portraits have garnered international acclaim. Exploring themes of masculinity and mortality, Quilty’s work is influenced by his experiences of Australian culture, political activism and his position as an official war artist. Working in a highly expressive style, he delves into the hidden psychologies of people and places through a bold application of paint to produce thought provoking pieces.

As anticipated, there were also many works from indigenous artists, and some from further afield, displayed in wonderful light-filled, airy spaces. Footsore but happy, I wandered back to our hotel clocking up another 16km (10 miles) in total for the day.

Postcard from Brisbane III

Our first week in Brisbane had been great fun and it fully justified us spending two weeks here to better appreciate the city and all it has to offer. The start of our second week (Wednesday) was a Bank Holiday in the CBD giving everyone an opportunity, like us, to visit EKKA. We decided to stroll down to the start of Fortitude Valley in the morning which was when we realised how close we were to EKKA’s showgrounds in the Bowen Hills – we could’ve walked there!

Fortitude Valley is Brisbane’s evening entertainment capital, yet we were going to visit it during the day when most of its shops and restaurants were closed. Why?  – because the area has an interesting history and some of those historical buildings are still standing.

Early European Settlement

In the mid-1840s a Presbyterian clergyman, John Dunmore Lang, promoted assisted immigration as a means of relieving Britain’s impoverished classes. Acting in the belief that the government had agreed to grant the emigrants free land, Lang arranged the first of three shiploads to come to Moreton Bay. The first vessel, the Fortitude, arrived at Brisbane in January 1849. The free land was refused, but the new arrivals were given permission to set up a temporary village which beacme known as ‘Fortitude Valley’.

Religion and Retailing

During the 1870s and 1880s a number of churches of different denominations were built, an extensive drainage scheme constructed and schools opened, though Brisbane’s first railway line (1882) skirted the Valley.

Horse-drawn trams offered the main means of access to the Valley from 1885. Fortitude Valley’s rising commercial importance was best signified by the Renaissance style post office built in Ann Street in 1887 and the growing number of significant retail establishments, all department stores. The new shopping area was above the 1890 flood level, in contrast to central and South Brisbane.

Fortitude Valley had churches, chapels, State and Catholic schools, Oddfellows’ and Foresters’ halls, a public swimming baths in Wickham Street, numerous villa residences on the suburb’s outskirts toward the river and, in the other direction, the elegant new headquarters for the Exhibition (1891).

Electric trams were introduced in the 1890s while the group of department stores maintained the Valley’s retail importance for decades. Importantly, beyond the retail centre, there were substantial factories and warehouses.

Dark Deeds in the Valley

In the 1950s major retail chains from Melbourne and Sydney began to take over Brisbane and Valley department stores. The Valley’s retail strength dissipated as the retail anchors were closed, exacerbated by the rise of drive-in shopping centres. The industrial sites were now too small for modern industrial and warehousing methods, though some premises became affordable as galleries and for semi-retail occupations. Local employment dried up as people were attracted to the outer suburbs. In the 1980s Fortitude Valley was caught between a faded past and an uncertain future.

Recovery

A number of Malls, including the Chinatown Mall (1987) capitalised on aspects of the Valley’s cultural tradition and it became a middle-ranking retail area, known for Asian cuisine, entertainment and a fading history of illegal casinos and unlicensed night clubs. There are now 25 registered heritage sites in Fortitude Valley spelling out a brighter future for the area.

We discovered a neighbourhood of careworn character buildings that are home to a sprinkling of top art galleries, funky eateries, cafes and bars and some of the best indie shopping in Brisbane. The following week I had an opportunity to further explore the area, from James St down to New Farm, this time while the shops and eateries were open.

Postcard from Brisbane II: #EKKA

As I mentioned in my previous postcard, we spent our first Tuesday in Brisbane at #EKKA. For those of you who don’t hail from Australia, the EKKA is Queensland’s largest and most loved annual event. It showcases the best of what the State has to offer from woodchopping to quilts to giant vegetables and, of course, loads of animals and a fairground rides, attracting over 400,000 visitors during its 10-day run. It’s apparently a rite of passge for Brisbanites and the show has been around since 1876, delighting countless generations.

Depending on where you live in Brisbane, Monday or Wednesday are Bank holidays granted specifically so you can visit the show. Yes, it’s that BIG. Of course, we just had to go and see what all the fuss was about. We went on Tuesday because we thought it might be less busy. I sensed it was but have no way of knowing. We decided to travel there and back by train but, as we later discovered, we could just have easily walked there.

We arrived shortly after the show had opened for the day and made an attempt to see most of the exhibits and stands though we swerved a few, including the Venemous Snake Show. I have never seen a snake on any of my visits to Australia and wasn’t about to start now. There’s also a huge funfair, popular with the kiddies, which we skirted around but otherwise we saw pretty much most of what EKKA had to offer and it really is as epic as the map above shows. It closes each evening with a fireworks’ display which we could see (and hear) from our hotel balcony.

It was a fun day out  and we certainly did more than our daily 10km wandering around checking out the various areas. My beloved was bitterly disappointed not to find the Queensland equivalent of the WI stand. Allegedly, their scones are awesome and he was keen to see whether or not that was the case but, try as we might, we couldn’t find it. Maybe they’re so good, the locals don’t want to share!

Any way, I’m going to let my photos, which feature lots of cute livestock, do the talking. These beauties were being groomed ready to be shown. Who knew there were so many varieties of cattle?

As you might imagine there were plenty of equine friends, some cuter than others.

There were a huge number of dogs on show, some of whom were being petted to death, others were looking for pats while some were just bored by the whole circus.

There were plenty of exhibits harking back to the show’s history.

But easily the busiest stand was was the animal nursery where you could pet and feed some of the animals. The sheep and goats were running around trying to find anyone with a cup of their favourite snacks. Those – yes, that’s me – who didn’t have any were shunned. These guys and gals are nobody’s fools.

Of course, some were too small to be petted or fed or had their own source of sustenance.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable day out but I don’t think we’ll be visiting anything similar anytime soon.

Postcard from Brisbane I

We spent two weeks in Brisbane giving us plenty of opportunity to experience everything the town and surrounding areas have to offer. I have to thank those of you who live in or have recently visited the area for your kind suggestions, they were much appreciated.

We arrived at our hotel in historic Spring Hill on Wednesday afternoon and quickly settled into our spacious studio room, complete with kitchenette. I like having the ability to eat-in for a few meals, particularly breakfast. That said, we ate lunch in the excellent on-site restaurant before checking out the hotel’s pool and gym.

As I plan our holidays, I tend to let my beloved choose how we spend our days. As I’d swerved a visit to the Gold Coast, he decided to head back to the coast on Thursday and Friday (Sandgate and Redlands) just to check out my decision. We found some fabulous beaches and picturesque bayside villages where we easily lowered the average age in each of the towns we visited. These are clearly very popular with the retirement community. I can understand why.

Having spent Thursday and Friday touring  beaches, I suggested we spend the weekend in Brisbane as the fabulous weather would encourage people to visit the coast, leaving the city quieter. The queues of traffic leaving Brisbane on Friday evening appeared to back up my hypothesis.

Saturday morning we enjoyed breakfast at Eagle Street Pier overlooking Brisbane’s sub-tropical Brisbane river before taking a round river trip. I love seeing cities from their riverbanks, it gives them such a different perspective. It also helped identify further areas for us to visit.

We ate lunch at a plentiful seafood buffet in a riverside hotel where we feasted on oysters and a local speciality, Moreton Bay Bugs, which was a first for us. Thereafter, we enjoyed a stroll around the city’s beautiful Botantical Gardens, just one of many parks around the city.

Sunday we strolled into town after an early breakfast to find a coolish wind had subdued the sun’s heat. We popped into the magnificent City Hall to check out the interior and its exhibit, Brisbane Art Design Festival which was very interactive. Having marvelled at the Hall’s architectural details we topped up our caffeine levels in Shingle Inn, a faithful restoration of Brisbane’s oldest cafe, on City Hall’s ground floor.

Sunday lunch was eaten in one of the city’s newer restaurants, Three Blue Ducks. I wanted to see whether the concept we’d so enjoyed outdoors in Byron Bay had translated to an urban environment. It does though the restaurant was tricky to find as it’s in the W Hotel, in North Quay. My beloved plumped for the Sunday roast while I had a nutritious salad. This left us with a little room for dessert. I don’t usually indulge but the vegan dessert sounded delicious while my better half had the popular apple dessert. What is it about men and apples?


Replete we continued our stroll around town before heading back to our hotel and its gym. After a good night’s sleep, on Monday we decided to walk over to Paddington, a nearby suburb of Brisbane built atop one of its many steep ridges with plenty of interesting shops and beautifully restored historic houses. I just love those wrap around porches and gingerbread trims.

There are bars and restaurants housed in former workers’ cottages and plenty of antique shops and art galleries to wander around. We also found a fabulous place for breakast to which we’d return a couple more times during our stay.

The views of Brisbane are stunning from Paddington and yes, those streets are really that steep! On the way back to our hotel we passed the Suncorp Stadium, home of the rugby league side The Brisbane Broncos. Caxton Street and Petrie Terrace looked as if they’d be particularly lively once the sun went down.

We followed this with a walk around nearby Roma Park where my beloved almost trod on this little fellow (approx. 1m/3 ft) sunning himself on the pavement.

 

During our strolls, we’d noticed many advertisements for #EKKA and despite never before having visited an agricultural exhibition, decided this was how we’d spend our Tuesday. After all, you can’t go to Brisbane and not visit the EKKA!