Shoulda, coulda, woulda

In my recent post Postcard from the Blue Mountains, I mentioned that we should’ve travelled there by helicopter from Sydney rather than driving. Let me explain why.

I had planned to arrive in Wolgan Valley well before dusk (which is when you have to watch out for wildlife on the roads). I was thwarted by my beloved scheduling a meeting with a leading orthodontist based south of Sydney, which meant we set off several hours later than I’d anticipated.

We had with us our trusty satnav, purchased several years ago, which inexplicably decided to give up the ghost as we left the orthodontist’s practice. So we wasted further time trying to find our way onto the correct route. At this rate I thought we’d be lucky to arrive in time for dinner!

Finally we were heading in the right direction, following the directions provided by the resort. I now have to hold my hands up and admit that I misread said instructions and for reasons known only to Orange  – possibly lack of coverage – our mobile phones wouldn’t work, meaning we couldn’t access Google Maps, ring or text the hotel. As per map above, we should’ve taken the right-hander to Newnes, instead we drove almost as far as Mudgee.

As light started to fall, we spotted a tourist rest stop and asked the janitor if he knew where to find Wolgan Valley. He had no idea, not a good sign, but I spotted a map which showed we’d overshot the turn off by some way (British understatement). There was a public telephone at the stop so we contacted the hotel for directions.

Finally, we were headed in the correct direction and easily spotted the turn off to the Valley (at the petrol station). An hour later we slowed to turn into the resort, what should’ve been a three hour journey had taken close to seven! Of course, it was now well past dusk and my beloved had already dodged a few kangaroos on the road. He was fortunately at a standstill when one decided to use the front of our hire-car as a launch pad.

The roo was fortunately unhurt, the same could not be said for our hire car (later repaired in Brisbane for a very reasonable AUD$385). However, we were just relieved to have finally arrived at our destination. We dropped off our luggage in our accommodation and went straight into dinner.

As the resort is fairly remote, it offers an all-inclusive package, including a wide range of alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) beverages. To celebrate our safe arrival, I suggested that we had a nice glass of red wine at dinner which wasn’t part of the package.

As is his want, my beloved spent ages perusing the wine list, pretty useless since he can see very little without his glasses! There was a Pinot Noir he’d wanted to try for a while and by chance the sommelier knew both the wine and the vintner’s family well, I chose a Penfolds Shiraz without really glancing at the price. I have to say it was rather delicious.

My beloved had a second glass of Pinot Noir but I passed on a further glass of the Shiraz. During dinner, the sommelier was incredibly attentive and happily told us all about the respective wines. The resort has a high staff to guest ratio (100:80) giving the former plenty of opportunity to engage with the latter.

After dinner, I signed the bill but even my eagle eyes couldn’t read the grand total in the flickering half light. But how expensive could it be? I discovered the answer the following evening when I managed to get my mitts on the wine list first.

My beloved’s Pinot Noir was AUD$41 per glass, he had two glasses so that was AUD$82. A mere bagatelle by comparison with the price of mine (AUD$333), thank heavens I’d only had the one glass! I’ve since seen a bottle of the same wine for sale in a very upmarket off-licence in Brisbane for over AUD$ 2,000 a bottle!

I suspect that’ll go down as the most expensive glass of wine I’ll ever drink! Was it worth it? Well, let’s just say I’ll be dining off this tale for quite sometime. Now, perhaps you’ll understand why I said we should’ve taken the chopper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Overnight in Port Macquarie

Our first port of call after Wolgan Valley was Port Macquarie, a popular seaside resort, with a temperate climate, on the NSW mid-north coast, about 390 km (242 miles) north of Sydney, and 570 km (354 miles) south of Brisbane. The town sits on the mouth of the Hastings river and it boasts many gorgeous beaches, a lush hinterland plus a surprisingly diverse range of attractions.

Rich in history, vibrant with art and alive with culture, Port Macquarie is a treasure trove of impressive convict built buildings to ancient Aboriginal land, from expressive public art to exotic exhibitions, and with an abundance of festivals and cultural events.

The town which is named after a former Governor of NSW was a penal colony for around 20 years from 1820. Its thick bush, tough terrain and indigenous folks (the Birpai) keen to return escaping prisoners in return for tobacco and blankets, provided large amounts of both isolation and hard labour to keep the criminals under control. These criminals would have been persistent offenders from the Sydney penal colony.

I’d picked it for an overnight stop as it was roughly midway between the Blue Mountains and Byron Bay. After almost returning to Sydney, we drove along the Pacific Highway, marvelling at the lush green pastures and rain forest either side of the road. The occasional burst of yellow blossoms looked just like mimosa, reminding me of home.

We arrived in time for a stroll around town before dinner in a great fish restaurant opposite our hotel. After a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed a longer walk around town taking photographs before eating breakfast in an organic cafe.

The town had been a great spot for an overnighter, let’s hope my other picks are as successful. All too soon we were back on the Pacific Highway heading for a few days in Byron Bay.

(Another) Postcard from Sydney: Part II

We spent that first Sunday in Sydney largely walking around its splendid (and free) Botanical Gardens which we accessed from the other side of the wharf. The weather was glorious for a winter’s day as you’ll see from the various photographs.

The map below shows the gardens occupy prime real estate: a heritage-listed, oasis of 30 hectacres in the heart of the city. The Gardens wrap around Farm Cove at the edge of Sydney Harbour, occupying one of the city’s most spectacular spots.

Established in 1816, it’s Australia’s oldest scientific institution, home to an outstanding collection of indigenous plants and those from around the globe. The Gardens overall structure and key elements were down to Charles Moore and Joseph Maiden and have been built upon by successive directors.

It’s a popular place with families who were out en masse enjoying the fine weather and like us looking at the various displays, including one which  honoured the Cadigal, the original inhabitants of Sydney’s city centre and their relationship with this land.

There are spectacular views across the water from the Gardens and it’s possible to walk round to the Sydney Opera House, a piece of architecture which has stood the test of time, and that iconic bridge. After we strolled around the centre of Sydney looking for interesting doors and admiring the mix of old and new buildings before heading back to base.

 

I have no idea how far we walked because my beloved  forgot to put on his Apple watch but I’d say it was approaching 15km, well over our 10,000 steps!

 

x

(Another) Postcard from Sydney: Part I

We’ve arrived in Sydney after a stopover in Dubai. I should warn you that if you’re expecting to read about Sydney’s iconic sites, you’re going to be disappointed. If that’s what you’re after, check out my earlier posts from 2010 and 2016. No, this post is about one of Sydney’s many ‘burbs, the wonderfully named Woolloomoolloo, a harbourside town 1.5km east of the Sydney CBD, near to Kings Cross and Potts Point.

Woolloomooloo was originally a working-class district, largely docks, which has undergone significant gentrification, particularly along its waterfront where we were staying.  Its name comes from the first homestead in the area, Wolloomooloo House, built by its first landowner John Palmer. There is debate as to how Palmer came up with the name with different Aboriginal words being suggested. Was it Wallamullah, meaning place of plenty or Wallabahmullah, meaning a young black kangaroo?

After the First Fleet’s arrival in Sydney, the area was initially called Garden Cove or Garden Island Cove after the nearby small wooded off-shore Garden Island. The first land grant was given to John Palmer in 1793 to allow him to run cattle for the fledgling colony. In the 1840s the farm land was subdivided into what is now Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and parts of Surry Hills. Originally affluent residents built grand houses here, many with spectacular gardens, attracted by the bay and close proximity to the city and Government House.

Woolloomooloo has a number of heritage-listed sites, including a couple on Cowper Wharf where we were staying. The town is also home to Finger Wharf built in 1911-15, and at the time the world’s largest wooden structure, to help re-organise Sydney Harbour’s foreshore facilities. The wharf’s influence diminished during the 1970s and it became derelict until the mid-1990s when it was turned into private residential apartments, a boutique hotel and several restaurants and bars. It’s now a thriving and popular area.

Postcards from Sydney I

Despite 10 days in Australia, thanks to a hired bike, gyms in the hotels and suitable places to jog, I have been able to keep up with my training programme. I am however having severe withdrawal symptoms which will hopefully be assuaged tomorrow in Manly, where I’ve hired a road bike for the day. I’m hoping this will bear no resemblance to the bike I hired in Melbourne, which was the mountain bike equivalent of the supermarket trolley with the wonky wheel. That said, it was better than nothing.

My feet are feeling distinctly the worse for wear. This, I suspect, is a direct consequence of hours standing watching the cycling and hours spent pounding the pavement: walking and jogging. A foot massage would be bliss but I’ll have to settle for soaking them in cold water.

Strand Shopping Gallery – like going back in time!

I have done Sydney. Yes, I have walked all over the place, aided and abetted by the Hop on/Hop off buses. I love the juxtaposition of old and brand spanking new in the centre of town. I particularly liked those modern buildings that take some reference from the surrounding sandstone ones, specifically those in Macquarie and Bridge Streets.  I loved the refurbishment and conversion of the Queen Victoria Building and the Strand Arcade into Shopping Malls. I approved of the refurbished Hilton Hotel, opposite the QVB, and the retention of the historic Marble bar. I adored the view of Sydney from the Rocks where you can see the town’s modest beginnings against the backdrop of the modern skyline  and the iconic Bridge and Sydney Opera House. I also liked  the renovated wharves at Star City.

Barely populated Manly Beach

I revelled in the bohemian feel of Kings Cross and Paddington with their eclectic mixes of dwellings and their pavements enlivened with restaurants, bars, cafes and interesting shops. Equally, I enjoyed the ritzier locations of Rosecutters, Double, Rose and Vaucluse Bays where some of Sydney’s most expensive real estate is located.  While the bus commentary advised that there had been no deaths from shark attacks on Sydney’s beaches since two incidents in 1929, it failed to mention the numerous attacks since where victims had lived to tell their tales, albeit with missing limbs. You won’t therefore be surprised to learn that I passed on the opportunity to get up close and personal with sharks and other assorted marine life at the Sydney Aquarium. Equally, I felt no pressing need to visit Sydney’s Wildlife World despite the presence of a huge crocodile and a deadly taipan. I guess this isn’t one of those touchy feely places where the kiddies are encouraged to pet the animals.

Spoilt for choice!

I did however stop off at Sydney’s fish market, where the exhibits are largely dead, apart from a few swimming around in tanks awaiting their fate at the point of a finger. My father would have loved to have seen this wonderful array of glistening, fresh fish. I dined on an assortment of plump oysters for a fraction of the price I’ve been paying in local restaurants and would have had a lobster if only I could have found one small enough. They breed ’em big in Oz.