Category Archives: Sydney Weekend trips

A Farmstay Getaway: Big Bell Farm in Kangaroo Valley

Sydney Weekend trips 4 Replies

It occurred to me that we’d been in Sydney without at least a weekend trip away for the longest stretch of time since we’ve move here, and my feet started itching for a change of scenery. That, combined with the impending arrival of Baby #2, who I trust will keep us grounded for at least a little while, and the seemingly endless days of rain we’ve had all month had me declaring to Partner in Crime that we needed to go somewhere. Anywhere.

Luckily, our flexible schedules work in our favor (I already mourn the day when Hushpuppy starts school), so when a pair of sunny days appeared in the 10 day forecast, we went into fast planning mode, and hit the road on a Sunday morning.

Our first stop was 24 hours in Jervis Bay, our enduring and comfortable favorite getaway. I’ve written about it so many times in these pages, I’ll just link you here to my post about Jervis Bay with a toddler for an idea of what we got up to this time, too. We never change things up much!

Around lunchtime, we headed out for our second stop, Kangaroo Valley. We were swapping the beach for the farm. Hushpuppy was beside herself with the prospect of being on a farm, and I was, in turn, pretty excited for my city kid. Along the way, we stopped for groceries and lunch in Nowra, the largest nearby town. We also took a short and very worthwhile detour to Cambewarra Mountain Lookout. When we arrived at the top of the mountain, I wished we hadn’t just eaten because there was a little cafe with the best views, but we still loved sitting in the grass and looking out over the beautiful Kangaroo Valley region.

Cambewarra Mountain Lookout

From the lookout, it was a short drive to Big Bell Farm. Our host was the charming Farmer Bruno, a grandfatherly Swiss gent who always dreamed of owning a farm in Australia (as you do). He gave us the lay of the land, invited us to have a swim in the pool, told Hushpuppy that she could join him in feeding the animals their dinner, and invited her to ring the Swiss bells at the front of the property (hence the name of the farm).

Big Bell Farm

Big Bell Farm

We stayed in one of three cabins, each of which has a different layout. Ours had one bedroom with twin beds, which Bruno offered to push together, without us even asking. He also added a child’s size mattress for Hushpuppy. The kitchen was well equipped with stove, oven, microwave, and kettle – plenty of amenities to make our dinner and breakfast. There were plenty of blankets and towels, we found fans for cooling off, and there was also a gas heater for cooler nights. We did make the mistake of leaving the door open, as we went in and out during the evening, which let a lot of bugs in. Next time, I’d use the screen door the whole time to avoid the dinner guests.

Outside one window we had this view:

Big Bell Farm

And, outside the other window, our neighbors were the miniature goats.

Big Bell Farm

Hushpuppy spent the better part of our visit camped in front of the goats.

Big Bell Farm

Big Bell Farm

Aside from the goats, the farm also has two horses, who were happy for a pat and a carrot.

Big Bell Farm

I think if we’d stayed longer, we would have appreciated a few more animal companions to hang out with – maybe some pigs or chickens or something – but the goats and horses kept us plenty entertained for our short stay. That, and the gorgeous solitude. I was longing for a glass of wine (I settled for a pregnancy friendly cup of decaf tea), as I sat on the front porch with my book, watching the sun set over the mountain, while my kid chatted up the friendly goats.  It was just the quiet change of pace my itchy feet had been asking for.


From Big Bell Farm, it’s just a short drive to Kangaroo Valley sites. We spent the afternoon poking around the sweet village of Kangaroo Valley…

Kangaroo Valley

…the Tallowa Dam …

Tallowa Dam

…and the Hamden Bridge, which dates back to 1898.

It may have been a quick run out of town, but it was enough to make us feel like we’d really stepped into a different, relaxed environment. We’ll happily return to the farm as a family of four, with a nice, big bottle of wine for watching the sun set and the kids play.

Sydney Expat Interview Series: The Weekend Getaway

Sydney Expat Interviews, Sydney Weekend trips 5 Replies

I don’t know about you, but this warming Spring weather we’ve been having in Sydney lately has turned my mind right onto “road trip”. Map out the places one can drive to from Sydney on a weekend getaway, and we are spoiled for choices – beaches, cities, wine, food, culture, and more. I’m always up for inspiration, so for this month’s Sydney Expat Interview, I asked the expats to share their favorite spot for a Sydney weekend away. Hope you find some ideas for hitting the road, as well!

This is the 16th in an 18 part interview series with expats living in Sydney. Please make sure to visit the fantastic websites of the participants linked below, and join me on Facebook for much more on expat life in Sydney.

sydney-expat-interview-series-the-weekend-getaway


Name: Julia
Country of origin: UK
Lived in Sydney: 7 years

Hawks Nest bout 2.5 hrs north of CBD (in-laws have a holiday home there) its really beautiful up there – gorgeous unspoilt beaches and lakes – It still hasn’t been developed so is lovely and unspoilt.

Sydney Weekend Getaway

Hawks Nest


Name: “Bushranger”
Country of Origin: Serbia
Lived in Sydney: 6.5 Years

Definitely Jervis Bay – crystal clear sand beaches, pristine beauty and kangoroos on the beach. Fair dinkum, the best spot for nature lovers south of Sydney.

jervis-bay


Name: Shane
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year
Shane blogs at Sea Salt Secrets

It’s a toss up between Hunter Valley wine region and Port Stephens beaches. I spent Christmas in Port Stephens, which was an interesting experience given I’m used to snow and subzero temperatures around the holidays. And I love visiting wineries around the world, I could see myself getting married in the Hunter!

port-stephens

Port Stephens


Name: Kirstie
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: Since September 2013
Kirstie blogs at Venga Vale Vamos

I’m partial to Newcastle – there isn’t a ton to see, but it’s incredibly relaxing with some quiet, beautiful beaches. It’s a great weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, especially if you know locals.


Name: Debbie
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 10 years

Unfortunately, no. The cost of living in Sydney has meant that we don’t have any spare cash for weekend trips away.


Name: Victoria
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 6 years
Victoria blogs at The Freedom Travellers

I love heading down the NSW South Coast to either Kiama or Jervis Bay, so chilled out down there, it’s the perfect getaway from city life.

kiama

Kiama


Name: Dido
Country of origin: India
Lived in Sydney: 2.5 years

Jervis Bay  – 350K south of Sydney. Beautiful drive with nice suburban towns to stop over nick nacks. If have kids and time – go to Mogo Zoo which 15K from Jervis Bay. Very exciting place as well.


Name: Rachel
Country of Origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 4 Years

I love Macmasters Beach on the Central Coast. I’ve been there a couple of times for weekend trips with a dozen or so friends to stay at a beach house. It is so tranquil and idyllic, going for brunch and walks along the beach. We relax over beers, a log fire, and chocolate smores. We take walks through Bouddi National Park up to the headland, and we were fortunate enough one time to see whales on their migration northwards.


Name: Caitlin
Country of origin: England

Lived in Sydney: 1.5 year
Caitlin blogs at Where’s Wallis

Jervis Bay – I’ve been down twice already, once to do the Husky triathlon and once for a big girls’ weekend. Make sure you walk all the way along Hyams beach to the quieter end to enjoy the stunning sand there.

hyams-beach

Hyams Beach


Name: Ashley
Country of origin: United States

Lived in Sydney: 2 years (in Newcastle)
Visit Ashley on Instagram

We live in Newcastle so frequently our weekend trips are TO Sydney! Other awesome weekend getaways we have done are to the Blue Mountains, Port Stephens, Hunter Valley, and Bowral (awesome, awesome, beautiful, stunning, amazing town!!)

Sydney Weekend Getaway

Bowral, NSW

 


Where can you recommend for a weekend trip out of Sydney? 


Read Part 1: Expectations vs Reality
Read Part 2: The Most Memorable Sydney Day
Read Part 3: Your First Day in Sydney
Read Part 4: Drinking Like an Aussie
Read Part 5: The Birds of Sydney
Read Part 6: Australian Christmas
Read Part 7: Off the Beaten Path
Read Part 8: Questions About Your Home
Read Part 9: What People at Home Think of Australia
Read Part 10: Advice for Moving to Sydney
Read Part 11: A Sydney Weekend
Read Part 12: Australian TV
Read Part 13: Something I Miss From Home
Read Part 14: Favorite Sydney Restaurant
Read Part 15: The Huntsman Spider


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Apple Picking Near Sydney – Pine Crest Orchard, Bilpin

Sydney Weekend trips 2 Replies

Last Winter, I had my heart set on taking my kid apple picking, and romping through the orchard with smiles on our faces and jaunty scarves, warming our fingers on mugs of homemade apple cider from a farm stand crock pot. With fruit picking orchards in Bilpin, just a short drive from Sydney, it would be a picturesque day out.

Only one problem. Apple picking season is actually at the end of summer.
Right.
So, we went mandarin orange picking, instead, because that’s apparently what’s ripe in the Winter. But, I’ve had apples on the brain all this time. So, even though we wore shorts and would not suffer any chilled fingers, we thought it would still be a fun day out to pick apples in Bilpin, NSW.

There are a few “Pick Your Own” apple orchards in Bilpin, and we chose Pine Crest Orchard. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived (*y’all, don’t turn your GPS off for “just a few minutes” to save battery. A 90 minute drive could turn into a 3 hour excursion, with tears and familial angst. That is something that could happen. To someone.*). The good news was that it was very quiet that time of day, with only a couple of other families around, so we really could romp jauntily through the rows of trees.

The woman who greeted us was so friendly, and gave us a hand-drawn map of the four types of apples, two types of pears, and the plums that were available for picking … “go to the scarecrow, and turn right.” 

All of the fruit was $4 per kilo, so we were able to put it all in one bag. If you go, bring your own bag, or buy one of theirs for $2. 

We decided to try a few of each type of apple, as well as some plums, which will still need to ripen a bit. We let Hushpuppy do the picking, and she was so excited and proud of her selections. “I like apples! I like plums!,” she chanted up and down row after row of fruit trees.

Satisfied with our haul, we went inside to pay. Partner-in-Crime took note of the little contraption on the counter, which our host was nice enough to demonstrate for our astonished 3 year old. Her “slinky apple” was her treasured takeaway, and we were happy to munch on some apples of our own on the drive home. 

On the way out, we made an impromptu stop at The Pines Orchard cafe, lured in by their signs for fresh apple pie. It seemed in the spirit of the day, and we shared a quarter pie with ice cream for $6. Money well spent!

For the rest of the evening, Hushpuppy instructed us that she was “a farmer” – very proud of her day’s work.

 

 

Pluma

Pears

If you go…

Bilpin is approximately 90 minutes from Sydney CBD.
Pine Crest Orchard is located at 2549 Bells Line of Rd.
Website. Facebook.
Apples are $4 per kilo. Bring your own bag or buy one for $2.
Public toilets available. 
We found this article from Ella’s List helpful in finding Pick-Your-Own orchards

 

Jervis Bay, The Toddler Tour

Jervis Bay, Little Aussie, Sydney Weekend trips 6 Replies

Oh, how we love Jervis Bay. The quiet beach region three hours south of Sydney was our first Aussie road trip, and we’ve yet to top it with a place we love more. Since our visit in 2010, we’ve been back at least half a dozen times, but as we’ve had a lot of international travel recently, our last trip was over two years ago when Hushpuppy was only 7 months old.

On an absolute whim (read: we packed in an hour), spurred by last week’s burst of Spring weather, we pointed the car south for a mid-week break.

I have so much of Jervis Bay etched in my mind, that I began to worry when it occurred to me that things may have changed since our last visit. What if our favorite restaurants weren’t there or the landscape looked different? We pulled into Huskisson, the little town where we like to stay, and I was relieved to see that it was exactly as we left it, beautifully molded in time.

In fact, we were the ones who had changed. Our baby was quite small on our last visit, but this time, our aim was to entertain a boisterous toddler. Jervis Bay was up to the task.jervis bay2

Here are the highlights of the Jervis Bay Toddler Tour:

Eat

On arrival, we made a beeline for Stonegrill, whose $35 3-course menu makes us Sydneysiders swoon. It was packed, despite the fact that the rest of Huskisson looked to be nearly deserted. No problem, as we got a table out on the sidewalk. Meat served on hot stone may not seem the most child-friendly option, but they were careful with how they served everything, and though I wasn’t brave enough to order my two year old a stone of her own off the child menu (yes, it was an option), she loved her pasta, and happily pranced around the empty sidewalk while we finished our meals, helping us polish off our desserts, as well. jervis bay10

For breakfast, I insisted on my favorite cafe, Kiosk. They don’t have a kid’s menu, but an $8 bacon and egg roll, plus a babyccino, more than suited Hushpuppy, while I enjoyed smashed avocado, tomatoes and goat cheese curd on toast.

We also ate at Huskisson’s local woodfire pizzaria, Faro Bianco, and they were happy to offer up a high chair. They had a kid’s menu, though I was surprised that there was no pizza on it!

And, lest we forget the ice cream, a beach holiday essential (the name of the friendly shop we frequented evades me, but the it’s across from the RSL on Owen Street in Huskisson). We made a couple of pilgrimages.Jervis Bay1

Play

Just off the main street (Owen) in Huskisson is a beautiful, waterfront municipal park. We logged some good miles on the colorful playground here. We also wanted to swim in the public toddler wading pool, but it had mysteriously been drained overnight by our second day there when we’d brought our suits down with us, so we regretfully missed that one.

Playground Jervis Bay

For breakfast on our last morning, Hushpuppy and I went in for scones at Huskisson Bakery and Cafe. It’s a sprawling restaurant, and we chose a table in the back of the patio where I was pleased to find an ex-McDonald’s play gym set up. It was a smidge on the dirty side (Hushpuppy came away with dusty pants), but still good entertainment. And, they made her an awesome babyccino – complete with M&Ms. That’s ‘ccino game.

Bakery Jervis Bay

One thing we didn’t do this time was a dolphin or whale watching tour, one of Jervis Bay’s most popular attractions, but I’ll still mention it here because we did a couple of them on our trips when Hushpuppy was a baby. They were more than welcoming of children, and very cognizant of their safety. I’d certainly suggest it for anyone’s Jervis Bay Toddler Tour.

Whale watching on an earlier visit. Fun for the whole family.

Whale watching on an earlier visit. Fun for the whole family.

A Child in Nature

Though we have some super parkland around our apartment, my kid is a city slicker. I sometimes wonder if she needs more nature in her life, and this trip just reinforced my dream of getting her more immersed in the great outdoors.

Just across from our hotel was the reassuringly named Shark Net Beach. In the morning, Hushpuppy and I would quietly get dressed and head straight there, as the sun was rising. We’d have the beach nearly to ourselves, and it was as close to magical as anything I’ve experienced.

The little beach is so toddler-friendly. The surf is light and it’s  very shallow.jervis bay13

On the other end of the beach is volcanic rock, and in the crevices are tide pools full of shells, plants, and little snails. This spot became an object of fascination for my little collector, who pridefully filled her bucket with an assortment of seashells and grew her confidence climbing across the rocks, which were challenging, but quite safe. She and I spent hours tucked away at this little corner of beach, and I felt like it was my girl’s natural environment. Jervis Bay14

jervis bay11

In the afternoons, the three of us would venture to Booderee National Park. On our first stop at Green Patch Beach, we were hoping to show her some of the kangaroos and wallabies who are usually plentiful there. We didn’t spot any, but she was so happy to be out of the car and on the beach (she called the white sand “snow”) that she literally stripped down to her diaper and jumped up and down in the water, laughing “I love it! I love it!” … I think she liked it.jervis bay7

We also spent a long afternoon at Murray’s Beach. The surf was a bit too strong to call it a great toddler beach, but she and I took a swim together in the clear water and we built all manner of sand castle/sand-snowman/sand city/sand road, etc. And, we also got to see our wallaby up close, which our girl has only ever seen before in the zoo.jervis bay6 jervis bay8

For our last afternoon, we saved the spot we thought she’d love the best, the weird and wonderful Moona Moona Creek. At low tide, the water level on the whole small beach is no higher than Hushpuppy’s knees. At high tide, any adult would be submerged. This makes for some interesting sea life like little crabs and fish that we could investigate. We even caught a tiny fish in our bucket (and later let it go, of course). Further along the beach is more fun-to-explore volcanic rock. Hushpuppy’s Sun Sox came in extra handy for this adventure. Moona Moona Creek is such a perfect place for toddlers, I was a little jealous that we don’t live there so that she could wile away her childhood days here.Jervis Bay4 Jervis Bay5

Our mini-mid week break was complete joy. The drive from Sydney is easy, the location is beautiful, and there’s just enough to do, for my taste. Watching my child immerse herself in nature, though, was the highlight of the trip. She was practically shining from being so in her element. I could see it’s where she belongs. I expect we won’t wait another two years to give her the gift of our whole family’s favorite destination, once again.

Orange Picking Near Sydney

Sydney Weekend trips 3 Replies

Orange Picking Near Sydney at Watkins Family Farm

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we’d gotten an idea of our head about going apple picking. I don’t know why we thought of it, as fruit picking is not a thing we’ve ever done, but once the idea was seeded, Partner-in-Crime and I were both running with it, pastoral fantasies dancing in our head. It turned out that we were too late for apples, but right in time for oranges … which seems weird because … winter… but, we were happy to make the adjustment in our city slicker dreamscape from apples to oranges (all the same to us). And so it was that we found ourselves heading out of town yesterday afternoon towards Watkins Family Farm.

Located about an hour and a half outside of Sydney, we were promised “pick your own mandarins,” we’d conjured in our minds. Their website warned about following our new-fangled GPS, as it was going to send us down a treacherous dirt road, and I trust you won’t be surprised to learn that’s exactly what we did. By the time we decided to turn around, we’d already discussed the plot of Deliverance and a recent case of a man lost in the bush for months until it was discovered he’d been bitten by a snake and died meters from his bogged in truck – because that’s where our city minds go to when confronted by the Great Unpaved. Well, we tried to turn around, but were promptly met with a pair of equally inappropriate vehicles going the other direction, and as it was decidedly a one-way path on which cars are theoretically allowed to go both ways, we had to back all the way up to the curve we’d just come from to let them pass. We then decided that if we followed the Kia and the Holden closely enough, we probably wouldn’t die alone this day.

Thankfully, that was our only snag, and it wasn’t long before we found our way to the mandarins.

It was exactly what we’d imagined – rows and rows and overflowing orange trees, friendly farm animals, port-a-potties, and even a rusting bathtub on its side. This, indeed, was what we’d come all this way for.

It was $10 for as many mandarins as you could fill into a bucket. We let Hushpuppy take on the picking duties, which she did with as much glee as we’d hoped for. She would have been happy to fill at least two or three more buckets if we’d found it suitable to walk away with 20 or 30 kilos of oranges. As we’re just a family of three, we thought one bucket would be more than enough to suit all of our citrus needs for some days to come.

We brought a picnic lunch, and I bought a $3 cup of instant coffee from the Watkin’s coffee cart. I ordered a flat white, and the woman at the cart laughed and said, “that’s about all we have!” before pouring the kettle water over the Nescafe and pointing me in the direction of the packets of milk and sugar. This was a moment where being American came in handy.

We spent another half hour or so hanging out with the sheep, goat, horse, and chickens. Hushpuppy was too afraid to feed the friendly sheep and goat, all of which seemed happy to eat a continuous stream of oranges, but she was happy to stand by while P-i-C and I did it on her behalf.

On the way home, we took the (paved) road by the lovely Hawkesbury River and to the town of Wiseman’s Ferry, where we found a nice park for Hushpuppy to get out a little extra energy while we enjoyed the glowing mountains, just before sunset. 

We had all of our city slicker fantasies fulfilled, and I’d happily make mandarin picking an annual tradition.

Postscript: Staring down two salad bowls full of oranges this morning, I picked up some suggestions for things to do with them. One was this “30 second orange cake” recipe for the Thermomix/Bellini (though you could easily do it in a food processor). Taking a recommendation, I turned the cake into muffins, instead, and the result was decadent and delicious – even worth the dirt road.

Cruising with the Mail on the Hawkesbury Riverboat Postman

Sydney Weekend trips, Sydney With Kids Leave a reply

A Ride With the Riverboat Postman Hawkesbury River NSWAssuming that we are going to become rather more selective with our travels once we have a little one in tow, Partner-in-Crime and I have been taking a few small trips around New South Wales. Our first adventure was a day trip to Brooklyn, NSW (which is significantly more quaint than the same-name New York borough where I went to grad school) to ride on the Hawkesbury Riverboat Postman cruise.Hawkesbury riverboat postman

This day trip had long intrigued me. Passengers get to ride along while the postal carriers delivered the daily mail to the remote and island settlements along the Hawkesbury River. I loved the sound of something both so old fashioned and unfussy, as well as resourceful on the part of the postal company – don’t just deliver the mail, but bring tourists along to help fund the operation. Capitalism at its cleverest!

On the day we went, we were glad we called ahead on the morning of because the postal boat was running an hour behind. Looking around the wharf at our fellow passengers, we could see that our presence was going to decrease the median age of passengers that day; though, I was happy to see a couple of grandparents/families with little ones in prams, as I am mentally marking all activities these days as can-do-with-children and cannot-do-with-children.

When we boarded, the skipper/tour guide announced that the late start that day was because the postman had been bitten by a dog (he was fine). The postman being bitten by a dog was a far too amusing story to not believe.

The ride was a half-day cruise, which included brief stops at various islands and settlements along the river where the postman would leave his gifts. The guide gave us a running commentary of information along the way, and we were free to move about the boat.

The largest settlement was Dangar Island (population just under 300). There, a couple of residents came out to meet the postal boat and collected the mail for the island. Some of the other settlements were quite remote villages with only a few houses, one was a camp for kids, and one island we passed was a former mental institution. Many settlers ran their homes on generators or solar and collected rainwater for their water needs. It is, apparently, amazingly expensive to build homes in this area because in many of the locations, building material actually had to be brought in by helicopter.

It is a pretty nice view.

Midway through the day, we were served lunch, which was a decent sandwich plate with actual plates, cutlery and the whole lot. There was even a cash bar onboard (this is Australia, after all). For $1, I purchased a card that was map of the route on one side and their recipe for the ANZAC biscuits served at morning tea on the back. It was too sweet to pass up.

 

Going under the Hawkesbury rail bridge.
It was also garbage day. This is one of the “garbo” boats that collects for the residents.
Lots of sandstone along the Hawkesbury. Sydney’s QVB was built from Hawkesburty sandstone. The one on the left is locally known by the descriptive nickname Boob Rock, or so we were told.

 

Oyster fisherman.

 

One of the rather nice looking settlements. Apparently, you can only get in and out of this  village during certain times of day due to the tides.
The postman making one of his drops.
A local resident and his dog coming out to meet the post. Dog got an ANZAC biscuit treat, apparently his favorite thing. Glad I got the recipe!

We did well with picking a beautiful day weather wise, and I do think that was important to the experience. It’s not an inexpensive adventure at $50 a head, but for the chance to spend the better part of the day on a boat, seeing a part of Australia that is otherwise inaccessible to us (and lunch and a cookie recipe to boot!), it was worth taking the punt and riding along.


If you go…

The Riverboat Postman (operated by Hawkesbury Cruises)
Website
Leaving from Brooklyn Wharf
Weekdays, except public holidays

Departs 10a.m. and returns approximately 1:15p.m.
Adult: $50 / Child (4-14): $15 / Senior: $44
Call ahead to confirm departure time
Bring a hat and sunscreen

 

The Entrance

animals, Sydney Weekend trips 3 Replies
Greetings from vacation, Blogland!

 

It’s not so much my vacation, since I don’t actually have a job to take a vacation from (yet … do you hear me employers of Sydney??); but, Partner-in-Crime wanted to take full advantage of the holiday weekend by securing himself an additional couple of days off from work so that we could trot off to realms more relaxing. We were too slow to book reasonably priced airfare anywhere enticing, so we became set on the objective of securing as much R&R as humanly possible, within driving distance.

 

P-i-C settled on The Entrance, a little town about two hours north of Sydney. The beautiful thing about The Entrance is that it boasts beach on one side and lake on the other, creating a lush and unique ecosystem. Purportedly the name derives from the town being located at the entrance of the lake into the ocean, and is the English translation of the original Aboriginal name.

 

We spent two nights at a tucked way motel, which was nestled on a residential street, and looked frighteningly budget from the front gate. My unhelpful first words when we pulled up were, “did you look this place up on Trip Advisor?”. P-i-C assured me that due diligence had been done, and that we’d be comfortable. In fact, it turned out to be a beautiful little spot, with a great swimming pool, hot tub, grills (which we made use of to cook a delicious steak dinner on Thursday night), and cozy-enough one bedroom apartment style rooms.

 

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Our first night in town was dreary and cold, and the receptionist ominously told us that is was certainly Murphy’s Law, given that we were going into a long weekend, and the weather earlier in the week had been so nice. Murphy or not, we just had to make it through the dreary night, with the forecast looking much more promising by morning.

 

We wandered into town, with nothing else to do but eat dinner, and found the main street ghost-towny, minus the ghouls. No souls, living or dead, appeared to be stirring. One dark haunt after another had us nearly ready to eat KFC (KFC, by the way, has secured a strangely large portion of the fast food market share in this country, an accomplishment that I am at a loss to explain). Thankfully, we found at the end of the block, an Italian restaurant that stayed open to the witching hour (9p.m.). There was an itsy movie theatre, should we have been feeling particularly vampirish after finishing our dinner at the late hour of 8:45, but we found the offerings to be unpromising, so we returned to the hotel for an evening in front of the TV, a rare luxury/sociological study for us, since we don’t have a glowing box of our own at home.

 

As promised, the weather was glorious the next day. We set off by car for grand adventures. After breakfast at a sidewalk cafe, we headed up the main road to see what there was to see. Along the way, we spied tennis courts, which looked to be from a post-apocalyptic film set, and we grabbed our rackets and climbed through the hole in the fence (not kidding) to hit the ball around a bit; which we did fully undisturbed by any local authorities.

 

Following Slumdog Wimbledon, we moseyed off to find sun and surf. We spent the rest of the day strolling a collection of beaches and lake fronts, including:

 

The Entrance North, where surf culture was in full force, particularly marked by a whole lot of tan-bikini/board shorted teens who were inexplicably at the beach at noon on a Thursday.
 
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Photobucket Teenage hoodlum handiwork, but at least toilet paper in the wind makes for an interesting photo.
 
Long Jetty (duly named) …
Photobucket (Credit Partner-in-Crime for this beautiful shot)
… featured a beautiful lake front park, with an inspiring array of wildlife. It reminded me of Florida marshland, that complicated and fragile environment that is hard to love at first sight, until you fully grasp the complexity of the landscape:

 

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Finally, the beach at The Entrance was a rich landscape of volcanic rock formations and pebbly sand. The water near shore was ankle to knee deep and, based on the number of fishermen/women at play, must have been chock full of marine life.
Photobucket (Another Partner-in-Crime original)
The most entertaining part of the trip was the pelican feeding event at Memorial Park, a family-friendly promenade with kid’s water park, playgrounds, and carnival rides. Everyday, a bevy of Australian pelicans arrive on a specially constructed platform for a free-for-all fish flying extravaganza (volunteers toss out a cooler full of fish for the benefit of the birds and the tourists). It may be a bit gimmicky; but mostly it was magical to have the chance to be up close to these incredible, bizarre birds. They were about the size of small children (sorry parents, but is was hilarious to see the birds scare the bejeesus out of a couple of too-bold kiddies on the front row), and they were actually quite graceful when they took to flight.
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Photobucket (Pelican pictures by Partner-in-Crime)
Ah, but they did smell atrociously. I mean, really bad.
We exited The Entrance yesterday morning, with no clear plan; but further adventures have and continue to unfold. More postcards to come …

Port Stephens

national parks, Sydney Weekend trips 1 Reply
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Inspired by a three-day weekend, we strolled out of town three hours north to the seaside town of Port Stephens, which is one of those sweet, touristy areas that excels in laid-back ease and attractive, accessible scenery. The area encompasses several smaller townships which are connected by a series of bays with particularly English sounding names (Anna Bay, Nelson Bay, Tea Gardens. Even the strangely sounding Salamander Bay received its name from the first British ship to land there). Much of the area is also designated land of Tomaree National Park.

 

We arrived too late on Saturday to do much more than enjoy the hot tub at our beautiful lodgings, the Samurai Beach Resort, and take in a good-but-not-great seafood dinner (not enhanced by a surly waitress that we nicknamed “The Warden”) at a restaurant in town that shall remain unnamed.

 

The rest of the weekend brought a spate of bad weather, so we hibernated more than planned, and I did not get to practice surfing, but we did eventually manage to fit in most of the area’s highlights. Late Sunday, after watching several hours of ANZAC Day parades and ceremonies on television in our room, the rain broke and we were greeted by a kookaburra outside the door. We don’t see them at our place in Sydney, so this visitor was a treat.

 

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With a couple hours of sunlight to play with, we went to Tomaree Lookout. It is a moderately easy 30-minute uphill climb that awards hikers with some incredible views of the signature volcanic formations and local beaches. This was the highlight of the trip.

 

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Mother Nature granted us just enough clear weather to grill a dinner of steak and shrimp (prawns to Australians) before the rain returned and chased us back to our room for the rest of the evening.
Monday was windy, cold, and presented the first signs that fall had arrived. I am still wrapping my mind around the idea that May = Fall. Give me a couple more years …
But, there were sights to be seen before we went home, so we intrepid travelers would not be deterred!

 

First up was the strangest and most unexpected formation for a waterfront locale – sand dunes. Just steps from the beach is a desert that, for me, evoked visions of Clint Eastwood suffering dehydration in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

 

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As a matter of tourist kitsch, a company even offers camel rides through the dunes, which provides a paradoxically funny image.

 

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Whipping winds are not the ideal conditions for enjoying sand dunes, so our visit was short, and we skipped the camel rides.

 

From there, we attempted a walk across the Fingal Spit, which is a part of Fingal Bay that is only passable during low tide when this particular strip of land is exposed. The tourist information clerk ominously advised us about the dangers of attempting passage at any time other than low tide, including warnings of potential death and the suggestion that if the water began to rise before we returned to mainland, we’d best stay put for the next twelve hours. We arrived at the advised time, but found the unpleasant wind a continued deterrence. We trudged to the middle of the spit, which looked in no way dramatic or life endangering.

 

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My partner had enthusiastically imagined a more “walk on water” miraculous sort of experience, so this walk seemed a bit anticlimactic (and cold). If gold and treasure awaited on the other side, I cannot say, because we opted for warmth over adventure, and went back to the car.

 

One more view awaited, the Gan Gan Lookout, which is thankfully accessible by car. Surprisingly, we had the view to ourselves and we indulged in a good share of “oohs” and “aahs” from this beautiful spot.

 

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We had one more important stop to make before heading home, and that was the picturesque fishing wharf at Nelson Bay, where we at an enormous lunch of fish and chips at Bub’s Fish and Chips. This seafood was so fresh and well prepared – it was heads and tails (fins and tails?) above our recent lunch at the Sydney Fish Market. Scallops, calamari, and shrimp were easily identifiable, but we weren’t sure what the delicious, buttery whitefish we were eating was. “Shark,” replied the saucy, no-nonsense counter attendant, in a tone that assured she was definitely not joking. Good catch, Bub’s.

 

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From there, we contentedly idled home, wind-whipped and full of batter fried shark.

The Blue Mountains

national parks, Sydney Weekend trips 1 Reply

A couple weeks ago, we took a trip out of town to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. I knew of the Blue Mountains from the extensive homework I did before coming to Australia (i.e.: from watching Globe Trekker Sydney), so I was armed with the trivial knowledge that the Blue Mountains are blue from the evaporating eucalyptus oil in the air.

We’d planned to use this spot as the stopping point between home and some Shakespeare in the park we’d read about, but after having one painful outdoor Shakespeare experience already that week, we easily talked each other out of a second and decided, instead, to just stay in Katoomba.

I found Katoomba to be remarkable in its striking similarity to every other sweet, quiet, touristy mountain hamlet I’ve ever been to anywhere in the world. By saying that, I in no way mean to cast aspersions upon Katoomba. It was simply a surprise to find Down Under that cozy familiarity of artsy shops and coffee houses lining a few hilly streets that are sparsely populated by broomstick-skirted-Ugg-booted-long-haired women and their scraggly-bearded-plaid-shirt-adorned-kindly-looking male partners.katoomba1

 

Upon the recommendation of another American tourist, we booked a room at the so-sweet English style Lurline House. We were treated to tea and cake at check in and the room “had me” at four poster bed. The breakfast was large and delicious and the staff was friendly.katoomba2

Since we no longer had Shakespearean evening plans, we wandered around town looking for an adventure. We arrived on the final night of a folk festival and I was just a bit disappointed to see that I’d missed out on seeing Nanci Griffith. The ticket prices were steep at about $90, given that we’d only be there for a few hours, so we passed on crashing that party. We settled on dinner at a Swiss restaurant, where we had a raclette for two for $54. Thank you Swiss people, for inventing a dish comprised nearly exclusively of melted cheese on potatoes. We brought our own wine, so the dinner turned out to be pretty reasonable, and the ambiance was easygoing and charming.

After dinner, we wandered up the street to an intriguing looking restaurant/coffee shop called Common Ground. It was packed with recent folk festival-goers, and the harried owner suggested that it would be a long wait, but we found a corner to curl up on and drink tea and hot chocolate. We picked up some flyers near the cash register and discovered that the place is run and staffed by a small Messianic group called The Twelve Tribes.

By that point, we’d fairly well exhausted the evening adventure possibilities in Katoomba, so we settled in at Lurline, after a lively chat with some middle-aged, folk-loving Sydneysiders/fellow guests who chatted with us about the differences between Australia and the U.S., in terms of economy, social structures, and so forth.

The next day, after breakfast, we set off down the street for Echo Point, where the mission was to see the much talked about Three Sisters rock formation and do some hiking. The lookout point was crowded with tourists, including a group of young American students, who we knew immediately by their rowdiness, were not Australian. Sometimes it is good to have a reminder that one is always representing one’s country when one travels abroad. There was also a fully decked out Aboriginal man playing the didgeridoo for tips, and who took smoke breaks where he talked to tourists about traffic and playing the trumpet.

The Three Sisters are an unmistakable sight:katoomba3

From Echo Point, we proceeded on an hour-long hike through the Blue Mountains National Park. We did not see any animals, save for birds, but did encounter some striking mountain views and some interesting flora and fauna.

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From across the gorge, we took the option of returning to Echo Point via sky cable car, which crosses the terrain at heaven only knows how many feet in air. A glass bottom affords some amazing views of Katoomba Falls and the vast rain forest, below.

Back at Echo Point, we took one more short hike down a steep staircase that leads onto one of the Three Sisters (which sister it is, I cannot say, but I’m sure she’s the prettiest).

View from a Sister:katoomba5

This staircase, called the Grand Staircase, affords the opportunity to descend 1,000 steps, but then one must also come back, and that is for the much more fit than myself. Returning from our Sister Stopping Point just 75 or so steps down was enough of a cardiovascular workout for me.

On the way out of town, we stopped and paid another visit to our Messianic friends at Common Ground, where they were still busy. We split vegetarian nachos and a sandwich. It was one of the best lunches I can recall. It’s no wonder they remain so crowded.

The proprietor at our B&B mentioned that the most popular season for the Blue Mountains is July because Sydneysiders like to get out of town for some Alpine style winter wonderland. What a funny concept.

Summer is coming up soon. And by Summer, of course, I mean Winter.

Trip To Jervis Bay: Or, the Time We Saw Sand Whiter Than in Florida

Jervis Bay, national parks, Sydney Weekend trips Leave a reply
Draw a circle around Sydney for places that one could reasonably drive to for a weekend escape, and the possibilities are daunting. We toyed with visiting places with names like Kangaroo Valley, Shoalhaven, and the Aboriginal equivalent of Beautiful Vista or somesuch. We were eventually won over by a dot on the map called Jervis Bay, which promised both a coastal drive and a beautiful, quiet beach. What a fortuitous choice that dot turned out to be.

 

The drive to Jervis Bay took about three hours, perhaps longer than necessary because we detoured off Highway 1 in favor of the prettier Pacific Coast Drive.

 

Upon checking into our hotel, we were greeted by our hotelier who offered us a 30 minute, fully rehearsed, lecture on all that Jervis Bay has to offer. I mean all… Five minutes were dedicated to the local Bi-Lo grocery (which is the largest Bi-Lo in the area and was once open 24-hours, but now only 7 – 10, and attracts residents from miles away, drawing record queues …). My partner in fact, spent considerable effort for the rest of the trip quizzing unsuspecting Bi-Lo employees about whether these facts about the awesomeness of their place of employment were, indeed, true.

 

Besides the discursive field trips on grocery stores and other titillating topics, our august host did provide us with some useful information, such as the suggestion to eat dinner at the delicious Stonegrill, where to find kangaroos, and which beaches offer the most stunning views (or, as he said, most people can only say two things at Jervis Bay. One begins with an F. The other begins with an S. Both have 4 letters.).

 

On our first night, we set out to see Hyams Beach, which we were instructed, is honored with the title of Whitest Sand in the World. We did mention that we came from Florida, where we had very white beaches, which was met with considerable consternation and gnashing of teeth from our proud hotelier. We had, rest assured, come to a beach whiter than ours. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my spectrometer, but I can attest that the sand did look rather white. Even more striking was the clarity of the water and the postcard-worthy Pacific Blue hue. We were appropriately awed.

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After the beach, we did what any good American tourists do, and set off in search of the mythical kangaroo. We spied some lallygagging on an open field and careened off onto a dirt road to get a closer look. We ended up in the courtyard of a rental property, where the proprietor and his golden lab curiously came out to enquire about our presence. As is the way with Australians, this was not a suspicious or angry confrontation, but a jovial tete-a-tete in which he told us all about his rental properties in the area, the habits of kangaroos, and where we might go to rent bikes and kayaks to enhance our enjoyment of the Bay. Australians, in general, are exceedingly outgoing and genuine.

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We spent the next day at Booderee National Park. It is a little park, in comparison to the expansive Western ones we’ve come to love in the States, but still grand in scope of experience. The best spots we found included the beautiful Murray’s Beach. Again, postcard material. I had a swim in the opalescent water until I got a bit spooked by a nearby jellyfish the size of a dinner plate.

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We were surprised to be the only people at the lighthouse, which offered the most breathtaking views yet seen in Australia. We often compare our sightseeing to how it measures up to our “Perfect 10,” Glacier Park, and this was certainly a solid 9.5 view, complete with the dramatic cliffs, crashing waves, and nearly-neon blue water. We expect to come back later in the year to see whales, on their migratory route, from this spot.jervisbay5

At dusk, we visited Green Patch Beach, on the lookout for the holy grail of tourist sightseeing, kangaroos frolicking in the water. We did see kangaroos (actually, there was some discussion by passing parents and children as to the kangarooness vs. wallabieness of the animals, and we Americans are certainly not qualified to weigh in), but alas, they only frolicked on land. There were also parrots and a number of other birds. The scenery was nothing to complain about:

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Our final day included a stop at the curious Moona Moona Creek, which doubled as a dog park, family beach, and volcanic rock formation spectacular.

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We rented bikes for a quick tool around the town of Huskisson, which hosts a friendly bike trail, and concluded with the determination that we must invest in our own bikes and camping gear for more Australian excursions. We got the feeling that we’d “discovered” the wonder of Jervis Bay, and will certainly be back for more exploration of this dazzling nook.