Sunday, 8 September 2013

Checkin’ Out the Neighbourhood

 

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Woke up to the blaring screeches of  Carellas, a parrot-like bird whose call can peel wallpaper. After a leisurely bath and breakfast, I headed with Danielle out to explore the Hunter Valley. We stopped for lunch at the beautiful Hunter Belle Cheese and Fudge Factory. In their sunny café I ate my first Australian lamb inside a tasty wrap. We shared a fudge sampler with our lattes for dessert, how decadent!

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Danielle is a dedicated foodie and fabulous cook. I had fun on my first shop in Woolworth’s Grocery Store, picking up supplies for dinner and “sightseeing” the shelves. Some of the more interesting items were the fresh cat and dog food, coke or strawberry flavoured raisins,  kangaroo meat, frozen chicken-breast nibbles and square crumpets!

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Back on the farm, I had a much needed nap to quell my jetlag while Dani made a fabulous Tamale Pie dinner. After a walk with the dogs, we drove three minutes down the  road where we watched 40-50 kangaroos grazing in the horse paddocks. Wooo Hoooo Rooos!! Is that not number one on anyone’s trip list to Australia? Dani has both weeks off work while Al has to work the first one. Our relaxing evenings around the woodstove was a special time to laugh and catch up with each other.

On our morning walk with the dogs, I observed the post-flooding shoreline. The spring floods in the area can bring raging waters that rearrange the valley and cause havoc on the roads and across the fields. We watched a huge hawk, twice the size of Ontario’s common red-tail, coasting above  flocks of ranting Carellas. A couple of white cockatoo flew by and landed high in a tree. I had to remind myself that they were indeed local fowl and had not recently escaped from a pet store. A flock of cranes passes over the farm regularly and can be seen feeding at the edge of a roadside pond.

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Dani drove me to the second largest Stud Farm in the world: “Darley”. We drove past the hundreds of acres of paddocks, foal birthing areas, weather shelters, barns, gorgeous homes for the managers and workers complete with spectacular landscaping and flowers. Sprinklers were busy keeping the pastures green and small rainbows bounced off their gentle spray. These properties are self contained and have their own electricians, plumbers, gardeners, technicians, stable persons and of course managers, nurses and vets. The entire farm is sectioned off and bounded by millions of dollars worth of fencing. Ontario’s largest equestrian farm would fit into a quarter of  Darley. Impressive!

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Often, bush fires can be seen in the hills. They are set and controlled as a natural part of forest management.

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Denman is the closest small town to the farm. It has been built and rebuilt after fire and floods. Australia’s climate takes its toll. We sipped cappuccino on the pretty patio of Chocolate Hills, a cute wee café and bakery. Back home, I had a shorter nap, finally catching up to Australian time. Dani and I mucked about in the kitchen; while I baked bread, she prepared a gorgeous salmon  and quinoa salad dinner.

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The next day we headed back to Denman where Dani and I had our nails painted with shellac in an upscale salon. This was an early Mother’s Day gift for me. Next, we headed into the countryside to “Two Rivers Winery”. The day was gorgeous and the crazy clouds framed the vineyards beside the patio and mountains in the distance. We shared an amazing lunch plate piled with local figs, cheeses and olives as we sipped chilled un-oaked Chardonnay. The vineyard dog performed many cute moves beside our table  to acquire scraps but we resisted. He also followed us on our stroll through the rows of furled, red-tinged grape leaves and fallen grapes that had escapeded the harvest and that now slowly turned into raisins under the vines. We completed our visit with a wine tasting and carried out a couple of bottles to enjoy with dinner. Australia’s fame for great wine is no myth!

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Back at Patinack Farm in the afternoon, we visited a couple of Dani’s friends/co-workers. One couple, are animal crazy and have dogs, cats, birds, fish and sheep. Matt and Sally toured us around their farm where we viewed the lorikeets, a small rainbow parrot; patted their four dogs and chased the sheep around their paddock. They had some beautiful passion fruit growing in their yard just coming into ripeness.

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We had tea and a visit with Alexis and Simon and their two adorable children Angus and Sienna. Alexis related the story of her arrival home that afternoon with the kids from school. On the back porch close to the door to their farmhouse, was their cat “playing with” a brown snake. These deadly serpents can cause death to recipients of their vicious bite. Luckily, Alexis was able to disable the snake (forever) and once again capture a teaching moment to warn her young children about the dangers of Australia’s snakes. Danielle administered a needle to the cat whose temperament was dazed and eyes were large and glossy. The cat must have only been grazed by the snake’s fangs for she lived overnight and was totally fine in the morning. The photo shows Sienna improving Danielle’s fashion by tying a bow in her scarf.

I was so pleased to meet and spend time with Dani’s friends. That was the best part of the trip, enjoying time with my daughter and watching her go about her adult life! Giving her a hug each morning and before bed was a highlight as well. When we got home, Danielle baked an amazing soda bread to dip in our homemade stew.

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After dinner, Al, Dani, Salty, Rudy and I went out for a night walk. Salty sped off after a fox as he loves to do on his evening walks. The air was fragrant with damp grass, hay and a few withering wild roses. As Danielle and Al shone their headlights into the paddocks we could see shadowy silhouettes of the horses with bizarre golden-red eyes glowing back at us. I did not know, until then, that horses’ eyes are like a cat or dog with a tapetal reflection. I suppose that all animals’ eyes are that way, I never really thought about it before.

The night sky was crammed with stars and it was thrilling to look at Constellations of the Southern Hemisphere!  Al’s IPhone App let us identify the ancient clusters of stars that formed creatures,  goddesses and heroes out in the blackness. I suddenly realized that the shadow of the earth on the moon is on the opposite side to the Northern Hemisphere. I was in Oz after all! I will treasure the splendour and magic of that night and that sky forever.

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