Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Amazing Australia: Part Five Touring with “The Kids”

 

We know Dani and Al are responsible adults but when two couples, thirty years their senior, travel together, we naturally refer to them as “the kids”.  They had organized a week of travel, incredible meals and hikes plus booked two fabulous residences to lounge in.  Once again we we able to observe the lush green countryside, rough hewn mountain cliffs and caves, acres of farmland and forests from the comfort of our vehicles.  We took turns switching places during the trip so that we could benefit from Al and Dani’s tour guide’ expertise.  It made me think of the school dances when some one yelled “snowball” where we were, horrifyingly, supposed to switch dance partners.  In this case, changing cars and passengers was quite fun.

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We stopped at for a picnic lunch at Ebor Falls in Gumbaynggirr National Park.  As we dined beneath the gum trees, a Kookaburra entertained us a few feet away, scouring the ground for grubs and posing for close ups on a low branch.  Paved pathways, fringed with wildflowers, lead along the top of the gorge where a glimpse of the upper falls could be seen through the trees.  As we hiked closer, a second waterfall below the first appeared with its liquid veil descending softly into the Guy Fawkes River below. The 115 meter drop of the upper falls and the 6oo meter lower, surrounded by sculptural basalt rock escarpment, is nothing but inspirational.

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Outside the small town of Dorrigo was The Steam Railway and Train Museum with a most magnificent collection of Old Engines!  Protected by a fence, the Iron Maidens were out of reach to explore close-up as the museum is not open to the public yet.  The trains date back to 1855.  The engines were all coated in black soot and from a distance, they appeared like an unearthly beast crawling across the jade-green lawn.  The pitch-coloured engines and layers of peeling paint on the passenger carriages were prime photo subjects and increased the heart rate of the train buff in our group tenfold. Dorrigo is located in The Northern Tablelands of  North N.S.W.

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                                                                                    Playing with Picassa.

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We drove on past the quaint town of Berringen into the lush woods and foliage of the rain forest.  We strained our ears out the car window to hear the Bell Birds that reside in a small section of the woods.  Their call sounds like the soft tinkling  jingle bells, so cool!  As we meandered deeper into the woods, we passed huge stands of bamboo, palm trees, masses of purple and red flowers blanketing the bushes and unique  homes all designed with an enviro-artistic sensibility.

We were awe-struck when we entered the lane to the retreat that Dani had booked for us.  Nestled amongst fruit trees, exotic palms, fragrant blossoms and perched on a small hill looking over the river, sat our huge, open-concept chalet.  We had some time before sunset to explore our lush setting and photograph the incredible colours and textures of the sights around us.  The huge porch held Dani and Al’s outdoor romantic bed, provided a place to do yoga and relax with coffee in the mornings and evenings with a beverage.  Lots of laughs were shared over breakfast and dinners at the rustic dining table with its great views of the nature around us. The bathroom held the Awe Factor with its stunning claw foot bathtub surrounded by glass walls creating the feeling that you were bathing outside.  Walking trails on the property led to the herb garden, Bamboo stands, floral surprises and the river where brave Al chilled out.  A platypus lives close but unfortunately we never spotted him.  The vegetation was so tall and majestic and the air was dense with the heady scent of tropical flowers.  The forest echoed with bird and frog calls at night that had us wondering if we were actually in an exotic film somewhere with Dr. Livingston, I presume?

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                                      Dining room doubled as a laundry room for those who pack light.

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On our way to our hike for the day we stopped in Berringen for coffee and a few groceries.  The old town’s buildings have been lovingly restored by its new-age hippy residents.  There is a palpable sense of small town community there and delightful people-watching, where clothing has been carefully chosen not to match; love beads and patchouli oil are still in style and the latest food and health trends are promoted and embraced… make that gluten-free please.

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Our perfect day continued as we hiked through the trails in Gumbaynggirr National Park where aboriginal peoples have resided for thousands of years.  A lofty lookout platform supplied us with a view of the treed valley and Great Dividing Range.  The play of the clouds’ shadows gliding across the mountains was a hypnotic view that could be used as meditation.  A sliver of dark blue on the horizon was The Pacific Ocean where we’d be on the next leg of our journey.  We learned that a type of tree leach that can drop from the foliage in the rain forest and latch on to mammals below, oh yes, we are in Australia.

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                                                                                A rose between two thorns?

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                                                                         A selfie with Dani and Al.

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                                                                       Eat your heart out Tarzan!

The appetite we worked up on our hike was satiated at the Butter Factory Restaurant where we ate outdoors on a gorgeous patio.  With our close proximity to the ocean, fresh seafood was the feature of the menu.  The restored 19th c. heritage building also held a few shops and a gallery as well as a sculpture garden featuring altered  machinery from the original factory.

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Back in our ‘Rain Forest Retreat’ we enjoyed drinks on the deck as the sun set, a home cooked meal and merriment by candlelight.  In the morning, we took one last stroll in ‘paradise, being mindful of the snakes and other wildlife’(as suggested in the handbook for cabin guests, ha ha) and headed for the coast!

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Managed a stroll out to The Pacific before a huge storm cloud soaked our fun.  Huddled under a picnic shelter where we devoured our soggy sandwiches and headed to the cars to dry out.  We arrived at our Nelson’s Bay ocean-side condo, early evening.  The modern, clean-line décor was the total opposite of our rain forest cabin.  The balcony wrapped around providing great views of the Bay, sailboats, mountains and sky as well as the Rainbow Lorikeets that visited each morning.

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We embraced the fact that rains would be with us during our coastal visit as we breakfasted on the porch watching the charcoal storm clouds roll towards us.  That did not deter our plans to hike up the Tomaree Head just outside of  Nelson’s Bay. As we began our ascent, the sun lit up the surf and turned the bay to cobalt blue.  The foliage and plant life were intriguing as were the remnants of a war-time radar station.  The sun played hide and seek with us allowing a thorough drenching part way up the path, leaving our view shrouded in fog and later refreshing the colours of the sea, rocks and beach.  The scary surf pounded the shore leaving my favourite beach ‘still lives’ featuring seaweed and pumice stones as well as a few bird remains from the many thousands of migrating flocks that follow that route.  Hey, here’s a good trick for this particular beach: find the largest ‘featherweight’ pumice stone you can find, pretend that it is really heavy and throw it to your friend to catch!  Ha Ha!

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We headed into Nelson’s Bay where we window shopped and checked out the marina and docks.  We all picked  our favourite boat that we’d take if  the owner wanted to give it away. PS: no one did!  In the clear waters we could see many fish who were staying away from the Pelican flock near the seafood restaurant.  Because it was Easter week, there was no shortage of bunnies, chocolate eggs and hot cross buns in the shops.  Although we all fervidly searched, no mermaids were sighted.

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After lunch at the condo, we packed our bags for a daybreak departure.  We sipped cocktails on the balcony as night’s curtain was drawn.  By chance, there was a partial eclipse of the moon which we were able to enjoy.  After a short drove to  nearby seafood restaurant Little Beach Boathouse our group enjoyed our final fabulous fish feast before heading back inland in the morning.

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Once again our road trip was punctuated with showers of rain and sun.  We stopped at Murray’s Craft Brewing Company where a number of  lagers, ales and stouts were sampled.  The generous tastings left us wobbly legged and rosy cheeked;  a perfect preparation for our fabulous lunch.  The “girls” nibbled soft shell crab and the “boys” devoured wagu beef.  The walls are decorated with fabulous beer posters and the picture windows looked out on the treed grounds where beer making machinery of old endure as sculptures.  What a fun place!

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                                      Mike, Al, and Chris are not always subtle when they get thirsty!!!

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                               And if you don’t like beer, you can always have cake and ice cream instead.

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We arrived back in the Hunter Valley where we would spend the last days of our vacation at Patinack Farm. Bad luck had hit the garage-freezer where the dog’s meat gets stored.  The door had come ajar and a thousand flies and their soon to be offspring had settled in.  Dani donned her hazmat suit and went to work on the cleanup.  We stayed inside and pretended that nothing had happened and voted her  “The hostess with the mostess”.

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                                                                          Ten minutes from the farm.

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We filled our last days in Australia with daily hikes on and around the farm, olive oil and balsamic vinegar tastings at the Pukara Estate, wine tasting combined with antipasto plates at the Twin Rivers Winery, shopping in the wee local town of Denman and dining at Dani and Al’s favourite restaurant, Muse, where the food, drink and décor is exquisite. 

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Muse Fine Dining is located in the gardens of the Keith Tulloch Vineyards and Winery, Hunter Valley.

Easter at home was a full day celebration with traditional dyed eggs and soldiers (toast sticks) for breakfast; a gorgeous feast for lunch and a hike to the river to make room for more chocolate eggs.  Thanks again for everything Dani and Al!

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We bade our adieu in the morning and drove to Sydney where we hoteled overnight beside the airport for our behemoth flights at daybreak.  If Australia is not on your “Wanna Go There” list already…add it now!

 

Fabulous Family Facts

Dani and Al visited Canada in July.   Al proposed to Dani in a romantic setting: at sunset on the dock beside a mirrored lake in Ontario’s cottage country where fireflies twinkled in the woods.  They will be married next July with celebrations in Canada and Australia.  Dot, Al’s Mom, will be in Ontario once again!  Liz and Curt will finally visit us here.  Al and Dani also visited Boston and Vancouver before heading home.

In Boston, Liz, Al’s sister, took a series of engagement photos of the joyous couple.  Liz is a fabulous photographer.  Check out her website to see more wonderful images: http://www.threetwelvephotography.com/312-photography/

 

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