Darwin dream baby

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The sea, the sky!

 

 July 2018: a wonderful time of year in Darwin when the days were endlessly sunny and it wasn’t too hot and humid. When there was nothing much nicer than floating around beside the Arafura Sea in one of Australia’s most scenic swimming pools or savouring fresh barramundi and chips on an evening picnic,  as you watched the sun sink in a fiery ball into the sea.

July 2018: and we could finally go to the famous or ‘infamous’ Beer Can Regatta which is held each year on Mindil Beach. We discovered that there was a special protocol which needed to be followed for building and propelling your hand made, beer can vessel.

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Gives a whole new perspective to recycling !

And as well as the main race, the Battle of Mindil,  there were lots of other events to keep those camera phones busy: people watching,  kayak races, tug of war,  an Iron Person competition, Thong Throwing (only in Australia!) and the  Henley on Mindil.

 

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So entertaining!
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Despite the heat, unlike the swimmers behind me, this was as far as my toes went into the water.  I wasn’t convinced that the irukandji jellyfish knew that they were supposed to be taking a holiday away from Mindil Beach

As well as the formal programme, there were lots of entertainment for young and old alike and fabulous stalls to explore at the market.

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Didj players
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and a really cute puppet show among many other acts.

 

July 2018: when we were able to witness a  fabulous star gazing event, a blood red moon caused by the longest, total eclipse this century and accompanied by Mars, which was at it’s brightest and closest for 15 years.

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Obviously, the moon didn’t appear this big to the naked eye, but it was still very impressive. Did you, like me get up early to watch it in the early dawn?

And  most importantly at  11 pm  on the 26th July, 2018, our Darwin Dream baby arrived.

After a delay of a week or two, Ilyssia Claire Black finally made her way into the world following an emergency Caesaraen section and she was just so beautiful!

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That was all a bit much, Mum. Think I’ll just  rest for a bit!

It has been one of the joys in life for Kenn and I to witness each of our children welcoming their own little miracles into the world. Words and images can’t really capture that extraordinary depth of feeling as you experience so many firsts.

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That first sleep on Mummy’s tummy

 

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That first sleep with daddy
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That first meeting with her canine protector, Hannibal.

 

And even though I can see Reece, her father looking out at me, gazing at her asleep takes me back to when Lyndsay was a wee little baby.

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Lyndsay was a little older, perhaps three months old.

Alas, all too soon it was time to share her with other members of the family and we had to fly home to Byron to prepare for our trip to China. But I wasn’t too sad as I had already booked my return ticket to Darwin for a catch up visit.

Early September, and it was feeling a little like deja vu, as I traveled to Brisbane to catch a flight to Darwin. Lys was now 6 weeks old and Lyndsay was finally able to get out and about.

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This is the life, a cruise along the Foreshore and a nap while Mum and Nanna enjoy dinner at the Pop-up Pizza restaurant. Looks yum!
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did we really eat all that by ourselves?

Ilyssia has already become a cafe aficionado. She enjoys acai berries and matcha tea lattes! She is such a good baby: just feeds, sleeps and gurgles. Lyndsay  looked quite rested for a new mum as well. Lys has obviously decided that she’s not a party animal yet. Sleeping for 5 to 6 hours at a stretch through the night, she is being very considerate of her parents.

Luckily for us, four weeks later, Lyndsay had to attend a conference of the Gold Coast and present a paper as part of her PHD and she asked if Kenn and I would like to babysit Ilyssia between sessions. Of course we jumped at the opportunity to spend more time with our Darwin baby. We were staying at Broadbeach, within 5 mins walk from the Crown Casino where the conference was being held. There we went for long walks with Lys along the beachfront.

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Even though it was a little cloudy, the weather agreed with this beach babe.
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And made for very atmospheric skies

A couple of times, Lyndsay was able to join us and we would explore further afield. One such place was the Cascade Gardens. Snuggled close to Mum, Lys  took in the sights.

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I’m just a wee bit squished
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The gardens back onto the canals and are a lovely picnic spot
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And we noticed that there was a Vietnam memorial there .

 

Following the conference, Lyndsay and Lys were able to spend a couple of days in Byron and meet her cousin Hudson. Huddy didn’t really want to share his mummy with Ilyssia but did think Lys was very special, especially when she came on a beach walk with him.

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This is such fun! Soon you’ll be running like me, Ilyssia!
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Even when it’s windy, Byron doesn’t disappoint.

Far too soon, it was time for Lyndsay and Ilyssia to fly home but not before Lys had filled our home with smiles.

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I wonder what she’s thinking?

 

As with our other wonderfully unique and special grandchildren: Genevieve, Francesca and Hudson, little Ilyssia fills our lives with love and hope, such precious gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

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Medieval Magic at the Art Gallery of NSW

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This weekend, the wonderful The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW finishes.  Kenn and I were lucky enough to be able to visit while we were in Sydney for the Vivid Festival a week or so ago.  These tapestries are revered as a national treasure in France and it is only the third time the tapestries has left France in 500 years, thanks to  a fabulous loan from the collection of the Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris. 

We chose to visit in the early afternoon which allowed us time for a leisurely walk to the ferry along the Middle Harbour and Fairlight foreshores.   It’s a short walk from Circular Quay to the Art Gallery and before we knew it, we had purchased tickets and were making our way through the exhibition.

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Welcoming visitors with music!

 I love how galleries make exhibitions so interactive. There were weaving workshops where visitors could begin to understand the incredible skill and complexity of these medieval works of art by trying their hand at weaving as well as  an audio visual presentation providing a deeper insight into the history, preservation and interpretations of  the tapestries.

But it was of course the tapestries themselves which were so wonderful. Each one was the size of a room and the detail was mind blowing when one considers that these works of art were created by medieval human hands. Not on a  computerised industrial loom!

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The colours were so rich and the detail so intricate.

It was possible to sit and view the tapestries from a distance and also get up quite close. They allowed personal photography as well so Kenn and I had fun with our phones. I found the details within the tapestries themselves captivating, from the animals and flowers to the different dresses and jewelry the Lady wears in each tapestry. And who doesn’t love a unicorn?

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And how cute is this little dog, not to mention the detail on her skirt. I can’t believe that this was actually woven!
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And the unicorns had different expressions on each tapestry.  And the little animals that were dotted here and there like the bunnies were so cute!

Having looked our fill, it was time for a late lunch. As we exited, beautiful scents  wafted over  from somewhere over in the corner and we decided that this would be our lunch destination. No wonder it smelt so good, we found ourselves seated at harbour view table for two in a Matt Moran restaurant!

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Service and food were exemplary.  The menu is based on his dishes made famous from Aria. An unexpected bonus to an already wonderful afternoon.

We finished our visit to the Art Gallery with a quick runaround the free exhibits.  I enjoyed this exhibition just as much but in a different way to the exhibition I attended when the Book of Kells came to Australia.  Thanks to  ‘Game of Thrones’,  many now associate medieval times with political intrigue, violence, superstition and fantastical, fire breathing dragons but artistic masterpieces like these tapestries, tell us there was something more, something more poetic and gentle.

I heard on the news the other day,  that the travelling King Tut exhibition is coming to Sydney before returning to Egypt. Another world treasure to look forward to! Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

 

Vivid at Taronga Zoo

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Turtles swimming above us

 The Vivid Festival is on in Sydney and will run until the 16th June. Like so many others, Kenn and I traveled to Sydney last weekend  to wonder at the wonderful outdoor lighting sculptures and installations that surround the harbour. Coincidentally, there  was also an exhibition of Medieval French Tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn, at the Art Gallery that we’d been wanting to see and best of all, we had some quality time with our beautiful little grand-daughters, Genevieve  and Francesca.

Although generally the weather could have been better, we did have one beautiful sunny winter’s day. Kenn and I spent the morning with Genevieve revisiting favourite haunts: the train park down the road, a bushwalk down to Forty Baskets on the harbour and the playground at Middle Harbour Reserve.  It was such a beautiful day that you just knew something wonderful was going to happen and it did. Opposite the playground at Middle Harbour reserve is a delightful cafe: Forty Beans. It had been a hot and thirsty morning trekking uphill and down dale not to mention the upper arm workout one gets from pushing an enthusiastic 3 year old on the swings. I eyed off an inviting table nestled in the sunshine.

“Genevieve would you like  to visit the cafe for some morning tea and a babyccino?”

“That sounds delicious,” she replied.

So hand in hand, Kenn, Genevieve and I walked across and snared our sunshiny table. Drinks ordered, we made ourselves comfy and looked around.  There, lying right in front of us, was the loveliest, most gentle Malumute.  He  was so, so big yet so, so quiet. He had found himself a shady spot and was patiently waiting for his designated human to finish her coffee.  We were captivated.

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Titus’ owner helped Genevieve to pat him and say hello and chat. Such a beautiful moment.

All too soon, it was nap time for Genevieve and ferry time for us.

Following the foreshore path along Fairlight Beach, we reached the ferry with two minutes to spare. Perfect timing I thought.  We spent a delightful afternoon at the Art Gallery ( will share soon in my next post) before exploring the Vivid installations around Circular Quay, all of which are free. While the installations on the major buildings are spectacular, I particularly liked the installations in the Botanic Gardens which we accessed from the Opera House gate. You can wander through a light forest, watch a  lagoon awash with tiny twinkling lights that resemble thousands of tiny glow worms or see images of some of the world’s most famous floral artworks projected onto easels in an enclosed garden just to mention a few. And all the while, the gentle sounds of the harbour and the twinkling lights of the city surround you.

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incredible trees
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the lagoon awash with lights

 

But the best was yet to come. Christian and Kelly had organised for us to go to Vivid at the Zoo on Saturday night. As the time drew closer I was a little concerned as the weather was looking decidedly dodgy: very cold, rainy and windy.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained so rugged up like Eskimos (I was wearing more layers than an onion) and armed with umbrellas, we set off.  Much to my relief, the wind dropped and the rain ceased and the wonder of the night unfolded before us.

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We entered under a canopy of lights with turtles swimming overhead.

There is a designated circuit that you follow and it was a surreal experience to wander along  familiar paths being delighted by the light sculptures knowing that just beyond the light, in the darkness, the animals were sleeping or maybe watching us. I loved how around each bend there was another surprise: sometimes in the trees, sometimes beside us, sometimes in front of us.

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Yes, we are watching you!
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This was definitely a tiger burning bright
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in the forest of the night.
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The sculptures also remind us of endangered creatures
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like this magnificent rhinoceros

 

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While the detailing is  intricate and beautiful, the sense of menace remained

And here and there, as you wander down the path before climbing to the entrance, there are views across the laser-lit harbour to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Of course this was difficult to capture on a mobile phone but hopefully, this pic gives you an inkling of the vista.

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Nor were the birds and insects ignored.  These are a couple that particularly caught our eye.

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He looks ready for a chat
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They captured the gossamer wings I think but thank goodness we don’t have insects this big!!!

And the way our Australian animals were re-imagined was truly magical.

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Isn’t the little devil cub cute?
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And I love the aboriginal art work here
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The echidnas were animated. Their tongues flicked in and out eating the ants.
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Anyone for a swimming platypus  suspended above a river garden?

And of course the creatures of the sea: from sea horses and turtles to a huge shark that we exited through.

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I decided that this was a girl sea horse: so pretty in pink
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Turtle mania
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At the end, you exit through the belly of a shark
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The exterior view of this giant installation! So impressive. What a final memory.

Vivid at the Zoo is not free but is well worth the price of admission. I can only show you a snippet of what there is to see and hopefully you might get the opportunity to go and experience Vivid at the Zoo for yourself.  And as well as the installations, we loved seeing the look of delight on the faces that surrounded us from little ones to the elderly. There is something very uplifting about being in such a throng of really happy and enchanted people.

There were plenty of public transport options but we decided to drive and there was enough parking at the zoo. If you felt like it, there were plenty of food and drink outlets as well.

I cannot recommend this experience highly enough and can’t wait to go back next year.

PS:  A special thank you to Kenn for letting me share his lovely photos with you all.

 

 

 

 

Sunflower Magic at ‘The Farm’, Byron Bay

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A touch of the South of France in Byron Bay

Visiting ‘The Farm’ at Ewingsdale is always a delight. Not only is it a working farm but it features an award winning restaurant where the food is sourced from the local community, much of it being grown in the paddocks that surround the restaurant hub, a bakery, a nursery and organic whole foods market.

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A very relaxed vibe permeates the Farm

Children are really catered for as there is plenty of space to run around and explore, animals to see and a wonderful playground.

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The slippery dip is quite steep, so those with younger children would have to be careful.

But at the moment, there is something really special to see. The people at ‘The Farm’ have created a simple maze through their sunflower field which is in full bloom.

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The bees were in heaven

Huddy was keen for an adventure especially when I  promised him a cupcake from the bakery for morning tea! The holiday season has abated so parking wasn’t a hassle and soon with cupcake safely devoured, we set off to explore the maze.

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The path was particularly muddy, so Huddy decided he would like an elevated view of the sunflowers

It was so beautiful. I was almost in a Van Gogh painting.

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I love the pollen on the leaves, looks like gold dust.

The path winds here and there and then emerges beside the vegetable gardens and the chicken pens.

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had fun trying to identify some of the veggies
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Very fat, happy chooks
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There were some baby chickens which Huddy particularly liked. I thought they were super cute too.

A run on the lawn and a play on the slippery dip and it was home time.

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A lovely view of the Byron Hinterland from the lawn

I hope if you’re able that you’ll be able to tip toe through the sunflowers like we did.

 

 

Riding Byron Bay’s Solar Train

Did you know that Byron Bay now has the world’s first fully solar train? Although the train launched on the 16th December last year, we hadn’t taken a ride until just before Easter, a couple of  weeks ago.

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Solar panels look so cool on the old red ‘rattler’ train that I remember riding when I was young.

As departure times and fares can vary with the season, you can check out current details here  The train runs a shuttle service along a three kilometre stretch from North Beach station in Sunrise Beach to the Byron Beach Platform in Byron Bay. Both stations conveniently offer seating, shelter and bicycle racks. There is also ample parking nearby.

It was a very fun experience which we shared with our Brisbane friend Julie and our grandson, Huddy. Now serendipitously,  Huddy, like so many other little boys  loves Thomas the Tank engine. So you can imagine how fascinated he was!

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Look Poppy, I have my ticket. Can’t we get on the train NOW?
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Poppy, that red wheel is asking me to turn it.
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Yep, one hand is all you need!

We virtually had the train to ourselves and Huddy was lucky enough to be invited by the train driver into his inner sanctum.

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Be careful, there are birds out there!
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Keep the train on the tracks, please. Maybe we should slow down for the curves?

And then  there were the carriages to explore…

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Do I really have to sit still?
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I can see much better standing up!

Needless to say, Julie, Kenn and I didn’t feel the need to explore the upholstery like Huddy but we did enjoy the scenic journey. While in Sunrise, I took the opportunity to show Julie around Elements of Byron, our latest 5 star resort and one of my favourite places for coffee and lunch. But Huddy was getting a little restless, so we settled for a late lunch at the Sun Bistro instead. The Bistro, which is just a few steps away from the North Byron station, offers tasty, economical food and plenty of space for little ones to run around.

The Solar train might only travel a few kilometres but it gives us a glimpse of what the future might hold while preserving some of our railway heritage. Maybe you’ll have time to take a ride next time you’re in the Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee at Elements of Byron

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Looking over the toddler pool towards the Reception and Restaurant area

Last Wednesday, I joined my friends Annie and Grace for morning coffee at Elements at Byron, our newest 5 star resort.  I love going out for coffee. Savouring that first spoonful of chocolate-sprinkled foamy deliciousness atop a cappuccino, endeavouring to avoid  a hitler-resque  moustache and perhaps sharing a slab of Middle Eastern orange cake or a lemon tart or a white chocolate, raspberry muffin are some of life’s simple pleasures. But while the coffee is important, for me and I’m sure for many others,  going out for coffee is  more about catching up with friends. And if this catch-up can take place in beautiful surroundings, so much the better.

We had our coffee on the back terrace, overlooking the infinity pool.

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Overlooking the infinity pool. This photo was from an earlier visit when the weather wasn’t quite so obliging.  The fountain in the foreground becomes a fire pit at night. Very cool.

Soon we were catching up on each other’s news: Grace regaled us with fascinating snippets about her trip to Portugal where she spent time at an ashram and retreat centre in Monte Sahaja and the shenanigans of her very astute pre-schooler grand-daughter. This little one asked her mother, ‘Mum can you carry me home from the park?’ to which her mother replied. ‘No, you’re a big girl now.’ The little one promptly sat down where she stood, a mutinous look on her face. Mum exasperated, cajoled,’ Tell you what, if you walk home by yourself, you can have an ice-cream when we get home!’ The little one considered, pondered, thought long and hard. Her eyes lit up. ‘How about this, Mum. If you carry me home, I’ll share the ice-cream with you!’ Such consideration!  A lawyer in the making?

All too soon, coffee was finished. Grace hadn’t been to Elements before so we showed her around some of the resort. We pointed out where the Writer’s Festival had been held and then followed the path to Belongil Beach. Here you can recline on sun loungers while you take in the beautiful sweep of beach before you.

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As you can see, we made ourselves at home. The view to the lighthouse was so lovely.

Nearby, the resort has a sunset lookout. It too was lovely. This is a resort which has really spacious grounds. If you wanted to get away from it all, in 5 star luxury this might be the place for you.

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Beachcombing in style

All too soon, it was time to go. Another catch-up, this time, a coffee afternoon was organised. In keeping with the 5 star theme, this catch-up will be at the Byron at Byron. I do love going out for coffee! Hope you do too.

 

Darwin Delights

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Darwin harbour overlooks the Arafura Sea, a symphony in blue.

It’s been over a decade since Lyndsay headed north, not north to Alaska but north to Darwin!  Taking  a position as a choral teacher with the Northern Territory Music School turned out to be her perfect job and so she stayed.  Over the years, we’ve traveled to Darwin many times to visit her, discovering and savoring much of what the Northern Territory has to offer along the way. We’ve marveled at waterfalls,  gorges, billabongs and ages old rock art. We’ve been up close and personal with way too many crocodiles and luxuriated in hot springs at Mataranka under the dappled light of paperbark and palm trees. We’ve visited museums, learning more about Darwin’s wartime experiences and the horror of Cyclone Tracy, pretended to surf in the wave pool at the Waterfront and so much more.

Quite simply, Darwin is a delightful place to visit especially in July.  It is always wonderfully sunny and warm, perfect for outdoor pursuits. On our latest trip, we focused on simple pleasures. Admiring Lyndsay and Reece’s new home in the Northern Suburbs and becoming acquainted with  Hannibal, their Siberian husky was paramount. As you know, I love a good beach walk, but it’s always so much more fun with a puppy, especially a big puppy.

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We loved the dog exercise area of the Casuarina Coastal Reserve. The beach just seemed to go for ever and we could see Lee Point in the distance. At the right time of year, turtles hatch here too.

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Reece and Hannibal were having a ball.  Hannibal was very careful in the water. He only wanted to get his feet wet and avoided getting his body fur wet.

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Of course, Hannibal enjoys his creature comforts. The front seat is his domain. Lyndsay, Kenn and I were quite content to be out of the slobber zone in the back seat.

Having bought an older home, Lyndsay and Reece have lots of renovation plans and have begun with the landscaping. This involved serious wilderness clearing and fun with a bobcat or two. The result, a stylish productive garden overlooking the park.  As I savored my morning coffee on the back deck shaded by the gum trees, I noticed that a cricket match was in progress on the oval in the distance. Not the Australian team in training for its upcoming tour to Bangladesh unfortunately but a local team trying to escape the heat of the day by starting early.

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The cricket match is in progress on the other side of the park.

As we were based in the Northern Suburbs, we reacquainted ourselves with the foreshore at Nightcliff. Since our last visit, a new cafe has been built next to the Swimming Pool and has proved  very popular with locals and visitors alike.

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The pool has large sails which keep the water temperature at a pleasant temperature all year round.  Not only is the pool pristine, but what a view! We enjoyed a leisurely swim before adjourning to the cafe for refreshment

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Such a lovely view from the cafe as well. The bean bags looked comfy and I noticed that mums and bubs tended to cluster there.

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Breakfast was delicious. Loved my smashed avocado with poached eggs while Kenn’s breakfast tart almost gave me menu envy. The coffee was very good as well.
We walked along the cycle path to the Nightcliff Jetty and all around were vistas of the sea and the foreshore shaped by big tides.

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Can you believe that we are in a capital city?
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view from the jetty

Lyndsay and Reece were also keen to show us one of their favourite wilderness/camping spots, Tjuwaliyn or the Douglas-Daley Hot Springs Park. This proved to be a great 4WD adventure. The park is located about two hours drive south of Darwin and of course our first stop was the Douglas River.   Here, fringed by sandy beaches, the river splits into two branches for a couple of hundred metres, forming a series of quiet, crystal clear pools.

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Even though it was a public holiday and there were lots of visitors at the Springs, you still felt that you had the place to yourself

In one branch, hot springs heat the water while the water in the other branch is cold. Where the branches come together, the waters mingle. So with a bit of exploration, you can find your perfect temperature.

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The hot spring side of the river is very shallow so wallowing is the order of the day

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The water on the other side is cold but wonderfully refreshing after soaking in the hot water and I was content to float in the shady coolness.
We loved our hot and cold spa treatment. And relaxing under the tall shady trees for a shade bake.

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Perfect positioning: a few steps either side for hot and cold running water. What more could you ask for?

But the park has more to offer than the hot springs. We also visited Butterfly Gorge, further upstream from the Springs. We initially walked alongside the river to where the it widens into a big pool.

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It looked heavenly but ….you never know where a croc may lurk!

According to Lyndsay and Reece, you can usually walk around a big rocky outcrop to explore deeper into the gorge but alas we couldn’t. We didn’t think that this part of the river was absolutely, 100% crocodile free so  were reluctant to wade around to the beach. We retraced our steps and completed the much harder climb to the lookout instead.

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This walk was not what I would describe as picturesque! I was watching for snakes as I negotiated my way between the rocks.

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But the view from the top was worth it!

Back in the Ranger and the home comforts of Darwin beckoned but Lyndsay and Reece had another experience for us to savour: dinner at the Adelaide River Pub. The annual Rosella festival was on; bush food not birds. Having never tasted rosellas, I ate a few while an oldtimer at the bar shared his mother’s recipe for rosella jelly which he maintained was better than cranberry sauce! It might well be, but it would have been a labour of love. You would have to pick an awful lot of rosellas to have enough petals with which to make sauce.

Only in the territory do you come across unique memorabilia. Taking pride of place in the bar was the buffalo who had such a memorable role in ‘Crocodile Dundee”. It was stuffed of course!

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Apparently he had lived to a ripe old age at the back of the pub!

And the meal brought another surprise. The chef was obviously keen to ensure that no-one left his establishment hungry. For example,  Kenn’s chicken schnitzel was shaped like a map of Australia and covered his whole plate burying a massive mound of vegetables. While he made some valiant inroads, Kenn had to admit defeat at the Western Australian/ Territory border. Yep, everything’s big in the outback.

Back in Darwin, we continued to reacquaint ourselves with the city centre. The walk along the Esplanade is not to be missed. The gardens and lookout near the war memorial are especially lovely.

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the War Memorial

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Looking out to sea
But there is always something new! This time we spotted two young men setting up a stall selling french crepes.

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Just the thing for brunch
And we visited Lameroo Beach accessed via a track which branches from the main Esplanade path.

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The path is shaded by some coastal rainforest

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Loved the colours of the rocks which fringed the beach. There was no-one else there and this was in the middle of Darwin City!

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Can never get enough of these colours! 

A visit to Darwin has always included fabulous dinners out. On this trip, our culinary highlight was dinner at the Exotic North Indian Restaurant at Cullen Bay. Seated at a table overlooking the pier, we enjoyed some of the best Indian food I have tasted anywhere. Service was really excellent and the prices reasonable.

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There’s something magical about dining outdoors with good company and listening to the sound of waves lapping at your feet and looking at yachts silhouetted against the city lights

All too soon, it was time to catch the dreaded ‘red-eye’ back to Brisbane. This time, following a family dinner at home, we all went to the 8pm session of the Deck Chair Cinema. Luckily, ‘Monsieur Chocolat’ was showing, a powerful yet moving French film. It finished with more than enough time to make our farewells and get to the airport. It was a great way to fill in time before a 12.30 flight!

It was wonderful catching up with Lyndsay and Reece and we’re already planning for our next Darwin adventure. Familiar places can be so rewarding to visit.